Trilussa, “Happiness”

Maybe I’m not a good writer because I’ll fixate on an image, letting it use me instead of learning how to navigate it. I’ll start thinking about someone, and then we’ll be in the park together, sun shining brightly. Then in Paris visiting museums on a gray, damp day, finally New Year’s Eve toasting with family at a small party. All this will blink in my head between the cereal and snacks aisle, where I have to make a decision alone. Do I want to buy a value-size bag of knockoff Honeycomb for snacking and/or dinner, or do I want to be classy and buy the kettle-cooked sea salt & black pepper potato chips?

Ah, happiness. It feels like a bliss had in the briefest of visions, an end that human life barely touches on, only promising fulfillment. Bees drunk on pollen don’t have to think as far as that. Maybe I can relate to them while acknowledging their superior happiness:

Happiness (from The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry)
Trilussa (translated by John Dowd)

I saw a bee settle
on a rose petal.
It sipped, and off it flew.
All in all, happiness, too,
is something little.

I saw a bee settle on a rose petal. It sipped, and off it flew—what’s curious to me is “off it flew.” It did not sip, savor, reflect, experience the entirety of la dolce vita, then move on with nothing left. It sipped, knowing what gave it happiness and goodness, then moved to the next flower post haste. It did not need to reflect because the product of reflection was built into it.

But all the same, it wanted to move on. The rose was just one moment. Maybe it wanted to put together the goodness of those moments—each individually good, the sum total happiness. No, that’s the wrong thought, for the bee doesn’t concern itself with that theme the way my pathetic imagination does, with happiness as ephemeral being central. It builds from concrete goods in each moment, each experience happy in its own way. Should we then assume its whole life to be happy and good? All in all, happiness, too, is something little—I bought the kettle chips; knockoff Honeycomb is too sweet.

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