La Poesia italiana del Novecento - The italian Poetry of the 20th century

Giancarlo Baroni







On the trees


Life on the trees is not

What you might imagine. Often we can see

The leaves of the youngest

Horse chestnut trees in the park


Drying up

Without a reason, and then they crumble.

And also – crouched down on the lime trees

As they fill the streets


With sweetish scents –

We observe the aphids

Sucking sugar from the leaves

As if they were vampires.


These are evils that prompt you to think

And make us anxious. Not even the oaks

That majestically once used to cover

The river Po plane


Are left unscathed. In the severed branch

Of the English oak the decay creeps stealthily in

And corrodes them. It’s baffling

That the elm tree epidemic


Or the chestnuts’ cancerous black ink

Hasn’t infected us.

Which birds will come after us?

And what kind of trees?


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )


The weight of your bodies


This garden is so teeming with life,

With you sparrows, pecking away.

Always skipping and hopping, and sometimes chasing

Each other on a layer of dry leaves,


Whilst the sound that compels you to stop

And stare in front of you

Is that of steps, and that of the weight of your bodies

That gliding over the ground don’t even rest on it.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )




The melanin that darkens the body

and makes us similar to ghosts,

scares the tawny owl away.

then we swell up our breast,

we shout “we’ve got away

once more”, we feel smug

but gently,

as if we had some cotton down our throat.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )



There are splits in the sea

that don’t heal up. Faults, fractures,

the same ones unleashed by volcanoes

and earthquakes. From there,

the most horrendous fish species spurt out.

among these noxious ones, the sheath-fish

go upstream until the torrent,

where the ducks, like radars,

plunge their beaks.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )


Frederick II and the siege of Parma


(During the siege, some noblewomen carry a silver model of the city into the cathedral as an offer to the Virgin Mary)


It will be razed to the ground.

Children and men wiped out

and we women will be abducted. The salt

profusely scattered on the earth

will turn it barren, now a blessing,

whereas we will bear the brunt of the vengeance

of becoming mothers. We implore You

with the city of silver

resting on our feet,

save us from Fredrick.


(It is said that the manuscript of De arte venandi cum avibus was taken away from the emperor just in Parma, where he was defeated in 1248)


When the emperor leaves

the military camp of Vittoria

heading to the river Taro

in order to hunt with his falcon,

the Parmesans, exhausted by the siege,

try a sortie.

Whilst the Swabian is watching

the sparrowhawks in action,

the locals slain

over a thousand soldiers.

From Santa Croce Gate

The incensed crowd pours out

into the camp and plunders it.

In the precious booty, above all,

the harem of Saracen slave women is astounding,

and so is the exotic menagerie of monkeys,

camels and pelicans. Frederick flees to Cremona,

regretting having lost his treaty on birds

and falconry.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )




The white butterflies wondered


The white butterflies wondered

what was the reason why the birds

were destroying them.

The tree trunk, sullied by smog,

was turning into a whitish cemetery.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )


Do listen to Heraclites


Do listen to Heraclites who claims

That being is eternal becoming

following a dialectic that compares the differences and

harmonises them, only a little, or partially,

just as in Pascal, the man,

nobility intertwines with destitution.

As the flame turns into ashes

so the lava emerging from the ocean

cools down becoming Earth’s crust,

gradually lowering down into geological trenches.

All is moving and changing.

The world, enormously dilated,

scatters the galaxies apart,

each one spinning around its axis,

and the sun among them,

followed by the Earth. The problem doesn’t arise –

whether evolving or vanishing:

life is not the result of forces

contrasting death. One follows the other

in more than one occasion. The fossils,

set into the rock,

are evidence of past upheavals,

after the slaughter of the dinosaurs

mammals develop in size and brain.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )




Ulysses’ Return


They say in chorus how

Do you think – Ulysses – you can escape from us –

We, who have triggered your uneasiness,

Have also set your desire on fire;

Stop pretending, you king of liars

And embrace us for eternity. Then those

Whistling voices are spreading


Until they reach the room

Where the connubial love is preserved,

And they are tormenting me,

Just me, who does not deserve it.


For twenty years I went through danger,

Ten years fighting far away for my fatherland and the remainder,

Struggling to get back. What else

Could I have done. Unfortunately, now,

A year after my uneasy return,

Reunited with Penelope, my wise queen,

I live unhappily, oppressed by these relentless sounds

Deceiving my thoughts. I love

Penelope, and more than anything else,

I adore my land – they

Deny it. I must be tired, really


Exhausted, if the emotional passion

That I feel from far away towards beloved things,

Leaves room for suspicion, as I get closer.

Perhaps there is nothing left other than rooting out

The mysterious origins of these

Ambiguous voices and subduing them; tomorrow

I’ll set off again.

(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Claire Stanfield)




Christopher Columbus towards Marco Polo



(The 12th October 1492 the island of San Salvador is sighted)


Land, land! The mariners

feel like survivors, at first sceptical,

then dancing and celebrating. In the meantime,

various species of birds

gliding over the ship

are welcoming us.

Unknown sprouts

are dangling from their beaks.



(Saint Christopher, patron of the travellers, is depicted struggling and near to drowning, in the act of carrying Jesus to the other bank of the river)


I’ve crossed the Atlantic carrying

the Christ on my shoulders. Mercy,

they would cry during the storms,

without noticing that the saviour

was among us. How would we have otherwise

got up to here?

Here where a paradise on Earth begins.



(The eclipse, which was foretold by the astronomical calendars, becomes a sort of miracle for the Indian rebels)


So na´ve and savage to believe …

Who on Earth are these people

Walking whilst exposing their genitalia?

So little oriental in their gestures. I will

make the moon disappear. While

the dark makes them invisible

they bow, bewildered, to my feet.



(On his journey, Christopher reads Marco Polo’s Il Milione, and takes notes)


Sailing the other way around,

as if in a ring-a-ring-o’ roses.

I’m carrying your book in my pocket,

as a map, relic and compass. You’re waiting

for me in the Orient

where the palaces are ornate with gold and lapis lazuli.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Louise Flory )



Marco Polo’s Soul


How many lies

Have you told? Your soul was

Just before the threshold

Where the body changes into glowing light

And releases energy projecting us


Towards a new dimension. If

- says he, while leaving

Yet another clue – if the journey

In the midst of words is not enough,

Why don’t you set off? Try it.


(Translation by Max Mazzoli and Claire Stanfield )