An Italian poem of World War I – “Last Rite”, Clemente Rebora

The current TLS has a piece by NS Thompson on Italian poets of the First World War, along with translations by Thompson of some of their works. Futurism, which glorified war along with other manifestations of industrial modernity, was a potent element of the cultural background:

The Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s first Futurist Manifesto, published in February 1909 in a Bologna newspaper (and, two weeks later, on the front page of the Parisian daily Le Figaro), announced a new aesthetic dawn, praised the virtues of the machine age, and caused a sensation throughout Europe. It was the first time an aesthetic movement had co-opted industry’s driving force, lauding speed, mobility and sheer power, proclaiming them as moral virtues, almost, that would save the soul of man from its descent into comfortable bourgeois sloth. But this idealism had a darker side. Marinetti saw war, too, as a source of renewal: Article 9 of the Manifesto was “Noi vogliamo glorificare la guerra – sola igiene del mondo” (We want to glorify war – the only health in the world).

The most affecting poem of Thompson’s translations, for me, is Clemente Rebora’s Last Rite:

Last Rite

O wounded man down there in the defile
You cried out so loudly
Three able-bodied comrades
Fallen to help you who were so nearly past it,
In the mud and blood
A legless trunk
And still you cry out
Have pity on us survivors
Left in our death rattle and the hour never ends,
The death throes quicken,
But you can end it
And comfort be yours
In the madness that turns no one insane,
Meanwhile the moment brings pause,
The brain sleeps
And you leave us in peace –

Thank you, brother.


There isn’t a huge amount I can find on the Anglophone internet on Rebora, Wikipedia being the only English language source I can easily find:

Clemente Rebora (6 January 1885 – 1 November 1957) was a poet from Milan, Italy. From 1913 to 1922, he wrote anonymous “Songs” and lyrics. Previously an atheist, he had a spiritual crisis in 1928 and became a devout Catholic.[1] In 1930, he entered a seminary; in 1936, he became a Rosminian priest. After this, his work became religious in orientation, but his work is popular beyond Catholic circles for its treatment of metaphysics and physics. He is somewhat controversial for his friendship with Julius Evola, but the friendship seems to have been largely based on his hope Julius would convert to Christianity. When this hope grew dim the friendship declined.[2]


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