Hear me a moment. Laureate poets seem to wander among plants no one knows: boxwood, acanthus, where nothing is alive to touch. I prefer small streets that falter into grassy ditches where a boy, searching in the sinking puddles, might capture a struggling eel. The little path that winds down along the slope plunges through cane-tufts and opens suddenly into the orchard among the moss-green trunks of the lemon trees. Perhaps it is better if the jubilee of small birds dies down, swallowed in the sky, yet more real to one who listens, the murmur of tender leaves in a breathless, unmoving air. The senses are graced with an odor filled with the earth. It is like rain in a troubled breast, sweet as an air that arrives too suddenly and vanishes. A miracle is hushed; all passions are swept aside. Even the poor know that richness, the fragrance of the lemon trees. You realize that in silences things yield and almost betray their ultimate secrets. At times, one half expects to discover an error in Nature, the still point of reality, the missing link that will not hold, the thread we cannot untangle in order to get at the truth. You look around. Your mind seeks, makes harmonies, falls apart in the perfume, expands when the day wearies away. There are silences in which one watches in every fading human shadow something divine let go. The illusion wanes, and in time we return to our noisy cities where the blue appears only in fragments high up among the towering shapes. Then rain leaching the earth. Tedious, winter burdens the roofs, and light is a miser, the soul bitter. Yet, one day through an open gate, among the green luxuriance of a yard, the yellow lemons fire and the heart melts, and golden songs pour into the breast from the raised cornets of the sun.
Permission from Handsel Books (an imprint of Other Press LLC) to reprint "The Lemon Trees" from Montale in English Copyright © 2002, 2004 Harry Thomas is gratefully acknowledged.