To slump at noon thought-sick and pale
under the scorching garden wall,
to hear a snake scrape past, the blackbirds creak
in the dry thorn thicket, the brushwood brake.
Between tufts of vetch, in the cracks of the ground
to spy out the ants’ long lines of march;
now they reach the top of a crumb-sized mound,
the lines break, they stumble into a ditch.
To observe between the leaves the pulse
beneath the sea’s scaly skin,
while from the dry cliffs the cicada calls
like a knife on the grinder’s stone.
And going into the sun’s blaze
once more, to feel, with sad surprise
how all life and its battles
is in this walk alongside a wall
topped with sharp bits of glass from broken bottles.
Eugenio Montale (1896–1991) was a contemporary Italian poet. He published over eleven volumes of poetry, as well as four books of prose, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975.
Millicent Bell, Professor Emerita of English at Boston University, is a literary scholar and critic (her last book was on Henry James, her next is on Shakespeare). She also writes poems now and then and is presently engaged in a project involving translation from French, Italian, and German poetry. (2000)