Reading: In the Greenhouse by Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) is considered the greatest Italian poet since Leopardi. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1975. I read In the Greenhouse in a translation by Charles Wright. Here is an alternative translation (and seven other poems for good measure).

In the Greenhouse
The lemon bushes overflowed
with the patter of mole paws,
the scythe shined
in its rosary of cautious water drops.

A dot, a ladybug,
ignited above the quince berries
as the snort of a rearing pony broke through,
bored with his rub-down—then the dream took over.

Kidnapped, and weightless, I was drenched
with you, your outline
was my hidden breath, your face
merged with my face, and the dark

idea of God descended
upon the living few, amid heavenly
sounds, amid childish drums,
amid suspended globes of lightning

upon me, upon you, and over the lemons…

The greenhouse-paradise is undermined right in the beginning. The first sound of the poem is the patter of mole paws. Then the shining scythe (death) and the rosary of water drops, a religions symbol (rosaries are used to count prayers). Next, the ignited insect above the quince berries and the rearing pony. Beautiful images, let’s forget about symbolism. The lines illustrate that we must listen as precisely as we can.

The dream takes over with a beautiful romantic metaphor “your outline was my hidden breath” (la tua forma era il mio respiro nascosto) that I admire. After the faces of the lovebirds merge, the poem wakes up even the most experienced mass reader with a hard and creative caesura

The dark merged with the faces / Dark is the idea of God that descended. Darkness like the patter of the mole paws, but it’s all accompanied by childish drums and suspended lighting. The idea of the dark God eventually catches up with every living thing, even the lemons. I don’t really know what to make of it, perhaps you do? They say Montale is notoriously difficult and hermetic. Thus is the closing in Italian:

e l’oscuro

pensiero di Dio discendeva
sui pochi viventi, tra suoni
celesti e infantili tamburi
e globi sospesi di fulmini

su me, su te, sui limoni…

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