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"Che stai? Breve è la vita e lunga è l'arte; A chi altamente oprar non è concesso Fama tentino almen libere carte." -- Ugo Foscolo
To Himself (translation of a sonnet by Ugo Foscolo)Why wait? The century already leaves Its last footprints and hastes to where the laws Of time are void, enshrouding two decades Of thy years in cold oblivion's night. If life is but roving, anguish, and wrath, Thou hast endured too long. For excellence Now strive, patterns of learned work bequeath To men unborn who shall call thee antique. Despairing lover, brokenhearted son, Homeless exile, harsh to thyself, to all, So young in years, yet worn to roughened age, Why wait? -- for life is brief and art is long. For whom high, noble deeds are not ordained At least may unreined words make cast for fame.Translation © Carl Selph, 1999To His Muse (translation of a sonnet by Ugo Foscolo)And yet once thou wouldst pour upon my lips, Aeonian muse, life-giving plenitude Of song, when my season of flowering spring Was fleeting fast, and on its heels loomed this That painfully descends with me in tears To Lethe's silent shore: and now I call On thee unheard; alas, only a spark Of thy spirit divine is yet alive. O goddess! with time thou hast fled away, To grievous memories abandoned me And to a future faced with blinding fear. Thus I perceive, and love to me repeats, That sparse, laborious rhymes can ill release The sorrow that perforce must dwell in me.Translation © Carl Selph, 1999I Am Not Who I Was (translation of a sonnet by Ugo Foscolo)I am not who I was; so much of us Perished: the remnant is weakness and tears. Dry is the myrtle, scattered are the leaves Of bay that gave hope to my youthful song. Since that day when license and cruel Mars Bedecked me in their bloody cloak, my brain Is blinded, tainted is my heart, gold lust My trade, my art stale and vainglorious. And even if my purpose be to die, To my most valiant resolve the door Is barred by filial love and glory's fire. As for myself, to other men and fate A slave, I see the best and seize the worst, Can both invoke and fail to grant my death.Translation © Carl Selph, 1999Five Lyrics (translation of five untitled lyrics by Sandro Penna)A boy was running behind a train. Life, he hollered to me, has no brakes. I waved my hand, laughing, calm, jumped on board, and off I went. * * * Simple poetry perhaps descends distracted like the hand of a boy upon the shoulder of a traveler amid the arid crowd of a train. * * * Life... is to recall a sad awkening on a train at dawn: to have seen outside the hoarded light: to have felt in the cramped body the melancholy, virgin and sour, of the pungent air. But remembering an unexpected release is sweeter: near me a young sailor: the blue and white of his uniform, and outside a sea all fresh with color. * * * The trains that puffed along once upon a time are silent now. My life, your stubborn hunger is foolish. He is alone, the laborer who turns into the night-time street with his cough at the end of February. * * * They've beaten me. To you alone, lad, would I know how to say: nothing, nothing matters. But I say it to a reflection of lights that pursues me, pursues me in the dead water.Translation © Carl Selph, 1999Ulysses (a translation of "Ulisse" by Umberto Saba)When I was a young man I sailed the coast of Dalmatia. Islets where a lone bird sojourned awhile, intent on prey, surfaced at the level of the waves, covered with seaweed, slippery, beautiful in the sun as emeralds. When high tide or the fall of darkness dissolved them, sails would heel to leeward farther out, to avoid their snare. Today my realm's that no-man's land. The harbor lights its lamps for other men; I am driven onto the sea by my untamed soul and by, for life, my dolorous love.Translation © Carl Selph, 2000
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