Born in Milan in 1932 to Milanese parents, second of two children. Lived in the country during the war, from age ten to thirteen, reading many poems and novels. After returning to Milan, middle school and high school, attended very sporadically. Diploma in classical studies in ‘50, after independent study. He registered to study law. His father died in ‘52. In ‘53 he won a competition with an unpublished collection of poems; the jury included, among others, Ungaretti and Betocchi. Became friends with the latter, to whom he owes a great debt. In ‘54 his mother died. He took a degree and went to work in the legal department of an industrial company. Got to know Enzo Paci and Vittorio Sereni, joined the staff of the magazine “Aut Aut”. His three children were born in ’59, ’60 and ’63. Went to work for another company. After taking part in the founding and production of the magazine “Questo e altro”, he joined the editorial staff of “Paragone”, regularly contributing articles on poetry (many of them later published, in ‘76, in a book entitled Poesia degli anni Sessanta). In ‘61 he published his first booklet of poems, Il catalogo è questo; the first full book of poems came in ’66, Le case della Vetra. In ‘68 he definitively left his job and stopped practicing law. From ’70 to ’73 he wrote film criticism for the newspaper “Avvenire” and worked on the cultural programming of the RAI. Became a consultant, then a director, and then a consultant once more of the Garzanti publishing house. His translation of Baudelaire was published by Mondadori, where he became a consultant after leaving Garzanti. In ’75 Cadenza d’inganno was published. Literary critic for “Tuttolibri”. From the end of the Seventies to ‘83 he worked for Guanda, as director of the poetry series (for which he invented, among other things, the formula of the “group notebooks”) and the new series of “Illustrazione italiana”. Translation of the Bestiaire of Apollinaire. Start of translation for the “Meridiani” series of Mondadori of the Recherche of Proust (three of the four planned volumes have been published – in ’83, ’86 and ’89). In ’80 he published La fossa di Cherubino (prose works), and in ’82 Nel grave sogno. After leaving “Tuttolibri” he worked regularly with “Messaggero” and “Europeo”. In ’84 he translated Racine’s Phèdre, for Luca Ronconi. Wrote the chapter on “Poets of the second half of the 20th century” for the updated reprint of the Storia della letteratura italiana of Cecchi and Sapegno. In ’87 Einaudi published a new and thoroughly revised edition of his translation of Baudelaire. Starting in ’87, theater critic of “Corriere della sera”. In ’88 Mondadori published A tanto caro sangue, a collection of already published (but partially rewritten) and unpublished poems, which he saw as his last and only book. Nevertheless, in ’90 Einaudi published a small book entitled Versi guerrieri e amorosi, which he indicates (in private, but not only in jest) as his first posthumous book. He is now preparing a new collection of critical writings on poetry.
When I was born my parents lived on Via San Gregorio. The house was neither old nor new, I think it dated back – like so many of the buildings in that part of Milan – to the years around the first world war. The railroad station used to be located there; you could once see the tracks from the windows of my house, I believe. But in 1932, when I was born, you couldn’t see them anymore, they were gone; the window of the room where my older brother and I slept had a view of a nondescript landscape that resembled the outskirts of a city, though we were actually quite close to the center. This terrain vague came alive – especially in the afternoon, and particularly on a Saturday afternoon – with children’s play. They played football, war games, cowboys and Indians. Perhaps I should say “we played”; it seems quite probable that I took part in those games, yet I have no precise memory of doing so. What I do remember is having watched other children at play. The games were delightful. That window is undoubtedly one of the places, or one of the situations, that prompted me to become a poet, to want to write poems. For a long time I thought that a poem should be like that window. It seemed to me that a poem was a pane of glass through which you can see many things – all things, perhaps; but a glass that also isolated and protected me. Its transparency was not more important than its separating presence. The games were on the other side of the glass, and I was over here. I think I shall never be able to fathom the extraordinary delight of this situation. What is certain, in any case, is that when I began to write poems my greatest aspiration was to rediscover that type of delight or, if you will, privilege. I wanted to make every poem a well-protected, transparent observatory from which to gaze at life – perhaps, that is, to not live it. Of course the story of what I now think of as my poetry begins later; it begins, I guess, precisely with the rejection, the renunciation of all this: the window, the observatory, the transparency. But the question must not be fully resolved as yet, at least in my subconscious, if a few years ago I found myself writing this poem after having, I believe, at least in part, dreamt it.
Anxious, as if blind, against
the storm and the hail, one
by one I closed
It mattered that I didn’t know which.
Only at dawn, trembling,
in the dreadful minutiae of one who wakes or dies,
I understand I have crept
inside the usual darkness
Via San Gregorio, first floor.
Over this way from my children,
from being able to grant or utter speech.
The true story of my poetry begins when I gave up the dream of happy self-exclusion that was so strong in my adolescence and is a part, perhaps, of the formation of every poet. It is useless to point out that this renunciation coincided, for me, with entry into adulthood. Instead, I would like to try, and not just for the sake of caprice or nostalgia, to also connect this different, more mature phase of my poetry and my life to the place where I was born – to my city and, inside it, my home. When he died in 1821 the great Milanese poet Carlo Porta was buried in the cemetery of San Gregorio. I’d like to note, in passing, that in Italian poetry the Lombard tradition that passes through Manzoni and then Tessa, Sereni, Rebora, starts precisely with Porta. I believe this is something substantially different from what 20th-century historiography calls the “Lombard line” – though I’ve never really understood what that was.
There was also another discovery regarding Via San Gregorio: I found out that one portion of the street where I lived had once coincided with the perimeter of the Lazzaretto, the pesthouse of the great plague of Milan, the one described by Manzoni in The Betrothed and History of the Column of Infamy. A piece of the enclosure wall of the lazaret is still visible. I am convinced that this second discovery, for me, was even more important than the first. Thanks to the lazaret, to the fact of having been born, so to speak, at its edge, I believe I realized in a concrete, physical way – a way no book, no reading would have permitted – that my city was not only what I saw, buildings, streets, squares, living people, but was also full of history, buildings, streets and squares that were no longer there, people who were no longer living, dead people. I realized, in short, that my visible city was full of invisible history, and that this history was, in turn, full of suffering, threats, fear. I think it was at this point that the theme of the plague entered my poetry: a metaphorical plague, of course: plague as contagion and sentence, the circuitous anonymity of injustice.
(“L’approdo letterario”, XXII, n. 77-78 n.s., June 1977)
Manzoni must be there, cannot not be there, in my poems – as a tenuous, faded reflection, or simply a regret. His absence would mean my absence as well, and my poems would literally be those of someone else. But beyond this article of faith or, if you prefer, this opening premise, I suppose it is possible to find some clue, some more objective element. The themes of injustice, persecution, the unfair trial, innocence wrongfully harassed and punished; the image, explicit or implicit, of the city as theater of the plague, container of every possible physical and moral contagion; the taste for naming places, circumstances and documents with impassive meticulousness and secret passion; understatement, reticence and irony used to make it possible to articulate indignation, dismay and pity: all these things […] come, I have no doubt, from Manzoni. They are the proofs, the stigmata of my Manzonian passion, of my Manzonity (or, to paraphrase Gianfranco Contini, the signs of the activity, in my feeling and writing, of the “Manzonian function”). Not to mention, so as not to overstate my case, the literary tributes and citations: the plague-spreaders in A city like this one, for example.
(Raboni Manzoni, “Il ventaglio”, Rome, 1985)
A city like this one
is not to live in, after all: instead
we walk along certain walls
through certain alleys (not far
from the place of torture) and speaking
with nasal tones, avidly,
hastily we wonder: isn’t this the spot
where the plague-spreaders dumped their bundles?
My earliest poems […] date back to childhood, adolescence. They are poems written around 1950, when I was 18, depicting episodes from the Passion of Christ. Around 1950, when adolescence was shifting to adulthood, some fundamental things happened for me. At La Scala they held a season of marvelous concerts, all the masterpieces of sacred music, from the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin to the German Requiem of Brahms. For me this was an absolutely fundamental experience. On the literary scene, and in the field of poetry in particular, you could sense the desire for new things, to break away from the lyricism of the 1930s on which I’d been raised. The need was felt for poetry to be more like speech, more narrative, more inside reality. And in that period, besides the extraordinary experience of the sacred music, besides my first engaged experiences with painting and sculpture – during which I saw, for the first time, the portal of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona, or the bas-reliefs of Chartres as part of this apprenticeship – above all I read the great English poets, especially Eliot, who in all his work demonstrated the need to make poetry by speaking of yourself and your own time, but through the objective correlative, something that objectively already exists or has already been told. All these things put me on the trail of the Gospels as a source of inspiration, as a possibility of re-narration and re-expression. Then I wrote other poems that retrace the Gospel narrative but also shift its context, inserting contemporary elements, making it also a reflection of the present. It was a stratagem, a way of talking about myself, finally, about my time and what I saw around me, but without yet venturing into a direct exploration of reality. I made use, that is, of a powerful objective correlative that had already been employed extensively in the history of mankind, in painting, sculpture and music. This initiation to the courage to speak with my own voice rather than borrowing the voices of poets I admired or loved came, I think, from this idea of retracing the Gospel story from that distance, that gap, those different angles, that tendency to slant the gaze, to frame things differently and also, little by little, to exclude the main character and focus on the supporting cast, as I had learned from the great models of the past.
It was also very important that I discovered the city as metaphor, let’s say, a metaphor of life, as contact with everything problematic, disturbing, exhilarating offered by existence. At that point I became, after having been, in the first years of poetic writing, a… a re-narrator of already told stories, I became a poet of urban tales, of stories connected to the city, its problems, its dramas, its anxieties. This is the period that probably definitively shaped my personality as a writer and a poet.
(Lo stratagemma della Passione, in Le parole del sacro. L’esperienza religiosa nella letteratura italiana, Proceedings of the conference, San Salvatore Monferrato, 8-9 May 2003).
Almost always at this time
rather odd people arrive (but very
good looking). Some sit down
but then keep changing places,
some stand in the back and scent
rare passages, the little girl who’s
not all there, the lady who enters alone,
the girl with a limp… Hey, what
can you do? I watch them to find out
what’s their story, who’s after them. When
the lights come up, I think how their heart
must twist in search
of safety further on, to sink
into the darkness that’ll be back in a minute.
Here’s an example of… of urban poetry, in short poetry in which the restlessness of life in the big city, its oddities, its aspects that are also sordid, at times, its lonely, unhappy, nutty figures come into the foreground, I’d say. Once again, we might say it is a way of talking about ourselves through the other, through what’s there around us. I was still hesitant, in those years – we’re in the late Fifties, early Sixties – to talk about myself in the first person, I was still interested in certifying my relationship with reality: as before, through the sublime metaphor of the Gospel story, so now through the figures, the reality of the city rediscovered, the city that is loved, too, because as I said I effectively fell in love with the city: a love affair that continues today, after so many years, even though the city has changed, even though it is much less real than it was then (at least it seems that way to me), much less rich in humanity and also in drama. But it is still the place in which I cannot manage not to live.
(Pantheon. Le ragioni della vita, interview with G. Raboni, Rai Nettuno Sat 1, 4 January 2004)
When I walk down Via Andegari I remember that my grandparents lived there, though I never met them, they died before I was born. Never having lived with old folks throws you a little off balance, you don’t have the instructions to deal with ageing. And I’m already a grandfather.
(“La Repubblica”, 3-4 February 1991)
The Dead and the Real
In the damp house, what little
stays dry seems drier still:
in the bedrooms upstairs
the off-white floorboards
unshined by wax and
slightly gapped; downstairs,
in the billiard room, ivory pins
placed crosswise… (Sooner or later I return
to see the home of friends
where you were about to give birth to a son
– born two days later – and we waited,
that evening, for the storm to bring
some fresh air to Milan. Pallid
on the walls, with faces of panderers
or flatterers, remote
checked the reckoning of eggs
and cheese: using shrewdness and plenty
of goose quills. We made fun of them,
repulsed. But wasn’t their way
right, in the end? Better than our real ones,
thoughtless people, dulled by
more subtle vices, who knows,
maybe our son will pretend to have
such forebears, and make fun
of them, turning his back on them
as no one else has ever been able!)
Milan continues to be the setting of my life and, therefore, of my imagination, my sensibility, my way of reacting to what happens in reality and in my mind. But with respect to the days of Le case della Vetra I think this setting has moved inward; it has lost, we might say, much of its “literalness”, and therefore it no longer lends itself to immediate articulation. I believe this is because – maybe this happens to everyone, getting old – for some years now I tend to look much more inside myself and much less outside, or in other words because the Milan that most concerns me and moves me exists, at this point, above all in memory.
(Conversazioni d’autore. Dialoghi fra scrittori e studenti di un liceo, ed. G. Prosperi, preface by G. Armellini, Pendragon, Bologna, 2003)
I have my father’s years – I have his hands,
almost: especially the fingers, the nails,
curved and rather thick, with moons (but mine
without the nicotine brown) –
when wrinkled and impeccable he rode
strafed trains and buses
to bring us, peaceful sojourners,
out of range and season,
in his handsome light valise,
the strange provisions of those years, cheese spread, jam
without sugar, bread without yeast,
images of the dark, wounded city
so sweet to our heart as I recall.
We thought of his years with fright.
Looking upward, from my place as
second-born, now and then I
murmured a prayer for his coronaries.
Now that he has long
entered into nothing and I become
his brother day by day, soon
an older, wiser brother, I’d really like to know
if my children too, at times, pray for me.
But quickly, contradicting myself, I think
no, forget it, that no one
less than I has traveled between me and them,
that what I put on their plates, what kind of supper
was that? there was nothing to eat
in my thieve’s departure
and my empty-handed return…
Mine was a wretched war, I tell myself,
dull and mean, so meager
in perseverance, in obedience. And I pray
they’ll let it drop, that if they get
the urge to pray it’s not for me.
I believe this feeling of inadequacy, which at a certain point has centered around my relationship with my children, already existed somehow. Even before my separation from them I had the completely irrational sensation of having failed in some important way, with my parents, for example, though we had a very good relationship. Maybe the fact that my father and mother passed away so quickly gave me an unconscious sense of guilt, as if I had not been capable of keeping them here. Then this sense of failing took more justified, concrete form with respect to my children, in whose regard I have truly had my failings. But I believe that something had already taken form, albeit irrationally.
(Interview in “Poesia”, XVI, n. 168, January 2003)
Parti di requiem […] is dedicated to the memory of my mother, and concludes with a poem that is also somehow connected with the dilemma between the responsibility and the irresponsibility of poetry with respect to life (and death, of course).
(“L’approdo letterario”, cit.)
When you died we were
in an old house. There was no elevator. Lots
of space on landings and stairs.
So you didn’t have to put up
with being shouldered through cracks and corners,
rough hand-gauged measurements, straightened
to jibe with doorjambs. Disappearing
was slower and easier when you disappeared.
Since then I’ve often felt
that was a good thing.
Yet if you think about it, few things
hold less dignity than death,
less beauty. Get downstairs
however you want, door or tube, pick
any niche, shoebox or crate, horizontal
or vertical, alone or attended,
deliver us from aesthetics and so be it.
This poem that I wrote while thinking and rethinking about my mother’s death is somehow the conclusion of a series of texts that might be called familiar in character: on the story of my family, the death of my parents. It is also a poem in which I try, in some way, to get free of this tangle of emotions and memories, as if I felt a need to get closer to life not reflected, life experienced “live”, one might say today, directly.
(Pantheon. Le ragioni della vita, cit.)
dust, not ashes; not
burnt, I thought, nor centrifuged;
dust: and to become it
bit by bit, to bit by bit dispel
the hardness of bones. And that the earth
was not a little or a lot,
neither heavy nor light to erase
the blemish of the pit.
And that the ground was hallowed…
And that the ground was hallowed
and shared, numbered
and untraceable plot
of one of the immense dim cemeteries
that from the north, the northwest
besiege Milan, that rescue us,
barricades of crosses
and mutilated angels, from the horror
of rotting in private, in a garden.
One of the few pillars of my faith – if the term faith can be used at all – is the idea of the communion of the living with the dead, which does not mean I think there is an afterlife in which the dead meet. I think the dead exist, that is I think we go on living with the people who are no longer here, but continue to be a part of our lives… Through memory, through continuity of thoughts and emotions. If they were involved in those thoughts when they were alive, why not when they are dead? We don’t change because we no longer see a person, we remain ourselves. So there are no doubts. I have no doubts about this… or, in any case, I would like not to have any.
(Interview with Giovanni Raboni, Florence, 29 May 2003).
