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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ungaretti: Sleepwalkers


File:Egon Schiele - Felderlandschaft (Kreuzberg bei Krumau) - 1910.jpeg

Landscape with fields (Kreuzberg near Krumau): Egon Schiele, 1910 (Albertina, Vienna)

And often I wonder
How things were with us in the beginning.

Were we perhaps wandering victims
Of sleep, performing every action
Like somnambulists, in those days?

Inside that halo of echo, we're far apart
Now, and when within me you again emerge
I hear myself in the rustle of your awakening
From a slumber in which all this was foreseen long ago.

File:Schiele sommerlandschaft.jpg

Summer Landscape: Egon Schiele, 1917

Sovente mi domando
Come eri ed ero prima.

Vagammo forse vittime del sonno?

Gli atti nostri eseguiti
Furono da sonnambuli, in quei tempi?

Siamo lonfani, in quell'alone d'echi,
E mentre in me riemergi, nel brusio
Mi ascolto che da un sonno ti sollevi
Che ci previde a lungo.

File:Egon Schiele 035.jpg

The Little Town: Egon Schiele, 1912-1913 (Sammlung Leopold, Vienna)

Giuseppe Ungaretti: Sovente mi domando (And often I wonder) from Ultimi cori della terra promessa (Last choruses for the promised land) in Il Taccuino del vecchio (The Notebook of an old man), 1960: translated by TC


Julia said...

I love how the landscape seems to transform progressively in your sequence. It doesn't matter if it's the same place. I see it as a harmonious dialogue with the poem. (But perhaps I'm just saying stupid things, this wouldn't be any news)

Anonymous said...

"Inside that halo of echo, we're far apart
Now, and when within me you again emerge
I hear myself in the rustle of your awakening
From a slumber in which all this was foreseen long ago."

love these lines!

TC said...

Gracias, Julia. the image selection and sequencing, as most times, was pretty much instinctive -- a bit oblique, here, perhaps; but a "harmonious dialogue" was certainly what was hoped for!

And thank you too, Sandra. The lines, I think, come from a deep sense of vacancy and loss in the wake of the death in 1958 of Jeanne Dupoix, Ungaretti's wife of thirty-eight years.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite sure this one will stay with me forever. So interesting to read Julia's and Sandra's comments and your reply. As someone who has been with the same partner for a very long time, the poem read its way into that part of me automatically, and the things in it that are obvious and the things that are mysterious are equally true and resonant. The lines Sandra quotes are really something. I've learned to appreciate and love Schiele more from your collaborations with him in BTP than I ever had previously. These are all wonderful pictures.

TC said...

I do love the soul, vision, eye and touch of both these artists, in almost everything they did.

(But Schiele's creative arc cut off so much sooner than Ungaretti's, alas.)

Julia had it right in implying that the image sequence here was meant to dip progressively downward to darkness, so that there might be the suggestion that the impression of somnambulism, though presented as a past phenomenon, would in the end assert its strange power and triumph over time and thought, if not over death.

Julia said...

Thank you, Tom.
Although I think mine was a missreading (no domino el inglés ni el italiano a pesar de mi apellido!). I was thinking while I read the poem and while saw the pictures at the transformation of a place. First, the countryside, where houses are far apart from each other, though the people who lived there were near from each other, after this the village, more houses one near the other, people not so familiar between them; and finally a city, where we live sticked to other people that often are strangers.
But i don't know if this has anything to do with the poem...

TC said...


It is Ungaretti's manner to suggest a certain number of things, while also leaving a number of other things -- questions, and possible readings -- "open". The aura of mystery thus created will seem inviting to some readers, yet at the same time prohibitive, or "off-putting", to others.

I am of the first lot, and I suspect you are also.

A poet of the century before Ungaretti's, Keats, spoke famously of the importance of being able trust in, and dwell without undue agitation in, mysteries; and of the willingness of the writer to follow-out signals that may seem unreliable (because "irrational" or "unreasonable").

In short, I don't think you are mis-reading. With a poem like this, and images like these, it's fair to say any close attention to the mysterious implications and imbrications of image and word is a good reading indeed.

I at any rate would say that, and gratefully.

These posts are always honoured and extended by your attentive insights and insightful attentions.

Julia said...

So kind as always, Tom!

Yes, of course I'm a firm believer in the creative power of mysteries. For me here the mystery was bigger than with any poem, because I barely glimpsed the sense of the words...



Ungaretti's words, Schiele's paintings ("Inside that halo of echo") --


grey whiteness of clouds above shadowed
green ridge, motion of leaves on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

no sooner than reversed, it
is moving toward past

of “and,” means to conclude
that, always the same

grey-white clouds reflected in channel,
whiteness of gull gliding toward ridge

TC said...


Just coming back to this again (sleepwalking?) on another rainy night, in the halo of echoes...

no sooner than reversed, it
is moving toward past


That Keats bit about trusting in the mysteries comes from a letter he wrote as a very young man, after an evening out with friends, in the Christmas season.

The passage, in case you'd care to view it, is inscribed in the upper left quadrant of one of my "Deep Keats Scrolls":

Negative Capability

(If you click on the scroll-image, things will become quite large.)

Julia said...

Fantastic, Tom.
Me avergüenza decir que no sé nada de keats (shame on me)... pero el trabajo para enseñar a tus alumnos me pareció impresionante.