Don’t ask me for words
by Eugenio Montale
(Genoa, 1896 – Milan, 1981; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1975)
Don’t ask me for words that might define
our formless soul, publish it
in letters of fire, and set it shining,
lost crocus in a dusty field.
Ah, that man so confidently striding,
friend to others and himself, careless
that the dog day’s sun might stamp
his shadow on a crumbling wall!
Don’t ask me for formulas to open worlds
for you: all I have are gnarled syllables,
branch-dry. All I can tell you now is this:
what we are not, what we do not want.
[Selected by Arnaldo Testi, author of Capture the Flag: The Stars and Stripes in American History. Poem from Cuttlefish Bones, 1920-1927, trans. by William Arrowsmith, W. W. Norton, New York, 1994, p. 41.]