Friday, November 25, 2016

Campo dei Fiori by Czesław Miłosz


Campo dei Fiori

In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori 
baskets of olives and lemons, 
cobbles spattered with wine 
and the wreckage of flowers. 
Vendors cover the trestles 
with rose-pink fish; 
armfuls of dark grapes 
heaped on peach-down. 

On this same square 
they burned Giordano Bruno. 
Henchmen kindled the pyre 
close-pressed by the mob. 
Before the flames had died 
the taverns were full again, 
baskets of olives and lemons 
again on the vendors' shoulders. 

I thought of the Campo dei Fiori 
in Warsaw by the sky-carousel 
one clear spring evening 
to the strains of a carnival tune. 
The bright melody drowned 
the salvos from the ghetto wall, 
and couples were flying 
high in the cloudless sky. 

At times wind from the burning 
would drift dark kites along 
and riders on the carousel 
caught petals in midair. 
That same hot wind 
blew open the skirts of the girls 
and the crowds were laughing 
on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday. 

Someone will read as moral 
that the people of Rome or Warsaw 
haggle, laugh, make love 
as they pass by the martyrs' pyres. 
Someone else will read 
of the passing of things human, 
of the oblivion 
born before the flames have died. 

But that day I thought only 
of the loneliness of the dying, 
of how, when Giordano 
climbed to his burning 
he could not find 
in any human tongue 
words for mankind, 
mankind who live on. 

Already they were back at their wine 
or peddled their white starfish, 
baskets of olives and lemons 
they had shouldered to the fair, 
and he already distanced 
as if centuries had passed 
while they paused just a moment 
for his flying in the fire. 

Those dying here, the lonely 
forgotten by the world, 
our tongue becomes for them 
the language of an ancient planet. 
Until, when all is legend 
and many years have passed, 
on a new Campo dei Fiori 
rage will kindle at a poet's word. 

Warsaw, 1943
(Translated by Louis Iribarne)

 

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