The Eel
by Eugenio Montale

Translated from the Italian by Alan Marshfield 


The eel, the siren of
icy waters which leaves the Baltic
to reach our waters, reach
the estuaries, the rivers
deeply beneath whose hostile spate it mounts,
from branch to branch and then
from fibril to fibril, attenuated,
ever more inland, ever more into the heart
of limestone rock, worming
through troughs of slime until one day
a light slanting from chestnut boughs
ignites the slither in stagnant sumps,
in the ditches which descend
from the cliffs of the Apennines to the Romagna,
eel, torch and lash,
arrow of Love on earth
which only our gullies or seared
creeks of the Pyrenees conduct
to fertile paradises;
green soul which seeks
life there where
gnaw only drought and desolation,
the spark which says
all begins where all seems
charred to carbon, a sunken stump,
brief rainbow, twin
to what is brightly clasped in your jewel-eyes
and glows there undefiled among the sons
of men, bedded into your mud, can you
not believe her a sister?

If they have compared you
to the fox its for the prodigious
leap, for the scud of your feet
which unite and divide, which scuff
and freshen the gravel (your balcony,
the streets near the Cottolengo, the field,
the tree on which shivers my name,
happy, humble, and defeated)or perhaps only
for the luminous wave which you shed
from your tender almond eyes,
for your quick astute amazements,
for the hurt
of torn feathers which your childlike hand
can give with one clasp;
if they have compared you
to a yellow carnivore, to the treacherous genius
of the undergrowth (and why not to the unclean
torpedo fish which jolts with a shock?)
it is perhaps because the blind did not see
the wings on your fine shoulder-blades,
because the blind did not unravel the omen
on your incandescent brow, the groove
which I have scratched there in blood, cross chrism
seduction jetsam promise goodbye
perdition and salvation; if they did not know
how to believe you more than weasel or woman,
with whom can I share my finding,
where shall I hide the gold I carry,
where the live coal which shrieks in me when
departing, you turn on the stairs?

Copyright © 1999 by Alan Marshfield. 


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