This is an excerpt of a poem by Eugenio Montale (1896-1981), translated by Robert Lowell (1917-1977). Lowell’s translation has been questioned because it does not match up accurately with other more literal translations, but I think it’s the translator’s duty and, naturally Lowell’s own craft, to interpret, rather than to simply produce the literal translation. In any case, I find it lovely.

The Eel

The eel, the North Sea siren,
who leaves dead-pan Icelandic gods
and the Baltic for our Mediterranean,
our estuaries, our rivers–
who lances through their profound places,
and flinty portages, from branch to branch,
twig to twig, thinning down now,
ever snaking inward, worming
for the granite’s heartland, threading
delicate capillaries of slime–
the eel, a whipstock, a Roman candle,
love’s arrow on earth, which only
reaches the paradise of fecundity
through our gullies and fiery, charred streams;
and a tree, where my carved name quivers,
happy, humble, defeated–
or, perhaps only for the phosphorescent wake
of your almond eyes
for the craft of your alert panic
if they likened you to the blonde lioness,
to the avaricious demon of the undergrowth,
it is perhaps because the blind
have not seen the wings
on your delectable shoulder-blades
if they can only think of you
as a weasel or a woman,
with whom can I share my discovery,
where bury the gold I carry,
the red-hot pot-bellied furnace raging
inside me, when leaving me,
you turn up stairs?


Doesn’t that make you want to go for a night swim? Shiver me timbers. I do.