Eugene Montale Poems

The Lemons

Listen, the prize poets stroll
only among the trees
with uncommon names:
boxwood, privet, acanthus.
Me, I love roads that run out
among grassy ditches into
mud-puddles where kids
hunt skinny eels; lanes
that follow field-banks down
through beds of reeds and
end up in back gardens
among the lemon trees.

Best if the birds’ chatter-prattle
is hushed, swallowed up
by the blue: then you’ll hear
– clearer in the still air – the whisper
of companionable branches,
and catch a sense of that smell
that can’t tear itself from earth,
drenching you in edgy pleasure.
Here, by some miracle, the battle
between one distracting passion
and another dies down, and here
even we who are poor
pick up our share of wealth –
and it’s the scent of lemons.

Look, in these silences
which things sink into
and seem on the verge of
opening their closest secret,
you’d expect once in a while
to uncover some mistake
in nature, the world’s still point,
some weak link, the loose thread
that leads us at last
to the heart of truth. Eyes
rummage in every corner:
the mind seeks agrees argues
with itself in this perfume
that floats – as day fades –
over everything; a silence
in which, in every dwindling
human shadow, a troubled
divinity could be seen.

But the image fades, and time
takes us back to the din of cities
where you see the sky only
in bits and pieces, off up
among the chimneys. Rain then
wears the earth out, dreary winter
settles down around the houses,
light grows miserly, the soul bitter,
till one day, through a half-
shut gate, you see
among the trees in someone’s yard
the yellows of lemons –
and the heart’s ice melts,
and with their music
the golden trumpets of sunshine
blow your bones wide open.

Eugene Monrale