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A Flower

for Giannina Milli

by Alceste De Lollis (1820-1887) | translated from Italian by Adam Sedia

A fragile herb, this blooming flower,
I planted with my hand one day;
Once more I fed refreshing power
Into its bristling barbs’ array;
_By me it sprung, by me it grew,
_By me it had the life it drew.

Just yesterday the sun was setting
And fast upon its dying ray
The virtue that I was forgetting
Darkened my mind gone far astray;
_I withered as my senses stole
_Away from my tormented soul.

A relentless fever was beating
Here within my restless chest;
I anxiously began entreating
Where my life’s path should come to rest,
_Where I could find a soul so close
_That in it my soul could repose.

And through the shadows of my thought
Unto the blackest fantasy,
Like stars with which black night is fraught,
A ghostly form appeared to me,
_From whose far-shining, lucid gaze
_I glimpsed another soul ablaze.

Ask, then, O lady, ask your lyre
To sound its sweetest harmonies;
Ask for your genius to inspire,
Ask for the visions that most please:
Perhaps at last you could express
What I held fast within my breast.
_I cut the flower to be true,
_And bring it, O lady, to you.

If days that pass without regret,
If joy not feigned or counterfeit,
If moments you count fortunate
Remain to you, not yet forfeit;
If in a fleeting moment’s bliss
You capture some small happiness,
_Rejoice, O lady, then rejoice;
_Give this flower no thought or voice.

But in your hours of solitude,
In moments when deep silence weighs,
When surrounded by quietude,
Terrified at the fleeing days,
You feel your soul collapse, resigned,
Upon itself, upon your mind;
_Recall, O lady, in your heart,
_Recall the flower I impart.

And if, once care has been suppressed,
A drowning wave of pure sensation
Searches outside the trembling breast
Into the life of desolation,
One soul alone will dare attend you,
One soul alone will comprehend you . . .
_Take, O lady, before I part;
_Take this flower upon your heart.

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Original Italian

A Giannina Milli
Un Fiore

Fragil erba questo fiore
Di mia mano un dì piantai:
Io di nuovo fresco umore
Le sue barbe alimentai:
Per me nacque, per me crebbe,
Per me vita il fiore s’ebbe.
Jeri il sole tramontava,
E col raggio suo morente
La virtute a me mancava,
S’offuscava la mia mente;
Mi sentiva oltre l’usato
Dentro l’anima affannato.
Qui nel petto mi batteva
Una febbre irrequieta;
Io con ansia m’inchiedeva
Dove fosse la mia meta,
Dove un’anima io trovassi,
In cui l’alma io riposassi.
E tra l’ombre del pensiere
Alla nera fantasia,
Come stella in cielo nero,
Un sembiante m’apparia,
Dal cui sguardo rilucente
Tutta io bevvi un’alma ardente.
Chiedi, o donna, alla tua lira
I più armonici concenti;
Chiedi al genio, che t’ispira,
Chiedi i sogni più ridenti:
Forse esprimer tu potrai
Quel che in seno allor provai.
Io recisi il fiore allor,
E ti porto, o donna, il fior.
Se di giorni non ingrati,
Se di gioja non mentita,
Se d’istanti fortunati
Non fia scarsa a te la vita;
Quando un labile momento
Potrai coglier di contento,
Godi, o donna, godi allor;
Non pensare a questo fior.
A ‘tuo’ piedi versi il mondo
I suoi doni, i suoi tesori;
Ti sia sempre il ciel secondo,
Ti ricinga di splendori.
Quando in core esulterai,
E la gloria gusterai,
Non pensare, o donna, allor,
Non pensar a questo fior.
Ma nell’ore tue secrete,
Ma ne’taciti momenti,
Quando in cerca di quiete,
Spaventata a’ di fuggenti,
Sentirai l’alma dimessa
Ricader sovra sè stessa;
Ti ricordi, o donna, al cor,
Ti ricordi del mio fior.
E se un’onda allor d’affetto
Con affanno sollevata
Cercherà fuori del petto
Alla vita desolata
Sola un’alma che t’intenda,
Ti penetri, ti comprenda . . .
Premi o donna, premi allor
Questo fiore sopra il cor.

