Paul Archer - photo Paul Archer - poet, translator



A Tomb in Tarquinia
('Sepulcro en Tarquinia' by Antonio Colinas, english translation by Paul Archer)

E loderó quella che più mi piacque
delle tue donne morte 

e il tenue riso ond'ella mi delude
e l'alta immagine ond'io mi consolo
nella mia mente

e il sogno di voluntà che sta sepolto
sotto le pietre nude.

Gabriele d’Annunzio

Poi mi partia, consumato ogni duolo.

          Dante Alighieri

the gates of night opened,
the horses escaped into the night,
a field of ice, of stars, of violins,
the night swallowed up breasts and roses,
a mature night wrapped in snow
after the slow sleep of autumn,
after the long mouthful of autumn,
after the hurricane of stars,
the autumn with trees of gold,
with burnt towers and columns,
with walls covered with late
and you in that tram splashed
at the water's edge by the boats,
by the lights
and the wind and the lamps and the oars,
that autumnal face which would never
see again, my love, never again,
behind the tram’s windows
with a dream of foals in the eyes,
with a herd of deer in the eyes,
with a den of tigers in the eyes,
and with the smoke of the cemeteries,
and with the ironwork of the cemeteries,
and with the red clouds up there
(above the cypress trees and dead birds,
the thyme and the fragrant vases)
over the cemeteries
flying in your eyes

the gates were opened at night,
the horses escaped into the night,
the bramble-bushes of memory were stirred,
a desert (the sea) passed through my memory,
mourning that young girl on the road
full of crosses

if you could see me at this dark table
with the blanket and the stained glass,
with the fire out, no more fire
than that in this heart here, than in one more
of your days passing hurriedly
down to the lake and the night and the gardens,
if you could see me,
if you knew:
the lions were bound in chains,
rings placed in their mouths,
someone filled with lead each pipe
of the fountain and the water in the basin
of marble,
the water in the rose-pink basin,
the water in that marble veined
like green snakes, like serpents,
that poisoned everything and all is
dead like fallen leaves,
muzzled like the lions,
full of shackles and dead suns,
full of the sun and shivering moons

they had to steal the pyx,
the gold candlesticks and chalice
of onyx and beautiful gemstones,
they had to break all the roofs,
coffered ceilings, pulpits, altars
(Titian, my old friend, had paintings
covering the walls and they opened
the tombs that had already been plundered)
in fact everything was brought down, there had been a music
and a light in the arches and architraves
Lentz, Scarlatti, Telemann, Vivaldi,
ceilings covered in frescos, the tabernacles,
the ancient, aromatic, worm-ridden
lustrous wood panelling in the choirs,
the altarpiece, the slabs, the trumpets,
the throng of angels, once in a while
a mandolin sound, the Botticelli
virgin with your face, violas
trembling in our veins and a great choir
furiously thundering with the organ,
with the heart

the heart, the heart, you left
not knowing that it was all over
by night time, so drunk
it would seem, with disheveled hair,
so suffocated and feeble, so sad,
the music made you tremble,
if you cried the cobbled streets
felt you pass by,
there was a clear echo if you cried,
a garden that was in a sad state,
if you cried
the city lit its candles,
all was metallic, the Milky Way
creaked if you cried, the sea blue
overcoat, the raised hood,
slowly going down each flagstone,
quickly in front of the alcoves,
if you cried...

you were not happy then, I would say,
after the concerts, I would say
your skin was as smooth as a scepter,
like a precious and strong and firm scepter,
with a waist like the soundbox of a viola,
I would say
an organ sounded through your veins,
anyone would say that, all looked at you
traversing the walls, skirting
the roman theater, if you cried
oleanders in the shade felt you
pass by, so serene, your steps
crunched the gravel on the path
if you cried, your agate eyes
dreamt a funeral scene
among those burnt columns,
if you cried
there were red tunics snagged
in the brambles, a forest at daybreak,
a forest of glowing cypress trees
and blood in your ravaged chest,
after you slowly sank in the river,
it rained slowly if you cried
or a hurricane held sway in the city
and I never knew where you were
if you cried

