L’Élan Vital

L’Élan Vital


It happened when a doctorate honoris causa
was awarded to a certain Lamerdière of Freiburg—
Switzerland or Breisgau, who cares?
Garbed in rainbow gown, he mounted
the dais and barfed his Objurgation.
I revile the larva, he said, the grub from which,
in due course, issues the angelic butterfly
only to die in the flaring of a match.
I despise the silent, the tenuous,
the fading. The only god is Rhombus,
not the mullet, but the everlasting anti-
teleological, universal thunderclap.
Not that susurrus which sophists call
l’élan vital. If god is word,
and word is sound, this almighty bombination,
for which no beginning is, no end will ever be,
is unique in being both itself and everything else.
Jove dies, your Excellencies, the poet’s hymn
does NOT last. At this point a Jumbo
jet blasted my ears
and I woke.

Reprinted from The Collected Poems of Eugenio Montale, 1925–1977, translated by William Arrowsmith and edited by Rosanna Warren. Copyright © 2012 by Beth Arrowsmith, Nancy Arrowsmith and Rosanna Warren.

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