The Lemon Trees, by Eugenio Montale

montale

Today The Bogman’s Cannon celebrates the 119th anniversary of the birth of anti-fascist Italian Poet Eugenio Montale by publishing his The Lemon Trees. Despite winning the Nobel Prize in 1975, Montale remains a little read obscurity outside his own country – a fate suffered by many non-English writing Nobel winners, to whom the size has often made little difference in keeping their work circulating.

Montale was a life-long public intellectual, opining daily and fearlessly on a range of topics in Italian national media, and always against conformity and bureaucratic ossification in life as in the arts, as in the first four lines of The Lemon Trees:

Hear me a moment. Laureate poets
seem to wander among plants
no one knows: boxwood, acanthus,
where nothing is alive to touch…

Read on below and share to remember another great poet who wouldn’t conform and wouldn’t shut-up – for Mussolini or anyone else.

The Lemon Trees

Hear me a moment. Laureate poets
seem to wander among plants
no one knows: boxwood, acanthus,
where nothing is alive to touch.
I prefer small streets that falter
into grassy ditches where a boy,
searching in the sinking puddles,
might capture a struggling eel.
The little path that winds down
along the slope plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.

Perhaps it is better
if the jubilee of small birds
dies down, swallowed in the sky,
yet more real to one who listens,
the murmur of tender leaves
in a breathless, unmoving air.
The senses are graced with an odor
filled with the earth.
It is like rain in a troubled breast,
sweet as an air that arrives
too suddenly and vanishes.
A miracle is hushed; all passions
are swept aside. Even the poor
know that richness,
the fragrance of the lemon trees.

You realize that in silences
things yield and almost betray
their ultimate secrets.
At times, one half expects
to discover an error in Nature,
the still point of reality,
the missing link that will not hold,
the thread we cannot untangle
in order to get at the truth.

You look around. Your mind seeks,
makes harmonies, falls apart
in the perfume, expands
when the day wearies away.
There are silences in which one watches
in every fading human shadow
something divine let go.

The illusion wanes, and in time we return
to our noisy cities where the blue
appears only in fragments
high up among the towering shapes.
Then rain leaching the earth.
Tedious, winter burdens the roofs,
and light is a miser, the soul bitter.
Yet, one day through an open gate,
among the green luxuriance of a yard,
the yellow lemons fire
and the heart melts,
and golden songs pour
into the breast
from the raised cornets of the sun.

Eugenio Montale

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