The commemoration of the dead
With yours, we know, you found a way
of living. It wasn’t easy
nor was it hard, there was almost no choice. But those guys
you don’t give a damn about, burnt up
in the carcass of a fighter plane chewed up by the lion-man cut down
by typhus on the plateau, what
redemption do they hold for you? what gist
for them as you fitfully squint
at the newspaper?
Let them be remitted, I say (the dead) to our daily mixture, put the paper away,
let the living bury the living.
Mind the soul – not to save it: to enjoy it.
It is impossible to look at time without seeing death, just as it is impossible to look at the open sea without seeing the horizon. To avoid seeing it one would have to spend his whole life sideways, like the one-eyed jack. And the best part is that death, like the horizon, seems to stay constantly at the same distance.
I’ve always thought that ultimacy is the most precious, most inebriating enticement of all. But how to calculate it without fear? A man sentenced to death could be the happiest man on earth for one night, if happiness were not concealed from him, or blocked from view, by the imaginary trauma and “obscenity” of death. Probably the gift of indeterminacy – a faculty granted to all men, but one that few can or know how to exploit to the last, to see death always from the same distance – is not indispensable only to live without torment, but also to approach death with joy. One can savor the end only if it is perceived as a meager but uncounted asset, a brief, ultimate but infinite space.
I am what you were, I will be
what you are, I whisper to the eyes
that track my steps away from a ward bed
in a pavilion at Niguarda or
the old Policlinico on Via
Sforza. You overestimate me, I have
only one kidney and I’m about
to lose my last bout with myopia
and my heart, ah, the heart… No, forgive me, dear
souls, forgive me! I can’t play
Death’s anointed here, one shouldn’t
preach demise to those who already
die so much and hope for so little, just
one more spring, one more snowfall.
Only now, perhaps, am I beginning to glimpse the meaning of an image I have inexplicably nurtured and been nurtured by for many years, that of my father after his first heart attack (the second, a few months later, killed him), in bed, in excellent spirits, well propped on two pillows, reading, incessantly reading or re-reading all the novels he could… I can still see the stacks of books on the bedside table, the light blue of the old Einaudi editions, the green of “Romantica”, the yellow of Classiques Garnier… And I remember my surprise, my superstitious consternation: why read so much, why absorb so many stories, so many truths when you have so little time to “use” them, to reap their rewards? Maybe, I thought, the reading is just a “pastime”… But it wasn’t: when he finished a book he smiled and said he was pleased, that it had been “worth the trouble”… How could that be? was my reaction – but I was twenty years old, and if I was glad I had read a new book or finally understood one I had read too soon, with too much eagerness and innocence, it was because every time I felt a bit stronger, wealthier, because I thought I had something more to peddle, to invest, to make use of in the course of my virginal and infinite future, for the sake of my pride and the edification of the human race: tempus edificandi… Well, today I’m starting to understand – or perhaps, more simply, I’m beginning to be my father. This year he would have celebrated his hundredth, and next year I’ll reach his age when he died. I’m beginning to realize that if I have dragged so many books from one house to the next it was to stack them up, one day or another – light blue, green, yellow – on the bedside table. Which reminds me, I’ll be needing a bedside table. And a bed, a real bed – one with a walnut headboard against which to place two pillows. I’m not savoring it yet, but I can already imagine the joy of silently accumulating fruitless and intransmissible assets, and I can sense that it might be the purest, subtlest, most perfect of all joys.
(“Legenda”, April, 1992).
Wounded shade, soul that comes
limping, creeping from your dim
shelter to rummage dreams for what little
I can gnaw for you from the to and fro
of awakenings and nightmares, from the obscene
processions of charades, so little
that sometimes when you come the fire
is already dead, the shutters dangling, filled
with insipid intruders or treacherous replicants
the immensity of the kitchen, the school
bench, the bed, give me time, do not
vanish, time to settle the many
shameful debts outstanding with
them before I lie down by your side.
In any case this theme of family relationships, of family memories, has continued and progressed, even into the latest things. But somehow I felt the need to get away from it, perhaps to find a more autobiographical way of frequenting and using poetry. And probably what had to happen was for the theme of love to enter my inspiration and poetic practice with force, with violence. So in the later years the poems of family piety, let’s say, were replaced by a poetry of amorous narrative, amorous autobiography.
Canzonette mortali (Mortal Ditties). These are love poems, and at this point I’d say that the private sphere, my narrative, has entered my poetry even brazenly. They are not the first love poems, in a certain sense they are the last ones, those of the last love, which continues to exist in my life. To some extent they are the conclusion of an approach to direct confession, we might say; and it probably took this traumatic relationship one has with the object of one’s love, with the beloved, to make me come out so completely in the open. From this point on in a certain sense my poems on matters other than love, my poems of argument… reflective, meditative, even civil, are also decidedly first person poems. Somehow I have broken the diaphragm of the objective correlative; I’ve become someone who talks about himself, I’ve become a first-person poet. I do not believe this is a step forward; I believe poetry can be equally sincere, equally authentic, equally revealing when it stays under cover, maintains a pretense or… plays the carom of objective reality. This is what has happened to me; and it is quite probable that it is something that has to do precisely with the age of a person, that there is something actually biological – don’t you think? – in this passage from a focus on external, objective reality, on the images of the world, we might say, toward a… toward increasingly introspective, increasingly direct meditation. In the end we are left alone in the face of solitude, of death, I believe this is the fate of all of us; so if poetry somehow follows this trail – from life to death, from the collective to the dramatically individual – I think it is quite natural, in the nature of things.
(Pantheon. Le ragioni della vita, cit.)
I who have always worshipped the remains of the future
and only of the future, of nothing else
feel nostalgic at times
frightened now I recall
when my caresses will no longer make you wet,
when you will be divided
from my pleasure and perhaps for beauty
of being loved so, or for sweetness
of having loved me,
you will still pretend to enjoy it.
The times I furiously
seek my joy in your womb
it is because, my love, I know that
time won’t have time
to flow in equity for us two
and that only in dreams or by leaping
ahead off time’s speeding course
can I make it be that one day you won’t want
from another love to believe love
One day or another I leave you, one day
after another I leave you, my soul.
For old man’s jealousy, for fear
of losing you – or because
I have simply stopped living.
But I am still, for now,
as a branch is still
where a sparrow is still, I am spellbound…
Not this time, not yet.
When we ease our embrace
it is only to seek another,
that of sleep, of calm – and there is
as if for always
the thought of the shoulder’s rest,
of watching out for your hair.
Better for you not to know
the prayers I take to sleep, the
words I murmur in the mute
quarter of my throat
not to be quartered again
by sleep the avid diviner.
The heart that sleeps not
tells the heart that sleeps: Be afraid.
But I am not my heart, I listen not
nor grant that fate, for I know that failing you,
not losing you, was the ultimate misfortune.
You stir in sleep. Do not turn,
do not see me so close and without light!
Eye for eye, word for word,
I am going back over the part of life.
I wonder will I have the courage
to be still, to smile, to watch you
as you watch me die.
All I ask is this: that I always be to you,
dear as you are to me, light.
You turn in sleep, in a dream, almost dark.
I haven’t studied science in any depth, but I have always been struck, in the little I’ve read about physics, by the idea that the irreversibility of time cannot be demonstrated. We live in compliance with this reality, yet physics is not capable of demonstrating that time is irreversible. And this has always impressed me: it frightens me a little and consoles me a little. We are always balanced on the brink. The possibility of going back, of visiting the past, is not excluded. I think I have also written this somewhere, in a poem in A tanto caro sangue, Scongiuri vespertini, that talks about going back to visit tombs and lazarets. This idea, which I have also found in books by famous physicists, that you can also travel in time, not with a time machine, but in some place of the possible… Perhaps this is the time I have managed to express it best.
(C. Di Franza, Interview with Giovanni Raboni, Venice-Naples, 2002-2003)
After life, what then? but life again
of course, unhoped-for, faint, attuned
and ceaseless tremor, yet no pain
endures from that unhealing wound
– no longer, not much. Slowly as
if run backward frame by frame
everything will be named as it was,
every food will appear in the same
place on the table, free of scent or hue…
Nothing new, that. It’s long since come
to mind that when there’s much ado
there’s nothing and vice versa, that all and none
have a pitiful truce. Only the heart
resists, poor stubborn plague starter.
I began to think about death… I’d say first back with the gospels, about the death of Christ, then about the death of my parents, the death that struck very early in my life, taking first my father and then my mother. So in a certain sense it was the death of others, death as the vanishing of loved ones, of indispensable points of reference. Then, with time, naturally, I think, it became reflection on my death, on what it means, on what it will mean; and I would say that it has become, though, at least I believe so, increasingly serene, my reflection, in the sense that together with the idea of death as… as a passage that approaches, the idea of the communion of the living and the dead – to put it succinctly – has gotten stronger and stronger. In other words, I no longer make much of a distinction between the living and the dead, not just in the people from my family, but also in persons dear to me, friends who die at a certain point. To be truthful, I do not feel as if they were further away than when they were alive, and so the idea has become increasingly essential, increasingly cherished, that there exists some beyond or before or inside-us where the dead continue to live with us. This has become one of the explicit themes of my reasoning and my poetry.
(Pantheon. Le ragioni della vita, cit.)
I have always thought that life was not something we enter and leave, something to cross like a finite space, but something in which to remain indefinitely. This does not necessarily imply, in my view, an idea of transcendence: life simply is this thing, the thing in which one stays, in which you cannot help but continue staying even when theoretically life ends. This – if you will – is my faith. I don’t know if it is a faith in the plausible sense of the term. It is my way of existing inside this reality that I believe cannot be called anything else but life. Once, in a poem, I wrote that “I try”, at times, “to imagine the happiness of the dead”, and I think that for the dead, too, happiness is life.
(RAI, summer 2003)
Is it really so hard to imagine
heaven? If it is enough to close
our eyes to see it, there it does
remain, beneath the lids, lies in
wait for us and no one else, a feast
at morning, evening’s glory o’er
the unharmed city, the sea before
the diaspora – from sleep released
then, can’t you hear it? far from
us a voice, far and nearer as if it came
not from the vibrating ear
but another labyrinth, a secret drum
stretched in darkness halfway here
‘tween void and heart, silence and name…
What counts is to be quite convinced that poetry is not an a priori state of mind, not a condition of privilege, not a separate reality, not a better reality. It is a language: a different language from the one we use to communicate in everyday life; it is much richer, more complete, more completely human; a language that is simultaneously carefully premeditated and profoundly involuntary, capable of connecting the things we see to those we do not see, of relating what we know to what we do not know.
One last, perhaps superfluous, corollary: poetry, in itself, does not exist. It exists only, case by case – and in each case it is unheard-of, unpredictable, irrefutable, identical only to itself – in the words of the poet.
(“Corriere della Sera”, 3 February 2004)
Please wake me, I may still
implore in a dream at this tender
age, help me, give the lie
to the obscene matter of darkness. Then
a hand really does touch my
frozen body and suddenly I know
I have called you and will know
Translated by Steve Piccolo
by Rodolfo Zucco, in L’Opera Poetica [“The Complete Works”], Mondadori 2006
English translation by Corrie Roe
1932 – 1942
Giovanni Raboni is born Friday, January 22, 1932 in Milan to a family, “from Milan for generations, however with ancestry a little farther away in Bergamo and Lombardy” (to P. Del Giudice, “Galatea”, November 1997). The family lives on Via San Gregorio, in a neighborhood to which Giovanni will always remain tied:
Marrying, my parents went to live in a little house that faced the embankment of the railroad. It was always a kind of exile for them: at their peak, they had lived with their families along the walls of Milan, on Via Andegari, Via Pietro Verri, Via Carducci and the “Red House” on the corner of Corso Venezia.
After the war, there was, my father told me, a terrible housing crisis: it was then the city started to expand, to become complicated and disfigure. The Spanish walls were leveled, Navigli was covered, lawns and gardens had become neighborhoods. To not be in the city center anymore, to even be “after the station” was certainly a downturn, a kind of proletarianization for the Milanese of old Borghese families.
But when I was born, at the start of the ’30s, many things had changed, others had turned into pictures, myth. Our house’s windows no longer faced the tracks; the station […] was now in the back. The railroad embankment left ambiguous soil where, from time to time, there appeared the ephemeral architecture of circuses and carnivals. But already, there were houses that materialized with marble façades and mini-skyscrapers designed to host the newly rich from small and medium industries (the largest were still firmly in the hands of the 10 or 100 families that lived in the noble palaces on Via Durini, Via Borgonuovo and Via Bigli).
The street where we lived, Via San Gregorio, became strange and a bit of a gloomy border area: on one side, the simply magnificent apartment buildings of the merchant bourgeoisie; on the other, the dismal rental houses of shopkeepers, small professionals, employees; and behind, luckily, the charming, brimming Kasbah of the first southern migration: fabric and carpet smugglers, barbers, mediators of sibylline affairs, thieves, dealers…
This is the Milan in which I began to live and that, even now, having not lived there for a while, I feel completely in love, more visceral than for any other zone or neighborhood of the city. Porta Venezia: gray and straight streets crowded with shops of every type, guesthouses, motels, pseudo-Tuscan trattorias; the wonderful windy square, almost like a marina with its used-book stands, portals of daylight, and neoclassical tollbooths of Porta Orientale; the “playgrounds” of Via Benedetto Marcello, with its spooky, coquettish two-story villas, places designated with ominous and respectable imagined crimes; the huge, varied, slow flow of people on Corso Buenos Aires, the Shanghai and San Francisco of my adolescence, with its movie theaters like caves, the labyrinthine, well-priced shoe stores, the shop windows with LIVE ANIMALS mobbed by a small crowd of children, Somali servants, the pensioned, pimps… (Giovanni Raboni, Appestata ma bellissima [Plague-stricken but beautiful], “Corriere della Sera”, April 3, 1979).
Giovanni, the second-born after Fulvio (1927–2002) to Giuseppe (1892-1952) and Matilde Sommariva (1893-1954), is named after his maternal grandfather.
His paternal grandfather, Fulvio, studied at the Regia Scuola Superiore di Commercio in Venice [today known as the Università Ca’ Foscari]. Having become procurator of the Bocconi brothers, he was entrusted with the search of Luigi, son of Ferdinando, missing in the battle of Adua (1890); but he was not able to find any news on the unfortunate fate of the boy. It is said in the Boccini family that Fulvio gave the suggestion to Ferdinando Bocconi to remember his son with the creation of a university of economics in 1902, which became a like the Ca’ Foscari of Milan.
Fulvio Raboni first marries Giuseppina Crespi, a member of a family of landowners in the Saronno region. From the marriage, Giulio is born, who will be a central figure in Giovanni’s infancy and adolescence. After Giuseppina’s death, Fulvio marries her younger sister Giulia, mother of Giuseppe and Angela (who died in 1917 during the Spanish fever epidemic).
Giuseppe Raboni works as a Milan city official, for many years as Head of the Department of Education, and eventually as the Vice General Secretary. In 1927 he marries Matilde Sommariva, who comes from a lower middle class family with some importance in the art world. Matilde was very attached to her older sister Maria, wife of the musician Carmine Guarino (one of his works, Madama di Challant [Madame Challant], went on stage at the Teatro alla Scala March 9, 1927), and visits her house on Corso Magenta with her sons, who will always remain affectionate to their cousin Giandomenico (1920-1983).
Giovanni receives a Catholic education from his family.
His grandfather Fulvio’s house is equipped with a rich library. He listens to the works of Tessa, Porta, and Mazoni in the voice of his father and mother:
My father kept I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) – a beautiful reprint of the ’40 edition with Gonin’s illustrations, which had been his father’s – on the bedside table near the bed. I began to read Manzoni before knowing how to read with the help of another person, and I have not stopped yet (Giovanni Raboni, Raboni Manzoni, 1985).
In October of 1938, he enrolls in elementary school at Scuole Elementari Cardinale F. Borromeo on Via Casati [today, the Scuola Primaria Cardinale F. Borromeo], that he will attend until the end of his third year (he remains in the memory of teacher Giuditta Rinaldi, who the poet found himself, almost a centenarian, in recent years). He attends the fourth grade at Istituto Gonzaga on Via Vitruvio, where his brother already studies (“I remember that I had Father Carlo Gnocchi as confessor: a notable figure and a man gifted with a certain charisma”: to D. Piccini, loc. cit.)
The family spends their vacations between Recco (in June and August) and the house in Sant’Ambrogio Olona (between Varese and the Sacri Monti) rented by his father (“the houses in the country, even for a well-off but not rich family, like mine, rented for the whole year, not buying”: to P. Del Giudice, “Galatea”, loc. cit.) for the proximity to the villa of their wealthy Volpato cousins, with whom Giuseppe Raboni has a strong friendship.
