Alda Merini: ‘Aphorisms and Spells’ translated by Carla Scarano

Alda Merini (1931–2009) is one of the most important contemporary Italian poets and started to publish her poetry when she was eighteen. Her work was appreciated by poets and writers such as Giorgio Manganelli, Salvatore Quasimodo and Pier Paolo Pasolini and was well known in poetry circles in Rome and Milan. She had a troubled relationship with Giorgio Manganelli and started to manifest mental health problems. In 1953 she married a bakery owner, Ettore Carniti, and had four daughters. In 1955 she published her first collection, La Presenza di Orfeo (The Presence of Orpheus), and Tu sei Pietro (You are Peter).

After a period of depression and an incident at home, she spent some ten years as an inpatient at the mental health hospital Paolo Pini. She was released in 1972 and lived a precarious life in the Navigli area in Milan. After her discharge, she published her most famous works: Terra Santa (Holy Land), L’Altra Verità. Diario di una Diversa (The Other Truth. Diary of a Misfit), DelirioAmoroso (Love Delirium), 1989) and Sogno e Poesia (Dream and Poetry), which deal with the period spent in the mental health hospital.

Later in her life she married the poet Michele Pierri and moved to Taranto for some years. More recently she became a celebrity, appearing on several TV programmes and posing naked for the Italian magazine Panorama. She won several awards and was twice nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The best introduction to Merini’s work for English readers is  Love Lessons, her bilingual selected poems published by Princeton University Press. It  will be reviewed by Carla Scarano in a future issue of The High Window.

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Poems from  Aforismi e Magie translated by Carla Scarano

My mother
brought me up
with the smell of pastry.

Mia madre
mi ha educata
con l’odore
dei pasticcini.

I love
what is not
spoken.

Io amo
ciò che non
si dice.

Poetry
is the skin
of the poet.

La poesia
è la pelle
del poeta.

The person who is silent is frightful.

Chi tace spaventa.

The poet never rejects
her shadows.

Il poeta non rigetta mai
le proprie ombre.

Don’t try
to catch the poets
because they will slip
through your fingers.

Non cercate
di prendere i poeti
perché vi scapperanno
tra le dita.

Man’s degree of freedom
is measured by the intensity
of his dreams.

Il grado di libertà
di un uomo
si misura dall’intensità
dei suoi sogni.

Give me a song to sing tenderly,
so as tears from the sky
colour life.

Dammi canto da cantar soave,
sì che lacrime di cielo
colorino la vita.

The active ingredient
of every human creature
is its solitude.

Il principio attivo
di ogni creatura umana
è la sua solitudine.

No one
combs me as well
as the wind.

Nessuno
mi pettina bene
come il vento.

The poet never sleeps
but in return he often dies.

Il poeta non dorme mai
ma in compenso muore spesso.

Hell
is
my
great
passion.

L’inferno
è
la mia
grande
passione.

The gun
I pointed at the temple
is called Poetry.

La pistola
che ho puntato alla tempia
si chiama Poesia.

The dream sings
on only one string.

Il sogno canta
su una corda sola.

I am not
a tameable woman.

Non sono una donna
addomesticabile.

The house of poetry
will never have doors.

La casa della poesia
non avrà mai porte.

Before speaking
with others
put to sleep
your secret
wild beast.

Prima di parlare
con gli altri
addormenta
la tua belva
segreta.

Sin
is never to be rejected

Il peccato
non si rifiuta mai.

 

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Carla Scarano D’Antonio lives in Surrey with her family. She obtained her Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and has published her creative work in various magazines and reviews. Alongside Keith Lander, Carla won the first prize of the Dryden Translation Competition 2016 for their translations of Eugenio Montale’s poems. She is currently working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood’s work at the University of Reading. Her most recent publication is the chapbook, Negotiating Caponata (Dempsey and Windle, 2020). http://carlascarano.blogspot.com/ http://www.carlascaranod.co.uk/