Poetry at Sangam



THE POET IN ITALY by Shankha Ghosh

(Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha.)

The train is running from Florence to Turin
The year is 1926, the 18th of June
At Milan station a duke appears, saying softly
‘What you see is not all there is. All I can say
Is that it’s best not to talk politics.
Speech has no freedom here. And all these murders…’
Abruptly the train leaves. Creases on the poet’s brow.
Was it an indiscreet mistake, after all?

He seemed a worthy leader, energetic, devoted to the nation
He seemed an artist too, the kind seen in artists’ eyes
All true. Then why does Benedetto Croce slink home furtively at dawn?
Why is there suppressed fear on so many people’s faces?

After the Turin lecture the poet visits Rolland at Villeneuve
His friends silent, Rolland wonders: Is it possible?
From him we want to hear of liberated thought
Of the independence of reason in our work
Can he be so blind?
The poet must broadcast how the historian Salvemini lives abroad
Why, for that matter, the exiled Salvadori languishes in Zurich
The gash of protest splitting whose face is woven in blood
Terror and tyranny across the country behind closed doors
He must explain that this is a time of existence
When the leader crawls in public before the lumpen’s raised finger
That this is a time when
Decibels alone can turn blatant lies to immaculate truth
This is a time when
In a lawless land the only law is the dictator’s wish
This is a time when
Killers consign innocent flesh to sacrificial flames in every home
You have not seen all this, poet
You have only seen a festive, cheering, resplendent, bejewelled Rome

Rolland was silent, silent his aggrieved friends
The listener frowned. He must have made a mistake then
He had to tell the world of his change of vision
With pain and shame the poet took his pen up again