— 10 Agosto 1850, Alceste de Lollis

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The Poet’s Spirit

To the Memory of Alceste De Lollis

Alceste De Lollis (1820-1887) was a minor poet of risorgimento-era Abruzzo. The translator’s grandmother, Anne Sedia (née De Lollis) was the great-granddaughter of the poet’s double cousin. The family claims to descend from Marcus Lollius Paulinus (c. 55-2 BC), to whom, along with his son Publius Lollius Maximus, Horace addressed several poems (Odes 4.9, 34-44; Epistles 1.2, 18). The poem translated was the only work of De Lollis that the translator could locate, and he would appreciate any assistance in discovering more works.

by Adam Sedia

Across two centuries’ and an ocean’s span,
You born to Dante’s, I to Shakespeare’s tongue,
Our blood unites us, scions of one clan,
Whose forebears Horace entertained in song.

But more than blood spans distance, tongue, and time:
The flame, the spirit that all poets share—
The ear attuned to music, rhythm, and rhyme;
The eye aware of beauty everywhere

And in it Truth, eternal, changeless, clear;
The mind that can extract the hidden good.
These unseen bonds of spirit draw us near—
More than mere blood and surname ever could.

Though blood will perish, spirit never dies,
And thus is where our truest kinship lies.

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Adam Sedia (b. 1984) lives in his native Northwest Indiana and practices law as a civil and appellate litigator. In addition to the Society’s publications, his poems and prose works have appeared in The Chained Muse Review, Indiana Voice Journal, and other literary journals. He is also a composer, and his musical works may be heard on his YouTube channel.


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19 Responses

  1. lionel willis

    These two oems demonstrate the beauties which can be achieved in our art so threatened by the twin perils of becoming stereotyped as only the vehicle of extreme right wing rage in contrast to free verse (that horrid self-contradiction) in which all liberal or socialist views must be acceptably expressed, to the total eclipse of true art which does not seek any ideological bias. These two pieces are truely fine works. They ought to be studied by all of us as the most authentic models of our goal. Meanwhile we should all be examining our souls: is all art truly propaganda? If you want to be honored as a poet, stick to pure beauty. If you want to skewer those views your fear, despise or hate, print a plackard!

    (Adam: please forgive me for hoisting you fine work as a battle-sign.)

    Reply
    • Mike Bryant

      Mr. Willis,
      I absolutely agree about the beauty and humanity expressed in both of these poems. There are precious few venues available today where poets may speak freely. This is the best of them all. It is a site that lets poets speak against power. Many do not realize it, but we are in a war against authoritarianism.
      Yeats spoke up, in poetry, when he published ‘The Second Coming’ over a hundred years ago. Today, he would be canceled. It’s much too Christian for modern times.

      https://politicrossing.com/tucker-weve-moved-to-a-new-stage-of-this-war/

      Reply
      • Cynthia Erlandson

        Thanks for posting this, Mike. Tucker is exactly right.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Mr. Willis, let me add something to the points made by Mike Bryant. Yes, this website is definitely conservative in its politics, and many polemical poems (propagandistic and tendentious, if you want to put it that way) appear here. So what? Your plea for “pure beauty” is a dead end, and utterly ostrich-like in its refusal to face the fact that we are AT WAR. In warfare we have the right and the duty to skewer the enemy.

      Here is something that I have learned from decades of dealing with human beings when they come together in groups: Any organization, society, institution, or collective body that is not EXPLICITLY AND VOCIFEROUSLY RIGHT-WING, will in the course of time become liberal, soft-leftish, and finally savagely politically correct. I have watched it happen in businesses, in social gatherings, in schools, in faculty organizations, in book clubs, and in poetry websites and chatrooms. The current Zeitgeist is asphyxiating in its influence.