In the late afternoon of October 24, 1942, the anti-aircraft alarm sounds at 5:57 p.m. Three minutes later, the first daytime bombing of Milan begins. The bombs strike near Via San Gregorio, on Corso Buenos Aires:
That October afternoon of ’42, everything suddenly took a different rhythm, a different feeling. The fact that the six siren blows arrived so scandalously out of hours, while there were some who played or did schoolwork or prepared dinner, while the light of dusk filtered through the windows and my father was not yet home from the office – in short, while the house and the city were immersed in obstinate normality, it seemed to me something atrociously undue, a sort of sacrilege.
Accustomed to going underground protected by a state of being half asleep, this time we had to go in complete consciousness, awake and alive. And more hastily than usual also, because before the siren finished, the shouts already echoed of the first terrifying explosions. I do not remember if they were more deafening or piecing, cruel or absurd. (Giovanni Raboni, Nel rifugio mi chiedevo: che cosa ho fatto di male? [In the shelter I asked myself: what did I do wrong?], “Corriere della Sera”, March 21, 2003).
The next day, Giuseppe Raboni moves the family to Sant’Ambrogio, and returns each morning from Milan:
One of my most touching memories of these years is the fact that my father, who could not be absent from Milan because his work kept him there, came back to sleep with us every evening. Each night he left Milan, in often uncomfortable and dangerous conditions – because there were the bombings, machine guns – traveling by train when traveling by bus was dangerous enough. Each night, for all the years of the war, he returned to sleep there with us, and in the morning, at dawn, he would leave again.
This is a thing that, in some way, seemed normal to me at the time; afterwards I understood that it was a small but extraordinary form of heroism. It was the place – here, the parvis – where each evening one would go to pick up the people returning from Milan. I came every evening to meet my father, who arrived there with the tram from Varese, after having taken the train from Milan to Varese. And then from here, like from a stage, one attended the annual ritual of the pilgrimage to the Sacro Monte, with the pilgrims that spent the festive morning under the sun and returned each afternoon, regularly in the rain, because this is the climate of these places […]. But the most poignant memory is that of the nightly return of my father. It was a grand party, for me, for us. And, looking back, it was a sign of an incredible loyalty from him, and this is spoken of in a poem titled La Guerra [The War]. (E. Bertazzoni, Giovanni Raboni: Il futuro della memoria
, 1999, transcription by Rodolfo Zucco).
Giovanni attends fifth grade in the town’s school. When the problem of continuing his studies arises the following fall, Giuseppe Raboni prefers that his son does not travel to Varese but studies privately in Sant’Ambrogio, also taking French lessons.
These are, above all, years of intense and passionate reading:
I remember there was always, almost always, in the summer […] this humid climate, with rain that did not come but always could, great coolness, great silence. It was the only time I truly experienced the seasons: I understood that there is a true relationship with nature, that in the city the seasons are lost.
It was also years of great reading. I was an almost premature reader. I started reading then, and it seems to me I read above all in those years. Then in the following years, and until now, it seems to me that I usually am reading that which I already have read. Naturally, it is not so, but the impression is a little like this. There is nothing like this type of climate, this landscape, this gray, to support that state of grace that, for me, is reading […].
My impression is having read everything then: naturally is not true. Many things I read after, naturally; and I do not suspect their existence. For example, one of the fundamental experiences of my life was the reading of Proust in the ‘50s, which I then also translated. However, my impression is this. And surely I read, probably without understanding anything, Shakespeare, for example, in the three volumes from Sansoni that was released in those years, in the years of war. I was an omnivorous and thoughtless reader of 10, 12 years. I naturally read Dickens, whom I adored and adore still, but also Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. It was then I devoured the texts that are the foundation for my passion for literature and the novel. I put the first layer, there, in my passion for literature and for the novel in particular. (E. Bertazzoni, Giovanni Raboni. Il futuro della memoria [The future of memory], cit.).
His earliest advisor is his father, who passes on to Giovanni the passion for the great European narrative of the 19th century (especially Russian and French), but his tastes are open to the appreciation of contemporaries (Vittorini in particular). He then is supported by cousin Giandomenico Guarino (attentive reader of contemporary narratives and poetry), who, after September 8, found refuge in the house of Sant’Ambrogio. Giovanni reads, among others, Piovene (his cousin’s preferred author), Bontempelli (“but in the inverse order with respect to Baldacci’s canon”: to Rodolfo Zucco), Buzzati (I sette messaggeri (The Seven Messengers) and Il deserto dei Tartari (The Tartar Steppe)), Francesco Chiesa (Tempo di marzo [Time of March]); and, for poetry, Ungaretti, Quasimodo and Cardarelli. The reading of Montale falls, memorably, in the last winter of the war.
It is his father who supplies, with care for editorial novelties, the family with books: in this way, a copy of the clandestine Americana by Vittorini (published by Bompiani in ’42) comes to Sant’Ambrogio. But soon Giovanni and his brother begin to visit the bookstores of Varese:
These were the last months of war and therefore, for my family and me, of evacuation from Milan, and I, a boy hopelessly in love with literature, went almost every afternoon to a bookstore of Varese, whose shelves were filled less with new releases than with editions from the twenties and thirties that today would delight a collector.
The contemporary poets attracted my attention above all: not so much the authors already canonized and therefore present among my father’s books (from Cardarelli to Montale, Ungaretti to Quasimodo), but those so new that no one in my house had heard of them. It was, obviously, a gamble; but it was how I discovered and was able to read, at 13, books destined to change my life like Realtà vince il sogno (Reality Conquers the Dream) by Betocchi, and the Poesie [Poems] by Sereni in the Ballechhi edition of ’42. Certainly not comparable to the masterpieces of their maturity, it is still impossible, to this day, to reopen them without being hit by the force of novelty and audacity that they had (Giovanni Raboni, Mario Luzi, gioventù di poeta [Mario Luzi, youth of the poet], “Corriere della Sera”, October 10, 2001).
Writing in verse is taken initially as an instinctive progression of the reading of the poetry of others.
Every so often they ask me – and sometimes I also ask myself the same – why one writes poetry, how one begins to write poetry and discovers one has a need for poetry […]. It is a need that is born, I believe, from a desire of emulation. One reads poets admired when a child or adolescent, and want to be like them […]. Naturally, at the root of this there is still some shortcoming, some suffering, because I believe that if one were perfectly happy and at peace with oneself, writing poetry would not come to mind, and probably neither would writing music or making art in general […].
Of course, first there would be the need to understand why you get pleasure from reading poetry. Foscolo said that readers of poetry are born; at times I add a little provocation by saying that maybe you can become a poet. One does not become a reader of poetry, one is born so: that is, they are born with a taste in poetry and with the enjoyment and emotion of poetry like one is born with an ear for music. Starting there, poetry then becomes a fact of personal necessity. Little by little, the need to talk about oneself takes the place of emulation (Giovanni Raboni to Pantheon. Le ragioni della vita
, RAI Nettuno SAT 1, September 18, 2004; transcription by Rudolfo Zucco).
Raboni composes short poems emulating Pascoli on various topics: one inspired by I Fioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of St. Francis), another on the life of Giotto (inspired by the book Il libro dei sette colori. Storie serie e gaie d’artisti [The Book of Seven Colors: Cheerful and Serious Stories of Artists] by Guido Edoardo Mottini; by the same author, he passionately reads Con sette note. Figure di grandi musicisti presentate ai giovani [With Seven Notes: Great Musical Figures Presented to Children]). But he continuously updates the writing practice based on the poetry readings he undertakes: he has, for example, also a significant moment of Quasimodian imitation. His family follows these exercises with discretion and interest. Particularly gratifying in the memory of the poet is the reading of some of his works by Father Alfonso, his brother’s teacher visiting Sant’Ambrogio, to the family, reunited in the garden.
But music is also among the interests of the young Raboni, who participates in the meetings organized in the country by lawyer Marocco to listen to 78-rpm records, and listens to Brahms and Chopin played on the piano by cousin Maria Luisa Volpato (called ‘Getti’ by the family). With the evacuation, he had to interrupt his study of the piano, undertaken for his mother’s desire in the preceding years, and this
need of some concrete aesthetic practice – a need I felt from when I had the first, embryonic knowledge of myself – I poured into literature, and my love for music transformed into a “love from afar”, without possession or hope to possess, as one sung by medieval poets (Giovanni Raboni, Una sonata di Beethoven per riconciliarsi con il mondo [A Beethoven sonata to reconcile with the world], “Corriere della Sera”, August 8, 1999).
A few weeks after the Liberation, the Raboni family returns to the house on Via San Gregorio:
The war finished, my family returned to live in Milan, and for me it was a great thrill because I had almost forgotten the character of the city that I saw. It was a rediscovery and an infatuation; I was falling in love with the fantastic possibilities of the civic character, of the urban character. It was also then, after the war, an extraordinary time of great vitality, expectations and renewals. It was an extraordinary period for me in a different way, in the engagement with reality; the years of the war were, in some way, a period of suspended reality and of life in the imaginary, in private, in intimacy (Giovanni Raboni to Pantheon, lop. cit.).
In the fall of 1945, Giovanni enrolls in high school at Liceo Parini. He attends the two-year junior high with many absences, and enters the first year of high school with entrance exams.
In the first year of high school in the October of ’47, he has as classmates his future first wife, Bianca Bottero, and Arrigo Lampugnani (then Arrigo Lampugnani Nigri), who will be his employer and one of his first publishers. It is in Arrigo’s house that Raboni meets, in 1948, Vittorio Sereni.
Among the teachers are Elena Ceva (professor of Italian, who thinks very highly of Giovanni) and Siro Contri (philosophy). He enrolls at Parini for the second year of high school but stops attending. He enrolls for his third year at Liceo Carducci, but attends for only a few weeks.
Parallel to this discontinuation of his educational career – which Raboni perceived with a sense of uselessness, and inability to generate real cultural passion – he begins an alternative cultural education in the first months after the war, following an independent path in film, theater, music, and literature in particular. Giovanni and Fulvio Raboni become regulars of the Milanese libraries, connecting their passion for reading to the lively and exciting contemporary culture that fundamentally changes the “timelessness” associated with literary works in their little community of Sant’Ambrogio. Giovanni is now guided by the offerings of a rich production from publishers:
To those who, like me, began to read in the ’40s, it would never be imagined that the blue of the Einaudi “Narratori stranieri tradotti” [“Translated Foreign Storytellers”], the orange with the image of the Bompiani “Corona” or the variously colored slipcovers of the Mondadori “Specchio” would have a novel, short story, or collection of poetry unworthy of the wait. And the funny thing is that we were right: these series did not disappear, nor were they subjected to a sad metamorphosis, so that we were never, that I remember, truly disappointed… (Giovanni Raboni, Contraddetti [Contradicted], 1998).
The years of Sant’Ambrogio secured a familiarity with the classics of the nineteenth century fiction (with occasional incursions into the contemporary). The first contact with the great European poetry is after the war, principally mediated from “La Fenice” series that Attilio Bertolucci led from 1939 with publisher Ugo Guanda. The young Raboni reads the translation, but with a profound interest for the parallel text. He practices afterwards with the alternative versions, and prematurely begins to reflect on the problems of the literary translation:
Maybe the translation work that most influenced my work as a poet are those made in my youth, unpublished and destroyed: translations from the Latin poets (especially Catullo) and Anglo-Saxons (especially Eliot). My “public” translations arrived, in a certain sense, after the fact, when I was already more or less in possession of my expressive means (Giovanni Raboni, Traduzione e poesia nell’Europa del Novecento [Translations and Poetry of Europe in the Twentieth Century], Bulzoni, Rome 2004).
The anthology of Eliot translated by Luigi Berti is fundamental and makes a crucial contribution to the education of the young poet, combined with the influx a little later of Pound (The Pisan Cantos, translated by Alfredo Rizzardi, is published by Guanda in ’53).
He also broadens his knowledge of and keeps up to date on American literature. The Melville and Hawthorne classics from the Sant’Ambrogio years are now joined by Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Saroyan, quickly read in the translations presented by various Italian publishers. But he also continues the reading of contemporary Italian poetry (in ’47, Sereni’s Diario d’Algeria (Algerian Diary), Luzi’s Quaderno gotico [Gothic Workbook], Bertocchi’s Notizie di prosa e di poesia [Prose and Poetry News] are published, and in ’48, Montale’s Quaderno di traduzioni [Translation Workbook]), reading that is systematic for the poets published in the “Specchio”. Between ’44 and ’50, fundamental titles by Quasimodo, Ungaretti, Cardarelli, Saba, Sinisgalli, Sbarbaro, Vigolo, De Libero, Gatto and Solmi also make their appearance. He additionally continues to be a faithful reader of Vittorini and of the “Politecnico”:
For those who were children in the years, let’s say, between ’45 and ’49, Vittorini was a key for literature, literary passion and taste (Giovanni Raboni, Quaderno in prosa [Prose Notebook], 1981).
For magazines, he periodically reads “Costume” (directed by Carlo Bo), “La Rassegna d’Italia” (edited by Sergio Solmi, with contributions from Sereni), “Società”, and generally all the magazines published in Milan of the left political-cultural environment.
At the same time, a great passion for film is born. He begins to attend movie theaters almost daily in the afternoon with his brother, encouraged by the possibility of using passes made available by the General Secretary of the City. It is initially an activity that he carries on in an intense but casual and uncritical way, tied to his fascination with the atmosphere of the screening rooms. Also significant is his experience of the international festival 50 anni di cinema [50 years of film] that opens in March of 1946 at the Cinema-teatro Alcione, on Piazza della Vetra:
My father, brother and I did not miss, I believe, a single evening. I was fourteen years old: it could not be more of a discovery, more of an initiation than that… They screened, if I don’t remember incorrectly, two films each evening, relatively recent films alternated with a classic from the film library. You entered with the lights of dusk and left late into the night, euphoric and exhausted.
I would like to have kept the program – in one box of old correspondence I found, instead, only a yellow card, with the invitation for November 19, 1946, at 9 p.m. to the second “martedì del Circolo del Cinema” [“Cicolo del Cinema Tuesdays”], an initiative made possible by the accession of those who followed, with the greatest loyalty, the evenings at the Alcione and at the end became the founding partners of the Cineteca Italiana. Before the festival, those thrilling Tuesdays – that took place for some time at the old Anteo cinema, then, for years, in the auditorium of a technical institution at Piazza della Vetra – I would not say are not the foundation of my cinematic knowledge (which, honestly, I don’t believe I possess), but of my passion for the cinema: the “true” cinema, from its origins through the ’50s (after, in my opinion, something else begins: the history of the huge entertainment industry and of the persuasion that occasionally – by chance, one would say – produced some masterpiece) (Giovanni Raboni, in La cineteca desiderata. I migliori film della nostra vita [The film library you want: The best films of our life], Il castoro, Milan 2001).
At the Festival, he sees Carné’s Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis), Laurence Oliver’s Henry V and other classics. “Cineteca Tuesdays” become a true and proper training ground for practicing critiques, where his initial passion is refined into a detailed and thorough knowledge of the history of the cinema.
In the same years, after occasionally seeing some shows with his father (in 1946 at the Teatro Olimpia, for example, Caron de Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro (Il matrimonio di Figaro; The Marriage of Figaro), directed by Luchino Visconti, and other works of Eduardo at the Teatro Mediolanum), his interest for the theater is tied to the birth the Piccolo Teatro, which Giovanni attends regularly from its founding in the spring of ’47 (the inauguration is May 14 with Gorky’s The Hotel of the Poor).
He also cultivated and developed his passion for music:
After the war, having returned to Milan, I began my long apprenticeship of passive musicmania provided with only the power to listen to the music and to perpetually daydream about it – this has been lost forever to collaborating in one way or another for its “implementation”.
For a student, there was, luckily […], a great deal of possibilities to cultivate this passion without great expense. The Società del Quartetto (with concert seasons in a cinema recently built on Via Piave, others in an old cinema on Corso Vercelli), was obliged in these first postwar years to create temporary seats and offered season tickets at special prices, and I am afraid I took advantage beyond the fixed limits of the time. And there was the gallery of the Scala, naturally, the times that you did not manage to find a place in the box of some particularly rich schoolmate […].
And there were, a little later, the Pomeriggi Musicali [Musical Afternoons] at the Nuovo, where a cousin of my father [note of the author: Getti], with the excuse of needing to “be accompanied”, paid me the ticket, and where […] I happened to witness the Milan debut of a young and, to us, unknown Sergiu Celidibache (Giovanni Raboni, Una sonata di Beethoven…, [A Beethoven sonata…], loc. cit.).
