It’s night, a bitter winter. You raise
the drapes a little and peer out. Your hair
blows wildly; joy suddenly
opens wide your black eyes,
and what you saw—it was an image
of the world’s end—comforts
your inmost heart, warms and eases it.

A man ventures out on a lake
of ice, under a crooked streetlamp.


It’s as if for a man battered by the wind,
blinded by snow—all around him an arctic
inferno pummels the city—
a door opens along a wall.

He goes in. He finds again a living kindness,
the sweetness of a warm corner. A forgotten
name places a kiss on
cheerful faces that he has not seen
except obscurely in menacing dreams.
                                                                      He returns
to the street, and the street, too, is not the same.
Fine weather has come back, busy hands
break up the ice, the blue reappears
in the sky and in his heart. And he thinks
that every extreme of evil foretells a good.


Umberto Saba’s reputation in Europe has steadily grown since his death in 1957. Today, he is positioned alongside Eugenio Montale and Giuseppe Ungaretti as one of the three most important Italian poets of the first half of the twentieth century.

George Hochfield is Professor of English, Emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Among the extensive publications of Leonard Nathan (1924-2007) are seventeen volumes of poetry, as well as numerous translations, prose works, and articles on poetry.


These two poems are excerpted from Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba, translated by George Hochfield and Leonard Nathan. Copyright © 2008 by George Hochfield. Published in January 2009 by Yale University Press, Songbook is the first volume of The Margellos World Republic of Letters. For more information, visit Excerpted by permission of Yale University Press. All rights reserved.

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