Translations of Italian Poetry








Oh Marx – all is gold – oh Freud –

all is sex – oh Proust – all is memory –

oh Einstein – all is finished – oh Charlot –


all is men – oh Kafka – all is terror –

oh my brothers –

oh my country – oh sense of identity –



GIOSUÈ CARDUCCI (1835 – 1907)




You, first principle,

Body and spirit,

Reason and sense

Of being;


While wine gleams

In the chalice

Like a soul

Reflected in the eyes,


While the earth

And the sun smile

And exchange

Words of love,


A beat

Of an arcane rite

Rushes from the mountains

And sweeps over the bountiful plains;


For you the chained verse

Frees itself;

I call on you, Lucifer,

King of the feast.


Put away your water,

Priest, and your mitre.

No, priest, Lucifer

Cannot be turned back!


*         *           *


Hail, Lucifer,

O rebellion!

Avenging force

Of reason!


They offer you

Incense and prayers!

You have defeated

The clerics’ Jehovah!







The poet Omar, solitary lens

that sees and shines, that contemplates and creates,

said in front of the mausoleum of Caria :


Do not confound dust with the idea!

Poor you, who want to find in stone

the white hunting goddess,


and you, who bring to life

the obscure hero on his whinnying horse!

The time that silently passes


erodes your marble, wears down your metal.





Eight…nine…a little more; time flows

slowly; another hour…and another. A dog barks.

A bird cries, from where I don’t know.


It is midnight. One hears the sound of double steps

passing by. From distant streets

comes the rumble of carriages halting


suddenly. Everything is closed, without form,

without colour, without life. There is lit,

alone in the middle of the sleeping city,

a window, like a pupil




open. You – the man in the lit room,

what keeps you awake?

Old pain or new hope?


You seek a truth. Your thoughts resemble

a great sea; in that immense sea,

there is a shell; inside that shell,


a pearl; that is what you want. Old man,

your face is like a snow-covered forest

ruffled by a languid wind. A black cat with the veiled gaze

of a sphinx opens his green eyes on you…







I glow

with immensity




Far far

like a blind man

they have led me by the hand




I want to be

as this village


in its shroud

of snow



UMBERTO SABA (1883-1957)




Café Tergeste, at your white tables

the drunk enters delirium again,

and there I write my most cheerful verses.


Café of thieves, den of whores,

at your tables I suffer martyrdom,

which I suffer in forging myself a new heart.


I was thinking : after I have enjoyed

death, will the nothing I expect to come

repay me for having lived?


I do not dare to seem magnanimous;

but, if birth is a mistake, I would be

more forgiving to my enemy, out of guilt.


Café of the masses, where once I hid

my face, today I watch you with joy.

You unite the locals and the foreigners


late at night, around your pool table.





Standing nude with hands behind your back,

as if you were tightly bound

with cords. Erect

breasts that could be bitten


as well as kissed. Firm-bodied girl,

whose shame veils

your dark, shaded

wood. Nothing,


nothing else matters. Two round

fruits gracefully unite

and seem to call down the mild

chastisement of girlhood. Oh, how many


would want for themselves the light

of promised pleasure that shines in my eyes,

which is often Paradise

and more often Hell without escape!





Often, on my way back home, I take

a different route through the old town.

It is reflected yellow in a puddle

by headlights, and leaves cover the streets.


Here among the people who come and go

from cheap restaurants and dives,

among the goods and the underclass

of a big sea-port,

I find, as I pass by, the heights

of humility.

Here, the prostitute and the sailor, the old man

who curses, the bickering hag,

the barracuda sitting

in a cheap eatery,

the exuberant girl driven mad

by love,

are all creations of life

and of pain;

the Maker animates them all, and me.


Here among the humble, I am comforted;

my thoughts

become more pure when the path is more base.







I see in my lady’s eyes

A light full of the spirit of love

That gives a new pleasure to my heart

And re-awakens the spark of happiness.


Something happens when I am near her

That cannot be understood rationally;

I seem to see behind her face

The eternal feminine, not comprehended


By the mind, but which immediately

Gives birth to another new beauty

Resembling a star, that moves

And says : ‘Your salvation has arrived’.


When this beautiful woman appears,

You hear a voice

Which sings your name kindly

And sweetly which, I tell you,


I feel makes me shake;

My soul is moved by sighs

That say to me : ‘If you look upon her,

You will see her virtue risen in the sky.’








Why do you call me a poet? I am not a poet.

I am just a little boy who cries.

