Elsa Morante is best known as a novelist, but she also wrote stories and poetry. Born in Rome in 1912 her work often centered on the struggles of youth as they came to grip with their place in the adult world. Morante was married to Italian novelist and film critic Alberto Moravia. Since both were Jewish they were forced to flee Rome for their lives during the war. During this period she began work on her most famous novel, La storia, which was not published until 1974. It was also during this period that she started translating the writings of Katherine Mansfield. Her first novel, Menzogna e sortilegioHouse of Liars), published in 1948 won the prestigious Viareggio prize. Morante died in 1985. During her lifetime she completed nine novels and works and other narratives, and three collections of poetry.
Through the pain of sick wards
and of all prison walls
of barbed-wire camps, of convicts and their keepers,
of ovens Siberias and slaughter-houses
of marches solitudes drunkenness and suicides
and the leaps of conception
the sickly sweet taste of the seed and the dead,
through the innumerable body of pain
theirs and mine,
today I reject reason, majesty
that denies the last grace,
and I spend my Sunday with madness.
Oh pierced prayer of elevation,
I claim for myself the guilt of the offense
in the vile body.
stamp your grace
on my ill-grown mind. I receive you.
And the small carnage begins again.
The sweat nausea the cold fleshly fingertips the bones’ agony
and the round of wonderful abstractions
in the horror of stripping away flesh.
The usual deadly female peacock called Scheherazade
unfurls her wheel of stabbing pains,
feathers and flowers suddenly petrified
in the giddiness of colors against nature, a lacerating lynching
with sharp stones. No way out.
The range of the limitless is another prison law
more perverse than any limit. But still
beyond a glacial era the daily norm
resurfaces at intervals with its poor domestic face
while the blend of nature’s kingdoms
melts the veins in waves like childhood’s first menses
until the lymph is burned away. The carnal fever is consumed.
conscience now is only a moth beating against the deathly dark
seeking a tread of substance. Summer is dead.
Farewell farewell destinations addresses popes bestiaries
Villa della Scimmia, Piazza Navonna, Avenue of the Americas.
Farewell measures, directions, five senses. Farewell slavish duties
slavish rights slavish judgments.
Take refuge blindly on the other side, hells or limbos, it
rather than find yourself back in your disgusting domicile
where you’re crushed between walls soiled by painted canvases
recognizable as rags and dust of degraded Sindons.
The floor is a bloody mud boiling again
In the rooms, disintegrating ossuaries, in the last lightning flash
Of a misshapen brass plate, where lemons
Swell to plastic balls. And from the mirror
With dusty eye-sockets something alien but at the same time
Close, intimate, stares at you, dark fish-scale beyond every
that also denies the skeleton and the whole business
of geneses and epiphanies
of tombs and Easters. Don’t try the twisted ruinous itinerary
of the stairs, that is for you an ascension of centuries,
and above, below, there is always Hell.
The decayed sky is the low ragged tent
of the earthly leper-house. And the Mozartian flute is a malign hopping that beats back
all the way into your eye-bulb its trivial mimicry
of an obsessive arithmetic that has no other meaning…
No further sky’s exposed. The thousand-petaled lotus doesn’t open.
You’re all there is here. There’s nothing else.
Be present at this. And stop calling on
dead lovers, dead mothers.
Stripped bare, poorer still than you, they don’t frequent this
or other dimensions. Their final habitation
remains in your memory alone.
Memory memory, house of pain
where through great rooms and deserted galleries
an uproar of loudspeakers keeps repeating
(the mechanism is bewitched) always the bitter point
of the Eli Eli without an answer. The shriek of the boy
who leaps blinded by the sacred evil.
The young assassin raving in the mad dormitory.
The cropped Christian litany in the hospital
storeroom, around the old dead Jewess
who pushed away the cross with her small delirious hands.
WITHOUT THE COMFORTS OF RELIGION. This house is
full of blood,
but the blood itself, all blood, is only spectral vapors
like the mind that bears witness to them.
And when the hours of requiem arrives for you, it will be like
this through those cries.
The desecrated Sunday declines now
the plague-moons are already sinking
the thorny hedge buds again, your senses chime in five voices.
Hurray again, hurray to meet your usual poor tomorrows,
your usual death-doomed body.
It’s super-time. Oh hunger for life, feed yourself
again on the daily substance of slaughters.
Be born again to forms to confidences and arbitrary choruses
To the order of dates
To your place.
No Revelation. (Even if the play is illegal,
it always depends on the collective factory of free will).
No sin (The machine designed for torture
isn’t guilty of the tortures, oh poor sinners).
And no special grace.
(The only common grace is patience
up to the consummation’s amen).
Go away content. Absolved, absolved, though backsliding.
Good evening, good evening.
This Sunday too is over.
Translated by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann