Ian Mason

November 22, 2021

The Lemons by Eugenio Montale

The Lemons


Listen to me, the poets laureate
move only among plants
with rare names: boxwood, privet and acanthus.
But I like roads that lead to grassy
ditches where boys
scoop up a few starved
eels out of half-dry puddles:
paths that run along the banks
come down among the tufted canes
and end in orchards, among the lemon trees.

Better if the riot of the birds
dies out, swallowed by the blue:
we’ll hear more of the whispering
of friendly branches in not-quite-quiet air,
and the sensations of this smell
that can’t divorce itself from earth
and rains a restless sweetness on the heart.
Here, by some miracle, the war
of troubled passions calls a truce;
here we poor, too, receive our share of riches,
which is the fragrance of the lemons.

See, in these silences where things
give over and seem on the verge
of betraying their final secret,
sometimes we feel we’re about
to uncover an error in Nature,
the still point of the world, the link that won’t hold,
the thread to untangle that will finally
lead to the heart of a truth.
The eye scans its surroundings,
the mind inquires aligns divides
in the perfume that diffuses
at the day’s most languid.
It’s in these silences you see
in every fleeting human shadow
some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion fails, and time returns us
to noisy cities where the blue
is seen in patches, up between the roofs.
And the rain exhausts the earth;
winter’s tedium weighs the houses down,
the light turns miserly – the soul bitter.
Till one day through a half-shut gate
in a courtyard, there among the trees,
the yellow of the lemons is revealed;
and the chill in the heart
thaws, and deep in us
the golden horns of sunlight
pelt their songs.

Translated by Jonathan Galassi

-----

The lemon trees

Eugenio Montale

Listen to me, laurel-wreathed poets
move only among plants
with noble names: boxwood acanthus or privets.
I, for one, love roads that lead to grass covered
ditches where in partly
desiccated puddles children
catch the occasional eel:
the lanes that coast these banks
descend through tufts of cane
and open onto orchards thick with lemons.

Better if the chirruping of the birds
dissolves, swallowed by the azure:
more clearly, then, resounds the murmur
of the amicable branches in an air that is almost still,
and the essences of this fragrance
which cannot separate itself from the terrain
and showers our breast with tumultuous stillness.
Here our unsettling passions
are miraculously put to rest,
here we poor beings too may enjoy our share of wealth
and it’s the fragrance of the lemons.

You see, in this silence in which all things
abandon themselves and seem close
to betraying their ultimate secret,
we sometimes expect
to find a fault in Nature,
the dead nub of the earth, the weak link,
the thread that untangled finally places us
within reach of a truth.
Our eyes search all around,
our mind probes accords partitions
in the fragrance that sweeps over us
when the day is most sluggish.
It is the stillness in which we see
in every human shadow that drifts away
some disturbed Deity.

But the illusion is incomplete and time restores us
to the noisy cities where the azure appears
in wedges, high above us, between the cornices.
The rain then wearies the earth; the tedium
of winter thickens over the houses,
the light becomes dim – grim the soul.
Then one day through a half-open gate
among the trees in an orchard
we see a glimpse of yellow lemons;
and the ice in our hearts melts,
and in our breast thunder
their songs
the golden trumpets of radiance.

Translated by Matilda Colarossi