The Berkeley Lecce
Ferdinando E. Coppola: Asfodeli, Milella, Lecce, 2012, 93 pages.
Introduction by Giovanni Invitto. English translation of the Italian text by Hilda Caffery.
The map of Nando Coppola is all his own. It lays out his sensibility. The Middle Sea is central, the Mediterranean, mediterraneus, circled by earth. If the map had a date it would be long before the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans, even before Keats’ “deep-brow’d Homer ruled”, older even than that memorable dustup at Troy. It was a time when Olympians kept to the heights and more modest gods presided in the countryside, naiads in wellsprings, dryads in tree branches, nereids in the sea. Nature around the Middle Sea assumed human form with only an unintimidating touch of divinity. There and then is where Nando’s poetry dwells.
We accompany him on an amble through the seasons. Infinity may be our destination, but we start small, fingering simple things, a sprig of mint, fig leaves. Three magpies come along. The direction is south, toward the sea. Olive trees join us, some in disorder like children, others in ranks like soldiers. The moon is always present, a mistress of ceremonies who attends to the lighting and the altering of our moods.
There are sad moments of “no longer”, a house heavy with the silence of the life that used to be, a flowerbed too full of the gardener, a smashed cat that like Nando finds hate incomprehensible. Loss, time’s vile work, is relentless as the seasons. It makes for dismay when the pact between man, beast and nature is dishonored. ù
But even in icy February the cats haven’t given up making love. Giovanni Invitto has noticed the cheery dog that has caught our fancy too as--just for company-- it joins a grim funeral procession. Spring brings new nests. The morning sun, muscular, clears the dark. And sparrows get along fine with a palm tree.
Here melancholy is a gentle thing, dismissed with a soft curse of ‘Asphalt be damned’. There’s no room for violence in the flower-fragrance, girls singing in the fields at one with sheep, dogs and even lizards. The sea in sight, why should we hurry? Best rest in the watchtower and like Ungaretti admire infinity across the immense blue, “M'illumino d'immenso”. There’s time for sidelong glances at the yellow fields and dry stone walls.
The asphodels of the Elysian Fields are all very well but those we’ve seen along way have done more for our hearts.
There is only a tiny fault to find with Hilda Caffery’s crisp English translation. She renders the poem ‘Solitudine’ as ‘Loneliness’. Surely it should be ‘Solitude’. Nando has never been lonely. Nature and light have always been with him though at times he may have conversed with them on his own, as in his Novaglie:
The soul migrates
in the silent nights of summer
beneath the moon that casts its light
over the brown olive groves,
over the silvery euphorbias
and the rustling leaves
stretched out like sylvan fingers
toward the Greek sea.