Another translation of a Cesare Pavese poem. Even without the knowledge that the poet killed himself only a few months after this was written, Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi surely stands out as one of the most chilling and concisely haunting works in all of literature. It was found amid Pavese’s papers following his death. The poet had taken his own life at the age of 41, after having been rejected by the American actress (and former mistress of Elia Kazan) Constance Dowling, who is presumed to have inspired this poem. The title literally translates as “Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes,” but I have modified it in a way that I find slightly more natural-sounding in English (although it loses something of the almost medieval fatalism of the original). The drawing is one I did at least ten years ago, when I was evidently going through a bit of a Guido Crepax phase.
When Death Comes, It Will Have Your Eyes
When death comes, it will have your eyes-
This death that is always with us,
From morning till evening, sleepless,
Deaf, like an old remorse
Or some senseless bad habit. Your eyes
Will be an empty word,
A stifled cry, a silence;
The way they appear to you each morning,
When you lean into yourself, alone,
In the mirror. Sweet hope,
That day we too shall know
That you are life and you are nothingness.
For each of us, death has a face.
When death comes, it will have your eyes.
It will be like quitting some bad habit,
Like seeing a dead face
Resurface out of the mirror,
Like listening to shut lips.
We’ll go down into the vortex in silence.
-Cesare Pavese (1950)