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Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba
     

Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba

by Umberto Saba, Leonard Nathan (Translator), George Hochfield (Translator)
 

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Umberto Saba’s reputation in Italy and Europe has steadily grown since his death in 1957, and today he is positioned alongside Eugenio Montale and Giuseppe Ungaretti as one of the three most important Italian poets of the first half of the twentieth century. Until now, however, English-language readers have had access to only a few examples of this poet’

Overview

Umberto Saba’s reputation in Italy and Europe has steadily grown since his death in 1957, and today he is positioned alongside Eugenio Montale and Giuseppe Ungaretti as one of the three most important Italian poets of the first half of the twentieth century. Until now, however, English-language readers have had access to only a few examples of this poet’s work. This bilingual volume at last brings an extensive and exquisitely translated collection of Saba’s poems to English-speaking readers.

Both faithful and lyrical, George Hochfield’s and Leonard Nathan’s translations do justice to Saba’s rigorous personal honesty and his profound awareness of the suffering that was for him coincident with life. An introductory essay, a translation of Saba’s early manifesto, “What Remains for Poets to Do,” and a chronology of his life situate his poetics within the larger context of twentieth-century letters. With its publication, this volume provides the English-speaking world with a momentous occasion to rethink not just Italian poetry but also the larger European modernist project.

Editorial Reviews

The Nation

"Handsomely produced. . . . Clearly a labor of love."—Susan Stewart, The Nation

— Susan Stewart

The New Republic

"Saba''s achievement overflows the boundaries o
— Rosanna Warren

American Translators Association

Finalist for the 2010 Lewis Galantiere Award sponsored by the American Translators Association.

— Lewis Galantiere Award

Translation Review

". . . an invaluable resource for English-speaking scholars and lovers of modern Italian poetry, one that will certainly make its way into hundreds of libraries, and become a main point of reference for professors and students who will address the fundamental importance of Saba''s poetry for many years to come."—Philip Balma, Translation Review

— Philip Balma

Translation Review - Philip Balma
"An invaluable resource for English-speaking scholars and lovers of modern Italian poetry, one that will certainly make its way into hundreds of libraries, and become a main point of reference for professors and students who will address the fundamental importance of Saba's poetry for many years to come."—Philip Balma, Translation Review
American Translators Association - Lewis Galantiere Award
Finalist for the 2010 Lewis Galantière Award sponsored by the American Translators Association.
The New Republic - Rosanna Warren
"Saba's achievement overflows the boundaries of any single poem, and now with this new translation . . . English-speaking readers can at last begin to take the measure of, and perhaps to learn from, this deeply haunting poet."—Rosanna Warren, The New Republic
The Nation - Susan Stewart
"Handsomely produced. . . . Clearly a labor of love."—Susan Stewart, The Nation
Paolo Valesio
“This volume presents a set of refined translations from the abundant production of one of the major poets of modern European literature.”—Paolo Valesio, Columbia University
Peter Carravetta
“Spanning nearly half a century of the poet's career, this translation of Umberto Saba’s work is sorely needed and will make a major contribution to literature in translation."—Peter Carravetta, Alfonse M. D'Amato Professor in the Department of European Languages, Literatures and Cultures at SUNY/Stonybrook
Jane Hirshfield
“Saba’s vision is frank-marked with a direct intelligence and utterly original perception. His house is made of unpainted wood, its windows kept open for life and grief to flow through.”—Jane Hirshfield, author of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
Harold Bloom
“Saba is one of the major Italian poets since his beloved Leopardi and is as eminent as Ungaretti and Montale. He also is a vital Jewish poet, eloquently presented by this admirable translation.”—Harold Bloom

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300181753
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
04/24/2012
Series:
Margellos World Republic of Letters Series
Edition description:
Translatio
Pages:
592
Product dimensions:
4.80(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.40(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Songbook

The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba
By UMBERTO SABA

YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2008 George Hochfield
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-13603-6


Chapter One

POESIE DELL'ADOLESCENZA E GIOVANILI POEMS OF ADOLESCENCE AND YOUTH 1900-1907

AMMONIZIONE

Che fai nel ciel sereno bel nuvolo rosato, acceso e vagheggiato dall'aurora del dì?

Cangi tue forme e perdi quel fuoco veleggiando; ti spezzi e, dileguando, ammonisci così:

Tu pure, o baldo giovane, cui suonan liete l'ore, cui dolci sogni e amore nascondono l'avel,

scolorerai, chiudendo le azzurre luci, un giorno; mai più vedrai d'intorno gli amici e il patrio ciel.

THE ADMONITION

What are you doing in the serene dawn sky, beautiful rose-red cloud, aflame and lovingly gazed at?