      Trying to abstract oneself from the warfare that is raging all around us is just a recipe for letting the enemy win by default. Every time we express “extreme right wing rage” here, we infuriate the left. I don’t think we should give up that weapon by “sticking to pure beauty.”

      All it takes are a few dedicated leftish and liberal types to enter the conversation, and slowly but surely they will poison it with their moralism, their programmatic outrage, their pressure-politics, and their glandularly driven need to police both thought and expression. The only reason it hasn’t happened here is the vigilance of Mr. Mantyk, and the presence of some very tough rightist types who will smack down anyone who tries to turn the SCP into a boring clone of the hundreds of other poetry websites that are just megaphones for left-liberal orthodoxy.

      Reply
    • Adam Sedia

      I don’t mind my work being hoisted at all. If anything, it makes me glad that someone found something in it worth hoisting.

      There is definitely a place in poetry for politics. Poetry is, after all, a vehicle for the expression of ideas. Milton, Wordsworth, Longfellow, Tennyson, and many others have written fine political poems. Even I’ve written a few (some more subtle than others).

      My sonnet here doesn’t address political subject matter, and I don’t think it has to. I wrote it from a personal perspective considering what it means to be a poet, and whether it matters that poetry “runs in my blood,” so to speak. Genealogy has always been a fascination for me, and pride of family and heritage definitely has a place, but the creative spirit is something else entirely; that is what I address here.

      Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    Adam, this is a good translation, in the poem’s original form, and it stays close to many of the very words of the original. Intimate and beautiful content that you put into English with De Lollis’ own spirit!

    Your own sonnet, focusing on spirit, is excellent. I was just talking to someone about the difference between soul and spirit in traditional Catholic psychology, and she reminded me that even plants have souls (vegetal ones). In the description of a human being as a creature with body, mind, soul, and spirit, we can say we are distinguished by a rational soul, but far more so by the human spirit–which is much more difficult to define and describe! You use the concept, especially as it applies to the spirit of the poet, very well.

    In response to your search for more works by De Lollis, I put his name into Internet Archive, and came up with a single result. It is an 18-page pamphlet, published in 1867, about Domenico Cotugno, whom De Lollis thought could serve as a model for students of Italian. Although this is a prose work, it seems there might be a discussion of artistic principles–and you can easily read it on your computer.

    Finding the works of a minor poet of long ago can require some serious tracing of evidence, such as you are familiar with in law. In my research trips to England, I had relied on Oxford University, since by law one copy of every book printed in the United Kingdom must be deposited there. In 2018, I discovered that Cambridge University is the national repository for poetry, where it is far easier to discover rare and “fugitive” publications of poems. And poetry is exactly the sort of thing that often appears in forms too small to be called “books.” I would suggest that you need to plan a trip to Italy–but before going, do a lot of research into where you are likely to find what you want, so that you do not waste your time. Is there a national poetry library? What about one for Abuzzo? Who were De Lollis’ friends and associates in poetry? If you know any of this, there may be clues among their works. I have found many items of interest in publishers’ advertisements at the back of other old books. Spent many days at Cambridge filling out request slips for as many rare items as I was allowed at one time–and after examining them, quickly turned in another round of request slips! The search proceeds much faster if you are allowed to go into library stacks, but as you have not yet located more than one poem by De Lollis, I suspect that what you want is likely to be found among rare books. Have someone you know who is on a university faculty write you a recommendation; the person doesn’t have to be in the Italian department, but if the letter is in English, translate it into Italian (and copy it) before you hand it over to some rare book custodian in Italy. Best wishes on the search!

    Reply
    • Adam Sedia

      Thank you for your insight and advice. I’ve been putting off going to Italy for years now from a desire to “do it right” and visit the libraries and archives, which will require weeks. Then COVID hit and the lockdown situation in Italy is, shall we say, not optimal.

      As it happens, my wife’s family lives in Abruzzo not far from where De Lollis lived and I at least have contacts there who might be able to help if I’m banned from doing it myself. The ultimate goal is to translate De Lollis’s works and introduce him to the English-speaking world.