Like with the cinema, Raboni’s music education is also marked by a particular event. In this case, it is a series of the Concerti sinfonici di primavera per l’Anno Santo 1950 [Symphonies of the spring for the Holy Year 1950] with an unforgettable program of sacred symphony music: “St. Matthew’s Passion” by J.S. Bach, “The Stabat Mater” by Palestrina, “Magnificat” by Monteverdi, “Ambrosian Hymn” by Verdi, “Missa solemnis” by Beethoven, “Mass in B Minor” by J.S. Bach and “German Requiem” by Brahms.
These are also the years of listening to records, at first on the family’s 78 rpm player (but with much difficulty: their edition of the “German Requiem” contains 10 discs), then taking advantage of the commercialization – in ’48 – of the LP, with which began the formation of a private record library. Among the first acquisitions is the “Concerto in D minor,” with two violins, strings and harpsichord by Bach, and the sonata Op. 111 by Beethoven:
I don’t know how or why, even having had the occasion several times, but I was never in all of my life successful in listening to the last of the sonatas for piano by Beethoven, the Op. 111. Nor did I ever decide to purchase one of the recordings, in front of which I stopped many times, enthralled in consideration.
In compensation, I knew almost by memory the wonderful pages dedicated to it in “Doctor Faustus”, the novel by Thomas Mann, whose Italian translation, published by Mondadori in ’49, had become – and how it could have not have, in those years? – one of my livres de chevet. I repeated the sentences, simultaneously mysterious and blatant, that the great writer, with the complicity of his “consultant” T.W. Adorno, had put in the mouth of the awkward and kind Wendell Kretzshnar to explain, “why Beethoven did not add a third tempo to the Piano Sonata, Op. 111,” and exactly how, in this absence, in this enigmatic and sublime mutilation, you celebrate, in a moving and somewhat terrible way, the “good-bye” from all of western music to the long and glorious story of the sonata form.
And it almost seemed to be knowledge of this unknown composition, more than I knew – though of course, on reflection, I realized I knew much less… That which at the end, or maybe suddenly, I realized that I knew was that the moment had come for me to pass from the abstract yearning to the real “carnal” meeting with a work. It was the work on that portrait or ghost in words (that Arietta of the second movement that “across one hundred destinies, one hundred worlds of contrasting rhythms, ends with getting lost in the dizzying height”; that extremely simplistic sequence of only three notes – an eighth note, a sixteenth note and a dotted quarter note – intended to go through “adventures and mishaps, in its own idyllic innocence does not seem born”…), on which I had so bitterly exercised my imagination as to risk losing myself, too, indeed, and with no meaning, in “dizzying heights”. I decided: I would be exposed to the risks, the unknown intoxication of an incarnation… (Giovanni Raboni, Una sonata di Beethoven… [A Beethoven sonata…], loc. cit.).
In 1949, he is awarded at the Teatro della Basilica the Concorsi studenteschi di poesia e novellistica e pittura e disegno [Student contests of poetry and narrative and painting and design] for Poesia per Bianca [Poetry for Bianca]. The judging panel is composed of Carlo Bo, Salvatore Quasimodo, Angelo Romanò, P. Davide Turoldo, and Orio Vergani. To the same year, he dates the oldest of his “approved” poems, I compagni d’Ulisse [The Companions of Ulysses]. The beginning of this phase of poetry writing, under the title of Gesta Romanorum, will be included in the Lampugnani Nigri publication of the eponymous collection (1967):
In my experience I can say that the discovery was very important, that only later – reading Eliot, reading the great Anglo-Saxon poets of the twentieth century – I would understand has a theoretical base: the poetics of the so-called correlative object, namely the talk of itself across situations, across characters, indirectly.
For me the capacity of talking directly of myself in the first person was a very slow achievement. At the beginning I felt the need (and I felt the need for a long time) to speak of myself in an indirect way across real situations, histories already written, and characters invented or real. For example, it had a great importance in my first poems, then in some way accepted and retained, as part of my history, the unconscious tied to the Evangelical narration. That part of my juvenile production (around the age of eighteen, nineteen, twenty) that I now recognize is tied precisely to the development within fantasy and imagination and Evangelical cues (Giovanni Raboni, to Pantheon, loc. cit.).
He takes the Classical graduation exams at Liceo Carducci in the spring of 1950, for which he prepares with friend Arrigo Lampugnani (it is in Arrigo’s house that he becomes acquainted with the “tutor” of this, the philosopher Enzo Paci, who is also a regular in the Lampugnanis’ villa in Magreglio).
The first reading of Recherche, in its original version, is done in the months that immediately follow.
Between August and September, he visits Venice for the first time for a brief vacation with his father. The concurrence with the international Festival permits the two to watch some of the screenings at the San Marco cinema contemporaneous to those of the Lido, among which is La Ronde by Max Ophüls.
In the fall, he enrolls in law school, following a professional path independent from his passion for literature (medicine, not the arts, is the possibility considered as an alternative). His cultural and family environment – that of “a bourgeois family, that once would have been called ‘of toga’, that is to say a family of lawyers, of notaries” – encourages this choice.
The choice to study law also supports a certain personal interest, which develops into a true passion in courses of law philosophy and political economics.
He begins a friendship with Bianca Bottero, a student in the College of Architecture.
The end of a scholastic constriction associated with high school, and the amount of free time available from the courses and exam preparation is lived with a sense of extraordinary, exciting freedom. He continues reading and experimenting with poetry writing, and attends theaters, cinemas and concert halls. His group of friends, expanded to include his brother Fulvio, also attends horse races in San Siro. The two brothers continue to watch the home games of Inter Milan.
(This habit at the San Siro stadium will only end with the death of Sereni, his companion at the matches from the ’60s.)
On March 4, 1952, Giuseppe Raboni suddenly dies from a heart attack following a long confinement in bed prescribed to him after a first attack.
The death of Giovanni’s father is experienced with a sense of existential bewilderment (“everything became uncertain, apart from the pain” are his words to Rodolfo Zucco) but it does not have immediate material repercussions because of the economic help that comes from his paternal uncle (never married and without children, Giulio Raboni had always been very close to his brother’s family) and from the Volpato cousins’ family, which allows the brothers to continue their studies (Fulvio, a student of architecture, will become a teacher at Milan’s Politecnico).
The fundamental event for the artistic life of the young writer is the acquaintance of Carlo Betocchi. The meeting is recalled by Betocchi in the introduction to poetry published in “Letteratura”, May-August 1958:
Giovanni Raboni is a boy of Milan (my God, I knew that he was 21 – forgive me for the affectionate expression, even if now he is 26, with his fine law degree, and has worked for three years in a company in his city), a boy of bright and calm intelligence, clear like the water of a fountain. […] In this first occasion, Raboni’s poetry was introduced in a certain typescript titled “Gesta Romanorum” that amazed many of the judges, beginning with Ungaretti; the separation from the other contenders was very large.
The severe liver disease that will bring Raboni’s mother to her death in the fall of the following year manifests itself in the summer of ’53. As Betocchi remembered Matilde Sommariva:
I met his mother, who has now unfortunately been lost, after having also lost his father. I want to pay homage while I talk of her son: she was a dear creature, who followed, timid and enamored, the boy to get his first award of poetry in Rome, in the first round of the “Incontri della Gioventù” [“Gathering of Youth”] in ’53.
In the June 25, 1954 issue of “La Parruca” (the Milanese magazine founded the previous year by Alessandro Mossotti) appears the poetry I giorni della Terra Santa [The Days of the Terra Santa]. Another poem, Pioggia (Rain), appears in the following issue July 22.
He defends his history graduation thesis on Roman law in the February of ’55. His supervisor is Gaetano Scherillo (son of the Dante scholar Michele) and it is in his office that Raboni prepares, as a trainee, for his prosecutor’s exam.
In the early ’50s, he spends the summers travelling Europe in a car with his friends (“just as I liked it: setting a vague itinerary and then stopping wherever we pleased” are his words to Rodolfo Zucco). He visits Spain twice and, in the following trips, Greece, France, Germany and England, the first time in ’53.
The idea of an academic or judiciary career fades after the premature death of his father. At the end of the summer of 1955, Giovanni accepts an offer from Angelo Volpato to work in the legal office of his family’s oil company, San Quirico, performing legal services and taking some trips around Italy and abroad. In the meantime, he continues to live in the house on Via San Gregorio, where the housekeeper Rosetta takes care of the two brothers for a number of years with an abundance of meals and a lack of attention to the housekeeping.
In the spring of 1958, his uncle Giulio dies.
On August 7 of the same year, Giovanni marries Bianca Bottero in the church Sant’Alessandro. Their honeymoon is in Trieste and Vienna. He leaves the neighborhood of Porta Venezia to move to Via Morigi. Their son Lazzaro is born on August 24, 1959, and Pietro the following year on October 11.
Even after the births of their sons, the couple finds a way to travel, alone or with friends, until 1965. There are brief trips in Italy (to Napoli and Umbria) but also more prolonged trips abroad – their ’65 trip is to Yugoslavia (Lubiana, Zagabria, Belgrado, Sarajevo and Dalmatia). The family spends the summer and winter vacations in Camogli, in a rented house.
Raboni continues to write poetry. Within three years from his first publications, a group of seven texts, with introductions by Carlo Betocchi, appears in issue 16 of “La Fiera Letteraria” (April 21, 1957). Another five, again with Betocchi’s introduction, are published in issues 33 and 34 of “Letteratura” (May-August 1958). In the same year, an anthology of seventeen texts, Gesta Romanorum e altre poesie [Gesta Romanorum and Other Poems], is included in Nuovi poeti [New poets], gathered and presented by U. Fasolo (Firenze, Vallecchi). He works in the meantime – “1957-1960” will appear on the title page – on the poetry gathered in L’insalubrità dell’aria [The Unhealthiness of Air] (1963):
Very important with regards to the experience of poetry and my work on poetry was the discovery of the city as a metaphor: as a metaphor of life, as contact with everything problematic, disturbing, exciting that existence offers. And I became at that point – after being, in the first years of writing poetry, a “re-teller” of stories already told (primarily Evangelical narration) – a poet of urban stories, of stories connected to the city, to its problems, drama, anxieties. This is the period that probably ultimately marked my personality as a writer and poet (Giovanni Raboni in Pantheon, loc. cit.).
The activity as a critic and essayist, that in its first trials significantly includes an essay on the Luogi comuni sul cinema [Communal Places in the Cinema] (“La Chimera”, II, 11-12, February-March 1955), gains consistency from 1958 with the Appunti per una lettura dei “Cantos” [Notes for a Reading of the “Cantos”] (later in “Letteratura”, issues 39-40, May-August 1959), and with essays and papers in “aut aut” (Esempi per Brahms [Examples for Brahms], 48, 1958). He works as an editorial secretary for the magazine founded by Enzo Paci in ‘52.
The first testimony of critical interest in Proust, La riduzione nella “Recherche” [The Reduction in “Recherche”], appears in “aut aut” (issue 50, 1959), in which Raboni investigates the relationships between the novel and the last quartets of Beethoven.
In “Il Verri” (IV, issue 5, October 1960), he publishes Quadrature [Reconciliations] and La riunione ristretta [The Constricted Reunion].
He begins in these years to frequent the Milan literary scene, based in the Blue Bar in piazza Meda. Giovanni Giudici remembers, recalling the figure of Sergio Solmi, that here
would gather Sereni and Vittorini, Ferrata and Sergio Antonielle, sometimes Bo and Giosue Bonfanti, Anceschi and Dorfles, with the inevitable alterations of the youngest: Erba and Cattafi, Eco and Furio Colombo until Raboni, the youngest, who was, it seems to me, the last acquisition before the general diaspora (Un poeta del golfo [A poet of the gulf], 1995).
In the fall of 1960, Raboni leaves San Quirico and becomes a legal consultant of the textile company Lampugnani Nigri, property of his friend Arrigo’s family. But his role as industrial manager is experienced with profound, rooted internal discomfort. It is a discomfort that becomes a true and real crisis after the tragedy of the Vajont Dam (October 9, 1963).
In addition to his work as a legal consultant, Raboni had already worked – with difficulty – as a reader and editorial consultant. He decides, from ’64, to completely dedicate himself to this. He begins in this year his first translation work, that of L’éducation sentimentale (Sentimental Education) by Flaubert (Garzanti 1966).
In 1961, his first volume of poetry, Il catalogo è questo [This is the Catalogue] is published by Arrigo Lampugnani Nigri. Raboni recalls its editorial process, woven in L’insalubrità dell’aria [The Unhealthiness of the Air]:
My first book is, curiously the second – or vice versa. Not only that: there are several bibliographies that even indicate another so that it is instead the third.
This is they way things went: In 1958, or maybe in 1959 – I do not remember well – Vanni Scheiwiller, who I knew then by name as a very young and already prestigious editor, telephoned me to tell me that he had read the typescript of one of my collections of poems (it was a first draft of L’insalubrità dell’aria [The Unhealthiness of Air], sent to him from Florence by Carlo Betocchi) and that it would certainly be published. He did not say when, nor did I ask. His reviewing time’s duration was already legendary, and to me it was good as such: I was not in a hurry, I knew that the collection had to be completed and improved, and since then, the most pleasing and exciting thing to me was not to make or having made a book, but to think about it, work on it – in short, having to do it.
L’insalubrità dell’aria [The Unhealthiness of Air] came out at the beginning of 1963 in the series “Lunario,” in which Erba, Risi, Orelli, and Cattafi had already been published; I could not have wished for better. In the meantime, however, it had happened that another friend and contemporary, Arrigo Lampugnani Nigri, who I found after the years of high school and who had become something of my work employer (I was his legal consultant, or something similar, for the industrial companies of his family), asked me to help him grow his hobby, a little publishing house (that published, among other things, for two or three years the magazine “Questo e altro”).
Between 1960 and 1961, while I waited without the least of impatience for Vanni to send me his revisions, I happened to write a group of other poems. They were a little different from those in L’insalubrità dell’aria [The Unhealthiness of Air], which had assumed by then a structure quite compact with the last retouches and additions, so I put it aside. But I believe I talked of it with Lampugnani, or maybe it was he who asked me if I had written anything new. The fact is that we decided, a little for fun, to make a little book with a few copies to give to friends (to begin, naturally, with the managers and collaborators of “Questo e altro”). As a preface I thought we would put, after having asked and received permission from him to do so, two letters that Betocchi had written me recently. Thus Il catalogo è questo [This is the Catalogue] was born, of which I know neither whether to say with certainty if it was my first or else my second book; one could consider it as a preview of my first recapitulatory book, Le case della Vetra [The Houses of the Vetra], released in 1966 from Mondadori. […]
I personally took care of the design of the book and of its production, going many times to the studio-office of that extraordinary artisan-artist who was the printmaker Luigi Maestri. Together we chose the paper, font and layout and decided that the cover and title page should resemble in some way, with the markedly vertical writing and the alternation of different typographic bodies, a sort of “catalogue”, giving an interpretation or visual equivalent of the title. The result seemed to me then, and continues to seem to me, decidedly pleasant.
Lampugnani was very happy with it. Vanni Scheiwiller, who in the meantime became a dear friend, called me to tell me that it was “the most beautiful book of the year”. The majority of the copies, naturally, were given to relatives and friends, but some, I do not know how, ended up in some libraries, and I remember being very surprised and even a little touched seeing two examples on display side by side in the window of the Rizzoli Bookstore in the Galleria (Giovanni Raboni, “Wuz”, March 2003).
He meets Bartolo Cattafi and becomes a friend.
Vittorio Sereni is the intermediary for the meeting of Franco Fortini. It is, by Sereni’s suggestion, during the reading by Raboni from the typescript of Una volta per sempre [Once and For All] before its publication in the “Specchio” (1963). Their relationship is always problematic but will last until Fortini’s death.
In the spring of 1962, the magazine “Questo e altro” is founded by Niccolò Gallo, Dante Isella, Geno Pampaloni, and Vittorio Sereni (Angelo Romanò joins later). Raboni is a strict contributor and active editor (“I, more than contribute to the magazine, essentially made it: I was the editor that tailored it”: to D. Piccini, loc. cit.). The magazine, the laboratory for a reflection on literary creation, marks Raboni’s intellectual history in his unique awareness of Sereni’s teaching:
The title “Questo e altro” was, I believe, Vittorio’s and was anyhow an extraordinarily clear title, because “Questo” [This] was meant to suggest literature and “l’altro” [the other] was meant to suggest everything around literature – its more or less immediate surroundings – from which literature cannot be separated.