(the wind tore down branches in the forests,
branches of pine trees, apple trees, poplars,
delicate fruits, clusters of roses,
tore down statues leaving each fountain
full of green and sulphurous water,
ripped out the bells and flower beds,
the wind opened windows to the dark
and a whirlwind of citrus perfumes,
a hurricane of crushed flowers,
a blaze of violet rays
invaded the rooms of the villa,
the wind tore down branches in the forests
and after the violent rain,
and the ozone biting the windows,
after the wild horses
gambolled over the meadows like flames,
the forest dripped full of lust,
the rooftops were filled with stars,
the cold moon trembled in every pool,
a violin muzzled the night,
in Bergamo, after the storm,
a swan floated on the music of Liszt,
dipping its red beak in the dark water
under the heady-perfumed pine trees,
it moves like a white lightning streak,
stirs the laurels with its wings,
screams wildly for the moist stars,
Bergamo grows inside ivy, grows inside ruins,
smothered by forests of chestnut trees,
yellow lanterns and cherry trees,
swan: a bulb of snow and rain and music,
with a defeated and flaccid head,
with a broken head on the marble,
its neck a delicate, exotic flower,
my swan, my happy childhood
expiring at the feet of Donizetti)

if you saw me now by the fire,
pierced by you, by your memory,
there is so much snow outside and yet
still comes to my mind that villa
of Catullus we imagine together,
not the villa ruins in Sirmione
with light music and blonde people
dancing on the bridge made of boats,
not where Joyce and Pound met
(the olives must have been sweet
then, when the lake devoured
the sun and every wave was on fire,
waves of green fire, with so many fish
from the look-out points and how beautiful
the maidens of the temple and bathhouses,
Sirmio, the Sirmio of that time, the jewel
among the beautiful islands on the lake,
when the blossom came to the almond trees
you, Catullus, the poet from Verona,
you traveled as far as Asia, Sirmio, Sirmio,
full of red lips and krateres)

there is so much snow outside and yet
the dogs do not distract me from that dream
that is all opal and diamantine clouds,
the last apple does not distract me
that refuses to fall, nor the branches
of the walnut tree full of ravens, nor the air
thick with smoke, nor the barbed-wire fences,
nor the dead chicken on the path
last night, nor the pigs,
nor their red entrails dripping
on the snow, such a violent blood,
but I have another memory, I have
a memory of more precious blood,
and how sweet and how sad to remember it

aroma from unburnt leaves,
the mutilated Venus in the garden,
the stone satyrs on the steps,
the dogs of the guardian and the cold moon
kissing the flowerbeds and the towers,
in that pavilion I lived another life,
if you arrived at night among the pines
far away lanterns were shining,
their galleries of blue glass,
inside the chandeliers and the music
from a piano scented by mimosa,
that painting of the Stygian lake
(the Patinir of the apple greens)
the younger girls drank
the notes of Chopin and forgot
the sparkling champagne in their glasses,
the rose garlands mouldered
above their fevered ivory brows,
they had books in their hands
they never finished reading,
the moist stars disturbed them
and the cries of the swans on the lake
proclaimed their path to death,
illness and Art and desire
and not being able to kiss those lips
without thinking of the flowers of blood,
suspecting boats on the shore,
a splash of oars in the reeds,
every night came the visit
of Death with its different faces,
dressed in the mournful sound of the viola,
in the air hung the threat
and a murmur of branches in the dark,
peacocks of light at dawn,
the sound of bells in the cloister,
cut lilies on the path,
a red cushion for the young blonde
who never threw away the letters I wrote,
a white coffin for a sad lady

there is so much snow outside and yet...
come, caged bird, I see a little
of me perched in your two miniscule eyes,
come bird come with the rain,
let me see myself, your eyes are like two
very black pinheads
and I want to see myself in them,
made for death you sing less
and bring me burnt afternoons,
I have no time to lose, you have all
I have lost in your eyes, concentrated there,
battling sleep and death in this room,
fifteen seasons fight in my eyes,
my last memories, my dreams:

after Noah opened the Ark
he received a blast of fetid wind right between the eyes,
you see? Valle-Inclán lit green fires,
the winter bird could go on singing,
why should you complain, Beatrice d'Este,
if you have a dress made of gold?,
the angels came down to reap
that summer: they sleep beside the well,
after the storm a red rocking horse
grazes in the blue-moon meadow,
the patio of the convent was filled
with tamed lions and goldfinches,
you are a maiden of Crotone:
you wouldn’t know the existence of love!
Dufy walked and left behind purple footprints,
Pinki loved the hurricane, the light of the forest,
Bucintoro, you might not arrive with the sun,
I did not sleep that night and at dawn
they called at the door, when I opened
there was a petal of almond blossom on the frost,
they buried it under an enormous apple tree,
a roar of sacred bamboo and lotus flowers,
it didn't recognise itself looking at the sun,
it felt naked: it burned like a bush

you delivered to me the unknown...
do you still remember the history of the tomb?
between the sea and the forests of Tarquinia
someone opened the tomb of a warrior
hidden from the day of his death
(the noble Etruscan under the roots
of almond trees and olive trees sweetened
by the deep spring of Tarquinia)
at the blow of a pickaxe it entered the air
in that tabernacle of shadow
and ancient resounding stone,
it entered the air and everything turned
into odourless black and sacred dust,
the caved-in curvature of his chest,
the enclosure of his mouth, the high brow,
the mournful dark night of his eyes,
down to the bracelets of fine gold
they fell into ashes when touched,
only some rotted clothes
and a massacre of rusted weapons
remained on the pile of funereal dust,
on the broken cords of his arms,
(spring buried in Tarquinia)
the fever of the warrior had faded,
time had interred a young lily
under the black pines,
spring in Tarquinia ...
while overhead the ploughs dig up
the burning, prickly, rocky ground
while the sun pierces the gloomiest
of the caves of Cyclops and the sea
resounds like a ruin on the cliffs,
down, in the uncovered tomb,
the tomb raiders prowl,
they stick their nails into the ashes,
break the vases, search for the gold
that time does not forgive

