Who is Antonia Pozzi? Translation and Introduction by Amy Newman

Antonia Pozzi was an Italian poet born in Milan in 1912, who took her life in 1938. None of her poetry was published during her lifetime. In this feature:

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Four Poems by Antonia Pozzi, trans. Amy Newman

These poem translations are from Antonia Pozzi’s book Parole, the collected poems of Antonia Pozzi, published posthumously in Italy, 1939.

For each of the four poems below, the original Italian follows the English translation.

 

Shame // Rossori | Sickbed Thoughts // Pensiero di malata |  Shipwrecks // Nàufraghi | Fallow Deer // Il daino

 

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Shame

It’s time to return. Evening
falls quietly in the lap of the valley.
Under the naked arches of chestnut trees
a silent breeze passes, trembling
the dead leaves of winter,
the frail green that is renewed
on barren shores. Things,
made grayer, seem to gather
in rapt silence.
Even the white water
muffles its song, that falls
from high above, that this morning
with such rage shouted
its joy to have escaped
the claws of ice.
It’s time to return. I clutch
my flowers tightly, in one hand,
and in the oncoming dusk
I travel the path again.
Today is the Angel’s day.
No woman, kneeling,
rinses her clothing along the ditch:
the stools, displaced, turned over
get in the way.
There’s an air of abandonment, today, in the fields,
an air of holiday solitude
that makes everything more sad.
But at the gate
of my garden
a bunch of children
await my return.
To look at me,
to look closely at me,
to see how it’s done
this curious thing I am.
I find them right in front of me suddenly,
they stare straight at me,
unmoved:
and suddenly I feel
that I am more ashamed of myself
than they are of me.
Ashamed of my bunch
of too-simple snowdrops,
which to them seem ugly,
ashamed of my step,
my body, too heavy,
which to me seem clumsy…
And here, I would like to be like them,
small, poor, unknown
nearer their smallness
and not having to say
the benevolent little word
that sounds wrong
not to have to smile
unpleasantly
through rigid lips…
I shelter behind the gate
as behind an impenetrable door.
But when I have to fit
the key in the keyhole
and shut it
with rude fumbling,
I feel dead, I feel dead of shame
before their round sparrow eyes
that regard me through the bars;
in front of their little spirits
of free birds, accustomed
to come and go
through ramshackle thresholds
of old farmhouses,
without ever moving
the huge rusted chain…

Pasturo, 6 April 1931

Rossori

È l’ora di tornare. La sera
discende quieta in grembo alla valle.
Passa sotto le nude volte dei castani
una muta brezza e ne tremano
il morto fogliame dell’inverno,
il verde gracile che si rinnova
sulle prode scoperte. Le cose,
fatte più grigie, sembrano raccogliersi
in un silenzio assorto.
Attutisce il suo canto
persino la bianca acqua, che scende
da lontano, dall’alto e che stamane
con tanta furia gridava
la sua gioia d’esser sfuggita
agli artigli del ghiaccio.
È l’ora di tornare. Compongo
in una mano, strettamente, i miei fiori
e nella penombra incupita
ripercorro il sentiero.
Oggi è il giorno dell’Angelo.
Nessuna donna, a ginocchi, risciacqua
lungo il fossato i suoi panni:
gli sgabelli spostati, capovolti
impediscono il passo.
C’è un’aria d’abbandono, oggi, pei campi,
un’aria di solitudine festiva
che fa più triste la tristezza dell’ora.
Ma davanti al cancello
del mio giardino
un grappolo di bimbi
attende il mio ritorno.
Per guardarmi,
per guardarmi bene da vicino,
per vedere com’è fatta
questa cosa curiosa che son io.
Me li trovo davanti all’improvviso,
che mi fissano, dritti,
senza scomporsi:
e di colpo sento
che ho io di loro assai più vergogna
che non essi di me.
Vergogna del mio mazzo
di bucaneve troppo semplici
che a loro paiono brutti,
vergogna del mio passo,
del mio corpo, troppo pesanti,
che a me sembrano goffi…
Ed ecco, vorrei essere come loro,
piccina, povera, oscura,
più vicina alla loro piccolezza,
e non aver da dire
la paroletta benevola
che suona male,
non aver da sorridere
con le labbra dure
che si aprono male…
Mi rifugio dietro il cancello
come dietro una porta impenetrabile.
Ma quando devo infilare
la chiave nella toppa
e chiudere
con armeggìo sgarbato,
mi sento morire, mi sento morire di vergogna
davanti ai loro occhi tondi di passeri
che mi guardano di là dalle sbarre;
davanti alle loro animette
di passeri liberi, avvezzi
ad entrare, ad uscire
dagli uscioni sgangherati
delle vecchie cascine,
senza smuovere mai
l’enorme catenaccio arrugginito…