You change your shape and floating, lose that fire; you dissolve, and fading, admonish me thus:

You, too, o brave youth, for whom the hours joyously sound, for whom sweet dreams and love hide the tomb,

you will fade one day, the azure lights gone out, no more to see around you friends and native sky.

LA CASA DELLA MIA NUTRICE

La casa della mia nutrice posa tacita in faccia alla Cappella antica, ed al basso riguarda, e parpensosa, da una collina alle caprette amica.

La città dove nacqui popolosa scopri da lei per la finestra aprica; anche hai la vista del mar dilettosa e di campagne grate alla fatica.

Qui-mi sovviene-nell'età primiera, del vecchio camposanto fra le croci, giocavo ignaro sul far della sera.

A Dio innalzavo l'anima serena; e dalla casa un suon di care voci mi giungeva, e l'odore della cena.

MY WET NURSE'S HOUSE

My nurse's house stands peacefully facing the old Chapel and looks down as if in thought on a hillside friendly to the goats below.

From an open window you can catch sight of the populous city where I was born and have a pleasing vista of the sea and of the fields grateful for hard labor.

Here-I remember-in my earliest years I played unthinking among the crosses in the old graveyard as evening fell.

To God I offered up a serene spirit, and from the house a sound of dear voices reached me, and the smell of supper.

SONETTO DI PRIMAVERA

Città paesi e culmini lontani sorridon lieti al sol di primavera. Torna serena la natia riviera. Sono pieni di canti il mare e i piani.

Io solo qui di desideri vani t'esalto, mia inesperta anima altera; poi stanco mi riduco in sulla sera alla mia stanza, e incerto del domani.

Là seggo sovra il bianco letticciolo, e ripenso a un'età già tramontata, a un amor che mi strugge, all'avvenire.

E se nell'ombra odo la voce amata di mia madre appressarsi e poi morire, spesso col pianto vo addolcendo il duolo.

SPRING SONNET

Cities, towns, and far-off summits smile with pleasure at the springtime sun. My native coast is calm again. The sea and fields are full of songs.

Alone here, I exalt you with vain desires, my spirit, proud and still untested; then, weary and uncertain of tomorrow, I return at evening to my room.

I sit there on the narrow white bed and think about a time already past, a love that consumes me, and of the future.

And if in darkness I hear the beloved voice of my mother approach and then die away, I often ease my grief with tears.

GLAUCO

Glauco, un fanciullo dalla chioma bionda, dal bel vestito di marinaretto, e dall'occhio sereno, con gioconda voce mi disse, nel natio dialetto:

Umberto, ma perché senza un diletto tu consumi la vita, e par nasconda un dolore o un mistero ogni tuo detto? Perché non vieni con me sulla sponda

del mare, che in sue azzurre onde c'invita? Qual è il pensiero che non dici, ascoso, e che da noi, così a un tratto, t'invola?

Tu non sai come sia dolce la vita agli amici che fuggi, e come vola a me il mio tempo, allegro e immaginoso.

GLAUCO

Glauco, a boy with yellow locks, cool eyes, and dressed in a handsome sailor suit, cheerfully said to me in the local dialect:

Umberto, why do you waste your life away, without a pleasure, and seem to hide a grief or mystery in all you say? Why don't you come with me to the beach

that beckons us to its blue waves? What is the thought, unspoken and secret, that suddenly steals you from us?

You don't know how sweet life is to the friends you shun, and how time flies for me, happy and fancy free.

A MAMMA

Mamma, c'è un tedio oggi, una sottile malinconia, che dalle cose in ogni vita s'insinua, e fa umili i sogni dell'uomo che il suo mondo ha nel suo cuore. Mamma, ritornerà oggi all'amore tuo, chi un dì l'ebbe a vile? Chi è solo con il suo solo dolore?

Ed è un giorno di festa, oggi. La via nera è tutta di gente, ben che il cielo sia coperto, ed un vento aspro allo stelo rubi il giovane fiore, e in onde gonfi le gialle acque del fiume. Passeggiano i borghesi lungo il fiume torbido, con violacee ombre di ponti. Sta la neve sui monti ceruli ancora; ed il mio cuore, mamma, strugge, vagante fiamma nei dì festivi, la malinconia.

