Italian Language Blog

Meriggio d’Estate Posted by on Jul 18, 2012 in Culture

It’s a hot summer afternoon just after lunch time and, as on every other summer’s day, Maura, our next-door neighbour, appears at her bedroom window, spreads her arms wide, gets hold of le persiane (the shutters) and firmly closes them for la penichella pomeridiana (the afternoon’s nap). At this time of day the same ritual will be taking place in most houses all over Italy, as is so perfectly described in a delightful little poem by Italian poet and novelist Umberto Saba.

Umberto Saba was born in 1883 in the Mediterranean town of Trieste, which in those days was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Saba, whose real surname was Poli, was the son of Ugo Edoardo Poli, an Italian merchant from Venice who was working in Trieste. Saba’s father, who was catholic, had converted to Judaism in order to marry Jews Felicita Rachele Coen, whom he abandoned a few months later, before their son Umberto was born. The nom de plume ‘Saba’ is an homage to his mother’s culture, saba means ‘bread’ in Hebrew. During the years of Fascism, Umberto Saba was subjected to racial discriminations because of his religion, and was forced to find refuge first in Paris, and then in Florence, where he was protected by a group of anti-fascist intellectuals.

Throughout his adult life Saba suffered from depression and this is reflected in his literary work, which is very introspective and autobiographical. Despite his success with both critics and the public, Saba ended up almost totally isolating himself in an attempt to seek respite from the attacks of depression which became increasingly more frequent and severe. When his wife Lucia died in 1956, Umberto moved to Gorizia in the north east of Italy on the border with Slovenia. He died there a year later in 1957.

Here is Saba’s poem Meriggio d’Estate (Summer afternoon) with my English translation:

Meriggio d’Estate

Silenzio! Hanno chiuso le verdi
persiane delle case.
Non vogliono essere invase.
Troppe le fiamme
della tua gloria, o sole!
Bisbigliano appena
gli uccelli, poi tacciono, vinti
dal sonno. Sembrano estinti
gli uomini, tanto è ora pace
e silenzio… Quand’ecco da tutti
gli alberi un suono s’accorda,
un sibilo lungo che assorda,
che solo è così: le cicale.


Summer Afternoon

Silence! They’ve closed the green
shutters of the houses.
They don’t want to be invaded.
Too numerous are the flames
of your glory, oh sun!
The birds are hardly whispering,
then they are silent, defeated
by sleep. Mankind seems extinct,
it’s so peaceful
and quiet now… When suddenly
from all the trees a sound tunes up,
a long deafening hiss,
which is simply this: the cicadas.

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  1. GJ Lanzarotti:

    I always enjoy reading your writings. I guess you put Trieste on the Mediterranean rather than the Adriatic to provoke comments. It worked.

    • Serena:

      @GJ Lanzarotti Salve GJ!
      The Adriatic sea is not separate from the Mediterranean sea, but a subdivision of it, and I’m not the only one who puts Trieste on the Mediterranean as you can see from this line taken from Umberto Saba Wikipedia: “born Umberto Poli in the cosmopolitan Mediterranean port of Trieste”.

      Saluti da Serena

  2. andreas:

    Salve Serena!
    Che bella poesia!
    Ma mi domando sempre: Perché tante persone dell’arte soffrono la depressione? Per questo è abbastanza difficile leggere molto i libri della letteratura classica. Non vorrei contagiarmi.
    Saluti da Andreas

    • Serena:

      @andreas Salve Andreas, forse così tanti artisti soffrono di depressione perché sono persone molto sensibili, e molto spesso sono persone introverse. Sono i due lati di una stessa medaglia. Comunque, io adoro la poesia, come puoi vedere dal mio blog, e sì, delle volte la depressione è contagiosa, ma lo è anche la bellezza della poesia.

      Saluti da Serena

  3. andreas:

    Salve Serena!
    sono completamente d’accordo. E poesia mi piace tantissimo. Ecco perciò ho un quaderno speciale dove iscrivo le poesie che mi piacciono, così le apprendo meglio. Ho adesso letto la tua traduzione e mi pare che vada pubblicata–è così bella.

    • Serena:

      @andreas Salve Andreas, grazie per il complimento sulla traduzione! Ovviamente Geoff mi ha aiutato. Come si dice: l’unione fa la forza. E questa è la forza del nostro blog, la nostra collaborazione.

      A presto


  4. Joe McEvoy:

    I am a published writer-mainly popular science-who has spent the past 25 summers in Lunigiana in the small village of Ceserano just outside Pallerone. Reading your unpretentious blogs about life here has made me feel damn lazy that I have not made any contribution at all to the folklore of our ex-pat life.

    I suffered a stroke in September and this has contributed to my insularity, but I have recently acquired a dictation software so I might just join you with some musings.

    J.P. McEvoy

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