From that title have blossomed jokes and variations, more or less facetious: I remember Bo said “This, only this” [“Questo, solo questo”], and it is not difficult to understand what he intended to say, that for him the literature was everything and continues to be everything. Fortini made instead an epigram that sounded something like this: “This and something else for you, this is something else for me” [“Questo e altro per voi, questo è altro per me”] and also here it is not difficult to understand the meaning of the purpose and the controversy, the diversity suggested. To me the binomial posed by the title, not the alternative and not the exclusion that it implicated, continues to seem decisive: for Sereni – for us – literature was and is a great importance that does not end in itself, that does not exclude the importance of the other, of reality, of all that is that reality contains and proposes. The attempt to keep the binomial whole was central to Sereni as a poet and as a man of culture, and central for many of us making literary work poetic, and, I would dare to say, civil (Giovanni Raboni, Sereni a Milano [Sereni in Milan], in Per Vittorio Sereni. Convegno di poeti [For Vittorio Sereni: Conference of Poets], published by All’insegna del pesce d’oro, Milan, 1992).
In issue 4 of the magazine (1963) he publishes, with a paper by Betocchi, Simulato e dissimulato (Simulated and Dissimulated), Città dall’alto (City from Above), Lezioni di economia politica [Lessons of Political Economy], Il cotto e il vivo (The Baked and the Raw), and Compleanno (Birthday). His activity as militant critic becomes more frequent.
In the meantime, L’insalubrità dell’aria [The Unwholesomeness of Air] is published (January 1963).
On January 26, Giulia is born in Camogli.
In June of 1964 the meeting (initiated by Marcello Pirro) with Giancarlo Majorino marks the beginning of a friendship, literary partnership and civic engagement that involves Giorgio Cesarano and will last for the entire decade.
The downturn of “Questo e altro”, whose last issue comes out in the June of ’64, coincides with the contribution of poetry and critical texts in “La città,” the magazine “of letters and art” led by Pirro, and with the beginning of contributing to “Paragone”.
In this magazine, in the February ’66 issue, two poems are released from the upcoming Case della Vetra: Figure nel parco [Houses of the Vetra: Figures in the park] and Bambino morto di fatica ecc. [Child dead from fatigue etc.].
Le case della Vetra [The Houses of the Vetra], initially intended for the series “Il Tornasole” – the place for particularly innovative books of poetry, according to Sereni (there had already appeared Zanzotto with IX Ecloghe [IX Ecologues], Pagliarani with La ragazza Carla [The Girl Carla], and Cesarano with La pura verità [The Pure Truth]) – is instead published in the “Specchio” in April, 1966. Sereni advices Raboni on the organization of the poetry, and in particular to put the most ancient texts in an appendix. The first review is from Luigi Baldacci (“Epoca”, June 5, 1966), which begins:
Raboni’s reality is the city, Milan, or, better to say, that which remains of Milan in a moment of his memory, in the profound layers of his childhood. The topography within Raboni becomes history, an explanation both private and social: on the face of Milan, on the leprous walls or in the “rehabilitated” neighborhoods he finds the pattern of our life, or the lives of those older.
Il compleanno di mia figlia [The Birthday of my Daughter] is published in the June 1966 issue of “Quaderni piacentini”. In the “Quaderni piacentini” is published two poems of series that will be Parti di requiem [Parts of Requiem].
The era that is coming to an end will appear to Raboni as an exceptional period of Milanese culture:
I believe that a few times in those years, the feeling of finding myself, living in Milan, in a capital of culture in addition to business, was justified, or at least justifiable. Going to Mondadori in the old, labyrinthine, lovable headquarters on Via Bianca di Savoia it was possible to meet, in a single afternoon, behind or in front of some desk, Sereni and Vittorini, Paci and Cantoni, Ferrata and Debenedetti, Fortini and Solmi, Buzzati and Del Buono…
And if the great season of bars – from Giamaica on Via Brera, a meeting place for also painters and photographers like Mulas and Dondero, to the Blue Bar on Largo Meda, a meeting place almost exclusively of sedentary and passing poets – was coming to the decline, instead, bookstores flourished. Most of all, the Einaudi of Galleria Manzoni, where it was almost impossible to pass without meeting before dinner, intent to leaf through books or to chat with Aldrovandi – Ottieri or Vittorini, Leonetti or Arnaldo Pomodoro, or Giancarlo Majorino with the last issue of the “Corpo,” or Piergiorgio Bellocchio with the latest issue of “Quaderni Piacentini”…
In short, the postwar period was truly over. Or was it already a pre-war, the eve of another war? It is a bit funny to think of those years as our belle époque… […] I wonder. Perhaps Milan was only at the center of itself, although it gave the impression of being at the center of something (in any case it was not – as it is now, always more – on the outskirts of nothing). But to repeat the words of Frédéric a Deslauriers in Éducation sentimentale (Sentimental Education), “This is what we had better” (Giovanni Raboni, La “belle époque” della cultura Milanese [The “belle époque” of the Milanese culture], “L’Illustrazione Italiana”, June-July 1983, p. 91).
1967 – 1970
Important poetry published in 1967 include: Racconto d’inverno [Winter’s Tale] in “Nuovi Argomenti” (April – June); L’intoppo [The Mishap], an art book with illustrations by Attilio Steffanoni that contains the eponymous series (it will be collected in Economia della paura [Economy of Fear] in 1970, then in Cadenza d’inganno [Deceptive Cadence]); finally, for Lampugnani Nigri, Gesta Romanorum, the, “little book intended for friends, and only for friends” that collects “remote poetical exercises” dated between 1949 and 1954. The following year, in “La Fiera letteraria” (February 15, 1968), comes La morìa [The Plague] and L’inchiesta [The Survey]. Some prose from La fossa di Cherubino [The Pit of Cherubino] (1980) is published in “Paragone”, “Nuovi Argomenti” and “Il Bimestre” between 1968 and ’70.
By 1967, he gives up his position as secretary of the editorial board at “aut aut,” and had stopped, the previous year, contribution to the magazine whose indices attest, between 1958 and ’66, twenty-three articles and essays.
In the October of 1957, the Milanese residence of the family moves to Via Paravia. At the same time, Raboni rents a little studio on Corso Magenta to be able to dedicate himself to his new professional undertakings, of which translation becomes the most important. He works on Aragon’s Blanche ou l’oubli (Bianca e l’oblio [Blanche and the Oblivion], Mondadori, 1969) and Mauriac’s Un adolescente d’autrefois (Un adolescente d’altri tempi [An Adolescent of Another Time], Mondadori, 1971), but also works on other literary works with less of a commitment. He begins at the end of the seventies the translation of Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) for Mondadori.
Meanwhile, he works for RAI [Radiotelevisione Italiana, Italy’s national broadcast company]. He contributes to the writing of the weekly television program Tuttilibri directed by Giulio Nascimbeni, and manages on his own a radio program of literature and arts. He writes with Giorgio Cesarano the television series La carriera [The Career] that goes on the air with Giulio Brogi as the protagonist. In the May of ’70, he quits as the writer of Tuttilibri:
Dear colleagues, I think I must tell you why I stopped my collaboration on “Tuttilibri.” It is very simple. I have done this because I do not deem acceptable the planned inclusion, in one of the next acts, of a report on “Rome 1870” by Italo De Feo: an addition which was given to me as news and a decision made in another office and therefore not able to be altered by the editors of the program, who now have the impossibility to responsibly exercise their own functions. That is, for me, the impossibility to express and assert a negative judgment… (letter from May 13, 1970, from a preserved copy in the archive of the author)
He begins his collaboration with the Garzanti publishing house: first with single assignments, then with a consultant contract that soon becomes a part-time position similar to an editor. He works on the Grande Enciclopedia [Great Encyclopedia]. He then begins working at the “Garzantine”, mainly on the Enciclopedia Garzanti della Letteratura [Garzanti Encyclopedia of Literature] (1972) for which he is the editor-in-chief and responsible for the relationships with collaborators and revisions of the text (“if I read the first edition I discover much of my own writing” to Rodolfo Zucco). For Garzanti, he contributes to the Italian edition of A Critical History of English Literature by David Daiches (Storia della letteratura inglese, 1973) translating a great part of the cited poetry passages.
At the same time, he receives the offer from Raffaele Crovi (known at Mondadori and as editorial secretary of the “Menabò”) to assume the position of film critic at “Avvenire”. The daily had launched a phase of editorial renewal, and had moved its office from Bologna to Milan. The job, begun in January of 1970, is experienced with amusement (it recalls his old passion for the cinema) and is carried out in absolute independence from the direction of the daily (we are in the phase of his most fervent participation in the political life of the left).
The relationship ends, however, on the first of September of ’71 because of the positive review of The Devils by Ken Russel (published August 29).
The most intense period of political involvement with the left is between ’68 and ’70.
After his beating following the Milan demonstration against repression and the death of [Giuseppe] Pinelli on January 21, 1970, he receives, among the many testimonies of solidarity for the event, this from Renato Guttuso:
Dear Raboni, I learned with much pain that you were brutally hit during the demonstration against the methods of repression taking place today […]. I want to tell you of all my respect, human solidarity and friendship. Accept a hug from your R.G. (letter from February 1, 1970, preserved in the archive of author)
Raboni will reconstruct the funerals of Pinelli (on December 20, 1969) for Corrado Stajano:
There were many people, not too many. There were quite a lot of friends whom I did not expect to see and whom I was glad to see there: the group of old anarchists, some even with black neckties. And then the usual faces of boys, those of the demonstrations, with windbreakers, beards, Russian berets, eyeglasses with frames of steel: anarchists, but also of l’Unione, of Lotta Continua, of Potere Operaio.
There was a lot of silence, a great chill. It is difficult to remember these things. For example, the tension, the mix of disrepair and hope, the vaguely intoxicating sensation that it is finished, that we are screwed yet again, or once and for all – and that everyone, therefore, can start again. What is certain is that nobody felt like telling jokes. It was silent.
When the coffin left, many saluted it with a closed fist. On Via Paravia, the police, in plain clothes, dispersed the demonstration; but some groups of people went, by car, all the way to Musocco. Standing in front of grave number 434 on plot 76, the companions of the dead sang Internazionale [International] and Addio Lugano bella [Goodbye beautiful Lugano]. It is difficult to tell. It grew colder and colder. Coming away with F. and S. and other friends, we saw the group of police officers that stopped in another avenue, beyond a row of graves, and maybe was waiting for something. It seemed to me, from a distance, that they were all dressed in black (Le bombe di Milano [The Bombs of Milan], 1970).
From the event of Pinelli’s killing was born the quatrains L’alibi del morto [The Alibi of the Dead], published promptly in “Nuovi Argomenti” in the January–March issue, 1970.
He contributes to, from its foundation (and until the end in ’71), the Narrativa straniera [Foreign Prose] column for the magazine “Il Bimestre” (1969-1973). He begins with issue 40 (April 1970) of “Quaderni Piacentini” a relationship that will last until ’77, also mainly with work on foreign fiction. He becomes friends with Grazia Cherchi and Piergiorgio Bellocchio.
Soppressione [Suppression] and Le storie [The Stories] are published in “Paragone” (February 1969), and shortly afterwards in Economia della paura [The Economy of Fear], the book published by Insegna del Pesce d’Oro at the end of the following year that will collect the published and unpublished poetical works from the years 1965-8.
In the fall of 1969 he meets in Rome, in the house of Angelo Mario Ripellino, Slavist Serena Vitale. He has, in the meantime, left the apartment on Via Paravia.
After another meeting in Milan in September of the following year, Vitale moves to Milan and the two go to live in the studio on Via Fiori Chiari that Raboni shares with Giorgio Cesarano, where they would spend three years before moving to an apartment on Via Fatebenefratelli.
A decade begins in which about twenty trips to Czechoslovakia and seven to the Soviet Union will take place. On August 26, 1972, with Serena Vitale, Bartolo and Ada Cattafi, he begins a trip that brings the four friends, by car, to the Cattafi house to Mollerino (Messina), Hungary and Czechoslovakia, passing through Ostuni, Martina Franca, Rome, Milan and Venice. Travelling across Yugoslavia, the trip stops in Budapest, Bratislava and Prague.
He is again in Prague in the fall of the same year, and, the following autumn, he goes to Moscow and Leningrad [St. Petersburg].
He meets Viktor Shklovsky with the others many times in Moscow. In Prague, they are regular visitors of Milan Kundera (often seen after ’79 in Paris) and Vladimír Holan.
In the October of ’71 he declares, with about fifty writers and intellectuals, his solidarity with the journalists of “Lotta continua”, charged with solicitation by the General Prosecutor of Turin:
It was a typical self-denunciation, substantial in reporting, quotes, the incriminated phrases, and in underwriting the goal of accepting the criminal responsibility. It was a way to tell the judges: if you convict these journalists for having published these sentences, you should convict us also. It was, in short, a formal gesture in defense of the freedom of press (Giovanni Raboni, Devozioni perverse [Perverse Devotions], 1994).
The death of Giangiacomo Ferltrinelli on March 15 of the same year dictates the series Notizie false e tendenziose [False and biased news], published immediately in “Nuovi Argomenti” (March–April 1972).
In the October of 1973, Baudelaire’s Poesie e prose [Poems and Prose] is published in the “Meridiano”, also edited by Raboni with his translation of Fleurs du Mal.
In 1972 he rents a house to Pieve di Còmpito (Lucca), near where Giorgio Cesarano lives. In the summer of 1974, he visits Lisbon and Portugal.
In the meantime, he becomes the manager at Garzanti. But his relationship with Livio Garzanti is increasingly problematic, and this prompts Raboni to limit his relationship with the editing house to consultation (he continues to be involved with a few small encyclopedias for some time) and uninterrupted collaboration as the author of prefaces, introductions and notes.
Meanwhile, “Tuttolibri” is born, a weekly of cultural information published by “La Stampa”, to which he begins to contribute from issue zero (October 12, 1975), assuming the role of Italian prose and poetry critic. The collaboration continues until 1981, when the periodical becomes a supplement of the daily instead of an independent newspaper.
The declining relationship with Garzanti coincides with an intensification of the collaboration with Mondadori, where Raboni has a contract as an external consultant. He takes part in, among other things, the relaunch of the “Medusa”, choosing titles and prefaces, and he also joins the literature committee of the Almanacco dello Specchio [Almanac of the Specchio] (with Giuseppe Pontiggia, Giansiro Ferrata, and Vittorio Sereni; it will come out in February of 1989). He continues the series of the “Specchio” with intensity as consultant and as the author of book jackets, credited and uncredited.
The poetic writing has its second important moment of synthesis with the publication of Cadenza d’inganno [Deceptive Cadence], published by Mondadori in the March of 1975.
Raboni departs from Garzanti, beginning collaboration with Guanda. With the intellectual contribution of Roberto Rossi, he relaunches the old “Fenice”, establishes the “Quarderni di prosa” and personally manages the “Poeti della Fenice”, to which Maurizio Cucchi contributes. The series is distinguished for its special attention to translations (the first author to be published is Mandelstam; followed by Arp, Lorca, O’Hara, Ritsos, Alberti, Esenin, Keruac, Auden, O’Neill, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Bachmann, Verlaine, Tsvetaeva…). It hosts known poets (Majorino, Cesarano, Neri, Cergoly, Tiziano Rossi, Bertolani, Erba…), offers a prestigious editorial seat to young poets (De Angelis, Lamarque, Magrelli, Benzoni…), and is also combined into a collective volume.
He begins a long friendship with some poets of the new generation – Viviani and Cucchi in particular – the latter of whom Raboni writes the book jacket of Il disperso [The Missing], released in the “Specchio” in 1976, and who dedicates to Raboni the first monographic essay (“Belfagor”, May 31, 1977).
His first translation of Apollinaire, Bestiario o Il corteggio di Orfeo (Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée; The Bestiary, or Procession of Orpheus), is released in February in the fifteenth “Quaderni della Fenice”.
He takes part, with Piergiorgio Bellocchio, in a brief experience at the publishing house Gulliver, from which the anthology “Quaderni piacentini” [Piacenza Notebooks] is released in ’78.
In “L’approdo letterario” of December ’76 he publishes Cinque poesie (Esplanade, Aurora, Predella, I custodi, Film) [Five poems (Esplanade, Aurora, Platform, The Custodians, Film), two of which will be included in Nel grave sogno [In a Serious Dream].
He joins the judging committee of the Viareggio prize (which continues until ’82).
Radiouno airs on April 18, 1977, at the invitation of Carolo Betocchi, l’Autoritratto di Giovanni Raboni [The Self-Portrait of Giovanni Raboni], published in “L’approdo letterario” in June of the same year. Raboni reads and comments on Come cieco, con ansia [Like the blind, with anxiety], Amen, Una città come questa [A City Like This], Il catalogo è questo [This is the Catalog], Simulato e dissimulato (Simulated and Dissimulated), Una poesia di Natale [A Christmas Poem], Notizie false e tendenziose (False and Tendentious News) and the unpublished La tenerezza del guscio d’uovo [The Tenderness of the Eggshell]. Quattro poesie [Four Poems], which will be part of Il più freddo anno di grazia (The Coldest Year of Grace), appears meanwhile in “Paragone” (February 1977).
