book cover design contest #3, l’anguilla (the eel), eugenio montale

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montale galassiFor our third contest we embraced having as our subject a play or a poem and considered, among others, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and Seamus Heaney’s forthcoming collection Human Chain . Fortuitously, I was recently introduced to the work of Italian poet Eugenio Montale, winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Literature and a contemporary of  T.S. Eliot. Montale, who died in 1981,  published hundreds of poems, but we have chosen one of a mere thirty lines, the acclaimed L’anguilla, from his 1956 collection La bufera e altro. We prefer Jonathan Galassi’s sublime translation, whose volume of Montale’s collected poems was awarded the Premio Montale and the 1999 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize:

The Eel

The eel, siren

of cold seas, who leaves

the Baltic for our seas,

our estuaries, rivers, rising

deep beneath the downstream flood

from branch to branch, from twig to smaller twig,

ever more inward,

bent on the heart of rock,

infiltrating muddy

rills until one day

light glancing off the chestnuts

fires her flash

in stagnant pools,

in the ravines cascading down

the Apennine escarpments to Romagna;

eel, torch, whiplash,

arrow of Love on earth,

whom only our gullies

or dessicated Pyrenean brooks lead back

to Edens of generation;

green spirit seeking life

where only drought and desolation sting;

spark that says that everything begins

when everything seems charcoal,

buried stump;

brief rainbow, iris,

twin to the one your lashes frame

and you set shining virginal among

the sons of men, sunk in your mire—

can you fail to see her as a sister?

Contest rules may be found here: THE EEL BOOK COVER CONTEST

A copy of the poem in Italian along with Galassi’s English translation may be found here: The Eel

There is a wonderful link to Montale’s acceptance speech along with other documents related to his winning of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Literature here.

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