The Dead

The sea that breaks on the opposite shore
throws up a cloud that spumes
until the sand flats reabsorb it. There,
one day, we jettisoned, on the iron coast,
our hope, more gasping than
the open sea—and the fertile abyss turns green
as in the days that saw us among the living.

Now that the north wind has flattened out the cloudy tangle
of gravy-colored currents and headed them back
to where they started, all around someone has hung
on the limbs of the tree thicket fish nets that string
along the path that goes down
out of sight;
faded nets that. dry in the late
and cold touch of the light; and over them
the thick blue crystal of the sky winks
and slides toward a wave-lashed arc
of horizon.

More than seawrack dragged
from the seething that uncovers us, our life
moves against such stasis: and still it seethes
in us, that one thing which one day stopped, resigned
to its limits; among the strands that bind
one branch to another, the heart struggles
like a young marsh hen
caught in the net's meshes;
and motionless and migratory it holds us,
an icy steadfastness.
maybe the dead too have an rest taken away from them
in the ground; a force more pitiless
than life itself pulls them away from there, and all around
(shadows gnawed and swallowed by human memories)
drives them to these shores, breaths
without body or voice
betrayed by the darkness;
and their thwarted flights brush by us even now,
so recently separated from us, so close still,
and back in the sea's sieve go down...

translated by Charles Wright

by Eugenio Montale

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