Eluding the

A posthumous letter
to Guido Ceronetti

by Gabriele Dessin

Dear Guido Ceronetti,

It’s been a while…
How was your trip on that star ship that was waiting for you with the open door? You are well-acquainted with long trips after all. I never had the pleasure to meet you, but you know I’ve read a lot of what was written by you.
Three entire volumes on journeys alone [1]An infinite Grand Tour around Italy and Europe. I must say you did have an unusual way of travelling: small hotels and motels – rigorously with wooden shutters – especially museums, alleys, plaques and ruins…

Many would say that you were disenchanted, but I know that by entrusting public transportation you showed great faith towards humanity, more than anyone today. I imagine that even now you will be wandering around with your hat and notebook; watch out for pickpockets when you’re in a crowd! May I remind you that a «damned grandson of darkness» [2] stole your bag in Bari, in April 1985. Stealing both your «“Alchemical lecture of Silvia” to astonish» [3] – which was never found – and your 280 thousand lire [4] Burberry coat. It seems impossible to take care of so much while travelling or rather roaming around. You always had this theatrical way of wandering around.

Do you remember that wonderful film by Ettore Scola, based on the novel by Theophile Gautier? Captain Fracassa’s Journey? Well, I always pictured you like this while shooting the scene of Saint George’s Hyena [5] with the Teatro dei Sensibili – a show for ideoforic marionettes.

Also at the Quirinale for the president Cossiga, if I’m not mistaken, in December 1985. I read the exchange of letters between you and Sergio Quinzio [7]. I do not think my curiosity an act of sin, you did publish it after all with an impeccable preface. You often speak about the scarcity of money. It comforts me to admit that it is not due to my clumsiness but rather to a universal fact that when it comes to culture one does not pay the bills. Anyway, I would like to talk about something I read amongst those letters. From Cetona, on the 29th of September 1986, you wrote to Quinzio:

«You were right in seeing homosexuality as a part of evil […] it is an invasion of darkness, they have the audacity to treat it as normal in broad daylight, it is a chthonic practice, necrophilia indeed» [8].

I can agree with Quinzio, after all each and every reality in the world seems to have a dark side to it – but it’s necessary and beautiful as is; even if I did not want to prepare a defence on the matter, I bid to protest in name of Kavafis! Why? That same marvellous Kostantinos Kavafis, whose 75 poems you translated with such incomparable mastery [9]. You recited them on stage at your theatre and they celebrate this same “ctonia practice”. However I doubt that the fall of mankind is that important to you. It is just an inevitable fact, like the laws of physics. What you are truly looking for is the light from the abyss.

I know you translated a great deal of poetry: from ancient poets – Catullo, Giovenale, Marziale [10] – to those steppingstones of existence where the voices of many are linked together and that Come un talismano [11] accompany existence. You wrote a lot of poetry, with arid and infinite words, like the nomade world of the Old Testament:

Per essere io morto all’Assoluto
Vivo come un innato parricida
Tra gente già di padre nata priva;
Per averlo spinto nel vuoto, pendolo
Guasto e alla ricarica ostile,
Non sono né premiato né punito,
Per aver detto all’Inaccessibile
Addio da un cortiletto senza luce
Vergogna vorrei gridarmi ma resto muto [12].

Even here there is pain, «invasion of Darkness» [13], but I know from where you stand «where poetry lies there is a little less pain and a little more courage to die» [14]. Is this not what a poet does after all? Is this not what you do too? «To aim and smite mankind’s unhappiness and all the evil of the world with a single blow» [15]. I read your prophecy with great dismay, but it still pierces the pain with a solitary drop of light: «I cannot imagine poets, interpreters of being, in the aeon to come. Many desperate souls in exile, but not of this kind, who are able to draw themselves in poetry» [16] We are rich of poetic treasures that accumulated are bound to fray.

Do you remember, in 1998, when you published your own poetry in your Il Gineceo, pretending to be a forgotten Turkish poet named Mehmet Gayuk? A celebration of women, not abstractions rather absent entities that reverberate essence beyond the walls of every ideological coactions in the fantastic eye of the blind epic poet who praises women; an excellence abandoned by both sexes.

You wrote many articles too, a relevant amount of essays on roving paths Tra pensieri [17]. You used a title that echoes in the minds of those who read: La carta è stanca [18]. This combination of cellulose is truly tired of being stained in vain. There are so many empty words, like the sterile ink that has contaminated it. And I too fulfil probably the same ritual: I transfigure, just like a necromancer, that pure whiteness into an ignorant verbal expression. It is so difficult to compose the fragments of the universe on paper!

