Bridge to Global Literature

Let’s all remember that more and more poetry gets lost without earnest attempts at translation.Read poetry here to get a glimpse of the rhythms and resonances of languages you don’t know.

Somnium— Giuliana Pala

Jul 21, 2023 | Poetry | 0 comments

TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN BY PATRICK WILLIAMSON

 

 

I. SOMNIUM 

It blew like the roar of open horns that you only drink in on the day of madness when 

you’re allowed to take out the face you always keep on, exaggerate the word and stain yourself well, so it blew 

and we didn’t have much to do except stay close, as oxen do, the white winged pair. 

On a promontory far away like the isolated figures in those paintings where one only performs, in the distance 

you can see something a man doing something not really important because what matters

is that he is only just seen to act, that you keep in mind his place in that new world

the distance between the portion of your look and all that light. Something stretches the bodies to one side

like ancient meridians traced with a firm hand and a hard wrist, the wind seems that of ballads

everything a warning, a reproach. Every now and then we still have to rise up and crouch but when the world

becomes a bit slanting it is difficult to stand, the earth wants you to lie down at all costs 

and someone then assents: you lie on the sand, you hold on like this, long long, you make yourself last. 

Someone on the side leans out looking for a cliff this makes you feel better because this form of extension 

slightly frightens those who only go as far as they can. Everything seems like a slanting picture, a topsy-turvy 

into which you rush by force, you end up under a frame, something 

far away gallops, a horse, a white dream


 

 II. SOMNIUM

Different coasts, other men with brown faces as high as broken towers stand before us 

peoples who do not reveal themselves, frontal peoples made of purples, distant houses reign

with red-faced captains, the gods almost always provide. We don’t know

where we are, we are distant, something, the indistinct, dominates here, vision alone is enough

to make contact, everything raised as in quests, in advances, on battle plains 

where you can only see banners in wide open space and the distant colour of an enemy. 

Not easy to answer if someone asks where you are, confusing to grasp who’s walking who’s standing still

who’s writing who’s upright on coves, everything’s tapered says things in lush language, languages of the will.

You can see a line walking on the left and the world raining suddenly

if you squint enough, if you keep your look suspended as if through open long binoculars. 

men seem to be making strange huts for days and days and everything a bundle of plants growing horizontal

to produce huge sand cones, cows in the water so big that their heads stick out 

like a big watery buoy, and someone rides underwater, barely visible: a child

a blond man, a big blue fish. There are different sizes around here, children 

grow up not knowing what geological shape it is, you see them looking for play sand

that fits in the palm without falling, they are pure tools they are, bright kids and they’re all 

the same height under this light, by a strange, all-natural joke that makes the bodies 

equal in their pallor, and they’re all similar. Someone lying down keeps his eyes on the water

everything has the light I can see now and we seem to have been saved today

it seems like the dream of the ox kicking and the man saved by a miracle.


 

III. SOMNIUM

From afar, you can hear drawn-out leaps and spiky plants emerge from the water, everything’s ready

and the road goes on straight as a pale caress, a horse trudging along. 

Someone confirms there are mountains around here, high mountains, fit for breathing 

complete order doesn’t matter here, it only matters that one looks, that one slowly whitens 

patiently until the end, actions are mobile inconstant apparitions 

only the pace is kept, and the flat air that is to sigh for. I look at bulging eyes

the fish are improvised seagulls, everything now leads to the edge of its own duration. 

In the seas if you lose your hearing a little while, if you give up one sense to sharpen the other 

you see women walk on the water, big white horses advance like a long line of people

pursued. You walk next to the grown-ups you know the way of the sea and hold fish by the tail

with the mouth grooming white cows that have their children’s name, how beautiful you are in this new world

we’ll walk another hour tonight, someone will tell us where this wide sea ends

where the mountain slopes down, what happens to the blackbird when its swoops down and flies 

high over the deer. You see the light turn white, exist in your sight alone

you see the white I say below, in the world to one side

in this long spread-out beach, in this world in which we only have less time.


 

IV. SOMNIUM

Someone says there is a passage in these parts, a place where one enters one at a time

holding one’s breath, abandoning in the light the circumferences, the forms one has always had.

The journey advances, does an accomplished about-turn, and you see the participating figures 

balance like blue ghosts, you’re never sure who they are

the actions fade ever so slowly 

glimpsed gestures remain: an elbow, a palm, a back that bridges

and stretches across the sand, to show that when the passage is open

one must curl the body in suspension, aim high

your gaze like a water hare and you hope to find yourself safe. 

The path is a massive roar and one must persist in the vowels, hold

intact this form of breath, observe how a sound is lost

when it knows it is the last, when having reached a point in the dream

it becomes right for it to dissolve.


 

V. SOMNIUM

How white you are now in the light, in this spreading bay, my mother my father neighbours all the family 

and brothers, so many, around here, mingling whose children. Something from afar shuns sight

a white fountain filled with battlements pierces the gaze, and one hears the songs of the past, the waiting

that way of making light that the day had. I see you sitting dead on the shore

dying white to show that you leave first and that I at last

I have to pray for you, the water soaks me and I am alone in this place that is so open,

make way for me here, for these blue clods that know not of the world

for this shape that the planet has today so close so clear to white

I meet four fish and I wait for the White Man, God always comes from the Other side.

 


Also, read Naked & Other Poems by Francisca Paz Rojas translated from the Italian by Brenda Porster, and published in the Antonym:


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Giuliana Pala

Giuliana Pala

Giuliana Pala was born in Oristano in 1997. She holds a Master’s degree in Italian Studies from the University of Bologna. She has collaborated with the Centre for Contemporary Poetry at the University of Bologna and is one of the founders of Lo Spazio Letterario. She has worked as an assistant and reader for the Georg-August University of Göttingen. She won the Esordi Pordenonelegge 2022 prize with the collection Lunario. Some texts from the collection have appeared in Nuovi Argomenti, Diario di passo and in Spanish translation by Antonio Nazzaro for the Centro Cultural Tina Modotti.

Patrick Williamson

Patrick Williamson

Patrick Williamson is an English poet and translator. He is a part-time lecturer on a master’s degree in translation at ESIT, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3. Most recent poetry collection: Recent poetry collections: Take a deep look (Cyberwit.net 2022), Traversi (English-Italian, Samuele Editore, 2018), Beneficato (Samuele Editore, 2015), Gifted (Corrupt Press, 2014), Nel Santuario (Samuele Editore, 2013; Menzione speciale della Giuria in the XV Concorso Guido Gozzano, 2014). Editor and translator of The Parley Tree, Poets from French-speaking Africa and the Arab World (Arc Publications, 2012) and translator notably of Tunisian poet Tahar Bekri, Quebecois poet Gilles Cyr, as well as Italian poets Guido Cupani and Erri de Luca. Active in filmpoems (Afterwords, with Mauro Coceano) and projects in association with artists’ book publisher Transignum in France. Founding member of transnational literary agency Linguafranca

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