Monday, January 16, 2017

Giuseppe Ungaretti

Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888—1970) is an Italian poet, born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt. In 1912 he moved to France to attend the University of Paris. There he became friends with poets including Paul Valéry, and painters such as Pablo Picasso, and became greatly influenced by the French symbolist poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. Ungaretti enlisted in the Italian army when WWI broke out. It was on the battlefield where he wrote his first poetry collection.

After a religious upbringing, he abandoned his faith, but returned to Catholicism in 1928. He was and is controversial in Italy for his support of the Italian fascists, though by the '40s he was denouncing them for joining up with the Nazis and instituting race laws. He appears to have genuinely regretted his early support for them.

From 1936 to 1942 he taught Italian literature at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. When his nine-year-old son died, he expressed his agony — as well as his sorrow over what was happening in Europe — in his poetry. He taught at the University of Rome from 1942 to 1957.

The following poem is from Ungaretti's collection Grief, and from the section "Rome Occupied: 1943—1944." This translation is by Diego Bastianutti.

You Too Are My River


Fateful Tiber, you too are my river,
Now that night already troubled flows;
Now that, persistent,
Like grief gushing from stone,
A groan of lambs radiates
Lost through the stunned streets.
That the dread of unremitting evil
The worst of evils,
That the dread of an unforeseeable evil
Encumbers the soul and footsteps;
That unending sobs, gasping at length
Freeze the homes and dangerous dens;
Now that night already torn apart flows,
That every moment suddenly disappears,
Or fear the offense of many signals
Joined to shine almost divinely
Through the ascent of human millennia.

Now that night already devastated flows,
And I learn how much a man suffers;
Now now, while the enslaved world
Suffers from the abysmal pain;
Now that the unendurable torment
Is let loose between brothers in mortal rage;
Now that my blasphemous lips
Dare say:
“Christ, thoughtful and moving,
Why is Your goodness
So far from us?”


Now that bewildered sheep scatter
With the lambs through streets
That were once urban, desolate.
Now that after the strain of emigration,
After the wicked injustice
Of deportations,
A people suffers;
Now that in the graves
Man tears himself apart
With twisted fantasies
And shameless hands
And pity contracts into a scream from stone;
Now that innocence
Groaning, demands at least an echo
Even from the hardened heart;
Now I see clearly in the dark night.

Now I see clearly in the dark night, I learn,
I know that Hell has come to Earth
To such a degree that
Man, lunatic, dodges
The purity of Your passion.


The burden of pain,
That man spreads across the earth,
Plagues Your heart;
Your heart is the zealous seat
Of a love not vain.

Christ, thoughtful and moving
An incarnate star among the darkness of humanity,
Brother who ceaselessly
Sacrifices graciously
To rebuild man.

Saint, Saint, how you suffer
Teacher and brother and God, how you know us, the weak
Saint, Saint, how you suffer
To free the dead from death
And support those of us who live in misery.
I cry no more from tears that are only mine,
Here, I call You, Saint,
Saint, Saint, how you suffer.

Thanks to Burl Horniachek for suggesting this, and many other poets.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.