His close friendship with Antonio Porta grows. The two work together on the anthology Pin pidin. Poeti d’oggi per i bambini [Pin pidin: Today’s Poets for Children] (Feltrinelli, 1978). Raboni contributes poetry that will later appear in the anthology Un gatto più un gatto [A Cat Plus a Cat] (Mondadori, 1991).
The collection Il più freddo anno di grazia (The Coldest Year of Grace) is published, accompanied by introductory texts by Vittorio Sereni and Enzo Siciliano.
He begins his translation of the Recherche. The signing of the contract, he remembers in the epigraph of the fourth volume, occurs on November 9, 1978.
Raboni begins a brief collaboration at “Il Giorno” which will conclude in the February of 1979.
He is in Moscow between the end of the year and January ’79.
Raboni is among the founders, in 1979, of the poetry issues of “Società”, with the editorial board composed of, with Raboni, Silvana Castelli, Franco Cordelli, Marco Forti, and Giovanni Giudici. The new initiative at first runs parallel to and then continues the “Quaderni della Fenice”, with the publication of, among others, books by Cagnone, Zeichen, Conte, Santagostini, Lamarque, and Cacciatore.
In the December of ’79 he marries Serena Vitale.
For Guanda, he edits with Maurizio Cucchi the volumes Poesia Uno [Poetry One] (1980) and Poesia Due [Poetry Two] (1981), which are evidence of weekly publications that alternate its focus between Italian poetry and that of other linguistic areas, with the goal (according to the back cover of the first volume), “of providing the readers a continuous, agile, punctual update and a vast and articulate documentation on the poetic research of today and yesterday.”
He joins the judging committee of the Mondello prize, from which he will step down after the 1991 edition.
In the March of ’80, Guanda releases La fossa di Cherubino [The Pit of Cherubino], which collects the prose of ’67-’69.
The “alfabeta” of April publishes L’appartamento [The Apartment] and Dall’altare nell’ombra (From the Altar in the Shadows).
In November the annotated anthology by G. Caproni, L’ultimo borgo. Poesie (1932-1978) [The Last Village: Poetry 1932-1978], which he had begun to work on two years prior at the invitation of Caproni, is released.
On January 23, 1981, he meets Patrizia Valduga. Raboni presents a selection of her book Medicamenta [Medicament] in issue 10 of “Almanacco dello Specchio” (saying, “Few poems in these last years have surprised and convinced me like those of Patrizia Valduga”), welcoming it the following year in the “Quaderni della Fenice”. The next year he goes to live with Patrizia on Via Rasori. Thus begins what will become an intense romantic and intellectual bond.
He relaunches for Guanda with great, unexpected success “L’Illustrazione Italiana” [“The Italian Illustration”], that he directs from October 1981 to September 1983 (the cover of the June-July issue, different from what he had chosen, will bring an end to his relationship, always increasingly tense, with the editors). Among the contributors are Vittorio Sereni, Giovanni Giudici, Milan Kundera, Michel Leiris, Werner Herzog, Kazmierz Brandys, Piergiorgo Bellocchio, Hans Magnus Enzesberger, Antonio Porta, Carlos Fuentes, Gore Vidal, Rita Levi Montalcini, Gabriel García Márquez, Gershom Schocken, and René Thom. Raboni contributes articles and translations to the magazine: here appear, among others, his translations of Vitam impendere amori (To Threaten Life for Love) by Apollinaire (in the first issue, October-November 1981) and of Mea culpa [My Mistake] by Céline (April-May 1982).
Important publications for Raboni as a critic and translator come out in 1981: in March the annotated anthology Poesia italiana contemporanea [Contemporary Italian Poetry] from Sansoni; in May, in Mondadori’s “Medusa”, the translation of the second volume of Swann’s Way (Un amore di Swann); and in November, from Lampugnani Nigri, a collection of writings on prose Quaderno in prosa [Prose Notebook].
In the same month, with his contributions to “Tuttolibri” becoming less frequent (they will last, however, even with episodic increases, until ’86), he begins to write for “Il Messaggero” with a few pieces each week (articles of literary criticism and reviews, but also columns). To meet the economic obligations of the new separation, he also takes on demanding editing work (the linguistic revision of the new edition of the Libro Garzanti della Storia per la scuola media [Garzanti Book of History for Middle School]).
In January ’82, he begins, at the invitation of Enzo Golino, a brief and sporadic collaboration (it will end in April of the following year) with “L’Espresso”, where he has a lifestyle column “Tic & Tabù”.
A selection from Alcools by Apollinaire comes out from Il Saggiatore with translations by Raboni and Sereni.
The short poem Le nozze [The Wedding] is published in “Nuovi Argomenti” (January-March 1982). It is the first of his poems written for Patrizia Valduga, and it will be added to the end of the new collection, Nel grave sogno [In a Serious Dream], that comes out in March of the same year. He resigns from the Viareggio prize, won that year by Levi, Sereni and Valduga. A friendship is born with Toti Scialoja, who publishes Scarse serpi [Scarce Snakes] in the “Quaderni della Fenice” (1983).
On February 10, 1983, his “great friend, almost a second father” (as said to P. Del Giudice in “Galatea”, loc. cit.) Vittorio Sereni dies suddenly from an aneurism:
The last time that I met Vittorio Sereni was in Rome, on January 23 of last year, in the house of Laura Betti. We had to decide the finalists of the Pasolini Prize of poetry […]; and Vittorio – always a little unwilling to move, always a bit wary of Rome, which nevertheless enchanted him, had decided to come. He was in Rome in the morning and was, unexpectedly, in a great mood, with an ear to the results of the soccer championship, the other to the subtle, captious, and also polemical talk that wove itself around and across Laura’s long lunch table (or, in this case, snack table). He seemed to me, above all, happy to be there, but trembled at times, like brief attacks of anxiety and regret at the idea of what was waiting for him soon: a booked seat on a plane for Milan that he could not miss. The reunion finished, he called a taxi, while almost all of us stayed together to end the evening. I never saw him again. (Giovanni Raboni, Perché i versi continuino a dar fastidio [So that poetry continues to be a bother], loc. cit.)
[Sereni’s presence] was […] absolutely capital and irreplaceable. I believe that it does not happen only to me, after many years [1992, note of the editor], of still feeling the absence of Vittorio in Milan (and by ‘Milan’ I mean to say obviously mine, our life) like a catastrophe, like something that signaled the end of an age and not quite the beginning of a new era, rather the beginning of a great confusion, of a great and sad senselessness. The presence of Vittorio was something bright and firm that you could not do without, and still continues to be something you cannot be without. It seems (I know that it is not objectively true, but it is as if it is, in a familiar way) that his absence had suddenly made possible all the worst that could happen and that actually happened. (Giovanni Raboni, Sereni a Milano [Sereni in Milan], loc. cit.)
Raboni, who had occasionally filled in for Sereni in the pages of “L’Europeo” for the review in Stella variabile [Variable star] (March 29, 1982), replaced him in August as the owner of the column that had been his friend’s and teacher’s, but later dedicates himself to an intense level of journalism. The critical work for “Il Messaggero” and “L’Europeo” thus becomes his main activity, involving the commitment of at least two articles each week. Journalistic writing joins the translation of the Recherche, which he always returns to as a moment of rest and intellectual fulfillment. The first “Meridiano” (with Dalla parte di Swann (Swann’s Way) and All’ombra delle fanciulle in fiore [In the Shadow of the Flowering Maidens]) is published in the June of 1983.
In the summer, Luciano De Maria, the director of the “Meridiani”, organizes a trip to Chartres and to Illiers-Combray: “with the excuse of a television documentary, in reality to celebrate the release of the first volume” of Proust from Mondadori (Epigraf [Epigraph] by M. Proust, Alla ricerca del tempo perduto (À la recherche du temps perdu; In Search of Lost Time)).
For Laura Betti and the “Pier Paolo Pasolini Fund” Association, created on January 31, 1983, Raboni is a member of the jury for the prize and co-director of the series “Quaderni Pier Paolo Pasolini”, for which he will write the prefaces to Poesie di un pendaglio da forca [Poems of a Gallows Bird] by Breyten Breytenbach (1986), Il poeta murato [The Walled-in Poet] by Vladimír Holan (1991), and for the collection of writings of Antonio Porta, Il progetto infinito [The Infinite Project] (1991). He attends all of the Pasolini events, including those in Paris (Centre Georges Pompidou, October 1984), Rome (University of Rome La Sapienza, November 15, 1985) and Naples (November 9, 1994). For the Association, he will in 1987 invite psychoanalytic theorist Ignacio Matte Blanco to the Montecatini Poesia e Scienza [Poetry and Science] conference.
In 1984, he publishes, with others by Vittorio Sereni, new translations of Apollinaire, in La chiamavano Lu e altre poesie [They Called her Lu and Other Poems] (Mondadori).
In the fall, he moves to Via Castaldi. The return to the Porta Venezia neighborhood is lived with sentiments dictated by a personal nostalgic topography:
I was born in Via San Gregorio, a street of Milan that runs along the last ruins of the walls of the Lazzaretto (the one of the Promessi sposi [The Betrothed], just outside Porta Orientale). Then, leaving Via San Gregorio, I lived for years in some parts of Piazza della Vetra, the old “Vetra of the Citizens”, “almost opposite the columns of San Lorenzo”: the place, in other words, where the morning of June 21, 1630, the terrible incident told in the Storia della Colonna Infame [History of the Infamous Column] took place. […] But the story of my numerous moves brought me, in a few months, yet again inside seventeenth-century Manzonian Milan, dwelling two steps from the San Carlo al Lazzaretto church, that appeared exactly at the center of the Lazzaretto area. I live therefore – and probably will die – no longer at the margins, but within the territory, the ghetto, the place for the infected… (Giovanni Raboni, Raboni Manzoni, 1985)
The first translations for the theater are: Fedra (Phèdre) by Racine (for direction by Luca Ronconni, Teatro Stabile di Torino, 1984; printed by Rizzoli in the same year) and Don Juan (Don Giovanni) by Molière (for direction by Mario Morini, Teatro Nazionale, Milan, 1984).
I did these translations of Don Juan by request and passion. Not always are the two things mutually exclusive: rather, the contrary is often true, namely that the one includes the other or gives rise to it (“Corriere della Sera”, January 7, 1984).
An anthology of his poems translated into English is released in Messina as Pas de chat and other poems, in a series directed by Attilio Bartolucci and Angela Giannitrapani. Among the translators is Amelia Rosselli, who translates the poems Jubilate Agno, Una fiaba [A Fairy Tale], Pas de chat, Dall’altare nell’ombra (From the Altar in the Shadows), Frasi [Phrases].
Raboni Manzoni brings together – according to the model of the series “Paso Doble” by publisher Il ventaglio – ten of his poems and some pages of the Storia della colonna infame [Story of the Infamous Column].
Begun in the same year at the initiative of Francesco Lentini (president of the Mondello prize) and support of Luigi Brioschi is the series “Poeti italiani e stranieri”, that Raboni directs through the editor Acquario – La Nuova Guanda. The series (that is especially active between 1985 and ’86, and will cease in ’89) publishes “Esercizi platonici” [Platonic Exercises] by Pagliarani, “Pietra scritta” (Pierre écrite; Words in Stone) by Yves Bonnefoy, “Elegia di Mölna” (En Mölna-elegi; A Mölna-Elegy) by Ekelöf (the first Italian translation of the great Swedish poet), “The World as Meditation” (“Il Mondo come Meditazione”) by Stevens, and “Liceo di Neri, Per diritto di memoria” [Neri’s High School, Nominal Memory] by Tvardovsky.
He suspends his collaboration as consultant for Mondadori with a letter to Leonardo Mondadori (June 25, 1985):
For some time now, and in a way gradually clearer, I should realize that my activity has become always less useful at the editing house and less satisfying for me. The suspension, essentially, of the “Nuova Medusa” (the design of which, you will remember, I contributed to since the beginning), the strong decline of the publication of the “Specchio” and, more generally, the extreme lack of, in the present projects of Mondadori, research work and appreciation of new authors both in the field of poetry and narrative, makes it practically impossible for me to do the only thing that I know how to truly do: to propose, and to help select, books that are not obvious, new books, literarily-credible books (which is not to say – in fact, it is to say always less – less-sellable books). […] Since I am not used to being paid for something that I cannot do, nor can I accept to convert a cultural collaboration into something, shall we say, supportive (as it would be to write favorable reviews for books that I do not like, or those I do not intend to invest the little prestige I have acquired in these years), I truly think that I cannot but ask you to accept in all friendship my decision to not continue in this relationship (from the preserved copy in the archive of the author).
A selection of his poems is released in the United States as “The Coldest Year of Grace”, with translation by Stuart Friebert and Vinio Rossi.
There are numerous publications of poems in 1986, 12 in “Almanacco dello Specchio” (“Ho gli anni di mio padre…” [“I have the years of my father…”]; “I pochi che aspettano…” [“The few who wait…”]; “Tu e le tue fissazioni!…” [“You and your fixations!…”]; and in “Nuovi Argomenti” (“Su temi di Arnaut Daniel” [“On the Theme of Arnaut Daniel”] in January-March, and “Anagramma, deposizione” [“Anagram, Deposition”] in October-December 1986). In March, “Canzonette mortali” [“Mortal Songs”] is published by Crocetti.
He contributes to the new edition of the Storia della letteratura italiana [History of Italian Literature], headed by Cecchi and Sapegno, with a fundamental chapter Poeti del secondo Novecento [Poets of the Late Twentieth Century].
He collaborates with Antonio Porta and Gianni Sassi on the organization of some editions of the international poetry festival, MilanoPoesia (1985-1992).
The second “Meridiano” is released in October ’86, with Alla ricerca del tempo perduto (The Search for Lost Time): La parte di Guermantes (The Guermantes Way) and the first volume of Sodoma e Gomorra [Sodom and Gomorrah].
He arouses intense controversy with the booklet Cento romanzi italiani del Novecento [One Hundred Italian Novels of the Twentieth Century], which is released as an insert of “L’Europeo” on November 15, 1986.
His journalism, with the decisive contribution of the exclusions and opinions expressed in the Cento romanzi (“true bone of contention, this last one. A small horrendous crisis; chitchat, animosity, grudges, gossip, that crossed the cultural establishment with the rapidness of lightning”), earns him the nickname “Re Censore” [King Censor/Reviewer] (from the title of an article by Mario Fortunato in the “Espresso” of February 1, 1987). Raboni responds in the same issue of the weekly:
My choices are choices of personal taste. Not by chance, very often, I used a comparative criteria: I am not interested in dismantling this or that, rather to compare with other authors and works, perhaps less known and acclaimed.
A new edition of the Fiori del male (Fleurs du Mal; The Flowers of Evil) from Einaudi accompanies his translation of Claudel’s Partage de Midi (Cantico di Mezzogiono; The Break of Noon) for the Cooperativa Teatro Franco Parenti, directed by A.R. Shammah.
On March 12 and 13, 1987, Raboni is in Madrid for the Primer encuentro de poesia joven italiana y española [First meeting of Young Italian and Spanish Poetry] with Magrelli, Porta, Rosselli, Sanguineti, and Valduga.
On June 10, he suffers a heart attack on an airplane to Frankfurt. He had translated La mort de Tintagiles [The Death of Tintagiles] by Maurice Maeterlinck for a marionette performance by Tadeusz Kantor.
He is transported to Milan, renting a Cessna, and is hospitalized for ten days at the cardiological center “Le Quattro Marie” (then, Monzino) of Milan. He recovers at Sant’Ambrogio, guest of his cousin Getti Volpato, in whose house he will spend his summer vacations for the next two years.
Raboni resumes work in August, writing the preface of the Album Proust for Mondadori.
The heart attack episode is echoed in the Scongiuri vespertini [Vesper Spells], which is published in the first issue (January 1988) of the magazine “Poesia”, created and directed by Patrizia Valduga. In the first year of the monthly, he also contributes with an important interview on La poesia e la critica [Poetry and Criticism] (March) and a translation of Primavera, Gran Fantasia e Fuga [Spring, Great Fantasy and Escape] by Tessa (April).
At the end of his recovery, a love of change and the security of a contract lead him to accept the invitation of Giuliano Gramigna, on behalf of director Ugo Stille, to replace Roberto De Monticelli as the head of the theater column of “Corriere della Sera”. Thus, in September he suspends his relationship with “Il Messaggero”, continuing, however, the collaboration with “L’Europeo”.
