… Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…

Hard to read the news or watch TV or listen to the radio these days without being inundated by items about COVID-19, non of it too good except for the examples of heroism given by health workers treating the sick in spite of the dangers to their own well-being. Interesting too that for the first time ancillary staff such as cleaners, porters and hospital office staff are being recognised for the essential part they play in keeping our hospitals open for business. Maybe one of the good things that will come out of all this is that in future we might get our priorities right as to which members of the workforce are the more important for keeping us alive and that when they look for pay-rises we will take them more seriously. However, I am not too hopeful about that. I am quite sure that the astronomical salaries paid to talk-show hosts will continue. Tells us something about ourselves.

Yes, the web and social media are full of contributions on the subject of the dreaded virus and I have to say I find some of them a bit dreary and seemingly written for the sake of writing something. I hope my own contribution ‘April, London’ doesn’t fall into the same category and that it offers a ray of hope. I will leave the reader to judge.

April, London

In Mile End Park the daffodils
explode again and he's beside me

telling hothey’re good as any
fringed the edge of Ullswater.

He talks about the beautiful,
the way it is inseparable

from the brutal. Think, he says,
the ghostly language of the earth:

its cresting waves: such majesty –
and threat. Its mountain peaks – reminders

of our frailty. And yet –
this splendid, fluttering host!

                                                      I think

the splendid, serried ranks that roared
at Nuremberg and prophesied

the bones and blitzmuck of this bombsite
underneath our feet. But yes,

they’re beautiful and good as any
trimmed the banks of Windermere

that spring that year. Or any year,
whatever bad our futures bring.

The other speaker in the poem is of course William Wordsworth, author of a much more famous (and much more accomplished) daffodil poem which he wrote with the help of his sister Dorothy. He is a poet never far from the insides of my writing life.

You can also find a video of my poem in Italian on the Italian Cultural Institute website www.iicdublino.esteri.it where it appears as part of the #WeAreWithItaly campaign organised in support of the Italian people who suffered so much in this unprecedented time of difficulty. The translation was greatly assisted by the Italian poet Anna Maria Robustelli, and I offer it below. And if it is at all possible you haven’t ever read William’s poem (for shame!) please dig out your anthologies and do so immediately!

Aprile, Londra

A Mile End Park i narcisi
esplodono di nuovo e lui è accanto a me

a raccontare che sono bravi come quelli
che sfrangiavano le sponde di Ullswater.

Parla del bello, come sia
inseparabile dal brutale.

Immagina, dice, il linguaggio
spettrale della terra: la cresta

delle sue onde: maestosità –
e minaccia. Le sue vette – promemoria

della nostra fragilità. E ancora –
questa splendida schiera svolazzante!

                                                                   Io penso

agli splendidi ranghi serrati
a Norimberga che profetizzarono 

le ossa e il fango del blitz
proprio sotto i nostri piedi. Ma, sì,

sono belli e buoni come quelli
che decoravano le rive del Windermere

quella primavera quell’anno. O ogni anno,
qualunque male il nostro futuri porti.
Image result for william wordsworth
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way

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Following my exchange visit to Rome last September 2018, I have written a number of poems inspired by the experience. FUIS (Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori), the Italian Federation of Writers, has kindly published some of this work on its website  http://www.Fuis.it/residenza-letteraria-penne-in-irlanda/articoli4561 You may view these poems and their translations below.

More poems are forthcoming. My thanks FUIS and the Irish Writers’ Union in Dublin for enabling this exchange to take place and to Sig. Simone di Conza for his work as facilitator.

The first poem here published concerns a visit to the Church of San Stefano Rotondo, where its ‘martyr murals’ had much the same effect on me as they had on Charles Dickens when he saw them and wrote about them in his travel essays in  ‘Pictures from Italy’ in 1846. I have allowed the torturers to speak for themselves.

The second poem was inspired by a visit to the famous ‘English Cemetery’ on the outskirts of Rome, properly known as the ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery’, which is the charming final destination of many a famous literary name who happened to be not of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The voice in the poem is that of one of the foremost English ‘Romantic’ poets.

This series of poems will be titled ‘Voices from Rome’ (‘Voci da Roma’) and, with the help of my exchange colleague Anna Maria Robustelli, I provide Italian translations.

 

The murals in the Church of Saint Stefano Rotondo, Rome

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This poor wretch we break with stones,
this woman we dismember live,
this one we stretch until his bones
crack open. Crowds have gathered, gape
at trees we’ve hung with chopped-up torsos,
lopped-off limbs.  No pleas, no groans

deter us, no imploring cries –
we’re limited as to instruments,
employ the means we have, devise
whatever tools we can. We’re skilled
in fire and water but the future
lies in methods more refined.

Despite our arrows, here’s a one
still prays and gazes skyward. But
it’s Jupiter and only Him
we’re told to worship now. For now.
We have our orders: ours a trade
must heed today’s doctrinal whim,

but future days may dawn the hour
these followers of the holy fish
are fated to come into power.
It’s then the rack will creak afresh
and bodies bleed. It’s then the cries
that rise to heaven will be ours.

