With the rain pissing pouring down here today in Longoio (and indeed in most of Italy) as a result of yet another peturbazione it might be the time to listen to some appropriate music: perhaps Chopin’s raindrop prelude or Debussy’s jardins sous la pluie? These pieces have titles, original as in the Debussy or added afterwards by some wag as in the Chopin. What of music without titles? I am reminded of Schumann’s reply when asked what a composition of his meant: “It means this” he answered, and played it through again. The same could be said about poems even though words are clearly rather less abstract. OK I’ve listened to your poem but what does it really mean? Another, perhaps more revealing question might be “how did it come to be written?” Here’s one of mine scribbled in 1999:
Night falls on the ridge like distilled nectar
My fire is out: I huddle into sleep
While myriad stars tend over the vast deep
and the mountain is an immense spectre.
In the dusk a goat’s tinkling bell resounds
across the fast-fading valley while far below
the twinkling lights of the steep village glow
and echo the yelping of hungry hounds.
It turns colder: my thoughts spin round and round
I am quite alone here yet not uncertain:
hidden by earth, the sun will uncurtain
and illumine till the moist sphere is crowned.
The rays touch me and warm my spirit:
heart wakes and leaps to the summit’s limit.
The poem relates to the following entry in my personal video catalogue: C084 30/07 – 14/08/94:
Monte Pisanino expedition – Train to Piazza al Serchio – Rifugio Donegani – Foce del Cardeto & Foce dell’Altare – summit – down to Rifugio Aronte – Marble quarry – Campo Catino – Chestnut forest – Vagli and emptied lake – (un)submerged village – back to Lucca through Garfagnana train – thence return to Florence
To fill this out a little more: it was the summer holidays which I spent in Italy (I only moved here in 2005) and the expedition consisted of one member – me. I passed the night at a little hotel by the station in Piazza al Serchio. The following morning I started walking towards the rifugio Donegani and a nice fellow gave me a lift part of the way. I climbed up the highest of the Apuans the Monte Pisanino (1946 m or 6384.51 feet if you prefer) doing the classic Canale delle Rose route – an incredibly steep ascent on highly slippery grass and rocks. I wanted to reach Vagli di Sopra on the same day but failed to do so and so spent the night on a little ridge on the lower slopes of the Pisanino. The day had been very hot and I had no idea that the night might likewise be rather cold – and so it was – and thus I spent much of it shivering and gazing at the wonderfully immense starlit sky.
Despite running out of water (the Apuans are karst territory and water runs underground, mostly) and drinking from guilded puddles (I then discovered that at the nearby rifugio Aronte – the oldest of the Apuan rifugi and named after the mythological diviner – there was a Gerry can full of the fresh stuff) the walk ended successfully and for the first time I trekked through the wonderful summer pastures of Campo Catino with their shepherd’s stone huts and, for as yet the only time, strolled into the submerged village of Fabbriche di Vagli which had come to the surface as the water had been let out of the dammed lake.
Since, as Wordsworth says poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity I only came to write the sonnet after five years had passed and this spiel fourteen years later. In a sense, our life is like a spiral staircase – horizontally we pass over the same spot, although vertically we see this spot in a new light – hopefully a fuller and a wiser one.
Here are some pictures illustrating a few features encountered on that climb::
The video of that Pisanino ascent has not been digitized and I have no personal photos of it. So as a consolation here are some pictures of us doing that Queen of the Apuans, the Pania della Croce way back in 1988 (twenty-five years ago – my! how time flies like an arrow (and how fruit flies like a banana…)