Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

CHAT: Ungaretti's Use of Language

From:Leo Caesius <leo_caesius@...>
Date:Tuesday, September 12, 2000, 13:48
Luca Mangiat wrote:

"Ungaretti was a great poet. 'Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie',
'Natale' ... his poetry is called 'ermetica' because of its obscurity, but
at least it's Italian!"

and Andrew Smith queried:
"What does the line of poetry translate as?"

     I hope Luca won't mind if I do the honors!
     The line comes from the poem "Soldati" [soldiers] which Ungaretti wrote
in 1918.
     Actually, it's the whole poem.  Ungaretti frequently writes very
concise poems, partly because he composed these poems while huddled in the
trenches during the Great War.  His style was to use simple words and
capture their raw power.

     In essence, it translates roughly as (referring to the soldiers)

     they are like leaves on the trees in Autumn

     The verb "stare" implies much more than I can render here - in Italian,
it often gives the meaning of existing on the thresh-hold of a change ("sto
per andare" - "I'm about to go") in this case, the soldiers - just like the
leaves in Autumn - are about to fall.  He also uses an impersonal
construction (literally "one stands..." which I have rendered using the
English impersonal "they...") because he himself was among the soldiers
preparing to meet their fate.  Ungaretti borrowed this lovely image from the
Classics (IIRC, Homer was the first to compare soldiers to leaves falling
from trees).

     In order to *truly* appreciate the magic of Ungaretti, you have to
imagine him reciting it in his inimitable way - concentrated, intense,
heavily dramatic - he would say "si sta come <dramatic pause> d'autunno
<even more dramatic pause> sugli alberi <postitively pregnant pause> le
folie."  You've probably noticed that the syntax is a little stilted -
literally translated, it would be "one stands like, in Autumn, on the trees,
the leaves."

     The two words which I quoted, "Mattina" [Morning], are possibly the two
most well-known words in the Italian language, "m'illumino d'immenso."
This, very roughly, translates as "I am enlighted by the immensity"
(referring to dawn).  IIRC, Ungaretti would have said "miiilLUUUmiino

     Anything by Ungaretti is well worth checking out.


Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at

Share information about yourself, create your own public profile at