Paul Archer - photo Paul Archer - poet, translator



The lemons

(English translation of 'I limoni' by Eugenio Montale)

Listen to what I’m telling you: the poets awarded laurels
only appear to move among plants
whose names are rarely used - box, privet or acanthus -
but that’s not me, I love the roads that end up in grassy
ditches where in half-dried puddles
boys grab
a handful of emaciated eels:
the lanes that follow riverbanks,
descend through tufted watercanes
and open out into orchards, groves of lemon trees.

It’s best when the hubbub of birds
is stifled, absorbed by the blue sky,
then one can listen more closely to the rustle
of friendly branches in an air that hardly moves,
and sense a particular smell
that is embued with the earth
and rains in the heart a restless sweetness.
Here miraculously pain has turned to pleasure
and the sounds of war are silenced,
here even the poorest of us can have riches
in the smell of lemons.

You see - in these silences in which things
surrender themselves and seem close
to betraying their ultimate secret,
sometimes we half expect
to discover a flaw in Nature,
the still point of the world, the link that comes loose,
the thread to unravel that finally takes us
to the heart of a truth.
The eye searches around,
the mind examines, harmonises, dissects
in the fragrance that overflows
when the day most languishes.
It is in these silences that we see
in every passing human shadow
some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion dies and time draws us back
to noisy cities where the blue sky only appears
in fragments, high up, between the roofs.
The rain tires out the earth from now onwards;
the tedium of winter weighs on houses,
light becomes miserly – the soul embittered.
Then one day through a door left ajar
in among the trees in a courtyard
we glimpse the yellow of lemons;
and the ice in our hearts melts,
and in our chests
fanfares blare
from their golden trumpets of sunlight.


For more translations of poems by Eugenio Montale, go to Translations.

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