Superman or Satanist?

Despite the dismal weather we managed to have a very interesting day around Lake Garda. The road from Tremosine to the lakeside was stunning, travelling down a deep gorge with extreme switch-backs and tunnels, to spectacular effect. The road round the west side of the lake is no less spectacular, although much of it is through long tunnels. We were heading towards “”Il Vittoriale degli Italiani ” near Gardone, Gabriele D’Annunzio’s (poet, novelist, dramatist and warrior) home in later life. One will either be entranced or disgusted by the man’s eclectic and decadent house. Admirers of art deco and Piacentini will be delighted, however. The house has a symbolic aura to it – everything in its almost indigestible decorations has significance for something in the poet’s life and for major Italian events so one needs to brush up on their inter-war Italian history! This year there are many opportunities for learning more about him as celebrations commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth in Pescara.

The gardens will please most with their romantic landscaping around twin cascading streams. There are two parts –the upper part has a ship (Puglia) incorporated in it, the MAS speedboat and Gabriele’s mausoleum, built on a grand scale. Veteran cars lovers will enjoy a beautiful example of an Isotta-Fraschini in his garage. The lower part is more formal, reticent and relaxing and, umbrellaed, we walked around the “jardins sous la pluie” – quite delightful with fresh harbingers of spring perfumes.

 I cannot make up my mind about D’Annunzio. Among his life achievements were novels which took the Huysmans-Wilde ethic to extremes (e.g. “Il Piacere”), some highly evocative poems (the “Pioggia nel Pineto” is a classic – see English translation at end of this post), a melodrama on Saint Sebastian, to which Debussy wrote the music, his extended seduction of the great actress Eleonora Duse (and several other women besides), his film-script to the epic silent film “Cabiria”, his incitement for Italy to join WW1 and regain control of territory still under Hapsburg domination, his propaganda flight over Vienna (he’d learnt, aged over fifty, to fly a plane – still conserved at the Vittoriale), his conquest of Fiume with a band of loyal followers and the establishment of a futurist-anarchist artists’ republic there ( a venture he had to relinquish when Italy bombed it in 1920), his creation of a liturgy, much of which was taken over by Mussolini when he founded the Fascist regime in 1922, his famous motto: “I have that which I have given away”…

Inspired superman or fascist hypocrite, seducer or sexist, sensuous poet or indulgent hedonist, prophet or betrayer? One certainty remains: the Vittoriale is one of the most extraordinary monuments (or is it even a home?) in this extraordinary nation. Visit it and make up your mind for yourself about D’Annunzio.

Here are some pics relating to the great man himself and of the Vittoriale (we were not allowed to take photos of the interiors so we have borrowed some from the guidebook).

 And here is that poem in English (which clearly looses much of the onomatopeic music of the original):

The Rain in the Pine Wood.

Hush. On the edge

Of the woods I do not hear

Words which you call

Human; but I hear

Words which are newer

Spoken by droplets and leaves

Far away.

Listen. Rain falls

From the scattered clouds.

Rain falls on the tamarisks

Briny and parched.

Rain falls on the pine trees

Scaly and bristling,

Rain falls on the myrtles-

Divine,

On the broom-shrubs gleaming

With clustered flowers,

On the junipers thick

With fragrant berries,

Rain falls on our faces-

Sylvan,

Rain falls on our hands-

Naked,

On our clothes-

Light,

On the fresh thoughts

That our soul discloses-

Renewed,

On the lovely fable

That yesterday

Beguiled you, that beguiles me today,

O Hermione.

Do you hear?

The rain is falling

On the solitary

Greenness

With a crackling that persists

And varies in the air

According to the foliage

Sparser, less sparse.

Listen.

The weeping is answered

By the song

Of the Cicadas

Which are not frightened

By the weeping of the South wind

Or the ashen sky

And the pine tree

Has one sound, and the myrtle

Another sound, and the juniper

Yet another, instruments

Different

Under numberless fingers.

And we are

Immersed in the spirit

Of the woodland,

Alive with arboreal life;

And your ecstatic face

Is soft with rain

As a leaf

And your hair

Is fragrant like

The bright broom-flowers,

O earthly creature

Whose name is

Hermione.

Listen, listen. The harmony

Of the high-borne cicadas

Gradually becomes

Fainter

Beneath the weeping

That grows stronger;

But a song mingles with it-

Hoarser,

Rising from down there,

From the far damp shade.

Fainter and weaker

It slackens, fades away.

Only one note

Still trembles, fades away.

Rises again, trembles, fades away.

One hears no sea voice.

Now one hears upon all the foliage,

Pelting,

The silvery rain

That cleanses,

The pelting that varies

According to the foliage

Thicker, less thick.

Listen.

The daughter of the air

is mute; but the daughter

Of the miry swamp, in the distance,

The frog,

Is singing in the deepest shade,

Who knows where, who knows where!

And rain falls on your lashes,

Hermione.

Rain falls on your black eyelashes

So that you seem to weep

But from pleasure; not white

But made almost green,

You seem to emerge from bark.

And within us all life is fresh,

Fragrant,

The heart in our breasts is like a peach

Untouched,

The eyes between the eyelids

Are like springs in the grass,

The teeth in their sockets

Are like bitter almonds.

And we go from thicket to thicket,

Now joined, now apart

(And the rough green vigour

Entwines our ankles,

Entangles our knees)

Who knows where, who knows where!

And rain falls on our faces-

Sylvan,

Rain falls on our hands-

Naked,

On our clothes-

Light,

On the fresh thoughts

That our soul discloses-

Renewed,

On the lovely fable

That yesterday

Beguiled me, that beguiles you today,

O Hermione.

Gabriele D’Annunzio, Principe di Montenevoso  (1863-1938)

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4 thoughts on “Superman or Satanist?

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