Reading: Via Velasca by Leonardo Sinisgalli

Leonardo Sinisgalli (1908-1981) studied engineering and mathematics before he became a poet, and they appear to call him the “engineer poet”. Here is a collection of his poetry in Italian. I found this impressionist poem about a street, in the translation of W.S. di Piero, and I quote:

Via Velasca
Years of pounding have nearly
Caved it in, and it’s hard to believe
The street’s gotten narrower.
This is my hour, my favorite hour.
I remember one night all noise died
In the fading light, a voice
Cried my name as if in a dream
Then stopped.
The street bends, the day
Drips from the rooftops,
The sweet hour sings in me.
The light is only a stubborn
Ghost, a glow: a fish
Gleams in the glass bottle.

Sinisgalli. Image Wikimedia

The pounding is ‘calpestio’ in the original, perhaps trampling would have been a better translation. The quiet old street has become a busy thoroughfare. Narrower, probably because all the streets from your childhood are grand and wide. But there is no nostalgia here, this is the favorite hour: The poet is aware that he feels so good because of the memories that he didn’t have back then. He remembers a silent night in which a voice cried (un grido disse: a cry said) my name as in a dream. I see an older poet smiling happily in the fading light, hardly registering the voice who is shouting his name.

Because he is painting in his head the image of the street. Look at these days that drip from the rooftops as the street bends. Dalí! The light is glowing, a shiny glimmer like a fish in a glass bottle. This imagery in Italian:

Non è che una larva restìa
La luce, un barlume: entro la boccia
Di vetro un pesce s’illumina.

The fish is lighting up itself, so we’re thinking of inner light and enlightenment. And even that light is only a stubborn ghost, overrated when the sweet hour sings. The light is a superficial glowing, what is essential is perhaps the voice that cries our name?

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