“La casa dei doganieri” by Eugenio Montale (& 2 translations)

“La casa dei doganieri”

Tu non ricordi la casa dei doganieri
Sul rialzo a strapiombo sulla scogliera:
Desolata t’attende dalla sera
In cui v’entrò lo sciame dei tuoi pensieri
E vi sostò irrequieto.

Libeccio sferza da anni le vecchie mura
E il suono del tuo riso non è più lieto:
La bussola va impazzita all’avventura
E il calcolo dei dadi più non torna.
Tu non ricordi; altro tempo frastorna
La tua memoria; un filo s’addipana.

Ne tengo ancora un capo; ma s’allontana
La casa e in cima al tetto la banderuola
Affumicata gira senza pietà.
Ne tengo un capo; ma tu resti sola
Né qui respiri nell’oscurità.

Oh l’orizzonte in fuga, dove s’accende
Rara la luce della petroliera!
Il varco è qui? (Ripullula il frangente
Ancora sulla balza che scoscende …)
Tu non ricordi la casa di questa
Mia sera. Ed io non so chi va e chi resta.

—1939



“The House of the Customs-Men”

You do not remember the house of the customs-men
On the edge of the steep cliff overhanging the reef:
Desolate it has been waiting for you since that evening
When the swarm of your thoughts entered it,
And paused there, restless.

The south wind has battered the old walls for years
And the sound of your laughter is no longer gay:
The compass veers crazily at random
And the numbers on the dice no longer tally.
You do not remember; another time confuses
Your memory; and a thread is wound.

I still hold an end of it; but the house
recedes, and on top of the roof the weathervane,
Blackened by smoke, spins pitilessly.
I hold an end of it; but you remain alone
And do not breathe here in the darkness.

Oh the retreating horizon, where
the tanker’s light rarely flares!
Is this the way through? (The breakers seethe
As ever at the plunging cliffs …)
You do not remember the house of this
My evening. And I do not know who is going and who remains.


Translated by Luciano Rebay, from “Italian Poetry: A Selection from St.Francis of Assisi to Salvatore Quasimodo” (Dover, 1969)



“The House of the Customs Men”

You don’t recall the house of the customs men
high on the bluff that drops sheer to the reef:
it’s been waiting, deserted, since the evening
your thoughts swarmed in
and hovered, nervously.

Sou’westers have lashed the old walls for years
and your laugh’s not carefree anymore:
the compass needle staggers crazily
and the dice no longer tell the score.
You don’t remember: other times
assail your memory; a thread gets wound.

I hold one end still; but the house recedes
and the smoke-stained weatherwave
spins pitiless up on the roof.
I have one end; but you’re alone,
not here, not breathing in the dark.

Oh the vanishing horizon line,
where the tanker’s light shines faint!
Is the channel here? (The breakers
still seethe against the cliff that drops away …)
You don’t recall the house of this, my evening.
And I don’t know who’s going or who’ll stay.


Translated by Jonathan Galassi, from “Collected Poems, 1920-1954: Revised Bilingual Edition” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998)

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