Paul Archer - photo Paul Archer - poet, translator



A Tomb in Tarquinia
('Sepulcro en Tarquinia' by Antonio Colinas, english translation by Paul Archer)

E loderó quella che più mi piacque
delle tue donne morte 

e il tenue riso ond'ella mi delude
e l'alta immagine ond'io mi consolo
nella mia mente

e il sogno di voluntà che sta sepolto
sotto le pietre nude.

Gabriele d’Annunzio

Poi mi partia, consumato ogni duolo.

          Dante Alighieri

the gates of night opened,
the horses ran out into the night,
a field of ice, of stars, of violins,
the night immersed breasts and roses,
a mature night wrapped in snow
after the slow sleep of autumn,
after the long mouthful of autumn,
after the hurricane of stars,
the autumn with trees of gold,
with burnt towers and columns,
with walls covered in late roses
and you in that tram splashed
at the water's edge by the boats,
by the lights
and the wind and the lamps and the oars,
your autumnal face which I would never
see again, my love, never again,
behind the tram’s windows
with a dream of foals in your eyes,
with a herd of deer in your eyes,
with a den of tigers in your eyes,
and with the smoke of the cemeteries,
and with the ironwork of the cemeteries,
and with the red clouds high up over there
(above the cypress trees and dead birds,
the thyme and the fragrant vases)
above the cemeteries
sailing in your eyes

the gates were opened at night,
the horses ran out into the night,
the brambles of memory tossed to and fro,
she crossed a wilderness (the sea) for me to remember her,
that girl who cried on the road
full of crosses

if you could see me at this dark table
with the blanket and the stained glass,
with the fire gone out, no more fire
than that in this heart here, than in one more
of your days rushing onward
to the lake and the night and the gardens,
if you could see me,
if you only knew:
they tethered the lions in chains,
they placed rings in their mouths,
someone filled with lead each pipe
of the fountain and the water in the marble basin,
the water in the rose-pink basin,
the water in that veined marble
like green snakes, like serpents,
they poisoned everything and it's
dead there like fallen leaves,
muzzled like the lions,
full of shackles and dead suns,
full of the sun and shivering moons

they had to steal the pyx,
the gold candlesticks and that chalice
made from onyx and the most beautiful gemstones,
they had to smash all the roofs,
coffered ceilings, pulpits, altars
(Titian, our old friend, had paintings
covering the walls and they opened up
the tombs that had already been plundered)
all fell down, there had been music
and light in the arches and architraves,
Lentz, Scarlatti, Telemann, Vivaldi,
the ceilings covered in frescos, the tabernacles,
the ancient, aromatic wood panelling,
worm-holed and lustrous, in the choirs,
the altarpiece, the slabs, the trumpets,
the throng of angels, once in a while
a mandolin sound, the Botticelli
virgin with your face, violas
trembling in our veins and a great choir
thundering furiously with the organ,
with the heart

the heart, the heart, you went out
not knowing that it would all be over
by night time, rather drunk
it would seem, with disheveled hair,
rather suffocated and feeble, rather sad,
the music made you tremble,
when you cried the cobbled streets
felt you go past,
there was a pure echo when you cried,
a sad-looking garden,
when you cried
the city lit its candelabras,
all was metallic, the Milky Way
creaked when you cried, your sea-blue
overcoat, its hood raised,
going down each flagstone very slowly,
darting quickly in front of the alcoves,
when you cried...

you were not happy then, I would say,
after the concerts, I would say
your skin was as smooth as a scepter,
like a precious and strong and firm scepter,
your belly was like the body of a viola,
I would say
an organ sounded through your veins,
anyone would say that, all looked at you
traversing the walls, round the rim
of the roman theater, when you cried
the oleanders in the shadows felt you
go past, so serene, your steps
crunched the gravel on the path,
when you wept, your agate eyes
were dreaming of a funeral scene
among those burnt columns,
when you wept
there were red tunics snagged
in the brambles, a forest awakening,
a forest of glowing cypress trees
and blood in your ravaged chest,
despite the river you drowned slowly,
it rained slowly when you cried
or a hurricane swept through the city
and I never knew where you went
when you cried