E tu pur, mamma, la domenicale passeggiata riguardi dall'aperta finestra, nella tua casa deserta di me, deserta per te d'ogni bene. Guardi le donne, gli operai (quel bene, mamma, non scordi) gli operai che i panni

d'ogni giorno, pur tanto utili e belli, oggi a gara lasciati hanno per quelli delle feste, sì nuovi in vista e falsi. Ma tu, mamma, non sai che sono falsi. Tu non vedi la luce che io vedo. Altra fede ti regge, che non credo più, che credevo nella puerizia, mamma, nella remota puerizia. Guardi fanciulli con nudi i ginocchi forti, con nuove in attoniti occhi voglie, che tra i sudati giochi nacquero a un tratto in cuore ai più. Escono a stormi, vociano, ed il più alto con gesta tra di bimbo e d'uomo. Una giovane passa; ecco, le han dato del gomito nel gomito. Irosa ella si volge, e in cor perdona. Quello addietro rimasto la persona piega, che un fonte vide, e di fonte acqua non costa alla sua sete nulla.

Mamma, non io così, mai. La mia culla io la penso tagliata in strano legno. Tese l'animo mio sempre ad un segno cui non tesero i miei dolci compagni. Mamma, è forse di questo che tu piangi sempre là nella tua casa deserta?

Lacrimi ancora; e dalla non più aperta finestra, con la sera entra delle campane, entra il profondo suono, il preludio della dolce notte, d'un'insonne per te, gelida notte. Ad ogni tocco più verso la notte è roteato il mondo.

* * *

Mamma, il tempo che fugge t'ansia; e l'ansia che impera nel tuo cuore c'è, forse, anche nel mio; c'è, pur latente, il male che ti strugge; son le tue cure in me domenicali malinconie. Lente lente ora sfollano le vie nella sera di festa, e verdi e rossi accendono fanali le osterie di campagna. È una strana sera, mamma, una che certo affanna i cuori come il tuo soli ed amanti, sugli ultimi mari i naviganti, dentro l'orride celle i prigonieri. Canterellando scendono i sentieri del borgo i cittadini, torna dolce al fanciullo la sua casa; ed il mistero ond'è la vita invasa tu con preghiere esprimi.

Mamma, il tempo che fugge cure con cure alterna; ma in chi sugge il latte e in chi denuda la mammella c'è un sangue solo per la vita bella.

TO MAMMA

Mamma, the day is tedious, and a subtle melancholy steals in from things in every life and humbles the dreams of the man whose world is in his heart. Mamma, will he return to your love today who once held it so cheaply? Who is alone with his own pain?

And today is a holiday. The street is black with people though the sky is overcast, and a harsh wind steals young flowers from their stalks, swells in waves the yellow waters of the river. The townsfolk walk beside the turbid stream with its purplish shadows of bridges. Snow still lies on the blue mountains, and my heart, Mamma, a wandering flame among these festive days, is consumed by melancholy.

And you, too, Mamma, watch the Sunday promenade from the open window of your house, abandoned by me, emptied of every comfort for you. You see the women, the workers (good folk, Mamma, don't forget), whose everyday

clothes, however useful and handsome, are put aside today in the rivalry of holiday apparel, so new-seeming and false. But you, Mamma, don't know that they are false. You do not see the light I see. A different faith sustains you that I no longer believe, that I believed in childhood, Mamma, in my remote childhood. You look at boys with bare, strong knees, in whose astonished eyes are new desires, suddenly born in their hearts during sweaty games. They come in swarms, yelling; the tallest with gestures between child and man. A girl passes, see how they nudge her elbow with an elbow. Angrily she turns away but pardons them in her heart. One has stayed behind who saw a fountain, he bends over it, and its water costs him nothing.

Mamma, I never was like that. I think my cradle was cut from a different wood. My spirit always yearned for a sign that my gentle friends did not yearn for. Mamma, is it perhaps for this that you always cry, there in your empty house?

You weep still, and through the closed window comes the deep sound of evening bells, a prelude to the quiet night, for you a sleepless, icy night. At every peal the earth has turned nearer toward the night.

* * *

Mamma, the flight of time makes you anxious, and the anxiety that rules your heart is, perhaps, also in mine; there is a latent misery that eats at you: your cares for my Sunday fits of melancholy. Now slowly, slowly the streets empty in the holiday evening, and the country inns are lighting green and red lanterns. It is a strange evening, Mamma, one that surely troubles hearts like yours, lonely and loving, of sailors on the most distant seas, of prisoners in their horrid cells. Now the townsfolk singing descend the district's paths, the youth returns quietly to his home, and the mystery by which life is invaded you express with prayers.

Mamma, the time that rushes on brings care after care, but in he who sucks the milk and she who bares her breast there is but one blood for beautiful life.

MEDITAZIONE

Sfuma il turchino in un azzurro tutto stelle. Io siedo alla finestra, e guardo. Guardo e ascolto; però che in questo è tutta la mia forza: guardare ed ascoltare.

