Selected Poems

Runner-up of the 2014 Close Approximations contest for emerging translators (Poetry)

Giovanni Pascoli

In the Fog

And I looked down at the land below.
Gone, all of it, drowned. Poured into a long,
flat, sweep of gray, a sea without waves or shore.

And piercing the air though just barely there,
the strange sound of small fierce cries: birds,
floundering, scared, in that groundless world.

And high in the sky, the bones of the beech trees
bobbed their lean skeleton selves. And beside them
the dreams of ruins, and of hermits' retreats.

And a dog barked and barked, but from where
wasn't clear, maybe next to the footsteps I thought
I could hear, steps neither far nor near;

echo of steps, neither spry nor slow, endless
and forward and back. I looked below: nothing,
though, and no one, that you, my eyes, could see.

The dreams of the ruins wondered: will he
not come or be gone? The skeleton branches
wondered: And you, who continue on?

And maybe I saw a shadow, a straying shade
with a weight on its back. In an instant I saw
and did not see, and the instant remained only one.

To my ear all that came was the stir of the birds,
bewildered and unmoored birds. And the bark of the dog
in the sea without shore, and the steps neither near nor far.

from A Last Walk through Town


In a field half pale and half black
from turned earth rests a plow
without oxen to pull it.
In the deft sweep of mist
that surrounds, it seems left long behind.

And in stretched stubborn rhyme
comes the song of the laundresses
down by the creek where they're washing.
It arrives with the thwack of wet sheets
pounded thick against stone:

Wind blows and like snow the boughs flutter
and fall, and you haven't yet come back
to town. What a state I was in
when you left here back then!
Like a plow above black, fallow ground.


Unlike our brooding wretched selves
the old heart of the farmer's wife
won't weep with grief at falling leaves;
shrewd roosters keep her henhouse.

And in the peace that sunrise brings,
she listens to the thickened cries
and summonings of sturdy hens.
Her granary is packed. Wine sings

inside the vat. Come dusk the impish farm boys
ambush crackling heaps of crumpled leaves
and bent beside her, blooming girls with thoughtful eyes
hum lullabies while shucking husks of corn.

The Ox

Along a thread of river and between
vague screens of mist, the ox
lifts up his ample eyes to gaze downstream:
through land that rolls as if set free
the water in the sky blue river
migrates toward an ever farther sea.

Perceived thus by the ox's eyes, the willow
and the alder grow, inside the glow
of dusty light; the herd disperses
slowly, looming here or there, and staining
grass that's green and stiff. They drift
as if belonging to the rustic god of myth.

Raptors flap colossal wings against the air
and fire-tongued mute beasts roll by;
they look like clouds in the immense, deep sky;

The mammoth sun behind the soaring mountains
sets: already every edge starts to detach,
expand—the large black shadows of a larger land.

Holiday Morning

What's with the bells
which ring far from here
and nearing us hover and thrum?

It's a hymn without end, limned
in silver, now gold, a song
for the shadows at dawn.

With your calm lull and swell,
oh balm of gold bells, you beseech
from the half-asleep sky.

Resounding song, you silver bells
that ring and ring, I love,
I love, now sing

the song, oh balm of gold,
calm wave that sways
from the sky above

but beneath the love,
that deeper voice
of a grave responds, as if

it responds to the song's true wish.

from Sadnesses


And sky and earth were exposed:

earth raked over, breathless and bruised.
sky grief-stricken, laden, undone:
stark white in the dumb wake of chaos a home
appeared quick disappeared in one
spark: like an eye, huge and confused
in the dark, might open, then close.


And inside the black night black as nothing

is black: in a flash with a sound like a cliff
crashing down, the pounding of thunder cracked
open. Cracked, and then echoing back to drift
low, then slowing to rest into silence. And cresting,
and broken, and gone. Soft then the song of a mother
slipped in, and the smooth dip and lift of a cradle.


Valentino, dressed up in new clothes
like bloomed branches of hawthorn!
But on your feet calloused by brambles
you wear just your skin: shoes
your mother once made and not costing
a penny, unchanged since the day
you were born. But the clothes
that she sewed you cost plenty.
Oh they cost her each cent
of her jingling bank, the closed jar broken
open and spilled on the wood to be spent.
To replenish those coins, the whole
chicken coop sang its cacophonous song
for well more than a month; now they're gone.
Think back to the winter when firewood
waned, and you shivered for lack, Valentino.
And the hens sang: An egg! Oh an egg!
Oh an egg! Then they clucked and March
knocked and you slight country kid
were left only half dressed—like a bird,
plush with feathers but barefoot.
Like a bird who'd flown up from the sea
to flit quick between cherries and pears,
flitting all unaware (beyond how to peck
fruit, how to love, how to sing) of what
happiness bright other worlds might bring.

The Hour in Barga

To this shade in the garden where all I can hear
is the bristle of grain growing ripe in the fields,
wind reels the sound of the struck hours down
from a town in the hills that from here
I can't see: the sound steady and falling
in waves, like a voice that persuades.

Voice of a bell that falls out of the sky:
You tell me, It's late. You tell me, It's time.
But please let me wait yet a while to look
at the tree and the spider, the bee, and the stem,
things that contain in them hundreds of years or a year
or an hour, and these clouds that keep waving away.

Let me wait motionless here, let me stay
with the whirring of wings and the lichens and fronds;
let me listen to roosters call out from a farm
and then hear, from another, some others respond
or the song of the titmouse, its diligent trill,
while my own soul's attention stalls, elsewhere.

And again the hour sounds, sending down
to me now first a silvery wonder, then
blending, unending, that voice from before—
the same falling voice that calls
solemnly, heartening, solemnly saying
that it's time, that it's late.

Voice of a bell that falls out of the sky:
So you want me to think of returning.
But it's lovely this last fringe of daylight that eases
translucently through me as if through a veil.
I know, yes, it's late, I know it's now time—
But please let me wait here a while to look.

Let me look, through my solitude, into my heart
Let me live my way into my past.
That there might throughout time be this bloom
on the shrub; that I might find a kiss
I've not kissed. From this cloister of shade at the rim
of my garden, please let me weep for my life.

And again the hour sounds, sending down
to me twice now a cry almost fretful,
then back to that slow, unfazed voice.
In my own garden's shade, it persuades me.
It's time. It's late. Yes, okay. Let's return there to where
                     I am loved, where I love.


When at twilight the air glowed a rare scarlet red
and the cypress flared gold, a fine dusting of gold,
the mother explained to her very small son
that up there, it's all gold, it's a garden.

Her son is asleep and he dreams of gold
branches, trees made of gold, golden forests.
Meanwhile outside in the black core of night,
the cypress weeps rain, and wars with the wind.

translated from the Italian by Taije Silverman and Marina Della Putta Johnston

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