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Natale (Christmas) is upon us with all its frenetic rhythms: shopping, cards, presents, parties, expectations of happiness, peace and goodwill. But in my mind there are a few whispered words: it’s a poem, written by Giuseppe Ungaretti during the First World War, that we used to study at Christmas time when I was at school.
Giuseppe Ungaretti, one of my favorite Italian poets, was born in Egypt in 1888 of Italian parents. In 1912 he went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, and whilst in Paris he met many avant-guard artists, from Picasso to Braque, from Modigliani to De Chirico, as well as the poet Apollinaire. In 1915 he moved to Italy, where he published his first volume of verse. When Italy entered the Great War he enlisted as a volunteer.
Unagaretti’s life, and therefore his poetic work, is marked by two tragedies: the experience of the First World War, and the death of his nine-year-old son in 1939.
I love Ungaretti’s poems because of the very powerful images and emotions which they suggest, through often very short verses and an apparently simple language. But Ungaretti is a master of condensing language so that each word becomes essential, fully charged with symbolic meaning, and balanced against silence, represented by the white spaces on the page, as in this particular poem, which expresses the need to withdraw into a warm, cozy place, both physical and spiritual.
Non ho voglia
in un gomitolo
non si sente
che il caldo buono
con le quattro
I don’t have the will / to dive / into a tangle / of streets
I have so much / weariness / on my shoulders
Leave me / like a / thing / placed / in a / corner / and forgotten
Here / one feels nothing / other / than the good warmth
I’ll stay / with the four / somersaults / of smoke / from the hearth.
Vi auguro un Natale pieno di pace e amore
I wish you a Christmas full of Peace and Love