‘Now the waves murmur’ (Ecco mormorar l’onde)

I was walking along the river mouth at Tynemouth a week or so ago and waves were crashing against the concrete barriers of the walkway and the pier, the tide rushing in to chase cormorants, oystercatchers and turnstones off the rocks, with all sorts of quite ungentle, un-murmuring noise. The breeze, raw off the north sea, was bracing, but not gentle – the hard rain of the night before not so gentle either, and the cold snap that this wet weather itself displaced, not gentle.

After my walk I sat in my car and read this poem:


Now the waves murmur

And the boughs and shrubs tremble

In the morning breeze,

And on the green branches the pleasant birds

Sing softly

And the east smiles;

Now dawn already appears

And mirrors herself in the sea,

And makes the sky serene,

And the gentle frost impearls the fields

And gilds the high mountains:

O beautiful and gracious Aurora

The breeze is your messenger, and you the breeze’s

Which revives each burnt out heart.


Transl. Luciano Rebay, Introduction to Italian Poetry, Dover Thrift Editions


For 16th century Italian poet, Torquato Tasso, the winter breeze is refreshing – it ‘revives each burnt out heart,’ presumably scorched by an Italian summer. It reminded me slightly of Lewis’s ‘The Meteorite’ of a few posts ago, at least in the way it brings the sense of something from ‘beyond’ bringing its reviving spirit to the earth. Most of all though, this is an image of a benevolent nature at peace with itself, content in itself. Nature seems to be wholly the subject of the poem and this anticipates the romantics and nature poets of a later age (as does its vaguely pagan feel), though Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and co. had a rather cloudier clime to write about… except when they themselves were holidaying on the Mediterranean.

Tasso is said to be a very musical poet, one for whom the sound of words was more important than themes or subjects. Indeed, the poem provides the lyrics for a rather nice madrigal of Monteverdi’s. In Italian, the rhyming of the poem is tight and the vocabulary quite restricted and repetitive – the translator chose to vary it more in English to avoid repeating the rather bland ‘pleasant’. I have a suspicion, though not being an Italian speaker, nor a linguist, can’t be sure, that the Italian language, mostly descended from Latin, itself is clearer and crisper in its meanings than English, with its mixed origins. Certainly with its five vowels and pronounced cadences, it is easier to make musical.

Of course, Bunting – another poet with a strong liking for Italy – had a go at that in English, finding his ‘madrigal’ in the sounds of a Northumbrian spring, and we’ll get to posting about that one day.

In the meantime, here’s Tasso’s poem in its original language.

Ecco mormorar l’onde,

E tremolar le fronde

A l’aura mattutina, e gli arboscelli,

E sovra i verdi rami i vaghi augelli

Cantar soavemente,

E rider l’Oriente;

Ecco già l’alba appare,

E si specchia nel mare,

E rasserena il cielo,

E le campagne imperla il dolce gelo,

E gli alti monti indora:

O bella e vaga Aurora,

L’aura è tua messaggera, e tu de l’aura

Ch’ogni arso cor ristaura.


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