Carlo Betocchi
Selected Poems 1932—1982

Translated and edited by Ned Condini


Paperback, xix—223 pages
ISBN 978-0-9725271-6-3


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CARLO BETOCCHI was born in Turin in 1899, moved to Florence as a child and began to write poetry in his youth, publishing in the magazine Strapaese, which preferred verse of a provincial and folksy nature. Sent to the front in 1917, he ended the war in Libya and then moved on to France, returning to Florence in 1928. Here, together with with Piero Bargellini, he founded the Catholic-oriented magazine Il Frontespizio. Decades later, from 1961 to 1977, he edited L'Approdo Letterario in Turin. After a period of post-war experimentation, Betocchi developed his own style, marked by realistic depiction, religious reflection and melancholy sentiment. His collections of verse are L'estate di san martino (1961), Un passo, Un altro passo (1967), Ultimissime (1968-1973) Poesie del sabato (1930-1980) and Poesie disperse e inedite (1984). The complete collection, Tutte le poesie, was published by Mondadori in 1984. He died in Brodighera in 1986.

NED CONDINI is a writer, translator and literary critic. He won the PEN/Poggoli Award for his translation of poetry by Mario Luzi (1986) and the Bordighera Prize for his rendering of Jane Tassi's Andsongsongsonglessness (2002). His short stories and poems have appeared in many prestigious places, including The Mississippi Review, Partisan Review, Chelsea and the Village Voice. His books of poetry include Rimbaud in Ubria (1994) and quartettsatz (1996). He is the translator of The Earth's Wall by Giorgio Caproni, also published by Chelsea Editions, and has edited an anthology of modern and contemporary Italian poetry, Yet Fire Is All, for the Modern Languages Association.

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"Romanesque in his archaic and realistic Christianity... a worker's figure more than an intellectual's... a launcher of bridges, a raiser of levees. No poet adheres like him to a concrete human landscape."
~ Georgio Caproni

"Grace in all its freest forms is the contant pitch of Betocchi's poetry. Grace and a conscious melancholy that tends to reduce the space of darkness and render vain the forces of evil."

~ Carlo Bo

"Successful translation—and especially the translation of poetry—from one's native language into one's adopted langue is a rare achievement. Ned Condini's English version of fine poet Mario Lutzi are remarkable for their boldness and flair."
~ William Weaver

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Il vecchio: stravaganze, sventura, destino: 2 / The Old Man: Oddities, Bad Luck, and Destiny: 2
Nel cortile di quad'ero ragazzo / In My Childhood Courtyard


Il vecchio: stravaganze,
sventura, destino: 2


La sventura ha due sempiterni sigilli:
l'uno da dio, l'altro dall'Avversario.
E tra i due si dibatte l'infelice
che n'è
colpito, e a cui sembra che nulla
ormai volglia l'Uno senza l'Altro. Busca
giorni, cosi, storditi dall'ingenuo
fantasma del suo passato—vede—
si dilegua, e intanto vien preso nella pania
di quel presente che gli lascia un solo
spiraglio: tremare del suo avvenire.
Questo i più non lo sanno: poiché è dato
a tutti di dimenticarlo. Lo sappiano
ora da me, che non so altro che questo.


The Old Man: Oddities
Bad Luck, and Destiny: 2


Misfortune has two everlasting seals:
One from the Enemy, and the other from God.
The wretch smitten by them fumbles between
the two: it seems to him that One does not
want anything without the Other. So

he grabs days struck by the native
ghost of his past that—now he sees— goes by,

and in the meantime he gets ensnared in the
net of that present that leaves him one outlet:
to dread the future. Most people don't know this.
In fact, they all may well forget it.
Let them now learn it from me, who know but this.


Nel cortile di quand'ero ragazzo

O cortile nel sole!
ombra e sole che rendi
quello di cui tu splendi
alla quiete che vuole

Come i tetti si librano
in frastagli fantastici
io ne vedo sui lastrici
ifantasmi che liberano.

Passo passo scavalco
quelle aeree terrazze
dove fu di ragazze
ed ora è d'ombre il canto.

È il mio piede che è pazzo
o l'azzuro s'arrende?
Un filo a piombo pende
dal mio cuor di ragazzo.

Pesa il mio cuore: salta
la mia animal: vivo
come quello che scrivo,

di qualcosa che esalta

e che mortifica. Ave,
o dolcissima chiave
della mia eternità:
o mio piombo che sa.


In My Childhood Courtyard

O courtyard in the sun!
shadow and sun: you lead
whatever you shine on
to the peace that it wants.

As the roofs overspread
in jagged revelries
on the pavement I see
the ghosts that they set free.

Step by step I trudge up
those airy terraces
where long ago girls sang
and now, their effigies.

Is it my foot that falters
or does the sky surrender?
A plumb line is suspended
from my unartful heart.

My heart is heavy: my
soul leaps: I live
like what I write about.
by something that ennobles

and humbles. Hail to thee,
plumb line that understands:
you sweetest key
to my eternity.


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