(the wind in the woods tore down thousands of branches,
branches of pine trees, apple trees, poplars,
delicate fruits, clusters of roses,
tore down statues, left each fountain
full of green and sulphurous water,
ripped out harebells and flower beds,
the wind opened windows to the dark
and a whirlwind of citrus perfumes,
a hurricane of crushed flowers,
a blaze of violet rays
invaded the rooms of the villa,
the wind in the woods tore down thousands of branches,
and after the violent rain,
and the ozone biting the windows,
after the wild horses
galloped over the meadows like flames,
the forest dripped full of lust,
the rooftops were filled with stars,
the cold moon trembled in every pool,
a violin silenced the night,
in Bergamo, following the storm,
a swan floats on the music of Liszt,
dipping its red beak in the dark water
under the pine trees heady with perfume,
it moves like a white lightning streak,
thrashes the laurels with its wings,
screams madly to the moist stars,
Bergamo grows ivy, grows ruins,
smothered by forests of chestnut trees,
yellow lanterns and cherry trees,
the swan: a bulb of snow and rain and music,
with a defeated and flaccid head,
with a broken head on the marble,
its neck a delicate, exotic flower,
my swan, my happy childhood
expiring at the feet of Donizetti)

if you could see me now by the fireside,
pierced by you, by your memory,
there is so much snow outside and yet
I can still call to mind the villa
of Catullus that we imagined together,
not the villa in the ruins of Sirmione
with light-hearted music and blondes
dancing on a bridge made of boats,
nor the place where Joyce and Pound met
(how delicious they must have been, the olives
of that time, when the lake devoured
the sun and each wave was on fire,
waves of green fire, and so many fish
around the viewpoints and so beautiful
the maidens of the temple and bathhouses,
Sirmio, the Sirmio of that time, the jewel
among the beautiful islands on that lake,
when the blossom came to the almond trees
you, Catullus, the poet from Verona,
were travelling towards Asia, Sirmio, Sirmio,
full of red lips and krateres)

there is so much snow outside and yet
the dogs do not disturb me in that dream
that is all opal and diamantine clouds,
the last apple does not disturb me
that refuses to fall, nor the branches
of the walnut tree full of ravens, nor the air
thick with smoke, nor the barbed-wire fences,
nor the dead chicken on the path
last night, nor the pigs,
nor their red entrails dripping
on the snow, such a violent blood,
but I have another memory, I have
a memory of more precious blood,
and how sweet and how sad to remember it

aroma from unburnt leaves,
the mutilated Venus in the garden,
the stone satyrs on the steps,
the dogs of the guardian and the cold moon
kissing the flowerbeds and the towers,
in that pavilion I lived another life,
when you arrived at night among the pines
far away lanterns were shining,
their galleries of blue glass,
inside the chandeliers and the music
from a piano scented by mimosa,
the painting of the Stygian lake
(by Patinir with its apple green colours)
the youngest ones among the girls drank
the notes of Chopin, forgetting
the sparkling champagne in their glasses,
the garlands of roses rotted
above their fevered ivory brows,
they had books in their hands
they never finished reading,
the moist stars disturbed them
and the cry of the swans on the lake
foretold their coming death,
the sickness and Art and a desire
that could not kiss those lips
without thinking of the flowers of blood,
imagining boats on the shore,
a splash of oars in the reeds,
every night Death came to visit
with its different faces,
the sound of the viola mourned,
in the air hung a threat
and a rustle of branches in the dark,
dawn brought peacocks of light,
the sound of harebells in the cloister,
the petals of lilies on the path,
a red cushion for the young blonde
who never threw away the letters I wrote,
a white coffin for a sad lady

there is so much snow outside and yet...
come to me, you caged bird, I see something
of myself perched in your miniscule eyes,
come to me, bird, come with the rain,
let me look at myself, like two
of the deepest black pinheads
are your eyes and I want to see myself in them,
made for death you sing until
you bring me burnt afternoons,
I'd like to be quick about this, you have all
that I've lost focused in your eyes,
it fights against sleep and death in this room,
fifteen seasons fight in my eyes,
my last memories, my dreams:

after opening the doors of the Ark
a fetid wind hit Noah between the eyes,
you see? Valle-Inclán lit green fires,
so the bird of winter could go on singing,
Beatrice d'Este, why complain
when you have a dress made of gold?,
the angels came down to reap
that summer: they slept beside the well,
when the storm was over a red rocking horse
grazed in a blue-moon meadow,
the patio of the convent became filled
with tame lions and goldfinches,
you are a maiden of Crotone:
if you didn't know that love exists!
Wherever he walked, Dufy left behind purple footprints,
Pinki loved the hurricane, the light of the forest,
Bucintoro, there was not enough sun for you,
I did not sleep that night and at dawn
they called at the door, when I opened it
there was a petal of almond blossom on the frost,
they buried it under an enormous apple tree,
a clamour of sacred bamboo and lotus flowers,
seeing the sun, it didn't know what it was,
it felt naked: it burned like a bush

you delivered to me the unknown...
do you still remember the story of the sepulchre?
between the sea and the wilderness of Tarquinia
someone opened up the tomb of a warrior
hidden since the day he died
(the noble Etruscan lay under the roots
of almond trees and olive trees sweetened
by the deep spring of Tarquinia)
at the blow of a pickaxe he entered the air
in that tabernacle of shadow
and ancient resounding stone,
he entered the air and everything turned
into odourless black and sacred dust,
the curve of his chest was broken,
the line of his mouth, the high brow,
the mournful night of his eyes,
down to the bracelets of fine gold
they fell into ashes when touched,
only some rotten clothing
and a massacre of rusted weapons
remained on the pile of funereal dust,
from the broken cords of his arms,
(buried during spring in Tarquinia)
the fighting spirit of the warrior had faded,
time had buried a young lily
under the black pines,
during spring in Tarquinia ...
while overhead the ploughs dig up
the rocky ground, burning, thorny,
while the sun pierces the gloomiest
of the caves of Cyclops and the sea
resounds like a wreck on the cliffs,
down below, in the discovered tomb,
the tomb raiders prowl,
sticking their fingernails into ashes,
breaking the vases, searching for the gold
that time does not forgive