It is a job that brings him to write as many as four reviews a week, and to travel a lot. This causes him to reject prestigious invitations, like that of the Vargarth festival of Bhopal in India (January 1989) or the first international poetry festival Mishkenot sho-ananim in Jerusalem (February 1990), or the Assises internationales de la traduction littéraires [International Conference of Literary Translation] in Arles (November 1990).
In February of 1988, A tanto caro sangue, Poesie 1953-1987 [To So Much Dear Blood: Poetry 1953-1987] is released by Mondadori. Reorganization of the whole poetic work gives life to a book the author describes in the final note, “as a new book that is, simultaneously, my last and only book.”
He gathers twenty articles already published in “Rinascita”, “L’Europeo”, and “Il Messaggero” in I bei tempi dei brutti libri [The Good Times of the Bad Books], which is released in April from Transeuropa.
In October, the third “Meridiano” is published with Alla ricera del tempo perduto (In Search of Lost Time) (with the second and subsequent chapters of Sodoma e Gomorra (Sodom and Gomorrah) and La prigioniera (The Fugitive)).
On the 26th of the same month, he sends in his resignation – not accepted by the director Lanfranco Vaccari – as the columnist of “L’Europeo”:
My “Diario”, published in the issue of “L’Europeo” on newsstands this morning, includes a piece – editorially titled Un omaggio [An homage] – that originally ended with a mention of the “consumer-professional anticommunism of Vertone or Giuliano Ferrara”. In the published version, the name of Vertone was suppressed. Frankly, I do not know how I would have reacted if you or Serra had asked me to eliminate the name of Vertone. I only know that, at that point, I would be able to choose between various solutions: provide the same elimination, cut the whole piece in question, withdraw this installment of the “Diario”, or renounce my collaboration with “L’Europeo”. But nobody asked me anything, and it was decided, without consulting or notifying me, to modify (or maybe, less euphemistically, I should say, to censor) my text; and at this point I do not have at my disposal any alternatives but the last and, at least for me, most unpleasant of the solutions (from a preserved copy in the archive of the author).
The collaboration will continue until the new director Vittorio Feltri does not extend his contract, at the end of ’91.
With Versi guerrieri e amorosi [War and Love Poems], published by Einaudi in April, he begins the phase of metric experimentation on closed forms.
In the fall, he moves from Via Castaldi to Via Melzo (still in the Porta Venezia neighborhood, but now on the other side of Corso Buenos Aires). The move is translated metaphorically in the prose that opens Piccola passeggiata trionfale [Triumphant Little Walk] (in Ogni terzo pensiero [Every Third Thought], though already printed in ’91):
That long, slow chase. It took me almost sixty years to pass from one part of the avenue to the other; thirty-two, give or take a month, to cover the distance between the quintet in G minor with two violas and the quintet in C major with two violins. But these things or the others, surprisingly set somewhere else, were made as if holding my breath, in a single thought.
At the outbreak of the first Gulf War, Raboni opposes the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies with an analysis that is as lucid as it is prophetic:
The special and somewhat unprecedented horror of this war consists of and is reflected in the impossibility to imagine a peace afterwards that is not equally horrible. The destruction of Iraq will happen sooner or later, and the West will find itself faced with a spirit of revenge and revolt so unanimous that it will be forced to implement throughout the Middle East a neo-colonial armed peace. It is destined to break into hundreds of other wars, or in a single endemic and perpetual war. The abyss on which we find ourselves is the abyss of the Western victory. The only way to avoid collapse is the immediate suspension of the hostility decided and carried out unilaterally by the American and allied forces. It is only if those about to win, those who are sentenced to win, would “surrender” that a peace that is not monstrous would still be possible (“L’Unità, February 22, 1991).
La notte del quartiere (Frammenti) [The night of the neighborhood (Fragments)] and the translation of L’albero caduto [The Fallen Tree] (Orazio, Odi, II, 13) are published in “Paragone” in April and October of 1991.
The third edition of the Fiori del male (The Flowers of Evil) is released in July of ’92.
He organizes for the Teatro di Roma a series of Dante readings that, in the span of three years, is meant to present the entire “Divine Comedy”, entrusting the reading of every Canto to a different writer or intellectual. The series, which will not go beyond the reading of the Inferno, is opened on December 2 with Raboni’s reading of Canto XXXIII of Paradiso. Volponi, Fortini, Luzi, Attilio Bertolucci, Jolanda Insana and Giuseppe Sinopoli will follow, among others.
1992 is for Raboni the year with the most intense activity as the columnist at the “Corriere della Sera”: he writes political commentary on the first page and lifestyle section – for the former, covering the Ustica massacre trial (January 16), the bribes in Milan (May 15) and the Lega attacks (July 8); and for the latter, the language of Bossi (June 24), the exhibition of pain on television (February 11), and the announcement by the Pope regarding his illness (July 13).
Other poetic works are published in magazines: Dall’altra parte del corso [From Another Part of the Path] in “Nuovi Argomenti” (April-June 1992) and Tre sonetti [Three Sonnets] in “Poesia” (May 1992).
He contributes the sonnet Maggio 1992 (Che male t’abbiamo fatto…) [May 1992 (What Harm We Have Done to You…)] to the “investigation in verse” Otto poeti per l’Italia malata [Eight poems for sick Italy], published by the “Corriere della Sera” February 3, 1993.
From April 2 to 17, alternating with Luciano Canfora on the political pages of the “Corriere della Sera” in a Diario dei referendum [Diary of the referendums], he defends in seven articles the reasons for voting ‘no’ on the referendum to appeal proportional representation in the Senate (April 18):
A group, or rather a whole system of overt alliances and covert conspiracies that for 45 years has incessantly maintained the power, is at the point of losing it. It is, at this point, losing power because, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it has lost its dazzling suit of armor as the real or alleged defender of the West against the real or alleged communist danger. Everywhere we are finally free to judge and punish it for what it has done in these years, for the heinous failures and misdeeds that already are seen by everyone (for, in the meantime, another wall – that of silence – collapsed). Who can seriously doubt that this group, this system – which is now conveniently given the name of “partitocrazia”, while it more simply and concretely is the Christian Democracy and its allies – would be literally swept out if the country could speak out according to the electoral rules in effect? Well, it is at this point – exactly this point – we are told that these rules no longer go over well, that there is a need to change them: it is worth (considering you cannot agitate the communist scarecrow) the undeterminable “chaos” (April 2, 1993).
In September of 1993 Ogni terzo pensiero [Every Third Thought] (Mondadori) is published; in November, the fourth and last “Meridiano” is released with Alla ricerca del tempo perduto (Albertine scomparsa (Albertine Gone) and Il Tempo ritrovato (Time Regained)).
In “L’Express” of March 24 of 1994, Angelo Rinaldi concludes his review:
Si une personne dont la renommée pourrait servir de bouclier consentait à reconnaître en public qu’il apparaît, dans sa version italienne, supérieur à ce qu’il est en français, on l’applaudirait de tout cœur. Dans ce colonnes, on n’ose en prendre l’initiative. On se borne à enregistrer un miracle analogue à celui de saint Janvier, à Naples, lorsque, dans la fiole qui le contient, le sang du martyr, à force de prières, recouvre chaleur, fluidité, vie…
In March 1994, Devozioni perverse [Perverse Devotions] is published by Rizzoli as a “sort of diary” of the years 1988-91, prepared by collecting pieces of articles that appeared in the “Corriere della Sera” and in “L’Europeo”.
During the political elections, Raboni publicly sides with the Communist Refoundation Party. The electoral win by Silvio Berlusconi is received with hurt and bewilderment, feelings that will severely affect the poetry of the years that follow:
Depuis quelques temps je ressens avec une urgence particulière le besoin de témoigner jusqu’au sein de ma poésie de mes réflexions, de mes préoccupations et des mes indignations de citoyen, probablement parce que je vis dans un pays où se font entendre à nouveau d’odieuses tentations antidémocratiques et antisociales (alla rivista «Po&sie», 109, 2004).
He accepts the directorship of a poetry book series for publisher Marsilio. The relationship will come to a close in 2000 after the publication of books by poets of a new generation and style, including Toti Scialoja, Dario Villa, Marco Ceriani, Elio Pagliarani, Ferruccio Benzoni, Riccardo Held, Massimo Lenzi, Jolanda Insana, and Giuliano Gramigna.
Raboni translates, at the invitation of Luca Ronconi, Hecuba (Ecuba) by Euripides, for the direction of Massimo Castri (for the 1994/95 theater season of the Teatro di Roma, debuting at the Teatro Argentina on November 29). He writes for the program:
The only thing of some importance that I have to say of this translation, or, maybe we should call it, this rewriting of Hecuba, is that I have made it for the theater, and only for the theater. In other words, I would like that no one could think of reading it as if it pretended to have an autonomous literary existence. This that I have tried to write, and that I hope I have written, is not the tragedy of Euripides in the Italian language, but the script of a performance that Castri would create, which I tried to imagine based on his other shows.
September 3, in the environment of the XXXVI Corso Internazionale di Alta Cultura Le metamorfosi del ritratto [The Sixteenth International Procession of High Culture: The Metamorphoses of the Portrait], he holds a session entitled Proust contro Proust [Proust Against Proust] at the Foundazione Cini in Venice.
The acceptance of a prize in Florence has the corollary of the publication of an unpublished collection, Septuor [Septet], the following year.
In December, his translation of Recherche is awarded the Aristeion Prize sponsored by the European Union. He collects the prize in Lisbon, the European capital of culture.
He writes, at the request of Adriano Guarnieri, a series of five texts, Quare tristis [Why Art Thou Sad], for the piece of the same name, presented by the poet himself at the Biennale Musica di Venezia [Biannual Music Festival of Venice] (Church of S. Stefano, July 1, 1995). The series will be published in 1998 as Cinque strofe per la musica di Adriano Guarnieri [Five Verses for the Music of Adriano Guarnieri] (Lecce, Manni), to be included later in the collection Quare tristis [Why Art Thou Sad].
A second edition of the Bestiario (Bestiary) by Apollinaire is published by TEA in March ’96. The following month, the fourth edition of his Fiori del male (The Flowers of Evil) from Mondadori is published in the “Meridano” of the Opere [Works] of Baudelaire. He continues translating for the theater with Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo (for direction by Luca Ronconi at Teatro di Roma and Teatro Stabile di Torino, debuting at the Teatro Argentina on November 4, 1997, with the translation published by Einaudi in the same year) and Les Fausses Confidences (Le false confidenze) by Marivaux (for the Teatro di Genova, directed by Ivo Chiesa; the first performance is on March 10, 1998 at the Teatro Duse with director Marco Sciaccaluga). Additionally, he translates the staged text from Giacomo Manzoni for his Moi, Antonin A., per soprano leggero, lettore e orchestra su testi di A. Artaud [Me, Antonin A., for soprano leggero, reader and orchestra on the texts of A. Artuad] (Florence, Maggio musicale fiorentino 1997 [Florentine May Musical 1997], June 12, 1997).
In 1996, he returns to the judging panel for the Viareggio prize. However, he will leave the year after, having participated in only two sessions, justifying his resignation in an article in the “Corriere della Sera” of August 31. The piece explains his dissatisfaction with the deciding mechanisms for the Viareggio, but above all presents a manifesto for an ideal program for determining a literary prize:
So, I joined this jury, with some hope that you all would help me in realizing, at least partially, my old dream of serious, serene and calm work. Each person can contribute his/her own interests and knowledge, and, in doing so, gradually arrive to a common consensus, confronting his/her own opinions and putting them truly into discussion, persuading the others but also leaving them to defend their own opinions […] And I thought also that, to this goal, it would have been appropriate to utilize the competencies of each person, giving special weight to the judgment of philologists in philology, historians in history, poetry experts in poetry, musicologists in music essays, and so on, only to bring together in one perspective (and one discussion) a more general cultural orientation. In short, the unified work would be completed in part through a method of ‘commissions’, having seen the quantity and heterogeneity of the materials in review…
It seemed to me, at the opening of the previous year’s meeting and that of this year, that none of this had happened. Each of the members of the jury arrived with an idea (ignoring all others’) and left with that same idea. I do not blame anyone in particular, seeing that I also behaved like this. But I believe the responsibility and initiative, in this sense, should be the concern of the president, who has essentially tended instead to select the competitor he had in mind to win – like all the others, but with the advantage and exacerbation of being president, having inserted in the jury a certain number of people who were steadfastly faithful to him, and of having the oratory charisma, prestige, and appeal of Cesare Garboli. That is all.
But with this I flatter myself to have, not explicitly, but at least suggested that a literary prize could and should surpass the threshold of small-scale banality and the reasons of my impatience and resignation. It will, I hope, be for another time; but I swear, in the event the miracle would happen, I will not be there to see.
The collection Tutte le poesie (1951-1993) [All the Poetry (1951-1993)] is published by Garzanti at the end of April ’97. In the opening of the volume is Gesta Romanorum, “the remains of my first collection of poetry, awarded in a competition of unpublished works but never published and, at a certain point, lost”. A month later, Scheiwiller publishes a collection of eleven new sonnets, Nel libro della mente [In the Book of the Mind] (released the previous year as an art book, with illustrations by Attilio Steffanoni).
On April 12, he enters, with an interview at “L’Unita”, into the debate that set Fausto Bertinotti against the Prodi administration about the Italian participation in the multinational force of the UNO in Albania, approved by the Chamber on April 9 with a vote in favor of both Ulivo and Polo, and the Communist Refoundation Party against:
The position of Bertinotti on Albania? It is frankly incomprehensible. It seems motivated by the pure desire for attention. If we were to go to the elections because of this, I believe that I would not vote for the Refoundation any more […]. It is not the first time that I have the nagging feeling that it is not the future of the left wing’s relevance at stake, if, within the left, we choke the ideas of the Refoundation party (albeit in a dialectical relationship). Each time that I have this suspicion, I feel totally in disagreement.
(In the days immediately following, the Refoundation party will withdraw its threat to stop its external support to the government.)
On December 23, the Province of Milan awards him the Medaglia d’oro di Riconoscenza [Gold Medal of Gratitude].
Philippe Jaccottet presents Raboni a French translation of his sonnets in Nel libro della mente [In the Book of the Mind]:
Je ne connaissais de votre œuvre – gli scrive il 27 febbraio – que les rares poèmes traduits par notre ami Simeone dans Lingua, dont celui de la mort de la mère m’avait beaucoup frappé, quand Scheiwiller, au milieu d’autres cadeaux, m’a offert le petit livre de vos sonnets. Revenu de Milan avec une sorte de regain d’énergie, peut-être dû à l’amitié de l’accueil, j’ai eu envie de les traduire, activité à laquelle je proclamais sans cesse avoir renoncé définitivement. C’est vous dire si je les ai admirés. Les voici donc en signe d’amicale estime, soumis à votre lecture.
It is an occasion of an intense epistolary exchange with the Swiss writer that will bring the translation Au livre de l’esprit, Geneva 2001.
In the same spring, Minister of Culture Walter Veltroni reveals to Raboni his desire to nominate him to the director board of Piccolo Teatro. Raboni accepts. He thereby suspends his role as theater critic at the “Corriere”, also because of the onset of new cardiac problems that necessitate the insertion of three bypasses on March 23.
Nonetheless, the collaboration with the “Corriere della Sera” with his role of literary critic (in particular with two columns on the third page) and commentator will continue at its weekly pace.
He translates Le Chemin de la Croix (Il cammino della Croce; The Way of the Cross) by Claudel for the direction of Fabio Battistini (debuting on April 2, 1998 at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Trento).
He sends to the press the fifth edition of the translation of the Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) (Einaudi 1999).
The Contraddetti [Contradicted], a selection of articles that appeared in the “Corriere della Sera” between ’92 and ’97, prepared and edited by publisher and friend Vanni Scheiwiller, is released in September. In the first issue of the magazine “L’ospite ingrato”, three sonnets, under the title Versi inediti 1995-96 [Unedited Poems 1995-96] are published.
On July 22, Silvana Goldmann interviews him at the Cini Foundation of Venice’s refresher course for Italianists.
In November, the new collection Quare tristis [Why Art Thou Sad] is released from Mondadori.
The Province of Milan devotes a video to him: he reads some poems, talks of himself, of words as an “instrument of moral responsibility”, and of his idea of a “community of the living and the dead”:
It seems to me that in the famous acclaimed concreteness of Milan was understood, “encapsulated” the idea that life is concrete also because it understands the past and therefore the presence of death. I believe that it was a form of “Lombardic realism”, that ability to also live with the dead – as it is to live with others, to live with the deviants – was one of the great callings of Milan. I would say that they are two complementary aspects, both strongly compatible with the realism that is in the aesthetic calling of the Lombardic culture, but that is also, in my opinion, in its morality, in its way to confront life, and even smaller things. It seems to me that it is actually there, in the mid-sixties, that something begins to crack.