Pasturo, 6 aprile 1931

 

Shame // Rossori | Sickbed Thoughts // Pensiero di malata |  Shipwrecks // Nàufraghi | Fallow Deer // Il daino

 

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Sickbed Thoughts

You bring your loom
into my room
and the sun helps you work
gracing your hands
with its white petals.
I think that tomorrow
when I’ll still be ill
you won’t get up anymore
to go down to the garden
to bring me good water.
At evening the bells
will besiege my empty room,
arouse in the corners
pale hedges of ghosts.
Night will settle in
proprietress
near my pillow:
you won’t be there anymore
to chase her away
closing my shutters
with your hands blessed in sunlight.

Pasturo, 14 August 1933

Pensiero di malata

Tu porti il tuo telaio
nella mia stanza
ed il sole t’aiuta a lavorare
fiorendoti le mani
dei suoi petali bianchi.
Io penso che domani
quando sarò ancora malata
tu non t’alzerai più
per scendere nel giardino
a prendermi la buona acqua.
A sera le campane
assedieranno la mia stanza vuota,
desteranno negli angoli
siepi pallide di fantasmi.
La Notte s’insedierà
padrona
vicina al mio guanciale:
non ci sarai più tu
a scacciarla
chiudendomi le imposte
con le tue mani benedette dal sole.

Pasturo, 14 agosto 1933

 

Shame // Rossori | Sickbed Thoughts // Pensiero di malata |  Shipwrecks // Nàufraghi | Fallow Deer // Il daino

 

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Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks on the rocks
each one narrates
to itself alone—the chronicle of a sweet home
lost,
listens to itself
speak out loud
of the forlorn lamentation
of the sea—

Sad abandoned garden the soul
surrounded by wild hedges
of love:
to die is this
rediscovery of the briars
born in us.

19 December 1933

Nàufraghi

Nàufraghi sugli scogli
ognuno narra
a sé solo—la storia di una dolce casa
perduta,
sé solo ascolta
parlare forte
sul deserto pianto
del mare—

Triste orto abbandonato l’anima
si cinge di selvagge siepi
di amori:
morire è questo
riscoprirsi di rovi
nati in noi.

19 dicembre 1933

 

Shame // Rossori | Sickbed Thoughts // Pensiero di malata |  Shipwrecks // Nàufraghi | Fallow Deer // Il daino

 

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Fallow Deer

Softly you return, morning wind
along pale sands, between the junipers,
from daybreak rising
on the lagoons.

And your startled breath
under the arches of pines.

Fearful eyes, large eyes
in the warmth of white faces
behind the high hedges spy
on the world.

And you rise up on the horizon
on brittle hooves
amazed
deer in the heather.

27 January 1935

Il daino

Sommesso torni, vento mattutino
lungo pallide sabbie, fra i ginepri,
dall’alba che si leva
sulle lagune.

E il tuo soffio si spaura
sotto gli archi dei pini.

Occhi pavidi, occhi larghi
nel tepore di bianche fronti
dietro alte siepi spiano
sul mondo.

E t’ergi all’orizzonte,
sui tuoi fragili zoccoli,
stupito
daino nella brughiera.

27 gennaio 1935

 

Shame // Rossori | Sickbed Thoughts // Pensiero di malata |  Shipwrecks // Nàufraghi | Fallow Deer // Il daino

 

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Who is Antonia Pozzi? An Introduction by Amy Newman.

