Week 501: Ho sceso, dandoti il braccio, by Eugenio Montale

This is one of the poems from the sequence ‘Xenia II’, written by the Italian poet Eugenio Montale in 1967 in memory of his wife Drusilla Tanzi (see also week 370). A recurrent theme in the sequence, as here, is her short-sightedness, paradoxically played off against the acuteness of her vision in other ways, her gift, the poet claims, for seeing what is truly important in life, that allowed her to transcend the limited, quotidian view of reality believed in by some. Like the other poems in the sequence, it manages to combine restraint with poignancy.

Going downstairs together, of course, is not just to be taken literally, but as a symbol for negotiating life’s difficulties as a couple.

The translation that follows is my own.

Ho sceso, dandoti il braccio

‘Ho sceso, dandoti il braccio, almeno un milione di scale
e ora che non ci sei è il vuoto ad ogni gradino.
Anche così è stato breve il nostro lungo viaggio.
Il mio dura tuttora, né più mi occorrono
le coincidenze, le prenotazioni,
le trappole, gli scorni di chi crede
che la realtà sia quella che si vede.

Ho sceso milioni di scale dandoti il braccio
non già perché con quattr’occhi forse si vede di più.
Con te le ho scese perché sapevo che di noi due
le sole vere pupille, sebbene tanto offuscate,
erano le tue.’

Eugenio Montale

Giving you my arm, I have gone down

Giving you my arm, I have gone down,
At least a million stairs.
And now you are no longer here I feel
The void at every step.
So after all it has been short
This long shared voyage of ours.
Mine still goes on, and now I need no more
Coincidences, reservations,
Traps, the scorn of those believing
That reality is only what we see.

I have gone down, giving you my arm,
A million stairs, not just because
With four eyes one maybe sees more.
I went down with you because I knew
That between us two the eyes that truly saw,
For all their being so obscured, were yours.

3 thoughts on “Week 501: Ho sceso, dandoti il braccio, by Eugenio Montale

  1. Dear David – It’s 28 years since we first met and ten years since you started sharing poetry online. I imagine neither of us could have guessed we would still be in touch after such a long time and in such a manner. Thanks to you, I’ve discovered much fascinating poetry and seen delightful depths to your character. I’m glad me met and for every verse you share. :o) I am richer for it. Thanks, Take care and be blessed! //Gareth

    • Thanks Gareth, much appreciated. I remember the tutor at my Cambridge interview asking me what I wanted to do with my life and me saying that I wanted to write poetry. ‘Oh, and do you think anyone will read it?’ ‘Actually, no’. Thank you so much for being one of those rare spirits who have proved me wrong, or at least, not entirely right!

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