The Lemon Trees

Eugenio Montale - 1896-1981
Hear me a moment. Laureate poets 
seem to wander among plants
no one knows: boxwood, acanthus,
where nothing is alive to touch.
I prefer small streets that falter
into grassy ditches where a boy,
searching in the sinking puddles,
might capture a struggling eel.
The little path that winds down
along the slope plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.

Perhaps it is better
if the jubilee of small birds
dies down, swallowed in the sky,
yet more real to one who listens,
the murmur of tender leaves
in a breathless, unmoving air.
The senses are graced with an odor
filled with the earth.
It is like rain in a troubled breast,
sweet as an air that arrives
too suddenly and vanishes.
A miracle is hushed; all passions
are swept aside. Even the poor
know that richness,
the fragrance of the lemon trees.

You realize that in silences
things yield and almost betray
their ultimate secrets.
At times, one half expects
to discover an error in Nature,
the still point of reality,
the missing link that will not hold,
the thread we cannot untangle
in order to get at the truth.

You look around. Your mind seeks,
makes harmonies, falls apart
in the perfume, expands
when the day wearies away.
There are silences in which one watches
in every fading human shadow
something divine let go.

The illusion wanes, and in time we return
to our noisy cities where the blue
appears only in fragments
high up among the towering shapes.
Then rain leaching the earth.
Tedious, winter burdens the roofs,
and light is a miser, the soul bitter.
Yet, one day through an open gate,
among the green luxuriance of a yard,
the yellow lemons fire
and the heart melts,
and golden songs pour
into the breast
from the raised cornets of the sun.

More by Eugenio Montale

In the Greenhouse

The lemon bushes overflowed
with the patter of mole paws,
the scythe shined
in its rosary of cautious water drops.

A dot, a ladybug,
ignited above the quince berries
as the snort of a rearing pony broke through,
bored with his rub-down—then the dream took over.

Kidnapped, and weightless, I was drenched
with you, your outline
was my hidden breath, your face
merged with my face, and the dark

idea of God descended
upon the living few, amid heavenly
sounds, amid childish drums,
amid suspended globes of lightning

upon me, upon you, and over the lemons...

Salt

We don't know if tomorrow has green pastures

in mind for us to lie down in beside

the ever-youthful patter of fresh water

or if it means to plant us in some arid

outback ugly valley of the shadow

where dayspring's lost for good, interred beneath

a lifetime of mistakes. We'll maybe wake up

in foreign cities where the sun's a ghost,

a figment of itself and angular

starched consonants braid the tongue at its root

so all sense of who we are is lost to words,

and nothing that we know can be unravelled.

Even then, some vestige of the sea,

its plosive tide, its fretwork crests will surge

inside our syllables, bronze like the chant of bees.

However far we've stumbled from the source

a trace of the sea's voice will lodge in us

as the sunlight somehow still abides in

faded tufts that cling to bricks and kerbstones

on half-cleared slums or bomb-sites left unbuilt.

Then out of nowhere after years of silence

the words we used, our unobstructed accents,

will well up from the dark of childhood,

and once more on our lips we'll taste Greek salt.