Here is my translation of the poem “Incontro” (“Meeting”), by the great Italian novelist and poet Cesare Pavese (1908-1950). The hills referred to are those of Pavese’s native Langhe region, in Piedmont. It dawned on me as I was translating this that the sentiments expressed are essentially the same as those in the lyrics of Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” albeit with a touch more reflectiveness. Consider especially the opening lines of that song (a song which also inspired my unfinished graphic novella by the same title) : “She’s got a smile that it seems to me/Reminds me of childhood memories/ When everything/ Was as fresh as the bright blue sky.” Uncanny!
These hard hills that made my body,
And stir within it so many memories, have revealed to me the miracle
That is this woman, who doesn’t know she lives in me, and whom I can’t understand.
I met her one evening: A lighter patch
Under the ambiguous stars, in the haze of summer.
The scent of these hills was all around,
Deeper than shadows. And suddenly, a voice
Rang out, as if from the very hills, at once clear
And strident, a voice from long gone by.
Sometimes I see her, and she lives in my eyes,
Definite and immutable, like a memory.
I’ve never been able to grasp her: Her truth
Eludes me every time, and carries me far away.
Is she beautiful? I don’t know. Among women, she’s very young:
So young that, when I think of her, I am surprised by a distant memory
From a childhood spent among these hills.
She’s like the morning, her eyes hinting
At all the faraway skies of those distant mornings.
And there’s a firm purpose in her eyes: The clearest light
The dawn ever cast forth over these hills.
I’ve fashioned her from the depths of all things
That I hold dearest, and I can’t understand her.
-Cesare Pavese (1936)