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my sadness demanding

fluttering in my soul


like a sirocco

soaked with salt                                                       

Milan, 25 April 1929




Under so much sun

in a narrow boat

the thrill

to feel against my knees

the sheer nakedness of a young boy

and the drunken torment

secretly brooding in the blood

what he doesn’t know.

Santa Margherita, 28 June 1929




   for A.M.C.


I saw it, at that moment. You were playing

your violin, with your head down:

your eyelashes marking on your face

two streaks of shadow. I was quivering, perhaps,

in time with the strings, in the sobs

that the soul was engraving in your hand

and I met you at the tips of your fingers.

Or perhaps I was playing on your hair

together with the sharp sea breeze.

Maybe I faded in the cluster,

soft and compact, of the gillyflower. 

And one day you resumed again your music;

took up again, crying, your instrument:

Death had bound it tightly to you

with its black velvets. I saw you,

brother, at that moment. But I don’t know where I was.

Perhaps I was only a dense, bristly branch

of prickly pear, behind an old wall.

Pasturo, 18 July 1929


                        for L. B.


Forehead to forehead

our fevers commune.

Outside, skeins of twinkling stars

and the ivy, with its palms outstretched

to hold a mild sheen.

In my house that warms,

you tell me of its important things

that no one else knows.

Far off,

a deep watery voice

rains down in misunderstood words

and perhaps blesses you

sweet sister,

in the name of my love and of your sadness,

to you,

white wing

of my existence.

Pasturo, 7 September 1929


            for T. F.


You, gone.

Without desiring the word

I had in my heart and didn’t know how to say.

In the doorway, our kiss

(light, since you had just put on powder)

almost split in two by a large glare

of light coming from the stairs.

I remained

for a long time at my table, before

a small aged portrait of my mother,

gazing obsessively at the glass’s reflection

of my own withered, feverish eyes.


Milan, 9 May 1929 





Oh life,


do you carry me in your journey



drag along my heavy sleep?

I know

that the purest fountains

dissolving throughout the earth

won’t return

to the soiled snow

its whiteness.

Neither will dawn

with tired magic


among the black houses

the dead mimosas.

But alone

at evening’s frost

a flower seller will tremble

beside the fountain’s


Oh life,

why does my desperate sleep

not weigh upon you?


16 January 1933

I Don’t Know


I think your way of smiling

is sweeter than the sun

on this vase of flowers

already a little



I think that maybe it’s good

that from me fall

all the trees—


That I be a white, deserted yard

to your voice—that maybe

draws the shady paths

for the new



4 October 1933

Original ↓




la mia tristezza esigente

a starnazzarmi nell’anima


come scirocco

pregno di salsedine                                                 

Milano, 25 aprile 1929



Sotto tanto sole

nella barca ristretta

il brivido

di sentire contro le mie ginocchia

la nudità pura d'un fanciullo

e l'ebbro strazio di covare nel sangue

quello ch'egli non sa.                                               

Santa Margherita, 28 giugno 1929



            ad A.M.C.


Io l'ho veduto, allora. Tu sonavi

il tuo violino, con la testa bassa:

le ciglia ti segnavano sul viso

due strisce d'ombra. Io vibravo, forse,

insieme con le corde, nei singhiozzi

che l'anima imprimeva alla tua mano

e t'incontravo al sommo delle dita.

O forse ti giocavo sui capelli

insieme con la brezza acre del mare.

Forse m'illanguidivo nei racemi

molli e compatti delle violeciocche.

E un giorno riponesti le tue musiche;

riponesti, piangendo, il tuo strumento:

la Morte te lo avea fasciato stretto

coi suoi velluti neri. Io t'ho veduto,

fratello, allora. Ma non so dov'ero.

Forse ero solo un ramo crasso ed irto

di fico d'India, dietro un vecchio muro.                             

Pasturo, 18 luglio 1929




                        a L.B.


Tempia contro tempia

si trasfondono

le nostre febbri.