(night falls slowly
on Lake Trasimeno, the olive trees
know God, they lament deeply, meekly,
under  a silver and emerald light,
we will go up to Gubbio at sunset,
there is still snow and already signs of spring,
the herd of goats ruminate
down below, among the temple ruins,
open, Night, your wings over the cloister
of San Damiano and the towers of Assisi,
leave in the open air the body of Umbria,
poor Francis, how much blazing
of worthless blood, your sackcloth, your hands
under a roof of trembling stars)
you delivered to me the unknown...
you are there, glimpsed in the distance,
buried in the September afternoon
under a rain of dead bells,
under a hill of poisonous figtrees,
I remember you
under a rain of black bells,
under a rain of slow bells
you wrapped yourself up on winter evenings,
if I placed a hand on your veins
it would feel the night and its bells,
when quiet: the impending bells,
if you dream of me, if you wait, I will find you
interred under a cold slab
that eroded the rain made from bronze,
to die with you this unique afternoon
singing inside the rose-pink walls
by the colder lights of winter,
under a rain of black bells
the afternoon rolls like a gold bottle
over the filigree of the pavement
hitting the corners and the grilles,
you will be the strong pollen of the night,
the crystal of the evening, the storm
of music that Mozart composed
on the day of his death and we did not listen to,
you deserve the visit of the moon,
you have a rooftop terrace in each eye,
you open your legs, you open your hands,
your breasts point to the snow,
your belly is a half-burnt bramble,
are those lips clusters or bunches of grapes?
how delightful to die without crushing them,
to see you flow like a river in spate,
to be a bracelet on your ankle, on your wrist,
not to kiss those lips, not to think
that mouth belongs to you, that it's yours
and not a bunch of grapes that one bites and discards,
pass, woman, like a wave in the dark,
pass, woman, as the night passes on,
Love has scars on the lips,
how delightful to die without possessing you

you delivered to me the unknown,
to what forests, to what high palaces
you took me when we met,
to what acidic pool, to what palms,
to what evenings of bad-tempered thorns
to what ship aimless in the darkness,
to what deep and disconsolate garden,
to what terraces...

you appear among the tombs of Torcello,
tall, with a head full of gold,
your bare feet walked round Torcello,
the grass rustling with snakes
(before these islands sink
- you said - you must sing of their sorrow,
their beauty, their buried dreams)
among so many destroyed statues
only your own marble throbbed warmly,
your glorious breasts and your belly
delicate and musical as a moon,
and between the towers, from the watchtower,
full of capitals and flowers,
you contemplated the sea with immense calm
while weaving with ivy
a solemn and beautiful garland
that, before my eyes, you then threw
into the sea

the night was oily, among the reeds
we saw without light the last ship,
it was for us a soothing suicide,
the deep and unctuous darkness
of the dead canals, the Byzantine
churches in half a meter of water,
what a soothing death, the very sweetest:
the fishing lamps in the lagoon,
Burano, San Francesco del Deserto,
Murano, the malarial aromas
of the islands, the ghostly ruins,
an infinite joy and a music
made with the silence of the sea,
it was an oily night, through the reeds
we saw without light the last ship,
all our island, such ecstasy
half pagan, half mystical, in your eyes,
we believed still in beauty,
we went to bury the will
under the silent grass of the island

you must know now that you remember:
no one will ever come to this place,
here the sea brings the dead fish to us
and there is no other life than the waves
crashing in the darkness of the caves,
you will dream a boat every night,
you will dream some lips every night,
in vain you will listen by the rocks,
no one will ever come to this place,
you will look through the convent’s rooms,
you will scrutinise the face of Diana,
the cats will watch the cold dawn,
there will be a fresco with splodges of salt
in the crypt, without a roof, of the castle,
the hurricane will uproot geraniums,
no one will ever come to this place,
no one will ever come to this place
and the seagulls will bring me sadness
                                         Monterosso al Mare, the spring of 1972

See also Sepulcro en Tarquinia - an introduction to the poem.
For translations of other poems by Antonio Colinas, go to Translations.

© Paul Archer - All Rights Reserved