Thrust and riposte (abridged)
...The time has come, now, to suspend the suspension
of every worldly deception -
wished for by you for me...
Living on memories - I can no longer.
Better the bite of the ice than your sleepwalker's
lethargy, O late awakener!
Scarcely emerged from adolescence,
for half my life I was thrown
into the Augean stables.
I did not find two thousand oxen,
nor did i see any animals - ever -
and yet in the pathways,
thicker and thicker with dung,
walking was difficult,
breathing was difficult -
The human bellowing grew from day to day.
Then from year to year - who counted the
seasons any more in that thick mist? - a hand
feeling for the tiniest openings
worked in its memorial...until from the crevices
the fanning fire of a machine-gun pushed us back,
tired shovellers caught in the act
by the foreign police chiefs of the mud.
And at last the fall - beyond belief!
What did that new mire mean?
and the breathing of other, but similar, stenches?
and the whirlpool-whirling on rafts of dung?
Was that the sun, that filthy grub from a sewer
over the chimney pots?
that perhaps yoùve stopped reading me.
But now you know all of me,
of my prison and my life afterwards;
now you know that the eagle can't be born
of a mouse.)
(Eugenio Montale,"Botta e risposta I", Satura
The translations are from the
PENGUIN BOOK OF WORLD WAR I POETRY
edited by Jon Silkin)