Ennio Contini

Journey Into the Dark

Poems Selected and Edited by Francesca Bergadano
Translated by Michael Palma

ISBN 978-0-9861061-6-3
Bilingual, 285 pages, $20.

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ENNIO CONTINI (1914-2006) was born in Oristano, on the island of Sardinia. His family moved to Savona, in the coastal province of Liguria in northwestern Italy, when he was a boy, and Liguria became his home. During the late 1930s he began to publish literary and cultural essays in nationally prominent periodicals; his first book of poetry, Magnolia, appeared in 1939. Serving as an officer in the Italian army during World War II, Contini was wounded in battle. At the end of the war he was tried for his military service and condemned to death, a sentence that was later commuted to life imprisonment. Ultimately, he served nine years in the prisons of Savona, Procida and Civitavecchia. In 1952 he published L'Alleluja, poems largely based on his prison experiences, in a volume that also contained the first ten of Ezra Pound's Cantos in Italian translation. Contini's later publications were the poetry collections Schegge d'anima / Splinters of Soul (1962) and Viaggio nel buio / Journey Into the Dark (1969). The three cited books, plus unpublished poems, are represented in the present collection. He also wrote a novel, No haya cuartel! / There Is No Quarter! (1995).

FRANCESCA BERGADANO studied modern and contemporary Italian literature at the University of Pisa, writing her thesis on Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Surrealism; her essay on the subject can be read at lf-celine.blogspot.com. She completed her studies at the University of Genoa with a thesis on the Italian Futurist poet Vittorio Osvaldo Tommasini, who published under the pen-name of Farfa. She is currently pursuing her doctoral research there with a concentration on Ennio Contini, whose personal archive she has studied and organized. With her thorough grounding in Contini's life and work and the full cooperation of his family, she is uniquely qualified to edit and introduce his poetry.

MICHAEL PALMA's poetry volumes are The Egg Shape, Antibodies, A Fortune in Gold, Begin in Gladness, and an online chapbook, The Ghost of Congress Street. His sixteen previous translations of Italian poets include prizewinning volumes of Guido Gozzano and Diego Valeri and a fully rhymed translation of Dante's Inferno, as well as two earlier volumes with Chelsea Editions: Maurizio Cucchi's No Part to Play: Selected Poems 1965-2009, and Giovanni Raboni's Every Third Thought: Selected Poems 1950-2004. His most recent books are a translation from Paolo Valesio, Il servo rosso / The Red Servant: Selected Poems 1979-2002 (with Graziella Sidoli), and Faithful in My Fashion: Essays on the Translation of Poetry (Xenos-Chelsea, 2017).



From L'ALLELUJA (1952) / THE ALLELUIA (1952)

From the long poem Un dono troppo caro / A Gift Too Dear


O giorno, effimera coscienza di noi!
Non sappiamo altro.
Solo questo cielo senza gridi, eterno.
Tu, ala gravida di gioie,
batti sullo stagno
vibrandolo d'interminabili echi
ancestrali: un profumo di nubi
e alberi
e, di pupilla in pupilla, ad acquitrini
ove algida sboccia
un'antica speranza di giorni . . .

Frangere il velo taciturno
che di noi conchiude l'esistenza
in una gelida ira!

Le sublimi orchidee sfrondi
ed iridi fugaci
esprimi in sillabe, ma il sonno,
ov'alitano i miti, è sempre
al di là del tuo esilio, o giorno,
giorno delle colline brulle
invano irrigate dal pianto di Prometeo,
giorno verde nel fango della strada!


O day, ephemeral consciousness for us!
We don't know any other.
Only this sky without a cry, eternal.
You, wing pregnant with joys,
beat upon the pond
making it vibrate with interminable
ancestral echoes: a perfume of clouds
and trees
and, from pupil to pupil, to the marshes
where cold as ice
there blossoms an old-fashioned hope of days . . .

Oh, to shatter the taciturn veil
that brings existence to an end for us
in an icy rage!

You strip the sublime orchids of their leaves
and express the fleeting
irises in syllables, but sleep,
where the myths breathe, is always
beyond your banishment, O day,
day of the barren hills
watered in vain by the tears of Prometheus,
a green day in the mud of the roadway!


Altra pena non ho che di trovarmi
straniero ad ogni terra. Essere
il biondo turista che conosce
ogni scalo di mondo e, in ogni porto,
consuma nell'abbraccio un fantasma
e di sè cerca radici
morendo ogni giorno.
Mi dissero di querci immobili,
di mare sonnolento:
un'isola prosciugata dagli anni.
Mi dissero d'un'isola . . . - Signore,
ch'io non sia disperso!
- alla sua proda io tornerò
come un messaggio
sballottato dalle correnti.
Crescerà il mio sonno
sotto le arse mura dei nuraghi.


My sole affliction is to find myself
a stranger in every land. To be
the fairhaired tourist who knows the world's
every stopover and, in every port,
wears away a ghost in his embrace
and searches for his roots
dying every day.
They told me about the immobile oaks,
about the somnolent sea:
an island that's been dried up by the years.
They told me about an island . . . -Lord,
let me not be lost-!
I'll come back to its shore
like a message
bobbed and bandied by the currents.
My sleep will be deep
under the sunbaked walls of the nuraghes.

From POESIE INEDITE (1960-1979) / UNCOLLECTED POEMS (1960-1979)

O voi, fanciulle che sul lido andate
- e il mare si prostra a vellicarvi i piedi
- ridendo e serie e spinte da una forza
ineluttabile: io vi guardo passare, me,
vecchio Tiresia, che so il destino cui andate
incontro, la ferocia dei giorni
che vi attende
e i sogni.

Chiaro di luna
salivi a grado a grado
sul Tirso
e andava già coi flutti
al mare

sotto il trepido e irridente
sguardo di Sileno

chiaro di luna
a grado a grado
con la mia pena
e il Tirso
piangeva già la mia sorte

O you, young girls who go out on the beach
-and the sea prostrates itself to tickle your feet
-laughing and serious and urged by a force
that is ineluctable: I watch you pass, me,
old Tiresias, knowing the destiny
you're going to meet, the fierceness of the days
waiting for you
and the dreams.

grew gradually
on the Tirso
and went with the flow
to the sea

under the anxious and derisive
gaze of Silenus

moonlight went
with my
of being
and the Tirso
mourned for my exile's


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