Italian Poetry




Vera Lúcia de OliveiraLeonardo SinisgalliUmberto SabaAttilio Bertolucci Giovanna BemporadSalvatore Quasimodo

The Translators

Eiléan Ní ChuilleanáinAllen ProwlePeter RobinsonAnthony Howell


Vera Lúcia de Oliveira: Six poems
translated by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin


(from No coração da boca / Nel cuore della parola, 2003)


they told him about his father
when he was already dead
him in the big city
his father suffering, you don’t do this to a
brother, you don’t leave someone out
just because he’s had to leave his own home
get lost like dog in the city with nobody
you don’t do such a mean thing to a son who never again
could say Papa I’ve come I came home Papa


she said to him suddenly
that she didn’t want to be buried
in that place
that she wasn’t from there
that the earth there would not
recognise the earth
of the place she came from


(from La carne quando è sola, 2011)

she had one leg that no longer did as it was told
the leg was sick, not her, the leg
so her soul was a long-distance runner
her soul dashed about everywhere
this was what tormented her, her soul
ended up limping just by dint of dragging
her body around like a dead weight


I put a little bed down in the earth
it was autumn I allowed the leaves
to pile up softly on the ground
making a golden coverlet
spreading wrapping someone’s ears
I don’t know who was laid asleep
in that cradle there was someone
that cried and cried could I
ever have seen that face


the poet Sandro Penna
wandered the streets in search of God
sniffed at everything kept his eyes
open he had it in him to see what
others did not see
was it his fault in the end
if God had decided to hide himself
in the bodies of those unfortunate poor boys
like Ernesto the Jewish lad sent
to die in Auschwitz?


our dreams have moved away from us
you see they arrive before us
you see how they land
some way from the bodies
left somewhere behind
at the bottom of the sea


Vera Lúcia de Oliveira is a poet, critic and academic who works in the University of Perugia. She writes in Portuguese and Italian, and her work has appeared in journals and anthologies published in Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the United States, Romania and Germany. Her work has been widely appreciated in Italy and Brazil. She has published several books in Italian, from  Geografia d’ombra, 1989, to La carne quando è sola, 2013; also in Portuguese, from A chuva nos ruídos – Antologia Poética, 2004, to Vida de boneca, 2013, to O músculo amargo do mundo, 2014, as well as critical essays.

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Leonardo Sinisgalli: Three Poems
translated by Allen Prowle



I will remember this autumn
beautiful and fleeing the migrant light
that curves now as the reeds are being bowed by the wind.
The floodwater in the canals has come up to my waist
and, parched by the drought, I sank right in.
At night in the city with my friends
I will tell the story of these days of good fortune,
of my father who had turned his feet red
treading the grapes,
of my timorous mother
who, carrying a warm egg in her hand,
is happier than a newlywed.
My father talked about that cherry tree
planted, he told me, on their wedding day,
that has not flowered this year, and how he dreamed
of making from it, for me his firstborn,  a wedding bed.
The north wind was opening the sky
to the quarter moon.  The moon with the rose-red
budding horns of a calf!
Tomorrow, my father said, we will be able to sow.
I looked at the palm of his hand,
its lines clear against the fire, heard
the seed burst open in his heart,
and saw ablaze in his eyes the ripe corn
brimming in the hollow.


The old, their memories fading,
lie down with the doors closed.
They plug the eye of a needle with cotton wool.
They gamble naturally with naked,
intoxicating death.
Their fear is that some spy or child
might catch them in the act.
It does not matter if the moon sees them.


The old find weeping easy.
Sitting, in the middle of the day,
in some quiet corner in an empty house,
they burst into tears.
An infinite despair
takes them by surprise.
They lift to their lips a dried-up
slice of pear, the pulp
of a fig baked on the tiles.
Even a mouthful of water
can end a fit of weeping,
and the visit from a snail.


Leonardo Sinisgalli (1908 – 1981) was born in Montemuro, Basilicata. After completing his engineering degree in 1932, he moved to Milan where he worked as an architect and graphic artist. His early collections focused on themes from ancestral southern Italian myths. Later he explored a more relaxed style in La vigna vecchia (1952), L’età della luna (1962) and Dimenticatoio. 

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Umberto Saba: Poem
translated by Peter Robinson



I went across the entire city.
Then I climbed a slope,
peopled at first, deserted higher up,
enclosed by a low wall:
a nook where I sit all
alone; and it seems that where this ends,
there ends the city.

Trieste has a sulky
grace. If it pleases,
it’s like a lad, rough and greedy,
with blue eyes and hands too large
to offer a flower;
like a love,
a jealous love.
From this slope each church, each of its streets
I pick out, should it lead to the crowded beach,
or to the hillside where, on its stony
summit, a house, the last one, clings.
All around
circling each of the things
is a strange air, a tormented air,
its native atmosphere.

My city, in every part alive,
has made me this nook, for my pensive
and reluctant life.


Umberto Saba (1883 – 1957) was born Umberto Poli in the cosmopolitan port of Trieste. He assumed the nom de plume “Saba” in 1910, and his name was officially changed to Umberto Saba in 1928. From 1919 he was the proprietor of an antiquarian bookshop in Trieste. He suffered from depression all his adult life.

