English Samgha/Poesia/Traduzioni

Earthly Wonders: the Poetry of Giorgio Orelli

Translations by Marco Sonzogni*

Giorgio Orelli (1-Yvonne Böhler)It is never an easy task to introduce a poet. When I need to do that, I like to think of T.S. Eliot, of his efforts to describe poets, understand their poetics, read their poems, and acknowledge their influence. So I think of, and face up to, those two heavy adjectives  – major and minor – and their ramifications to say that Giorgio Orelli (1921) is a major poet. His control of content and form, his mastery of language and rhythm, his ability to respond to and record emotions with compassion and lucidity, make him a poet of absolute purity. 
These characteristics are already (and remarkably) present in Orelli’s debut collection and he has continued to develop and perfect them since – he is still doing so now, in his nineties, as the two very recent poems presented here testify. Thus looking for appropriate isms to classify and introduce Orelli would mean to confine the breath of his sophisticated poetics inside the box of literary terminology and reduce the depth of his poetry to a list of prescribed categories. In any case, Orelli humbly but firmly eludes conventions and parameters in that his poetry always goes beyond – and therefore remains independent from – a certain place within literary schools, academic discourses and publishing trends. 
Indeed, Orelli does us all – readers, critics, and translators – a big favour: he provides us with a modus scribendi that is at all times ethically sound and artistically credible. From the very first encounter with his poetry I have considered Orelli a human being and a poet of clear vision and uncorrupted values in a world often conditioned by darkening and corrupting forces. A poet who looks at and understands the past, the present and future with a sympathetic but also resisting disposition; a poet who has the ability to bring the every day reality of living entities and their stories into the ur-time and ur-space of the poetic word, where they become exempla. 
This is why I always feel a sense of steadfast, righteous, and comforting familiarity when I read Orelli’s work. I hope that translating it into English has earned me the right to share the gift of his poetry [Marco Sonzogni]


La buca delle lettere, Ragni,
libro d’artista con due poesie di Giorgio Orelli e serigrafia di Nathalie Du Pasquier,
nota critica di Elisabetta Motta, Como, Edizioni Lithos, dicembre 2012 (stampa a cura di Alfredo Taroni, la tiratura è di 80 esemplari numerati e autografati, più quattro prove d’artista).

www. edizionilithos.it

La buca delle lettere

Dove mirabilmente
giallo su prima mano
di rosso anche d’autunno
resistono ardite parole:
più non gialleggia la buca
delle lettere, a lungo appesa al muro
d’un giardino arruffato:
inghirlandata di glicine e fragili
roselline, in un folto d’ulivi,
palme, sambuchi, natura
naturale ove adesso si leva
un attro giallo, l’arancio dei cachi
che sfiorano la casa
dell’ultracentenario (con un braccio
più d’un frutto potrebbe raggiungere,
ma non si vede mai):
lì, come fosse
nel posto più giusto, più quieto,
sembrava riposarsi
in se stessa l’antica cassetta,
nel suo caldo colore.
Sparita anche la tortora
che dalla cima d’un lampione
ne lamentava la sorte.

Letter box

yellow on the best of
red even in autumn
the bold words stand out:
no more does the mouth of the box show up yellow,
for a long time hanging from the wall
of an unkempt garden:
garlanded with wisteria and delicate
little roses, beset with olive trees,
palms and elderberries, just
nature where another yellow
appears now, the orange of persimmons
flowering over the house
of the man more than a hundred years old (with his arm
he could pick a lot of fruit,
but you never see him):
there, as if it were
in just the right, the quietest, spot,
the old box
seemed to settle within itself
in its warm colour.
The dove that bemoaned
its fate from a lamppost
has gone away too.

Nathalie Du Pasquier

Nathalie Du Pasquier

Giorgio Orelli mentre firma “La buca delle lettere, Ragni” (con Elisabetta Motta)

Giorgio Orelli mentre firma “La buca delle lettere, Ragni” (con Elisabetta Motta)


Da quando? se da giorni
e giorni, mesi ormai,
mentre riposo li osservo
e scordo e non senza stupore
riscopro: ombre d’acheni,
più piccoli di mezza formichetta
smarrita nell’acquaio: sempre lì,
lontano quanto basta dalla lampada
che ha bruciato l’incauto calabrone,
diafani a furia di guardarli, quasi
trascoloranti in rosa:
chi sa mai se lo sanno
d’essere l’uno a una spanna dall’altro
come due nei su una schiena,
inquilini abusivi del soffitto,
strani compagni della mia vecchiaia:
sempre lì, sempre soli, senza preda,
una volta soltanto è arrivato dal Nord
un ragno d’altro rango,
quasi robusto, nerastro,
è passato col fare inquisitorio
d’un commissario
tra i due come se fossero
sorvegliati speciali,
senza distrarli, è sparito
in fretta nel gran bianco,
e dunque non li ha visti
sincronici calarsi,
sostare penzolando
nel vuoto dove nemmeno si sognano
di cercare un appiglio
per una tela: intenti aile filiere
troppo presto esaurite e come
saggiando il peso d’essere, il mistero,
già pronti a risalire divorando
filo e distanza: .
per fingersi di nuovo
due punti nei dintorni
di me.


Since when? If for days
and days, months by now,
while I rest I watch them
and I forget and not without wonder
I rediscover: shades of acorns,
smaller than half a little ant
lost in the kitchen sink: always there,
far enough from the lamp
that has burnt the careless hornet,
blurring after looking at them too long, almost
changing their colour to pink:
who knows whether they know
one is a hand’s breadth from the other
like two moles on your back,
squatting tenants of the ceiling,
strange companions of my old age:
always there, always alone, with no prey,
once only
there arrived from the North
a spider of quite another species beside,[1]
biggish, blackish,
it went by between the two
with the inquisitive manners
of a police inspector as if the two were
under strict surveillance,
leaving them untroubled, it hurried
away in the wide whiteness,
and so it didn’t see them
synchronise their drop,
hang dangling
in the void where they wouldn’t even try
to weave
a web: worrying that their glands
might dry out too soon and as if
pondering the weight of being, the mystery,
already ready to climb back up devouring
web and distance:
pretending to be once more
just two dots around

[1] “beside” is a reference to a nursery rhyme about a spider and Miss Muffet (“Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. |  Along came a spider and sat down beside her and frightened |  Miss Muffet away”).


Marco Sonzogni*Marco Sonzogni (1971) lives in Wellington, New Zealand. He holds degrees from the University of Pavia (Almo Collegio Borromeo), University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland. A widely published academic, he is an award-winning editor, poet and literary translator. He is a Senior Lecturer in Italian with the School of Languages and Cultures at Victoria University of Wellington, where is also the Director of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation. His literary translation projects include Swiss-Italian poets (Oliver Scharpf, Alberto Nessi, Pietro De Marchi, Fabiano Alborghetti, Giorgio Orelli), New Zealand poets, and the collected poems of Seamus Heaney (Meridiano). Marco Sonzogni, in collaboration with Giorgio Orelli and Pietro De Marchi, is working on Giorgio Orelli’s Selected Poems in English. Translations will also appear in Contrappasso (Australia), La Libellula (Ireland), Legger…ti (Switzerland), Nuovi Argomenti (Italy), and PN Review (UK).   

One thought on “Earthly Wonders: the Poetry of Giorgio Orelli

  1. Una poesia da far conoscere ben oltre i confini italofoni quella di Giorgio Orelli e splendida nella sua capacità di ribadire la bellezza della lingua italiana. Davvero encomiabile l’iniziativa di una traduzione in lingua inglese.


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