February 2024. A Glance Over My Shoulder.

A Glance Over My Shoulder.

A friend once noticed that I was reading poetry, making him huff that poetry was only valid as a distraction in your dotage. Of course, that’s not true, but I have to admit the poetic genre soon dropped from prominence as my library expanded, and so his words have a significant truth about them. And yes, to add significance, I have recently been reading some poetry again, and this causes me to reflect on the matter.

The reason for this early reading was almost lost in the fog of history, but not quite so. I had to memorise one stanza from a poem by Giuseppe Belli, an Italian poet of no great eminence in a nation choc a bloc with those of world renown. But, in his favour, Belli was very funny, and in his life produced many satirical sonnets, mostly in the Roman dialect. The English master logically reasoned that, the pimply youths arrayed before him, would respond in a practical way to this suggestion. He was not wrong, but I don’t remember that he was particularly enthusiastic over the result. I was lucky, having drawn the third stanza which is made up of only three lines. Nevertheless, I still manged to fluff it!

It did, however, turn out to have a fairly strong effect on my future interests, and poetry, played a fairly strong influence on my early youth. If one needs to consider the building blocks of literary ambition if very often commences with what, from the outside, represents a fairly simple method of turning your thoughts into written words. Well, the method may be simple. but making them say what you feel or mean is extremely difficult. There are natural flashes of genius, but they rarely add up to the complete work! In a sense they often represent a nucleus round which the entity can be built.

Giuseppe Belli, on the other hand just needed a sense of humour, though by all accounts his life was not particularly amusing leading to a satirical touch in his work. This was the great period of the unification of Italy - the Risorgimento. Having seen off the French and the Austrians, Italy at last became a unified Kingdom. She’d done with dictators! Belli’s poetry paints a somewhat sarcastic image of the goings on!


Animals in the Earthly Paradise.

Before God thought of Adam, there’s no doubt

The class of animals that was found up there

They lived like Lords, cared not a fig nor fart

For anyone, sure they were independent.

No cabbies there attacked them; no hunters stalked them

Butchery - floggings - empty bellies - No!

And as for speech, they all spoke high falutin’,

Refined palaver, like superior men.

But when Adam took the outfit over

Lo and behold, the musket and the bludgeon

Carnages and a healthy taste of stick.

And this was the appropriate moment when

Man took from animals the power of speech

- if he alone could talk, then he was right.

Giuseppe Belli

Given the humour in the poem I have to admit it hardly played a great influence in my efforts, all of which I seem to remember were somewhat morose and not very optimistic. Was that how the “Fifties” were, still living in the shadow of the first atomic bomb?

The Legacy.
In a sudden storm I saw

   The mockery of our children.

I saw the world crumble

   Into so much cosmic dust.

To soon an end to sparkle,

   To glitter, and be lost.

How many aeons trembled

   Across an empty universe.

How much of history passes

   Into the darkness of its void.

Like stars that flitter fitfully

   The truth among the lies.


Things didn’t improve later - probably because you can merely obtain an image in modern poetry, not a whole story. Only the Greeks and Italians were masters of that. So, I moved on elsewhere.

But if Belli was an introduction to “modern” Italian poets then it almost certainly came to a stop with Gabriele D’Annunzio. Sadly, his fame, which is very great, does not resonate for me in his poetry, but is embellished by his life, which was certainly both vivid and “heroic”. In the 1st World War, he took to the air, famously scattering thousands of leaflets over Vienna. More dangerous episodes cost him an eye! Though later a friend of Mussolini, he never became a Fascist, preferring to cultivate his long affairs with famous women, like the actress Eleonora Duse, and Marchesa Luisa Casati.

During an early trip to Italy with my wife during the dying embers of the last century we were tempted to visit D’Annunzio’s home on Lake Garda in Lombardy. If you find yourself in northern Italy, go there! A Naval cruiser half buried in the garden, his 1st W.W. plane hanging from the theatre roof, and the most exotic of mausoleums containing his remains, plus much more, are all enclosed within a spectacular park. It shouldn’t be missed.

Perhaps an interesting point for us, the great man when staying in Volterra, visited an acquaintance related to a friend of ours, so that they could observe together the spectacular phenomena of Le Balze, caused by geophysical movements. He stopped, looking towards the notable city of Volterra.  ‘’Giuseppe”, he said, “Listen’. After a couple of minutes Giuseppe politely enquired, ‘’To what am I listening?’’ After another pause the answer came. ‘’Silence. Listen to the silence!’’

Alternatively, for good reason, Volterra on its hill is well described by D’Annuzio’s comment “The city of wind and stone.” Of the city, he also famously wrote “Forse che si, Forse che no.” (maybe yes, maybe no.) which became something of a celebrity quote from one of his books.

However, his poetry is a reflection of the modernism that waited just round the corner where random thoughts are collected together having little physical existence being mere abstract ramblings of an esoteric nature.


The Good Voice

You’re alone. On the other hand, you don’t feel it.

And yet, on the other hand - you never do!

Over your heart the flows of oblivion flit.

These humble paths are still sweet for you to stray.

There are still roses of the roses that grew.

There’ll be tomorrow what wasn’t yesterday.


Seize for yourself a new courage tomorrow

And even a new strength as well, timid soul.

At the first dewfall, at the first dawn-glow

Doesn’t the grass rise beneath you as you stroll.

Gabriele D’Annunzio

Never mind, luckily, when poems fall short, I can still can go back to George Meredith who besides being a truly wonderful poet, was also very witty: “Kissing don’t last, Cooking do!”

Amen to that.