Ada Negri, trans. by Maria A Costantini

In Issue 9 on January 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm

My Youth

I haven’t lost you. You’ve stayed deep
in my being. It is you, but you’re another:
with neither foliage nor flower, without the bright
laughter you had in a time that won’t return,
without that song. You are another, more beautiful.
You love, unconcerned of being loved: to every
blossoming flower or ripening fruit
or baby being born, to the God of the fields
and of humankind you give thanks in your heart.
Year after year, from within, you changed
aspect and substance. Every sorrow made you
stronger: you countered every mark of the passage
of days with a healing lymph, mysterious
and green. Now you look to the Light
that doesn’t lie: in its reflection you gaze at
lasting life. And you’ve remained
in an age that has no name: human
among human miseries, and yet living
of God alone and happy solely in Him.

O timeless youth, o hope
always renewed, I commit you
to those who are to come: — until at last
spring will return on earth to bloom, and in the sky
stars will be born when the sun has died.


-From Fount of Love (1945)


Unspoken Words

Words your mouth never uttered,
because of piety, pride, or fear,
that a dark insanity thrust upon your lips,
that a strong volition bolted there:

words made of impulse not of sound,
mixed with throbbing blood, with saliva
keeping silent consumes, with live
flesh that suffers, with a heart that pounds:

they have, where they gather, sullen, deep inside
(where those who wouldn’t say them hear them
always), the hallucinating fixity
of worn out faces, of sightless eyes.

O child whose lips are closed,
in that part of you that you suppressed,
your silence is like an icy compress
on an open sore.

O child who no longer feels desire,
whom love no longer wakes!… God gave
you just an hour for the word you failed
to say: and now it invokes you from within.

Curl up away from others, swallow your tears,
cloak yourself in shadows. It’s too late
for your truth. You’re already near
the eternal threshold, where silence is holy.


-From Exile (1914)


Maria A Costantini is an award winning poet and writer. She discovered the work of Ada Negri (1870-1945), through an online search on Italian women poets. She felt a strong connection to Negri’s work, which she set out to translate into English, resulting in the books, “The Book of Mara” and “Songs of the Island,” published simultaneously in 2011 (Italica Press, New York, NY). At the turn of the 20h century, Negri was an influential poet in Italy and abroad. Her early work is a cry against social inequality and injustice, for which Americans called her the ‘poet of Democracy.’ She is the first woman to become a member of` the Royal Academy of Italy , in 1940. Her later poetry turns to inner reflection and spirituality.

  1. I love the power of these translations. I felt in “My Youth” that “youth” was being identified with “soul,” some essence of a person that changes but remains pure. It’s poignant that it was published among Negir’s last works, dated her last year of life. I wonder if there’s something (defiantly?) heretical or nonconformist in her way of looking at infinity.

    “Unspoken Words” is very sad, yet I feel I’m only sensing a bit of what it is saying. I get the loss. I’m imagining a “lost” child, at least that’s what I can identify with. I think these poems for me skate on the edge of the shared context between poet and reader.

    Most poems require a considerable shared context to create at least a cloud of mutual understanding, if not a precise communication. When the shared context is weak, the words become disembodied, the poem a linguistic Rorschach test, the sense of sharing vague, perhaps imaginary.

    These beautifully translated poems leave me in awe of all the layers of distance between myself and Negri: of course, time – I was born the year she died — place, events – all the thrust and cruelty of Big History in Twentieth Century Europe – but also Negri’s personal history: her husbands, lovers, children, unhealing wounds, transcendent meals, visions of the afterlife. And of course I haven’t experienced being a woman, which I sense is the ultimate impermeable boundary between me and her. But thank you, Maria, for bringing me at least this close.

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