Look : I have only tears to offer the silence.



My sadnesses are poor, common sadnesses. My joys were simple,

Simple because I would blush to confess them.

Today I think of dying.



I want to die only because I am tired;

Only because the great angels in the cathedral’s glass

Make me shake with love and anguish;

Only because I am by now resigned like a mirror,

Like a poor melancholy mirror.

See, I am not a poet: I am a sad boy who wants to die.



Oh, don’t wonder at my sadness, and don’t ask me;

I wouldn’t know the vain words – God, so vain –

That would make me cry as if I were about to die.

Those tears would have the spirit

To tell the rosary beads of sadness

For my seven-times pained heart, but I would not be a poet;

I would be, simply, a sweet and thoughtful boy

Who would have come to pray, as if singing, as if sleeping.



I confess myself in silence daily,

And the priests of silence are the sounds,

Without whom I would never have searched for, and found, God.



Last night I slept with my hands crossed.

I felt like a small, sweet boy

Forgotten by all of humanity,

Anyone’s poor, tender prey;

And I wanted to be sold, struck, starved

To be able to cry all alone,

Desperately sad, in a dark corner.



I love the simple life of things.

How many passions I saw passed over, little by little,

For every thing that had gone!

But you don’t understand me and you smile.

And you think I am sick.



Oh, I am truly sick,

And I die a little every day.

Look : just like all things. However, I am not a poet;

I know that to be called a poet,

One should live a different life.

I don’t know anything, my God, except to die. Amen.








I will relish, mountain,

Sitting on your sheerest edge

Where the soul expands

To the horizon,

Since in the clear air at that height

The spirit becomes purer

As it approaches the sky.


I will see the moon rise

In thickest vapour,

Like a demure virgin

With blushing face.

The heavenly traveller

Will become pale during her ascent,

Now putting on her veil, now removing it.


I go on watching the moon,

The image of our life, as it rises

And then little by little sinks

Until, completing the cycle,

It disappears and remains hidden.

Haven’t I drawn you perfectly,

O great humanity?


But we see the moon rise again,

Like we see the parent in the child,

A phoenix, not a chimaera,

Reborn after its death.

Such is this divine order

That things cannot be otherwise.

Moon follows moon, one age follows another.


You book of eternal pages,

Wondrous Nature,

In which, with immense letters

Of divine writing is written Himself,

He who created you

In the order of things,

Who will reveal himself to human reason,


You, prodigious mystery,

I will gaze up at;

I want no dark cloud

To cover my eyes.

I will see how every part of creation

Is connected or stands apart

In the revealed language of the heavens.


You resounding angelic language,

You sublime poetry,

That in one golden knot

Unites painting and harmony;

The soul that is visible only to you

Is freed from its bonds, and when it sings or cries

It seems to be one with the heavens.


You tune the notes,

You mix the colours,

So that the vivid images

Seem to be sung or painted,

While only the mind of prophecy

Is able to penetrate the mist of the past

And the veil of the future.




The blue vault of the sky

Over the vast plain of the sea

Is an immense concave mirror

Over a flat glass;

My gaze touches the place

That first came to life

With the impulse of the Creator’s hand.


Up there I see

A host of stars,

Whose flickering flame is reflected

In the water below;

Seeing that double display,

I feel moved and exclaim,

Shaken by an ecstasy of love:


Shine, eternal torches

Of this immense temple,

Where prayers rise like vaporous incense.

And you, my devoted prayers,

Unite with the prayers of others;

To you the paths of eternity

Are not unknown.

You visible sanctuary

Of the invisible spirit;

Where deepest darkness,

Where abundant light,

Alternately shroud the living deity,

Although every soul

Feels His great majesty.


Show me, vast universe,

What you saw that day

When this gallery of stars

Was created in a sweeping curve;

Tell me, tell me whether you looked on

While the first dawn

Bejewelled herself in pink,


When the finger of God

Outlined the concave sphere

And that same finger

Described its oblique and infinite circle;

When, to prepare the way for the sun,

The finger left a deep impression

So that the sun still follows that path.


The inextinguishable light

Suspended above everything

Begins its trek and finishes…

But I do not see any more…it has gone…


(all previously published in Acumen and Modern Poetry in Translation)

4 thoughts on “Translations of Italian Poetry

  1. Bravo i like the choice of poems excellent translation and interpretation the poets themselves would appreciate it


  2. I’ve never really trusted poetry in translation, but some very nice work here regardless of the original source. You should consider putting a book together. And a few of these do qualify as speculative.


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