      You’ve given some great advice and I will take it to heart. Thank you!

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Adam, if you can get a library to send you a photocopied book or books, as Joseph Salemi suggests below, that is by far the easiest way to proceed. My advice is to ask for just one book (in order not to appear troublesome), and when you receive it, see whether you think the price and the wait time and the quality of the copy are worth it.

      In the happy time when you go yourself, or if you have willing helpers in Italy, one piece of equipment that will save a lot of time is a document camera (or document scanner, called a “scholar’s camera” in England). I was not satisfied with pictures of book pages that my phone could take. I would suggest that if you have a large electronics shop or camera shop in your area, go to the after-Christmas sale and have a knowledgeable salesperson show you document cameras and describe the performance. In the US, these things cost less than half what I would have paid in England. But before trying to send one to a person in Italy, check out shipping charges and customs duties! And be aware that libraries, while ordinarily allowing use of a handheld camera or phone, will often not allow accessories such as lights and stands. Again, best wishes on what seems to be a very worthy project!

      Reply
  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    As I don’t know Italian, I won’t attempt to comment on the translation; but the sonnet is extremely beautiful in both its thoughts and its artistry! It’s worth reading many times.

    Reply
  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Adam if you type Alceste De Lollis in for a Wikipedia search, you will come to an article (in Italian) on the man and his work, followed by a listing of eight of his books, both poetry and prose, that has links to a Biblioteca Nazionale where you will find where copies of these books are kept.

    Reply
    • Adam Sedia

      Thank you! I’ve been to the Italian Wikipedia page, but – silly me – never followed the library link. I’ll have to make the trip if Italy ever comes out of its totalitarian surveillance state (of which I would be a target – let’s leave it at that). In the meantime, I might have to recruit someone.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Some libraries will make a photocopy of a book and send it to you, for a price of course. The bigger the book, the more expensive, though a small book of poems might not cost that much. But you have to write to these libraries and inquire about procedures and prices (in Italian, to be sure!)

  5. Sally Cook

    Adam, both your translation and your poem have the simple yet profound beauty one can expect from a true poet; also the photos of the couple and the rose, which are so appropriate
    and in the same vein. I too have a connection to an early French poet, and curiously, the Lord of Limerick.
    Thank you for addressing the spirit of a poem, and of plants, both of which so often get left out.

    Reply
    • Adam Sedia

      Thank you for your remarks. I always say if you go back far enough, everyone has both a king and a slave among their ancestors. I came across De Lollis’s name years ago and wondered if he was a relative of my grandmother. Then when I did some digging I realized he was much more closely related than I thought. So I’ve made it a personal mission of mine to try to introduce his works to the English-speaking world.

      The connection to the Lollii might be a myth (during the Renaissance it was trendy for all well-to-do Italians to claim ancient Roman ancestry), but the connection to Horace sounded too good not to mention. Marcus Lollius’s granddaughter was also one of Caligula’s wives, but I wasn’t going to mention that connection…

      Reply
  6. Paul Freeman

    Thanks for bringing Alceste De Lollis to our attention and for your excellent sonnet, Adam.

    Reply
  7. Yael

    Very nice translation, well done! The sonnet is sweet too.
    It’s so interesting to read poetry from other times, cultures and languages, as the lines of thought and the focus of interest of the poets can be quite different from our own era.
    While I’m usually a little disappointed in the translations of prose texts, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the quality of poetic translations on this website. It seems that a skillful poet can create a perfectly enjoyable new poem based on a translation, which does not at all disappoint the reader. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Tamara Beryl Latham

    Adam, what beautiful poetry and thank you for having taken the time to translate for us. The sonnet was wonderful and its theme, poetic spirit, will certainly resonate through time. The couplet brings it all home.

    I probably would have substituted “beat” for “rhythm” in L7 just to keep it within iambic pentameter.

    You should be very proud of yourself for accomplishing such a difficult task. Bravo!

    Reply

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