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Attilio Bertolucci: Poem
translated by Peter Robinson



to P. P. Pasolini

City, I saw you one morning in November
wake up, get ready for another day of life,
eager smoke glinting at the lazy eastern fringes
run through by sunlight tender as a flower,
clouds’ silver higher up thickened in the blue
hiding for briefest instants, starter off of tremors,
and lengthily flashing again, now the fine weather has
come back to stay, if that distant violet’s snow
smiling beyond hills with uncared-for enclaves,
the mortifications of shadow, now the sun’s won, or will win.

You were alive at nine in the morning,
like a man or a woman or a boy who works
and they don’t sleep late, have fresh, attentive
eyes upon the task assigned,
in the scent of wet wood or burnt leaves
or in that faintly bitter one of evergreens
growing above your flanks, and seen from the heights
through which inebriated I go down to the bridges
crowded with people passing, silent and white from here
like bird’s wings on the yellow water’s skin.

I think of those who lived through this southern clime,
through your winters warming bones bound
by endless chills in childhoods vivacious and numb,
of Virgil, of Catullus who a climate once mild raised,
but taught a race less compliant than yours,
and so he suffered, suffered, quickly life passed for him,
by now it passes quickly for me and doesn’t hurt as when
bit by bit acacias die to flower once more
next year, for here one year is like another,
one season equal to another, one person same as another,

love an offensive richness, an indefensible privilege.


Attilio Bertolucci (1911 – 2000) was born in the province of Parma. He began to write poems very early and published his first collection, Sirio, in 1929. In 1931 he abandoned his study of law in favour of literature. Other noteworthy collections are La Capanna Indiana (1951) and Viaggio d’inverno 1971). His sons are the film directors Bernardo and Giuseppe Bertolucci.

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Giovanna Bemporad: Poem
translated by Peter Robinson



to Bartolo Cattafi

I could wish – like the October thrush
that imitates with its pecking song,
lifting itself up, a bead of light –
to raise a cry against this opaque
silence and the grape-picked sky;

but evening casts a glimmer
of flame on my face, and numbers years,
fearing to count the eternal months –
and only winters – that remain in the heart,
my youth renounced for ever.


Giovanna Bemporad (1928 – 2013) was born in Ferrara. She was a poet and the translator of, amongst others, Homer, Hölderlin, Rilke and the French Symbolists. She also translated The Song of Songs from the Hebrew.

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Salvatore Quasimodo: Poem
translated by Anthony Howell



Now that autumn spoils the hillside’s greenery,
Oh my darling beasts, once more
We listen, at the start of dusk, to all the final sorrows
Of the birds, feel the smoky plain’s allure
That leads us to its rendezvous
With the deep’s murmur, the odour
Of rain-drenched timber, odour of each den.
How lively it is among houses,
Amid men, my darling beasts…
This face that slowly rolls an eye,
This hand that gestures to a sky
Where thunder rumbles; these are yours,
My wolves, my burnt, my bloodied foxes.
Every hand is yours, each face.
You’ve taught me just how pointless
It has been – days washed away by
Relentless waters while some children’s song
Issues from the gardens – its hour
A long way from us though.  Hardly even its shadow
In the air.  Here is your voice – though I may guess
That maybe all of this has never happened.


Salvatore Quasimodo (1901 –1968) was born in Modica, Sicily. In 1919 he moved to Rome to complete his engineering studies. In 1934 he moved to Milan where, from 1938 onwards, he devoted himself entirely to his writing. Having previously received numerous literary awards, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959.

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The Translators



Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was born 1942 in Cork. Since 1966 she has taught in Trinity College Dublin.  With Macdara Woods, Leland Bardwell and the late Pearse Hutchinson, she founded (1975) and co-edits the Irish poetry journal Cyphers. The Sun-Fish was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and won the Griffin International Prize for poetry in 2010; The Boys of Bluehill (Gallery Press, 2015) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize. She has published translations from Irish, Italian and Romanian.


Allen Prowle was awarded the Times/Stephen Spender Prize 2007 for his translations of poems by Attilio Bertolucci. Previously, the Lincolnshire Association commissioned his translations of poems by Paul Verlaine to commemorate the centenary of the poet’s residence in Stickney in 1875. A collection of his own poems, Landmarks, appeared in 1977. Your Call Keeps Us Awake, Selected Poems of Rocco Scotellaro, translated by Caroline Maldonado and Allen Prowle, was published by Smokestack Books in 2013.


Peter Robinson is the author of many books of poetry, translations, and literary criticism. He has also published a collection of short stories and his novel, September in the Rain, is forthcoming from Holland House Books in 2016. Awarded a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for The Great Friend and Other Translated Poems (Worple, 2002), he was winner of the John Florio Prize for The Greener Meadow: Selected Poems of Luciano Erba (Princeton, 2007).


Anthony Howell is a poet and novelist whose first collection of poems, Inside the Castle was brought out in 1969.  His poems have appeared in The New Statesman, The Spectator and The Times Literary Supplement. A former dancer with the Royal Ballet, and now a respected teacher of the tango, he is currently curating The Room, a space for dance, poetry and visual art in Tottenham.


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