The Poetry Porch 2: Poetry

Five poems of Umberto Saba
translated from the Italian by Katherine Jackson

Contents

1. The Goat
2. Ulysses
3. Work
4. Three Streets
5. To My Wife

To read poetry by Katherine Jackson.


The Goat
by Umberto Saba
translated from the Italian by Katherine Jackson

I spoke with a goat.
She was alone in a field, tethered.
Sated with grass, bathed
by rain, she was bleating.

That steady bleating was like a brother
to my sorrow. And I replied
first as a joke, then because sorrow
is eternal, has one voice
and never varies;
the voice I heard
groaning, in a solitary goat.

In a goat with semitic features,
I heard pleading its case
every other trouble
every other life.

(Copyright © 1996 by Katherine Jackson.)

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Ulysses
by Umberto Saba
translated from the Italian by Katherine Jackson

In my youth, I sailed the length
of the Dalmatian Coast. Small islands—
where an occasional seabird hung, suspended,
intent over prey—flowered on the surface
of the waves, slippery, covered with seaweed
like emeralds in the sun. When a full tide
and night annulled them, sails scattered
downwind towards the open sea to escape
their deceptions. Today, my kingdom
is this No Man's Land. The port catches fire
with lights for others. The untamed
spirit still drives me to the wide sea,
the heart-wounding love of life.

(Copyright © 1996 by Katherine Jackson.)

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Work
by Umberto Saba
translated from the Italian by Katherine Jackson

Once
my life was easy. The earth
gave me flowers   fruit in abundance.

Now I loosen ground that is dry and hard.
My spade
bangs against stones in the underbrush. I must
excavate far down. Like someone searching for treasure.

(Copyright © 1996 by Katherine Jackson.)

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Three Streets
by Umberto Saba
translated from the Italian by Katherine Jackson

There is a street in Trieste where I see myself
mirrored in long days of closed shutters:
Via del Lazaretto Vecchio.
Among houses like hospices, ancient, identical,
it has one note, only one, of brightness,
the sea, at the bottom of its side streets.
Perfumed with spices and tar
from warehouses with their desolate facades
the trade is in nets, cordage for ships: one shop
has a banner for its emblem; inside, turned
towards the passer-by, women, who rarely
merit a glance, with bloodless faces bent
over the colors of every nation,
serve out the sentence that is
their lives: innocent prisoners
gloomily stitching cheerful ensigns.

In Trieste, with its many sadnesses,
its beauties of sky and district,
there is a steep hill called Via del Monte.
It begins with a synagogue and closes with a cloister; midway
up the street is a chapel; there from a meadow
you can scope out the dark energy of life,
and the sea with its ships, the promontory,
the crowds and the awnings of the market.
By the side of the slope is a cemetery,
abandoned, where not one funeral enters,
no one has been buried, as long as I
can remember: the old burying-ground
of the Jews, dear to my thought,
if I think of my own old ones, after so much
suffering and trading, buried there
—all alike, in spirit and appearance.

Via del Monte is the street of holy affection,
but the street of delight and love
is always Via Domenico Rossetti.
This green suburban byway, which loses,
day by day, its color, and is always
more city, less countryside, still keeps
the fascination of its best years,
its first scattered villas
and sparse rows of saplings. Whoever
strolls by in these last evenings
of summer—when every window is open
on a far vista,
where someone waits, knitting, or reading—
thinks that perhaps his beloved
might flourish again, in the old pleasure
of living, of loving him, him only;
and her little son, too, rosy with health.

(Copyright © 1997 by Katherine Jackson.)

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To My Wife
by Umberto Saba
translated from the Italian by Katherine Jackson

You are like a young
white hen.
Her feathers ruffle
in the wind, her neck curves
down to drink, and
she rummages in the earth:
but, in walking, she has
your slow, queenly step,
haughty and proud.
She is better than the male.
She is like the females
of all the serene animals
who draw near to God.
Here, if my eye, if my judgment
doesn’t deceive me, among these,
you find your equals,
and in no other woman.
When evening lulls
the little hens to sleep,
they make sounds that call
to mind those mild, sweet
voices with which you argue
with your pains, and don’t know
that your voice has the soft, sad
music of the henyard.

You are like a pregnant
heifer,
still free, and without
heaviness, merry, in fact;
who, if someone strokes her, turns
her neck, where a tender
pink tinges her flesh.
If you meet up with her, and hear
her bellow, so mournful
is this sound that you tear
at the earth to give her
a present. In the same way,
I offer my gift to you
when you are sad.

You are like a tall, thin
female dog, that always
has so much sweetness
in her eyes and ferociousness
in her heart.
At your feet, she seems
a saint who burns
with an indomitable fervor
and in this way looks at you
as her God and Lord.
When you are at home, or going
down the street, to anyone who tries,
uninvited, to approach you,
she uncovers her shining
white teeth. And her love
suffers from jealousy.

You are like the fearful
rabbit. Within her narrow
cage, she stands upright
to look at you, and extends
her long, still ear; she deprives
herself of the husks and
roots that you bring her,
and cowers, seeking
the darkest corners.
Who might take away
this food? Who might
take away the fur which
she tears from her back
to add to the nest where
she will give birth?
Who would ever make
you suffer?

You are like the swallow
which returns in the spring.
But each autumn will depart—
you don’t have this art.
You have this of the swallow:
the light movements;
that which, to me, seemed
and was old, you proclaim
another spring.

You are like the provident
ant. She whom the grandmother
speaks of to the child as they
go out in the countryside.
And thus I find you
in the bumble bee
and in all the females
of all the serene animals
who draw near to God.
And in no other woman.

(Copyright © 1997 by Katherine Jackson.)

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