The poets and the world war: "Voice of dead sentry" by Clemente Rebora

Born in Milan in 1885, Clemente Rebora is ascribable to the group of most prominent Italian poets of the pre-war period. It is well know his contribution to “La Voce”, a very influent literary review of the first part of the 20th century. With the editions of “La Voce” he published Frammenti lirici (“Lyrical fragments”, 1913) an enigmatic book in which the reader can detect a huge innovation in the concentration of language and words, still to be seen as pedestal of a long season of the Italian poetry. Rebora took part in the First World War in the areas of Asiago and Gorizia as infantry official and his already fragile nervous system was definitely damaged by the typical shell shock trauma. Due to space limit we avoid now to consider the second part of his life, or at least what it’s usually framed liked this, after the war experience and the spiritual crisis and the subsequent entry in the congregation of Rosminians. Before leaving you to the poem we selected, we just wanted to add that Clemente Rebora is probably the author of the most bloody and dreadful poems in the corpus of the Italian “war poets”. This Voice of dead sentry we present today is a clear example of this assumption and our suggestion is to go further with Viatico (“Viaticum”), an upsetting short poem with no equals, at least in the Italian literature of the First World War.


There's a gutted body
with ripples of face, emerging
on the stench of the torn air.
The earth is fraud.
I'm mad, but I don't cry:
a matter of those who can and of the mud.
But man, if you can come back,
don't tell the war
to those who're not aware,
don't tell this, where man
and life still get on well together.
But clutch the woman
one night, after a whirlpool of kisses,
if you can come back;
whisper to her that nothing on earth
will redeem what’s lost
of us, the decayed men of here.
Squeeze her heart so to strangle her:
and whether she loves you, is for you
to understand later in life, or never.


C'è un corpo in poltiglia
Con crespe di faccia, affiorante
Sul lezzo dell'aria sbranata.
Frode la terra.
Forsennato non piango:
Affar di chi può, e del fango.
Però se ritorni
Tu uomo, di guerra
A chi ignora non dire;
Non dire la cosa, ove l'uomo
E la vita s'intendono ancora.
Ma afferra la donna
Una notte, dopo un gorgo di baci,
Se tornare potrai;
Sòffiale che nulla del mondo
Redimerà ciò ch'è perso
Di noi, i putrefatti di qui;
Stringile il cuore a strozzarla:
E se t'ama, lo capirai nella vita
Più tardi, o giammai.