Giuseppe Ungaretti, “A Dove”

With thanks to Catherine Rogers

A Dove (tr. Diego Bastianutti)

I hearken to a dove from other Floods.

Original Italian:

Una Colomba

D’altri diluvi una colomba ascolto.


I have no idea what this poem means, but it was time to bring forth the awesomeness that is Ungaretti. Catherine Rogers had the most beautiful discussion of his “Morning,” written at Santa Maria La Longa, Jan. 26th, 1917 (tr. Mandelbaum) –

illumines me


We can imagine the speaker trapped in a trench in the First World War. Perhaps it is the first shell exploding that is the morning light. Miss Rogers rightly focuses not just on the enormity of that experience, but how quickly it washes over one. I heard from a professor that a number of these poems were scribbled on cigarette wrappers.

Re: “A Dove.” There’s no way to avoid the Biblical allusion. So why “Floods?” And what does it mean to “hearken to a dove?”

The only thing I can think of is this: to wash away your sin, to reconstruct the self, might be a plurality. There are others who do cleanse themselves. It does seem the process for any one of them is perpetual, that the floods never stop.

But that last part is exactly the problem. God said He wouldn’t flood the earth again and didn’t. Forget anything religious for a second; all you need is the literal story to see an impossibility with any sort of plural of flood.

I think that’s why the speaker is hearkening to a dove. The dove is the search for dry land, a new life. When you are calling yourself to it, you’re implicitly calling forth everyone’s flood-like experiences. The strange thing is recognizing those experiences as one. “Other” is the problem. “Other” isn’t real. It’s what the author of any experience is attempting to transcend.

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