(night falls slowly
on Lake Trasimeno, the olive trees
know of God, they sob deeply, meekly,
under  a silver and emerald light,
we'll go up to Gubbio at sunset,
there's still snow and already signs of spring,
the herd of goats stays down below,
chewing the cud among the temple ruins,
unfurl your wings, Night, over the cloister
of San Damiano and the towers of Assisi,
the body of Umbria out in the open air,
poor St Francis, such a flash
of useless blood, your sackcloth, your hands
under a roof of trembling stars)
you delivered to me the unknown...
you are there, glimpsed in the distance,
buried in the September afternoon
under a rainfall of dead bells,
under a hill of poisonous figtrees,
I remember you
under a rainfall of black bells,
under a rainfall of slow bells
wrapped up on winter evenings,
when I put my hand on your veins
I could feel the night and its bells,
when you went quiet: the impending bells,
when you dream of me, if you wait, I will come and find you
buried under a cold stone slab
eroded by the rain made from bronze,
to die with you this very afternoon
singing inside walls softened
by the colder lights of winter,
under a rainfall of black bells
the afternoon rolls like a golden bottle
over the filigree of the pavement
hitting the corners and the grilles,
you will be night's strong pollen,
the afternoon's window, the storm
of music composed by Mozart
on the day of his death, and wasn't heard by us,
you are worthy of receiving the moon,
you have a roof terrace in each of your eyes,
you open wide your thighs, you open your hands,
your breasts point towards the snow,
your belly is a half-burnt bramblebush,
are those lips branches or bunches of fruit?
how delightful to die without crushing them,
to see you flow like a river in spate,
to be a bracelet on your ankle, on your wrist,
not to be kissing those lips, not to be thinking
that mouth belongs to you, it's yours
and yours alone, so bite and pass by,
pass by, woman, like a wave in the dark,
pass by, woman, as the night passes,
Love has scars on its lips,
how delightful to die without possessing you

you delivered to me the unknown,
to what forests, to what high palaces
you took me when we met,
to what acidic pool, to what palms,
to what evenings of nasty thorns
to what ship aimless in the darkness,
to what deep and disconsolate garden,
to what terraces...

you arrived among the tombs of Torcello,
tall, with a head full of gold,
your bare feet walked round Torcello,
the grass rustling with snakes
(before these islands sink
- you said - you must sing of their sorrow,
their beauty, their buried dreams)
among so many destroyed statues
only your marble sculpture was warmly throbbing,
your glorious breasts and your belly
morbid and musical as a moon,
and among the towers, from the watchtower,
full of capitals and flowers,
you contemplated the sea with immense calm
while weaving with ivy
a solemn and beautiful garland
that you then, before my eyes, tossed
into the sea

the night was oily, among the reeds
we saw the last ship leave without lights,
it was for us a soothing suicide,
the deep and unctuous darkness
of the dead canals, the Byzantine
churches in half a meter of water,
what a soothing death, the very sweetest:
the fishing lamps in the lagoon,
Burano, San Francesco del Deserto,
Murano, the malarial aromas
of the islands, the ghostly ruins,
an infinite joy and a music
made out of the silence of the sea,
it was an oily night, through the reeds
we saw the last ship leave without lights,
all our island, such ecstasy
half pagan, half mystical, in your eyes,
we believed still in beauty,
we went to bury the will
under the silent grass of the island

you must know now that you remember:
no one will ever come to this place,
here the sea brings the dead fish to us
and there is no other life than the waves
crashing in the darkness of the caves,
you will dream a boat every night,
you will dream some lips every night,
in vain you will listen by the rocks,
no one will ever come to this place,
you will tour through the convent’s rooms,
you will scrutinise the face of Diana,
the cats will watch the cold dawn,
there will be a fresco caked in salt
in the castle crypt that has no roof,
the hurricane will uproot geraniums,
no one will ever come to this place,
no one will ever come to this place
and the seagulls will bring me sadness

                                         Monterosso al Mare, the spring of 1972

See also Sepulcro en Tarquinia - an introduction to the poem.
For translations of other poems by Antonio Colinas, go to Translations.

© Paul Archer - All Rights Reserved