 

I dipinti murali nella Chiesa 
di Santo Stefano Rotondo, a  Roma

Questo poveretto lo frantumiamo
con le pietre, questa donna la smembriamo
viva, questo lo allunghiamo
finché le ossa non si spezzano.
Folle con occhi spalancati guardono
i torsi e gli arti appesi agli alberi.

Nessun grido o lamento ci scoraggia –
i nostri strumenti sono limitati,
usiamo tutto ciò che abbiamo,
proviamo a concepire nuovi mezzi.
Siamo abili con il fuoco e con l’acqua –
più raffinati i metodi del futuro.

Nonostante le nostre frecce, ecco
uno che prega ancora e guarda al cielo.
Ma è Giove, solo Lui, si adora –
per ora. Abbiamo i nostri ordini:
il nostro mestiere si deve prestare
al capriccio dottrinale del momento,

ma un giorno nel futuro potrebbe vedere
i seguaci del pesce santo destinati
a venire al potere. È allora che
scricchiolerà di nuovo il cavalletto
e i corpi sanguineranno. È allora che
le grida verso il cielo saranno nostre.

Tradotto dell’autore assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

In the Company of Poets at the Non-Catholic Cemetery, 
Rome

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On a beach near Viareggio,
wife and friends surround the pyre,
my boyish face defies the flames –
so tells the legend. Not my body
sea-wracked, friends departed long
before I crackled into ash.

This grave a narrow place, the spirits
spurred me into verse dispersed.
A plaque nearby commemorates
the cinders of a New World scribe,
and everywhere eroded stones
show broken lyres. Stone angels weep.

No angel weeps for me, no urns
stand draped in funeréal folds,
no elegant encomium
ignores my faults. Along the path
that skirts these vaults and monuments –
my modest tablet. Unadorned.

Beyond our strict confinements rears
a giant pyramid born of pride –
but turn, remark the simple headstone
of the one – our frail colossus –
who demanded it be chiselled
that his name was writ in water.

Water ferried me ashore,
and fire reduced my frame to dust.
I share this crowded charnel yard
with jugglers of words, with those
who found their poetry in music,
those discovered it in prose.

So far from all the hurried clamour
of our lives, this field affords
a brooding quietude is bred
of whispering trees and falling leaves.
And silence – like the silence follows
when a final line is read.

Nella compagnia dei poeti
nel cimitero acattolico di Roma

Su una spiaggia vicina a Viareggio,
moglie e amici circondano la pira,
la mia faccia da ragazzo sfida le fiamme –
ecco la leggenda. Non il corpo
sconvolto dal mare, gli amici andati via
prima che diventassi cenere.

Questa tomba è un posto stretto,
gli spiriti che mi hanno spronato a scrivere
dispersi. Una lapide vicina commemora
un poeta del Nuovo Mondo, e ovunque
steli mostrano le lire rotte.
Gli angeli di pietra piangono.

Nessun angelo piange per me
non ci sono urne in pieghe funeree,
nessun encomio elegante
ignora i miei difetti. Lungo il sentiero
che corre accanto a questi monumenti—
la mia modesta targa. Disadorna.

Oltre i nostri confini rigorosi
una piramide nata dall’orgoglio –
voltati e osserva la lapide modesta
dell’uno – il nostro fragile colosso –
che voleva fosse inciso nella pietra
ch’l suo nome era scritto nell’acqua.

L’acqua mi ha traghettato qui,
il fuoco ha ridotto il mio corpo
in polvere. Condivido quest’ossario
con giocolieri di parole, e altri
che hanno trovato la loro poesia
nella musica, o in prosa.

Lontano dal clamore frettoloso
delle nostre vite, troviamo qui
una calma pensierosa, nutrita
di alberi sussurranti e foglie cadenti.
E un silenzio – il silenzio che segue
la lettura di un verso finale

Tradotto dell’autore, assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

Camera d’albergo, a Pasqua

(una traduzione di ‘Hotel Room, Easter’ con aiuto da Giuseppe Vetromille)

Non dormo mai le mattine. Mi sveglio
presto, per una quotidiana possibilità
di un nuovo inizio. Potrebbe accadere qui
in questa camera d’albergo: un quadro solitario
(una riproduzione di Hooker, 1819:
prugni di New Orleans), e un guardaroba
con il mio unico cambio di vestiti. A differenza
dei soldati stravaccati sulla tomba io
non dormo mai le mattine, e specialmente
questa mattina è scritto che sarà
un nuovo inizio più che normale
Ovvero: una resurrezione.

 

http://circololetterarioanastasiano.blogspot.com.

HOTEL ROOM, EASTER
(after Edward Hopper)

I never sleep through mornings. I awaken
early to the daily possibility
of a new beginning. It could happen here
in this hotel room: solitary picture
(reproduction: New Orleans Plums,
by Hooker, 1819), and a wardrobe
with my single change of clothes. Unlike
the sprawling soldiery at the tomb I never
sleep through mornings, and especially
this morning it is written there will be
a new beginning more than usual
with mornings. It is said: a resurrection.