“The Eel” by Eugenio Montale


The siren of icy waters which leaves the Baltic to reach our waters,
reach the estuaries, the rivers deeply beneath whose hostile spate it mounts,
from branch to branch and then from fibril to fibril, attenuated,
ever more inland, ever more into the heart of limestone rock,
worming through troughs of slime
until one day a light slanting from chestnut boughs
ignites the slither in stagnant sumps,
in the ditches which descend from the cliffs of the Apennines to the Romagna,
eel, torch and lash, arrow of Love on earth
which only our gullies or seared creeks of the Pyrenees conduct to fertile paradises;

Green soul which seeks life
there where gnaw only drought and desolation,
the spark which says all begins
where all seems charred to carbon,
a sunken stump, brief rainbow,
twin to what is brightly clasped in your jewel-eyes
and glows there undefiled among the sons of men,
bedded into your mud,
can you not believe her a sister?

If they have compared you to the fox
it’s for the prodigious leap,
for the scud of your feet which unite and divide,
which scuff and freshen the gravel —
or perhaps only for the luminous wave
which you shed from your tender almond eyes,
for your quick astute amazements,
for the hurt of torn feathers
which your childlike hand can give with one clasp;

If they have compared you to a yellow carnivore,
to the treacherous genius of the undergrowth (and why not to the unclean
torpedo fish which jolts with a shock?)
it is perhaps because the blind did not see the wings on your fine shoulder-blades,
because the blind did not unravel the omen on your incandescent brow,
the groove which I have scratched there in blood,
criss cross seduction jetsam promise goodbye
perdition and salvation;

If they did not know how to believe you more than weasel or woman,
with whom can I share my finding,
where shall I hide the gold I carry,
where the live coal which shrieks in me when departing,
you turn on the stairs?

by Eugenio Montale



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