La luna non è nata, nascerà sul tardi. Sono aperte oggi le molte finestre delle grandi case folte d'umile gente. E in me una verità nasce, dolce a ridirsi, che darà gioia a chi ascolta, gioia da ogni cosa. Poco invero tu stimi, uomo, le cose. Il tuo lume, il tuo letto, la tua casa sembrano poco a te, sembrano cose da nulla, poi che tu nascevi e già era il fuoco, la coltre era e la cuna per dormire, per addormirti il canto. Ma che strazio sofferto fu, e per quanto tempo dagli avi tuoi, prima che una sorgesse, tra le belve, una capanna; che il suono divenisse ninna-nanna per il bimbo, parola pel compagno. Che millenni di strazi, uomo, per una delle piccole cose che tu prendi, usi e non guardi; e il cuore non ti trema, non ti trema la mano;

ti sembrerebbe vano ripensare ch'è poco quanto all'immondezzaio oggi tu scagli; ma che gemma non c'è che per te valga quanto valso sarebbe un dì quel poco.

La luna è nata che le stelle in cielo declinano. Là un giallo lume si è spento, fumido. Suonò il tocco. Un gallo cantò; altri risposero qua e là.

MEDITATION

The deep blue fades to an azure filled with stars. I sit at the window and watch. I watch and listen: but in this is all my strength, to watch and listen.

The moon is not yet out, it will be late. Today the many windows of the big houses crowded with humble folk are open. And in me a truth is born, sweet to tell again, that will give joy to all who listen, joy for all things. Truly, man, you have little regard for things. Your lamp, your bed, your house seem trivial to you; they seem worthless, since when you were born there were already fire, and the blanket and cradle for sleeping, and, to put you to sleep, the song. But what agony was suffered, and for how long by your ancestors, before a hut arose among the wild beasts, and the sound became a lullaby for the baby, a word for the friend. What millennia of anguish, man, for one of those small things that you pick up, use, and ignore; and your heart does not quake, your hand does not tremble;

it would seem futile to you to think twice about the small thing you throw on the garbage heap today; but no gem exists worth as much to you as that small thing might be worth someday.

The moon appears as the stars sink down. There, a yellow lamp has darkened, smoking. The clock strikes. A cock crows, and others answer here and there.

IL SOGNO DI UN COSCRITTO

(L'osteria fuori porta)

Or che di molte passioni l'urto si addormì nel respiro della notte profonda, e fatto ha la ronda ultima l'ultimo giro;

che là solo e di furto arde ancora un lucignolo fumoso, penso, in blando riposo, penso lo smarrimento che al fervore dei miei sogni seguiva, entro un'antica osteria fuori porta, oggi, nell'ore della libera uscita.

Ero là con i miei nuovi compagni; là con essi seduto ad un'ingombra tavola, quando un ombra scese in me, che la mia vita lontana tenne, con la sua forza, con le sue pene, da quel tumulto vespertino. Centellinavo attonito i miei due soldi di vino.

Non un poeta, ero uno sperduto che faceva il soldato, guatandosi all'intorno l'affollato mondo, stupido e muto;

che come gli altri, in negro vino il suo poco rame barattava che coi baci la mamma a lui mandava, triste no, non allegro;

con nella mente fitta sola un'idea, recata da un suon lontano: fosse la prescritta ora trascorsa della ritirata.

Né si squarciò quel velo, né a vivere tornai di questa mia vita, prima che fredda nella via fosse la notte e in cielo.

THE CONSCRIPT'S DREAM

(The tavern outside the gate)

Now that the shock of so many blows is dulled in the respite of deepest night, and the last patrol has made its last round,

and only a smoky oil lamp still furtively burns, I think, resting at my ease, I think of the dismay that overtook my fervent dreams today in an old tavern outside the gate during the after-hours pass.

I was there with my new comrades, seated at a littered table, when a shadow fell over me that took away my life, with its strength and its sufferings, far from that evening's uproar. Dazed I sipped my two cents' worth of wine.

No poet then, I was a lost soul trying to be a soldier, suspiciously eyeing the crowded world, stupid and dumb, who like the others, exchanged his few coppers, sent with kisses by his mother, for red wine, not sad, not happy,

with just one idea in his thick skull, conveyed by a distant call: the hour of tattoo had sounded.

I neither pierced that veil nor returned to live from this my life, before the night grew cold along the road and in the sky.



Excerpted from Songbook by UMBERTO SABA Copyright © 2008 by George Hochfield. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Umberto Saba (1883–1957) is widely considered to be one of the most important Italian poets of the twentieth century. George Hochfield is professor of English, emeritus, State University of New York at Buffalo. Leonard Nathan has published many volumes of poetry, as well as numerous translations, prose works, and articles on poetry.

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