Antonia Pozzi – Sublime voice of the twentieth century – Restless soul, vibrant with poetry

Who’ll sell me a flower today?
I have so many in my heart:
but all clasped
in heavy bunches –
trampled –
done in.

Antonia Pozzi a.jpg

I had an obsession last year with Sylvia Plath and her sensible poetry brought shivers through my heart. This year I encountered two new authors that I’ve never seen before. Rupi Kaur and Antonia Pozzi.

76885b8a499b99b70f54a9db89470302.pngThe short life of Antonia Pozzi remains shrouded in the mystery of a torment that has surrounded her, projected into the meanders of an inescapable ‘evil of living’, to the point of leading her to the desolation of an extreme choice, a tragic end, which has forever removed it from the controversial scenes of its troubled existence. 

Antonia was only 26 when she concluded that the world had nothing more to offer her. She had a very intense life, exalted by an extremely sensitive soul, who knew how to capture with her powerful ‘sensors’ every message of light and darkness that came from the experiences of everyday life. Poetry, an intimate tumult that opened up vast horizons before the attentive gaze, fixed beyond the surface of things.

O who will sell me
a flower – a different flower,
born outside of me,
in a true garden,
that I might offer the one who awaits?

Coming from an upper middle class family from Milan, from a lineage of educated and wealthy people, she was already in a favourable climate to grow and become the educated young lady that she became later on. 

Antonia_Pozzi.jpgAlways surrounded by a shroud of melancholy, she sought to bring out her most innermost truths and seek out what her moods were like. Se moved to a mountain resort at the foot of the Alps; this small town was Pasturo, also mentioned by Manzoni in ‘I promessi sposi’. 

A longing for light things
in the heart as heavy
as a stone
inside a boat –

She sought with all her strength a symbiosis with the mountain to which she entrusted all the spasms of her most intimate conflicts, while life slowly became an alien rhyme. She was no longer in harmony with the herself that afflicted her without escape. 

Hers was an acute instinct that opened mysterious tunnels even before the people and the world around her, did not allow her to linger in the prospects of a long plan of life, and of projects that would delineate a sure line for the future: it was a proceeding linked to evasion, to flight.

Shipwrecked on the rocks, 
everyone tells 
himself – the story 
of a 
lost sweet house , he 
alone listens to 
speak loudly 
about the desert crying 
of the sea –

Sad abandoned garden the soul 
is surrounded by wild hedges 
of love: 
dying is this 
covering of brambles 
born in us.

It is difficult to say that this contrasted feeling, the cause of so much pain for Antonia Pozzi, was the ‘triggering’ cause of the tragic end. There was an underlying psychological substratum that made her similar to the inconsistencies and pitfalls of the lived. Ultimately all these processes took place in an intimate vulnerable scenario exposed to the cataclysms of fate.

She only had the mountain boots that allowed her to get away from the habits of her middle-class life, using nature as means to look for the ultimate reasons of things. She walked among the snowy ridges of the mountain world she loved so much. What she found in nature was beauty and charm, but they were not enough to fill the cold and the desolation in her heart.

To have two long wings
of shadow
and fold them up against your pain;
to be shadow, the peace
of evening
around your faded

May 1934

Antonia left us legacy of poetic and written texts of a personal nature, which her father even tried to forge after her death, but whose authentic copies were later recovered thanks to the university studies of a nun who wrote her thesis on poet and had access to all the papers kept in the Milanese libraries. 

Robinson is the first to translate into English five unedited poems, including “Song of My Nakedness” and “Trifles”, which were written in pencil and scored or rubbed out in Pozzi’s manuscripts. The title of “abbozzo” (draft), he notes, is in lower case. Dated “marzo–agosto 1933”, it shows Pozzi at her most risqué, seeming to transmute her selfconsciousness to the level of calligraphy. An extended metaphor likens her to a tree from which a mythical Firebird has flown, and which “writhes in its intimate sinew”, waiting for “black night with no stars no fountains”, when

in a final blinding flash
there’ll rise there’ll run through its trunk
far as the tip of its fronds –
its only good –
the burning memory of the Bird –

(in un balenio estremo accecante
sorgerà correrà per il fusto
sino alla cima delle fronde –
unico bene suo –
il ricordo infuocato dell’Uccello –)

Robinson’s translation is faultless, the rush of her desire preserved in the words and syntax, so that further explanation is unnecessary, but – if only to acknowledge Pozzi’s daring – it is worth pointing out that uccello is slang for penis.

“Prayer to Poetry” and “A Fate” suggest that Pozzi expected too much of her craft; “La poesia è una catarsi del dolore, come l’immensità della morte è una catarsi della vita”, she explained in a letter to a friend. In the year before her death, Mussolini was at the height of his power and war was inevitable. Her output dwindled as though this combination of personal and political pressures overwhelmed her. Timed to coincide with the centenary of her birth this month, Peter Robinson’s volume will revive interest in Pozzi’s legacy and lend new weight to her words: “now you accept / you’re a poet”.

“Poetry has this sublime task: to take all the pain that froths us and roar us in the soul and to placate it, to transfigure it into the supreme calm of art, just as the rivers flow into the celestial vastness of the sea. Poetry is a catharsis of pain, as the immensity of death is a catharsis of life. When everything, where we are, is dark and everything hurts and the soul painfully fades, then it really seems to us that there is given to us by God who knows how to melt the knot of tears in song and can say what to us cries, imprisoned, in the heart…”. 

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