Fuori, tremoli lunghi di stelle

e l'edera, con le sue palme protese,

a trattenere un luccicore mite.

Nella mia casa che riscalda,

tu mi parli delle grandi cose

che nessun altro sa.


una gran voce d'acqua

scroscia a parole incomprese

e forse a te benedice,

dolce sorella,

nel nome del mio amore e della tua tristezza,

a te,

ala bianca

della mia esistenza.

Pasturo, 7 settembre 1929




            a T. F.


Tu, partita.

Senza desiderare la parola

che avevo in cuore e che non seppi dire.

Nel vano della porta, il nostro bacio

(lieve, ché ti eri appena incipriata)

quasi spaccato in due da un gran barbaglio

di luce, che veniva dalle scale.

Io rimasta

lungamente al mio tavolo, dinnanzi

a un vecchio ritrattino della mamma,

specchiando fissamente dentro il vetro

i miei occhi febbrili, inariditi.                                              


Milano, 9 maggio 1929





O vita,


nel tuo viaggio mi porti



il mio pesante sonno


Io so

che le più pure fontane

per tutta la terra sfacendosi

non renderanno

alla neve bruttata

il biancore.

Né l'alba farà

con stanca magia


tra case nere

le mimose morte.

Ma sola

al gelo notturno


la fioraia

presso il vano donarsi

della fontana.

O vita,


non ti pesa

questo mio disperato                 



16 gennaio 1933



Non so


Io penso che il tuo modo di sorridere

è più dolce del sole

su questo vaso di fiori

già un poco

appassiti –


penso che forse è buono

che cadano da me

tutti gli alberi –


ch'io sia un piazzale bianco deserto

alla tua voce – che forse

disegna i viali

per il nuovo



4 ottobre 1933

Translator's Note

Antonia Pozzi, born in Milan in 1912, lived a brief life, dying by suicide in 1938. Though she left among her papers over several hundred poems, none of her poetry was published during her lifetime.  After her death, her work was at first altered—really, censored— by her father and privately published in a 1939 edition; subsequent editions and a 1955 English translation will continue to present these altered versions of her work. It will not be until 1989 that editors Alessandra Cenni and Onorina Dino restore the poems to their original form in Parole, an authoritative text of Pozzi’s poetry, the most recently revised edition of which is Tutte le opera (2009), edited by Cenni.

            Among the reasons Pozzi’s work is interesting is the way other attempts to rewrite her work would reveal not only biases, but the problems of translation. Her father Roberto Pozzi and some of her translators—albeit benevolently—feature her work by burnishing it, or perhaps it’s better to say they attempt a form of channelization, moving the natural river of her work into a more conventional stream. For example, “Innocenza,” a poem that appears in this selection, was excised from her first and posthumous collection by her father who, according to Lawrence Venuti, found the material in that poem “explicitly sexual.” It is heartbreaking to recognize that her father wished to preserve her honor, and likely wished to assure her place in heaven, but a consequence of his love is that for decades her work was misrepresented.

            Translation is fraught with surprises, with compromises I wish I didn’t have to make, with searches for perfection I often fail to achieve. In the beautifully complex Italian language, meaning sometimes changes with context, as subtly or movingly as the afternoon’s changing light in a room. One of my favorite definitions is from an old dictionary in which the term spoetare, used in intransitive tense, is defined as “to keep writing or reciting poetry.” If one uses it in the reflexive tense, it becomes “to give up writing poetry.”

            It makes sense that translators of Pozzi’s poetry will differ in their versions, especially as theories of translation differ. There is always the degree to which something is lost or gained, depending on the shadow of the translators’ influence, and how much or how little they wish to have their shadow fall across the work.  Maybe it’s better to say: how much they realize that they cast such shadows. I am happiest as I read Pozzi’s diaries and letters to see her spirit, to see how it underscores her poetry, and to remain open to her life, so I may learn what she wanted to say.

Amy Newman


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