Saturday, December 19, 2009

“A Winter Noon”

This summer when I was playing at the local farmer’s market, the nephew of the florist shop’s owner (who hosted the market) liked to let loose a red balloon at the end of each day, & as I was packing up my gear I liked to take a minute to watch it rise up in the sky over Council—each time, I was reminded of this lovely poem by Umberto Saba.

Poet/translator John Frederick Nims produced a well-known version of this in blank verse, but as I was preparing for this post, I found the following version online. With apologies to the renowned Mr Nims, I really like the more simple & free lines in this version & so I’m offering it instead.

Umberto Saba is the nom de plume of Umberto Poli, who lived from 1883-1957. His poetry wasn’t received well until relatively late in his life: he didn’t begin winning critical acclaim until after World War II. Since Umberto Saba was Jewish, he had to spend much of the late 1930s thru the mid 1940s in hiding because of the “racial laws” in Fascist Italy. Saba also struggled with severe depression throughout his life.

This is such a wonderfully transparant lyric poem that it needs no further comment. Hope you enjoy it, & have a beautiful Saturday!

A Winter Noon

Who in the moment of my happiness
(God forgive my using a word so grand,
so terrible) reduced my brief delight
nearly to tears? No doubt you'll say: "A certain
beautiful creature who was walking by
and smiled at you." But no: a child's balloon,
a blue, meandering balloon against
the azure of the air, my native sky
never so clear and cold as it was then,
at high noon on a dazzling winter day.
That sky with here and there a wisp of cloud,
and upper windows flaming in the sun,
and faint smoke from a chimney, maybe two,
and over everything, every divine
thing, that globe that had escaped a boy's
incautious fingers (surely he was out there
broadcasting through the crowded square his grief,
his immense grief) between the great facade
of the Stock Exchange and the café where I,
behind a window, watched with shining eyes
the rise and fall of what he once possessed.

Umberto Saba
translated by Geoffrey Brock


  1. A beautifully descriptive piece - I suspect that you have fixed that image of the child's balloon in my mind as well now.

  2. Hi Alan: Glad you liked it--it is a very memorable poem I think.

  3. Absolutely charming! I felt the little child's grief so poignantly the way Saba suggested it.
    It is wonderful to observe these small things, isn't it? I feel sorry for those who don't stop to note or remark upon the little epiphanies.

  4. Hi Kat: Those little ephiphanies are the very stuff of poetry! Glad you liked it.

  5. I love this, John. There is something about the sight of a balloon rising into the sky to lift the heart, and I really admire the imagined child's grief at losing that beautiful symbol of happiness.

  6. Hi Karen: Yes, Saba makes this such a poignant image!


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