This is a poem from Eugenio Montale’s Collected Poems, a book that never leaves my bedside table that I think has been perfectly translated. I can’t imagine life without them.
In the Greenhouse
The lemon-house was being over-
ridden by the moles’ stampedes.
The scythe shone in a rosary
of wary waterbeads.
A spot among the quinces blazed,
We heard the pony rear up at
the comb—then sleep was all.
Rapt, weightless, I was drenched with you,
my hidden breathing was your form,
your face was merging into mine,
and the dark idea of God
descended on the living few
to celestial sounds
and children’s drums
and globes of lightning strung above
the lemons, and me, and you . . .
Eugenio Montale was born in Genoa in 1896. His work was read by many as symbolic of resistance to Fascism; eventually, he was widely acknowledged as the greatest Italian poet since Leopardi. Montale was also a voluminous writer of prose—stories and cultural, literary, and music criticism—and a talented amateur painter. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literarture in 1975 and died in Milan in 1981.
Jonathan Galassi is the president and publisher of FSG. He has also translated Montale’s The Second Life of Art: Selected Essays and Otherwise: Last and First Poems. His first novel, MUSE, will be published in June.
Stuart Dybek is the author of five books of fiction—Ecstatic Cahoots, Paper Lantern, I Sailed with Magellan, The Coast of Chicago, and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods—as well as two collections of poetry, Brass Knuckles and Streets in Their Own Ink. Dybek is the recipient of many prizes and awards, including the PEN/Malamud Award, an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writers’ Award, four O. Henry Awards, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is distinguished writer-in-residence at Northwestern University.