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Sunday, October 12, 2014

A few words on "Digging" from "Death of a Naturalist", by Seamus Heaney, with a translation in Italian (Italian version by LiteraryJoint)

Digger in a Potato Field: Nuenen, Februari - July 1885, Vincent van Gogh,  chalk on paper, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

    Robert Lowell wasn't certainly far off, when he referred to Seamus Heaney, 1995 Nobel Prize laureate , as "the greatest Irish poet since Yeats."
Recalling his time in Belfast, talking about his childhood, Heaney once noted: "I learned that my local County Derry experience, which I had considered archaic and irrelevant to 'the modern world' was to be trusted. They taught me that trust and helped me to articulate it." 
    As a young poet, Heaney was painfully aware of the gaping distance between the world of language and literature, and the psychical, rural world that he encountered around him: a dichotomy between his own roots, the parochial and peasant life, and the gifts of poetry and education that progressively seemed to pull him away from his background. This sense of exclusion is magnificently rendered in his poem 'Digging', that we present below in its original 1966 version, followed by a version in Italian, translated by LiteraryJoint.
    In "Digging", from Heaney's debut collection "Death of a Naturalist," a powerful juxtaposition is rendered: two marvelous tools, the pen and the spade, both working their own way deeply, to unearth hidden treasures awaiting to be brought to light.


Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
 I’ll dig with it.

"Digging" from Death of a Naturalist," 1966 by Seamus Heaney.
Following is a version in Italian, translated by LiteraryJoint.


   Tra l'indice e il pollice
La penna riposa immobile; tesa come una pistola.

Sotto la mia finestra, un suono distinto e stridente
Quando la  vanga affonda nella terra ghiaiosa:
Mio padre, cavando. Guardo in basso

Finchè la sua schiena tesa tra le aiuole
Si piega bassa, si rialza a vent'anni di distanza
Chinandosi ritmicamente traverso il solco delle patate
Ove stava cavando.

Lo stivale ruvido adagiato sulla suola, il gambale
Contro il ginocchio interno faceva leva fermamante.
Sradicava le lunghe cime, interrando a fondo la lama luccicante
Per sparpagliare le patate nuove cha avremmo raccolto
avvertendo con piacere nelle nostre mani la loro fresca durezza.

Per Dio, il vecchio sapeva come maneggiare una vanga.
Esattamente come il suo vecchio.

Mio nonno poteva smuovere più zolle in un giorno
Di ogni altro uomo nella torbiera dei Toner.
Una volta gli portai del latte in una bottiglia
Tappata appena con della carta. Si tirò su
Per berlo, quindi si richinò subito
Incidendo e intagliando nettamente, sollevando zolle
Sopra le sue spalle, scendendo e scendendo
Per la buona torba. Scavando.

   Il fresco odore di muffa di patate, lo sguazzare e picchiettio
   Di torba fradicia, i risoluti tagli del fil di lama
   Traverso le radici vive mi tornano alla mente.
   Ma non ho vanga per star dietro a uomini come loro.
   Tra l'indice e il pollice
   La penna riposa immobile.
   Scaverò con quella.

"Digging"da "Death of a Naturalist",  Seamus Heaney, 1966. Traduzione in italiano a cura di 
Literary Joint.

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