And these things become slowly less common – but also, from a certain point, rather rapidly and disastrously. It becomes less common, this capacity to live with the past, with the lost and deceased generations, and so did the capacity to live with others. This, at a time like the present – a moment of transformation not only of this city or nation, but of the whole world – in which it is, more than ever, indispensible to succeed at living with others, because the future of the world, if there is one, is a future of co-habilitation to the highest level of confusion possible (I say confusion in a positive sense). Essentially, if we do not succeed at being hosts and if we cannot make our guests become hosts themselves, I believe that we will not be okay. I believe that we are going toward a future of crimes and un-habitability.
In my opinion, in a city like Milan – where all of this was inside, and that slowly, and then unfortunately with a dramatic acceleration, has been lost – all of this is felt in a particular way and is particularly indispensible. I truly believe that if do not begin again and actually recapture the sense of community – the community both with our dead, with our past and with diversity, with others, with guests – there will not be a future (E. Bertazzoni, Giovanni Raboni. Il futuro della memoria
, loc. cit.).
The work Pensieri canuti [Hoary Thoughts] by Adriano Guarnieri, on the text of Giovanni Raboni (then Cantano di paura nel giardino, in Barlumi di storia [Song of Fear in the Garden, in Glimmers of History]) is performed on August 10, 1999 at the Festival of Saltzburg.
He works on a new edition of Fedra (Phaedra) by Racine (now for the direction of Marco Sciaccaluga, Teatro Stabile di Genoa, 1999; printed by Marietti in the same year).
Ventagli e altre imitazioni [Fans and Other Imitations], a collection of translations from Mallarmé and Laforgue, is released in November by the publisher Magenta.
He translates Antigone by Sophocles, which goes on stage from June 8 to 18 at the Teatro Greco di Siracusa during the 36th Festival del Teatro Classico [Classical Theater Festival] (with the company of the Teatro Carcano headed by Giulio Bosetti and directed by Patrice Kerbrat). On September 27, it is also performed at the Olympic Theater of Vicenza. He writes for the program:
The story of Antigone is one of a young woman who faces death for not showing the piety that is due to the dead. Piety for the dead is not only an impulse of her consciousness; it is also, for her, a duty sanctioned by unwritten laws, the laws of divine origin. But in the story of Antigone, the divine laws clash with the human laws, personified by the king of Thebes, Creon, the executor and guarantor. Antigone, in her desire to give a burial to her brother, Polynices, who died in battle, believes she is obeying the gods. Creon, wanting to prevent her from doing this because Polynices died fighting against his homeland and is therefore a traitor before the people, is convinced to obey the rule of common law, order and good governance.
Who is correct between the two? The debate has been open for 2,500 years and truly involves (for once we can say without fear of exaggerating) everything and everyone in any time and place: the story of every community ruled by a social contract, with its possibly irredeemable conflict between the reasons of “progress” and justice, and the life of every one of us, with its certainly irredeemable conflict between the reasons of the mind and the heart.
Together with Marco Ceriani, he dedicates himself to the translation into Italian (on the track of a literal translation supplied by Vasta Fesslová) poetry by Holan from Na sotnách (A lume d’agonia [In Light of Agony]) and Asklépiovi kohouta (Un gallo a Esculapio [A Rooster for Aesculapius]), establishing a work routine – always on Sunday mornings – that will be drawn out until the middle of 2002. The result is A tutto silenzio [All in Silence] (Mondadori 2005).
A selection of texts in the German translation by author Christine Wolter is published in the April issue of “Akzente”.
On June 26, Raboni is in Munich for the series of meetings Poesia 2000 – Italienische Dichter in München [Poetry 2000 – Italian Poet in Munich].
The Rappresentazione della Croce [Representation of the Cross] is released in September by Garzanti and is performed onstage on October 21 at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele in Messina for the direction of Pietro Carriglio.
In October, Garzanti publishes the new edition of Tutte le poesie [All the Poetry], including Quare tristis [Why Art Thou Sad].
On November 13, he is at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Zagabria [Zagreb Italian Institute of Culture] to talk about Aspetti della poesia italiana del Novecentro [Features of Italian Poetry of the 20th Century].
He begins work on a “Meridiano” of the works of Racine, translating Athalie and Bérénice (finished in the course of 2003).
He is in the United States for the first time from April 17 to 27. In New York, he does a reading at the Italian Institute of Culture with John Ashbery, and meets poet Alfredo De Palchi (who appointed Michael Palma to translate Raboni’s poetry for his Chelsea Editions). At Yale, he reads his poems for students and writes the last scene of Alcesti, o La recita dell’esilio [Alcestis, or, The Performance of Exile]. In Philadelphia, he participates in the American Association of Italian Studies convention (April 19-22).
His Selected Poems, translated by Tina Chiappetta, is published in New York.
A chapbook is published in June with a poetic text and three works of prose, with the title and prefiguration of the next Mondadori collection, Barlumi di storia [Glimmers of History].
After September 11, requested by the “Corriere della Sera” for a testimony on the three minutes of silence announced for the 14th, he writes a piece that will not be published:
Where do you go to see the silence of a city, a nation, a continent? I limit myself to one of the most animated and noisy streets of Milan, Corso Buenos Aires, backbone of a neighborhood where Muslims are now not much less numerous than Christians. There were not, naturally, either flags or authorities in thoughtful meditation. At noon, some stores had lowered their shutters, a café had dimmed its lights, and, I don’t know how – maybe simply because I was alert – I almost heard clearly, across the usual rumbling of the traffic, the twelve tolls of the bell of Santa Francesca Romana.
No, I cannot say I have seen the silence of the city. In compensation, after many days of marvelous September light, the sky was opaque and lifeless, and the few drops of rain that had soon before begun to fall were as if immobilized in the air; to make memorable an instant, isolating it from those that precede and follow it, is never our intention.
It remains to be understood how it is possible, what is right to fill them with, those three minutes of silence: nothing is as senseless as an unremembered symbolic offer, as a container of emotions without emotional contents. And, while returning home, there were three extremely simple and old words that came to me first: pity, remorse and hope.
Is there a need to explain them? Maybe not, maybe only to repeat or reiterate them: Pity for the dead, for all the dead, including (is it permissible to say it?) the deranged wretches who are killed for killing, who have cancelled thousands of lives to enter the horrible paradise of heroes. Remorse for everything that in recent years, months and days we have done and continue to do, for the indifference or distraction with which we see day after day to persevere, to multiply, to spread the only truly deadly disease to human society that is injustice. Hope that the immense carnage is not followed only by the war on terrorism, but also the war on the poverty, ignorance and desperation from which terrorism is probably born and which certainly nourishes it.
Too many words, too many thoughts, I know, for three minutes of silence, but in the consciousness of every one of us there are, I fear, other silences to fill (typescript stored in the archive of the author; in the footnote, the date is 9/14/2001).
On March 21, Raboni’s brother Fulvio dies.
From April 9 to 17, he holds a course on L’idea di teatro nel mondo contemporaneo [The Idea of Theater in the Contemporary World] at the Scuola Universitaria Superiore of Pavia.
In May, his term as vice president of the Piccolo Teatro director’s board expires and his mandate is not renewed.
He will continue his poetry readings, as begun with Stehler, out of his love for the Piccolo. Despite the end of his commitment on the director board of the theater, he decides to not resume the post as theater critic at “Corriere della Sera”.
The theatrical text Alcesti, o La recita dell’esilio [Alcestis, or, The Performance of Exile] (Garzanti) and a new volume of poems, Barlumi di storia [Glimmers of History] (Mondadori), are released in September.
On November 20, he gives the inaugural lecture for the 2002/03 school year at the College of Architecture of Parma, speaking on the poetic works of sculptor Fausto Melotti.
On January 24, at the end of a public meeting coordinated by Piergiorgio Bellocchio in Piacenza, he reads the unedited Versi d’autunno [Poems of Autumn] (“it is more political poetry than civil,” he clarfies), which, with the title Canzone del danno e della beffa (Song of Harm and Mockery), will be included in the collection with other recent unpublished works of satirical poetry against Silvio Berlusconi edited by Patrizia Valduga, in the post-humorous Ultimi Versi [Last Poems] (Garzanti 2006).
At the announcement of the Second Gulf War, he immediately takes the position against the invasion of Iraq:
I am obviously against the war – as is, I believe, every human being. But the thing that I feel the need to say is that I am against THIS war. The doctrine of this preventative war invented by Bush is a monstrosity from both a juridical and an ethical point of view. If someone on the street killed another because the other seemed suspicious, it is not an exercise of the right of self-defense: it is simply a murder. If Bush attacks Iraq without the fulfillment or even threat of the smallest hostile gesture against the United States, humanity will plummet back decades, maybe centuries. I speak not only of the terrible carnage of innocent civilians that looms: I speak also of the fact that any international law will be swept out at this point, and the world will become an immense Far West where the only thing that matters is to shoot well and to shoot first (manuscript preserved in the archive of the author for a publication not yet decided).
New translations for the theater include La scuola delle mogli (L’école des femmes; The School for Wives) by Molière (for the direction of Jacques Lassalle, the debut in Vittorio Veneto on March 4, 2003) and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Il mercante di Venezia) (written in Belluno in August, for a performance at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, which was meant to make use of Giacomo Manzoni’s music, but will not). That of Murder in the Cathedral (Assassinio nella cattedrale) (for the direction of Pietro Carriglio, Palermo, Teatro Biondo, December 29, 2003) is the realization of an age-old project. From the program:
I wanted to translate Murder in the Cathedral for something like half a century since 1953 when, during my first trip in England, I acquired the original text of the drama in a London bookstore, that I had already listened to, read and avidly loved in the Italian translation already available.
He decides to gather his writing on Italian poetry of the 20th century according to a project abandoned many times. The volume, edited by Andrea Cortellessa, will be published with the title La poesia che si fa [The Poetry One Makes/Poetry in the Making] in August 2005. In the meantime, he begins to work with Rodolfo Zucco on the “Meridiano” of his own work.
In April, he wins the 15th edition of the Librex-Montale prize with Barlumi di storia [Glimmers of History].
On June 18, the poem Il compleanno di mia figlia [The Birthday of My Daughter] is selected as one of the texts for the prompt of the high school final Italian literature exam.
He completes with Enrico Bai the art book Sull’acqua [On Water] (Belluno-Milano, Colophon and Galleria Giò Marconi). The poetic texts are soon translated into French (“Po&sie”, 109, 2004) and into Spanish (“Cuadernos de Filología Italiana” [“Italian Journal of Philology”], 11, 2004).
On December 3, as part of the events on Italian culture organized in Paris by Maurizio Scaparro, together with Michel Déguy, he presents Maurizio Cucchi, Gabriele Frasca, Jolanda Insana, Edoardo Sanguineti, and Andrea Zanzotto to the Studio de la Comédie des Champs-Élysées [Study of the Champs-Élysées Comedies].
On January 7, Alcesti, o La recita dell’esilio [Alcestis, or, The Performance of Exile], directed by Cesare Lievi, premieres at the Teatro Santa Chiara di Brescia.
On April 12, the afternoon of Easter Monday, he is seized by a violent arrhythmia in his Via Melzo apartment while finishing the article on the death of Cesare Garboli for the “Corriere della Sera”, having returned from a few days spent in Belluno. He is admitted to the Sacco hospital of Milan in a comatose state. He reawakens on May 5, and is moved May 19 to the Richiedei Rehabilitation Institute of Gussago (Brescia).
Meanwhile, his translation of a selection of the poetry of Jean-Charles Vegliante (Nel lutto della luce [In the Mourning Light]) is published by Einaudi in May. In the same month (May 11-13), the annual Seminario di perfezionamento linguistico-letterario [Seminar of Linguistic-Literary Improvement] of San Salvatore Monferrato is dedicated to La poesia di Giovanni Raboni [The Poetry of Giovanni Raboni] (attended by Elio Gioanola, Giovanna Ioli, Enrico Testa, Stefano Verdino, Giorgio Bàrberi Squarotti, Giorgio Bertone, Roberto Rossi Precerutti, and Rodolfo Zucco).
In mid-June, he is admitted to the hospital of San Raffaele in Milan; from here he spends August 30 in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center of Fontanellato (Parma).
He dies the morning of Thursday, September 16 from a stroke.
The funerals are officiated Saturday, September 18 in the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio. He is buried in the Famedio del Cimiterio Monumentale of Milan.
Poems by Giovanni Raboni from Ultimi versi
Translated by Antonello Borra
Song of the New Era
We will have to re-accustom ourselves
to counting by roman numerals
still remembers how to do it)
the years that passed
and those that, alas, will pass
in this new era
of our tragicomic history.
The problem is from where, exactly,
to start the counting:
from the descent “onto the field”
or from the ascent to the throne,
from the first electoral victory
or from the latest, the one that
marked the new millennium?
Or will it be the case
of going further back, much further back,
for example to the entry of the lodge
or to when the conscience of the country
started to model itself
after the programs of channel five?
That would already be more than twenty years, then,
more than “those” twenty years…
Song of the One Advantage
It’s true, the left is no longer there,
there’s a flood of right wings
of every type, shape, and nuance,
and in such obscene abundance deciding
would be difficult, to say the least,
if sprouted at dusk
from the verminous fermentation
of remnants of the Cold War
and waste of the Ancien Régime
at the head of one we didn’t find him,
the building speculator multiplied a hundred times
by venerable benevolences,
the local-market-type swindler
transformed by television acclaim
into the Anointed of the Lord.
Until, I say to myself, God preserves him
and his squads in double-breasted suits or blazers
leave him be,
we will always know whom to vote against.
Song of Harm and Mockery
Unrelenting flow of crimes, terrible:
lives are destroyed,
jobs are destroyed,
justice is destroyed, the decorum
of civil society.
Meanwhile, the entrepreneur of nothing,
the peddler of fried air,
strong with the miserable
thanks to his unfathomed wealth,
denying all evidence, promising
the promised already in vain and the impossible,
selling for fatherly
his obscene salesman’s rhetoric.
Never so low, so similar
(not only saying it, even thinking it hurts)
to the heinous caricatures
that have always sullied and disfigured us…
In other places as well, I know,
they sanctify crime, in other places as well
they celebrate rites
of privilege and impunity
transformed into doctrine of the state.
But only to us, soaked already
in ancient sins and pardons,
to us first agents and later victims
of the plague of the century,
was allotted, with the harm, the mockery,
a farce in addition to ill fate.
And all the students of Italian Poetry: Love, etc. Fall 2011
Justin Baldassare, Stefan Boas, Melina Chaouch, Robert
Coutu, Baldwin Delgado, Sheila Dhaskali, Emily Gennari,
Han-nah Jansen, Ryan Peterson, Caroline Pohlmann, Emily Rampone,
Maria Russen, Joseph Sussman, Mara Zocco.
Antonello Borra is Associate Professor of Italian
at the University of Vermont. His volumes of poetry are
Frammenti di tormenti (prima parte) (Longo: 2000),
Frammenti di tormenti (seconda parte) (Lietocolle: 2006),
Alfabestiario (Lietocolle: 2009), and the bilingual Alphabetabestiario (Fomite: 2012)
with English translations by Blossom S. Kirschenbaum and illustrations by Delia Robinson.
Translations of his poetry have appeared in English and Catalan, and are
being prepared in German. He translated into Italian poems of
W.S. Merwin and Greg Delanty from English, of Erich Fried from
German, and of Roberto Sosa and José Watanabe from Spanish.
He co-translated from German two autobiographical novels of
Johannes Hoesle and is a regular contributor to magazines and
journals in both Italy and the U.S. His other publications are books
and articles on literary criticism and language pedagogy.
G. Raboni, Pas de chat and Other Poems, Ed. by E. Lloyd, La mela stregata – Facoltà di Magistero, Messina 1984 (translated by A. Rosselli, J. Cascaito, V. de Scarpis, E. Lloyd).
G. Raboni, The coldest Year of Grace. Selected Poems of Giovanni Raboni, translated by S. Friebert and V. Rossi, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut 1985.
G. Raboni, Selected Poems, Translated into English and Edited by T. Chiappetta, Stony Brook, Gradiva Publications, New York 2001.
G. Raboni, «Chelsea», 75, 2003, pp. 129-41, translated by M. Palma ( The Wedding ; Mortal Songs (Canzonette mortali); Lista di Spagna; Codicils (Codicilli)].