Poems in Translation from Bestia di gioia

Translated from the Italian by OLIVIA E. SEARS

Poems appear in both Italian and English.



Mariangela Gualtieri is a poet of great incandescence. Whether confronting existential questions or questions of daily existence, she writes with searing honesty and compassion. A veteran of the theater, Gualtieri’s voice can be thunderous and oracular, but also painfully intimate.

These three poems are drawn from Gualtieri’s 2010 collection Bestia di gioia [Beast of Joy], a volume devoted to reflections on the natural world, on human struggles, and on the infinite mysteries of life and death. They are also heavily populated with our fellow beasts, human and animal.

Each of these untitled poems belongs to a different series within the larger collection. The first poem, “They said it was a comet,” appears early on in the series Naturale sconosciuto (unknown natural), with ruminations on transcendence viewed through the lens of nature—water, wind, animals. In the series Un niente più grande (a greater nothing), “A messenger calls” appears amid poems that contend with the spiritual battles and seismic shifts we human beasts endure. The poem foregrounds the speaker’s grief about our mortality but also about humanity and where we are heading as a species.  “The goat deep inside me” appears in the section entitled  Sponda degli insonni (shore of the sleepless), which opens with an epigraph from poet Amelia Rosselli: “The night-wind left and dreamt of great things: I rhymed within my powers and took part in the void.”

We see the poet wrestle with fundamental questions as she deciphers the messages coming in: from a feathered messenger calling to us; from a vigilant voice arising within; or speeding from the stars with instructions for life. Sometimes rhyming powerfully, other times grappling in the dark, but always with a certain metric tranquility and a music that accumulates. And always aiming to follow her curiosity rather than her dread. Gualtieri’s poetic journey is full of passion and luminosity—and it is also ultimately joyful.

—Olivia E. Sears


Un messaggero chiama

Un messaggero chiama
dalle fronde. Nascosto aleggia
in piume. Becchetta. Canta
o si duole o percuote o ragiona d’amore
stagionale. La sua materia grigia
strofina la corrente d’un cielo
trasmittente. E lui veleggia
miracolato si spande
illeso dalla gravità che inchioda
noi, disertori di vuoti e altezze
ombre gettate
in trattorie modeste per un cibo.
Teste in capitali
di ruggine.
Un vitalizio d’oscurità.

Solo un pianto ci salva adesso.


A messenger calls

A messenger calls
from the branches. Hidden he hovers                                    
in feathers. Pecks. Sings or
laments or thrashes or thinks over
seasonal love. His gray matter                                              
brushes the current                                                     
of a transmitting sky. And he soars
saved, outstretched
untouched by the gravity that pins us            
down, we deserters of empty spaces and heights     
shadows cast
into modest taverns for a bite.         
Heads in capitals                                                                                           
of rust.
A lifetime annuity of darkness.                                                         

Only a cry can save us now.


*   *   *  


La capra sul fondo di me

La capra sul fondo di me
non vuole dormire.
Cammina per i miei greppi
solleva quel buio e ne scopre             
ancora. Più fondo.

Al centro di me
una bestiola accucciata si sveglia
e respira il silenzio che nel giorno
è mancato. Respira. A suo modo
canta. Resta attonita dentro
cucita nel fasciame del sangue
rivestita del buio palpitante dei boschi notturni.
Sanguinante. Infante. La parte più viva
sta sveglia e pilota. Solleva il corpo
dal letto. Lo accuccia nella camera accanto
per terra. E canta. Dentro. Una felicità
sconosciuta. Un canto d’eternità
spaventoso e immenso. È ignota
la sua volontà. Da che strana vita
si erge quel suo stare sveglia
da che lontananza si accende.
Non è bestia nera ma piccola
bestia di luce che sta nella vita
un po’ stretta per lei.


The goat deep inside me

The goat deep inside me
doesn’t want to sleep.                                    
She walks my barren bluffs
lifts that darkness and discovers
still more there. Deeper.              

At the center of me
a small curled-up beast awakens
and breathes the silence that by day
was missing. Breathes. In her own way
sings. She’s left stunned inside                                                                      
stitched into my blood’s cladding                                         
clothed in the throbbing darkness of nighttime
forests. Bleeding. Infant. The part most alive                                    
stays awake and drives. She lifts the body
from the bed. Curls it up on the floor
in the next room. And sings. Inside. An unfamiliar              
happiness. A song of eternity
terrifying and immense. Her will
is unknown. What strange life
gives rise to this staying-awake,        
from what distance is it ignited.
She is not a dark beast but a small
beast of light who inhabits a life
a bit too confined for her.


*   *   *


Hanno detto che è stata una cometa

Hanno detto che è stata una cometa
che impattando col duro della terra
ha portato l’acqua fra le pietre
del nostro pianeta.

Una cometa hanno detto.
Un ghiaccio volante di luce
come scagliato da altre stelle
fin qui. E dentro c’era
la legge della specie, la formula
del sangue e delle linfe
il timbro di ogni voce.

L’acqua è la perfetta chiave
che apre le forme scatenate.
L’acqua che ancora beviamo
è stata strascico di luce
viaggiante. Bastimento abbagliante
nel buio fra i mondi.


They said it was a comet

They said it was a comet          
striking the earth’s crust                                            
that brought water among the rocks                                                  
of our planet.

A comet they said.                                                     
Ice of light hurtling down
as if flung here from other
stars. And inside was
the law of the species, the formula
of blood and sap,
the timbre of every voice.

Water is the perfect key          
to release the unbridled forms.
The water we still drink
is the legacy of traveling
light. Dazzling vessel
in the darkness between worlds.


*   *   *


Italian poems originally appeared in Bestia di gioia © 2010 Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino.

Translation © 2020 by Olivia E. Sears.


Mariangela Gualtieri was born in Cesena, Italy, in 1951. Trained as an architect, in 1983 she founded, together with Cesare Ronconi, the famed Teatro Valdoca, for which she serves as dramaturge. Long committed to cultivating the oral dimension of poetry and its communal, collective roots, she routinely—via her Valdoca projects—bridges the realms of poetry and theater, as best evidenced by the collection Fuoco centrale e altre poesie per il teatro (Einaudi, 2003) and the theatrical text in verse, Caino (Einaudi, 2011). Regarded as one of Italy’s most compelling and innovative voices, her books include: Antenata (Crocetti, 1992); Senza polvere senza peso (Einaudi, 2006); Paesaggio con fratello rotto (Luca Sossella Editore, 2007); Bestia di gioia (Einaudi, 2010); Sermone ai cuccioli della mia specie (book and CD, Teatro Valdoca, 2012); and Le giovani parole (Einaudi, 2015). ​Her latest volume, Quando non morivo (2019), went into its third printing in its first month of sales and has sold nearly eight thousand copies.

Translator Olivia E. Sears is founder of the Center for the Art of Translation and serves on the editorial board of Two Lines Press. Her translation of Ardengo Soffici’s groundbreaking 1919 poetry volume BÏF§ZF+18: Simultaneities and Lyric Chemisms is forthcoming from World Poetry Books (Spring 2021). Her translations of numerous women poets have appeared in A Public Space, Kenyon Review, The Arkansas International, Jubilat, Poetry International, and The Literary Review.

Poems in Translation from Bestia di gioia

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