Maybe I should also try to write a defence to ask for forgiveness. Do you remember? Your first volume, in 1971, In difesa della luna, e altri argomenti di miseria terrestre [19] (even though I know well you considered your volumes only truthful poetic lyrics). Maybe what inspired me to write to you is the wish to thank you, at least once, for writing it. This book was an oasis in the desert – nothing less – for me and friends with whom I rediscovered it – by now almost lost – amongst the dust of the editorial industry, among the stacks of scrap paper that go from bookshops to pulping mills. «I saw some moon books and I inevitably added one more, this being the less informed on technology and selenology but the most corrupted of continual cohabitation with mankind’s destiny. Destiny, the real Infernal Spouse born to shatter and pursuit – even though it is irresistible» [20]; and even we, being less resistant, have cohabited with this book and it’s words. The strength of these pages, the terse style in which every word reverberates like the toll of a fatal bell which announces man’s tragic destiny leaves us speechless. As if that sterile satellite that man wanted to trample on were just a hologram, a trick, an insulting desire of supremacy which man wishes to have over the universe. But this is not the same Moon of your pages, rather another which was celebrated and cried by Giacomo Leopardi, that he called beloved [21] and silence [22].

You wrote about Philosophy as well, it was a theme of an entire book – a quiet companion, maybe, to them all – but still an epitaph, a memory of something that has abandoned us. La Lanterna del Filosofo [23] Diogene doesn’t enlighten our world but rather the rare footprints beneath our eyes, the traces of what once was there, or maybe, who knows…

But philosophy does not suffer mortal fate; it is us men rather who leave: are there still any human beings on Earth?

Then yes. Remember us, after we disappear, remember, philosophy. Remember us because we loved you.We loved you like a woman and more, trying to grasp you in the turns of night through deserted streets, to hug you, to convince you, after an escaping spasm, to not leave us immediately [24].

I would rather not keep you any longer, if not to add that at University I met a dear friend of yours. I a student, he more than a teacher and many a times did we speak of you. Even a few days before the 13th of September we accidentally met along the calli of Venice and discussed about those last fragments of the Odi of Oratio you had just published. And what better poet to say farewell?

I do not know if you will be able to answer me, or if it was just to write to you. But I imagine that you are now walking where you always desired to be: in that marvellous western capital which is the celestial GerusAtene.

With gratitude,
to the Unknown Philosopher,
Gabriele Dessin.

[1] The three volumes are: Un viaggio in Italia [A journey in Italy] (Einaudi), La pazienza dell’arrostito [ The patience of the roasted] (Adelphi) and Per le strade della Vergine [On the roads of the Vergin] (Adelphi). All the titles of the volumes written by Ceronetti, which are present in this paper, are published in Italy by Adelphi; all the exceptions are specified in the notes.

[2] «maledetto nipote delle tenebre»

[3] «Lettura Alchemica della Silva» da strabiliare”. Silvia is the famous poem by Giacomo Leopardi.

[4] Italian currency until 2001.

[5] La Iena di San Giorgio.

[6] La Iena di San Giorgio.A compound word from two greek terms: eidos (idea) and fero (to bring).

[7] G. Ceronetti, S. Quinzio, Un tentativo di colmare l’abissso, Lettere 1986-1996 [An attempt to fill the abyss, Letters 1986-1996], Adelphi.

[8] «Hai ragione a vedere nell’omosessualità una parte di male […] è un’invasione della Tenebra, hanno un bel volerla normale e alla luce del sole, è pratica ctonia, necrofilia».

[9] G. Ceronetti, Un’ombra fuggitiva di piacere [A runaway shadow of pleasure], Adelphi.

[10] Three volumes published by Einaudi.

[11] Like a Talisman.

[12] G. Ceronetti, La Distanza. Poesie (1946-1996) [The Distance. Poems (1946-1996)], BUR. The poet feels dead in relation to the absolute, and compares it to a father that he killed, a father other people never had. He hurls the pendulum that can never swing back. As a consequence the poet does not receive a reward or a punishment; he has said farewell to the unreachable after trying endlessly to grasp it. He would like to scream out his shame but remains soundless.

[13] «invasione della Tenebra».

[14] «Dove passa la poesia c’é un po’ meno dolore, un po’ più coraggio a morire».

[15] «[P]rende di mira e colpisce a morte in un lampo tutta l’infelicità umana e tutto il male del mondo».

[16] «Non riesco ad immaginare poeti, interpreti dell’essere nell’eone che viene. Anime in esilio tante, e disperate, ma non di questo tipo, capaci di versarsi in poesia».

[17] Amongst thoughts.

[18] The paper is tired.

[19] In defence of the moon, and other arguments of terrestrial misery.

[20] «Ho visto alcuni libri di luna e ne aggiungo per fatalità di mestiere un altro, il meno informato di tecnologia e corretta selenologia, ma il più corrotto dalle convivenze incessanti col destino dell’umano, che è veramente uno Sposo Infernale, nato per infrangere e perseguitare – e tuttavia irresistibile».

[21] Diletta.

[22] Silenziosa.

[23] The philosoper’s lantern.

[24] Allora, si. Ricordaci, dopo spariti, ricordaci, filosofia. Ricordaci perché ti abbiamo amata. Come e più di una donna ti abbiamo amata, cercando di afferrarti nei giri di notte per disabitate vie, di abbracciarti, di convincerti, dopo un fuggitivo spasmo, a non lasciarci subito.