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Letter to Malvolio

It was never a question of my fleeing, Malvolio
and not even of a flair of mine for sniffing
the worst a thousand miles off. This is
a virtue that you possess. I don't even envy you
because I could derive no advantage from it.
It was never a question of flight
but only of a respectable
keeping of distance.

It was not very difficult at first
when the separations were clear,
horror on one side and decency,
oh, but a minuscule decency
on the other. No, it was not difficult,
it was enough to duck, to fade,
to become invisible,
to perhaps be so. But later.

But later, when the stalls were emptied out
Honour and lack of decency tightly bound in one single pact
founded the permanent oxymoron
and there was no longer any question
of flight and of shelter. It was the time
of the conceptual phocomelia
what was crooked was straight, over everything else
a cloud of derision and silence.

This was your time and it is not over.
How shrewdly did you mix
historic materialism with evangelical poverty,
pornography and redemption, nausea with the stench
of lucre, the easy money that came your way.
No, you are not wrong, Malvolio, the science of the heart
is not yet born, each invents it as he sees fit.
But let the flight go now that one can hardly
look for hope on the opposite side.
Let my immobile flight say
courage to someone, or to me that the game is still on.
The match is closed for those who cannot
stand the time and hurries, as you do, Malvolio,
because you know that tomorrow
it will be impossible no matter how astute you are.
(Eugenio Montale, Diario del '71)