Rare Stems: Poems by Antonia Pozzi

introduced and translated by Amy Newman

Antonia Pozzi was one of the most interesting voices in Italian poetry of the 1920s and 1930s. Her devotion to the art was an essential part of her being; to her friend Tullio Gadenz, she wrote that poetry’s task is “to take all the pain that agitates us and roars in our soul and mollify it, to transfigure it in the supreme calm of art, in the way the rivers flow into the vast blue sea. Poetry is a catharsis of pain, as the immensity of death is a catharsis of life.”

Born in Milan in 1912, Pozzi was the only child of wealthy parents. She studied at the University of Milan and wrote her thesis on Flaubert. Passionate and well-read, she was also a gifted photographer and an avid mountain climber who enjoyed exploring the terrain of the Dolomite Alps.

When she died by her own hand in 1938, Pozzi left diaries, notebooks, letters, and over three hundred poems. None of her poetry was published in her lifetime. After her death, Pozzi’s father published a private edition of ninety-one of her poems. These were his revisions, cleansed of anything that might place her in what he perceived to be a bad light, including references to sensuality, her struggles with faith, and her dedication of several poems to her first lover, her tutor Antonia Maria Cervi.

In 1955, Nora Wydenbruck translated this sanitized and censored version of the original work for English readers. It would not be until 1989 that editors Alessandra Cenni and Onorina Dino would restore the poems to their original forms.

See Original Language See Translation


Six tulips, on the little table over there,
three dark and three light,
skittish flareup of rare stems:
every one a foul-mouthed violet bloom,
arched in the empty air, heavily,
like a gush of endless sorrow.

       Milan, 8 May 1929



Tonight a clear sky, all puffed up
in white, as if it were a great sail
fastened to the edge of the roofs
with a few pink and purple seams.
A shrill madness of swallows
flashes to translate
the essence of light
into vehement swoops
and the red heat of my blood
quickly dissolves to tears,
clear and pure as drops of water.

       20 May 1929


The Nuns’ Waiting Room

Maybe you’re right:
perhaps true peace
can only be found
in a dark place like this,
in a boarding school vestibule
where girls pass by every day
and hang their small coats and their caps
on the walls
where poor old people
who seek relief
are content with the small change
God gives them;
where in the evening, because
of the tiny windows,
the lamps are lit early
and you don’t wait around
to see the light fade,
to see the color and texture of things ebb away,
but you go out into the night
with your own high flame
and a burning soul doesn’t suffer
how darkness unravels all.

      Milan, 12 November 1931


God of the Wild

A spot of warm sun danced
on my forehead,
there was still a rustle of wind
among distant leaves.

Then he came
alone: the foam of these waves of blood
and a hammering of bells in darkness,
down in the dark through intense whirls,
through red bursts of silence—to the crash.

Afterwards, black ants
returned again
to their row of life in the grass
near my hair
and on my—on your sweaty face
a butterfly was beating his wings.

      27 February 1938


Sei tulipani, sul tavolino dirimpetto,
tre scuri e tre chiari,
improvvisi imbizzarrimenti degli steli rari:
ciascuno un linguacciuto sboccio di violetto,
inarcato nel vuoto, pesantemente,
come un’effusione di tristezza inconcludente.

      Milano, 8 maggio 1929



Stasera un cielo terso, tutto gonfio
di bianco, come fosse una gran vela
assicurata al margine dei tetti
con poche cuciture rosa e viola.
Un’impazzata stridula di rondini
saetta a tradurre in veementi guizzi
i contenuti palpiti di luce,
ed il rosso fervore del mio sangue
si scolora subitamente in lacrime,
limpide e pure come gocce d’acqua.

      20 maggio 1929


L’anticamera delle suore

Forse hai ragione tu:
forse la pace vera
si può trovare solamente
in un luogo buio come questo,
in un’anticamera di collegio
dove ogni giorno sfilano le bambine
lasciando alle pareti
i soprabitini e i berretti;
dove i poveri vecchi
che vengono a domandare
si contentano di un soldo solo
dato da Dio;
dove la sera, per colpa
delle finestre piccine,
si accendono presto le lampade
e non si aspetta
di veder morire la luce,
di veder morire il colore e il rilievo delle cose,
ma incontro alla notte si va
con un proprio lume alto acceso
e l’anima che arde non soffre
il disfacimento dell’ombra.

      Milano, 12 novembre 1931



Mi danzava una macchia di sole
tepida sulla fronte,
c’era ancora un frusciare di vento
tra foglie lontanissime.

Poi venne
solo: la schiuma di queste onde di sangue
e un martellio di campane nel buio,
giù nel buio per vortici intensi,
per rossi colpi di silenzio – allo schianto.

riallacciavano le formiche
nere fila di vita tra l’erba
vicino ai capelli
e sul mio – sul tuo volto sudato
una farfalla batteva le ali.

      27 febbraio 1938

The copyright for the poems and photograph of Antonia Pozzi belongs to the Carlo Cattaneo and Giulio Preti International Insubric Center for Philosophy, Epistemology, Cognitive Sciences and the History of Science and Technology of the University of Insubria, depositary and owner of the whole Archive and Library of Antonia Pozzi.

Published on October 18, 2021