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Eugenio Montale
Eugenio Montale
Eugenio Montale was born into a family of businessmen in Genoa on...
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Salt

 
by Eugenio Montale
translated by Jamie McKendrick

We don't know if tomorrow has green pastures

in mind for us to lie down in beside

the ever-youthful patter of fresh water

or if it means to plant us in some arid

outback ugly valley of the shadow

where dayspring's lost for good, interred beneath

a lifetime of mistakes. We'll maybe wake up

in foreign cities where the sun's a ghost,

a figment of itself and angular

starched consonants braid the tongue at its root

so all sense of who we are is lost to words,

and nothing that we know can be unravelled.

Even then, some vestige of the sea,

its plosive tide, its fretwork crests will surge

inside our syllables, bronze like the chant of bees.

However far we've stumbled from the source

a trace of the sea's voice will lodge in us

as the sunlight somehow still abides in

faded tufts that cling to bricks and kerbstones

on half-cleared slums or bomb-sites left unbuilt.

Then out of nowhere after years of silence

the words we used, our unobstructed accents,

will well up from the dark of childhood,

and once more on our lips we'll taste Greek salt.







Permission from Handsel Books to reprint "Salt" from Montale in English copyright © 2002, 2004 Harry Thomas is gratefully acknowledged.
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