Antonia Pozzi was born in Milan in 1912, the only child of wealthy bourgeois parents (her mother’s father was a count, and her father was a successful lawyer practicing international law). She studied at the University of Milan and wrote her thesis on Flaubert. Passionate and well read, she was also an avid mountain climber who enjoyed exploring the terrain of the Dolomite Alps, skiing, tennis, and riding horses. She was especially skilled in photography; a collection of her photographs, Nelle immagini l’anima, was produced by Ancora Editrice in 2007. A film of her life, Antonia (trailer), written and directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, won best film at the 2016 Gallio Film Festival. On December 1, 1938, at the age of 26, Antonia Pozzi left her job as a teacher at the Schiaparelli Technical Institute, journeyed to Chiaravalle, took poison, and was discovered in the snow, nearly dead; she died two days later. She left behind several hundred poems which were known only to her closest friends. None of her poetry was published during her lifetime.

Her work is significantly underrepresented in translation (for the most part associated only with Lawrence Venuti and Peter Robinson), and her omission from the 2014 anthology The Faber Book of 20th-Century Italian Poems has been called “its most obvious lacuna.” (1)

In her biographical materials (in Alessandra Cenni’s ‪L’età delle parole è finita: lettere) and her diaries (in Diari e altri scritti, edited by Onorina Dino and Matteo M Vecchio) one may see Pozzi as a representative woman of her time. She expresses her desire to be an obedient daughter, a future mother to children. Yet at the same time she is both independent in bearing and uninterested in the domestic tasks associated with love and marriage. Such conflict leads her to consider herself mentally ill and to often lean toward her poetry as an ideal for which the real life does not allow. In these materials one intuits an essential early 20th Century female experience similar to that with which we associate with American poet Sylvia Plath, finding in Pozzi’s poetry a “feminine identity…a troublesome source of conflict.”‬‬ ‬‬(2)

Like Plath’s, Pozzi’s poetry was posthumously altered by a male figure (in Pozzi’s case, her father Roberto) to reshape her public image (3). As one example of distinctly misleading manipulation, in her poem “Odore di Fieno,” the original lines are “Tutte le lagrime di questo ignoto interrotto cammino / tremolano nella mia anima impura” (“All the tears of this unknown interrupted journey / tremble in my impure soul”). Pozzi’s father removed “impura” (impure) so that the speaker does not possess an impure soul.

Rebecca West contends that Pozzi’s work has been potentially “assimilate[d] …entirely to the dominantly male tradition” and that even though Eugenio Montale (who wrote the preface to Pozzi’s posthumously published Parole, 1939) attempted to rescue her “beyond the stumbling block of feminine poetry,” he “falls prey to a maschilist perspective in viewing Pozzi’s promise precisely in terms of those qualities that are most similar to the then dominant Hermatic (male) tradition.” (4)

1. Oliver Burckhardt, The Faber Book of 20th-Century Italian Poems. Quadrant, 1 May 2005, p. 70.

2. Rebecca West, “Antonia Pozzi.” Italian Women Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook. Edited by Rinaldina Russell, Greenwood Press, 1994, p. 337.

3. Gaetana Marrone, Encyclopedia of Literary Studies. Routledge, 2006, p. 1488.

4. West, “Antonia Pozzi.” Italian Women Writers, 1994, p. 337.

 

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Visual Feature: Photos of Antonia Pozzi

 

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Visual Feature: Poet as Avid Photographer; Selections of Pozzi’s Photography

 

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About the Translator, Amy Newman

On This Day in Poetry History by Amy Newman.jpg

The translator, Amy Newman, is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently On This Day in Poetry History. Her poems and essays have appeared in journals including Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, Hotel Amerika, and in anthologies including The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide To Prose Poetry, and The Hide-and-Seek Muse. She is a Board of Trustees Professor in the Department of English at Northern Illinois University. She wishes to thank Christopher Nissen, il miglior fabbro.

You can also read three more poems of Antonia Pozzi translated by Amy Newman, published in Interim Poetics, a literary journal founded in 1944, which is supported by the Black Mountain Institute and housed at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, since the 1960s.

 

 

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