‘The Weary Archangel,’
A Poem by Giorgio de Chirico

Alongside the Original Italian From Geometry of Shadows, Translated by Stefania Heim

July 10, 2019  By Giorgio de Chirico
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On this April afternoon, while the idiot almond trees aren’t alone in tossing the flowers of promises, I want to affix onto the windows and door of my house the banner of the freshly established publicly traded company of which I am the principal shareholder.

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My room is a beautiful vessel where I can take adventurous voyages worthy of a headstrong explorer.

In the anteroom the revenants crowd.

What do they do while I can’t see them? While the wall’s motionless curtain remains lowered between them and me? Nobody could tell me. Whenever, curious, I leave my work and approach on the tips of my slippers that half-closed door and look into the mystery of that anteroom they always appear in the same natural poses. True still lifes.

It is the terrible naturalness, the inexorable logic that each object—destined by the immurable laws of gravity to remain on the earth’s crust—carries within, printed on its Center.

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But when I go away and see them again only with my mind’s eye; when I aim my gaze on the wall-curtain like the metallic dart of the drill, then, oh then every revenant seems still another, and behind every curtain I hear things moving I’ve never imagined.

Then even the natural position of the chess player seated at his table of meditation appears to me in all its tremendous spectrality. And from the stitched, shunned, gagged, sealed, armored mouth, I hear welling up the most dismal murmuring summoning the companion who perhaps at that hour also sits down there, in some faraway city in the industrial territories beyond the seas. Cities sliced by asphalted and shining streets; beautified by the sunny squares’ perfect quadrants and by piazzas pregnant with shade. Cities where the strident life sings night and day throughout the cheerful circle of mines and industrious shipyards, with the dwarfish railroads that climb and run pitching like hasty ants, along the cement bastions and on the platforms yellowed by yellow earth, with the armored trucks filled with the flesh and the blood of the freshly sliced channels. Cities that joust between the metallic scaffolding decked out in blasts of steam and the sweet symmetry of the long, low workshops wrapped in a belt of large academic windows; curled up into herds beneath the noontide heat; kept awake by the solemn sentry of the tall tall chimneys continually spewing thick, dark clouds that slowly fade in a most comforting premier between the city and the sky turbid with heat where up high nostalgic families of bald-necked birds of prey trace tired spirals circling without rest…

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Then I, too, feel beaten by all that distance and fatally as though pressed by the plaster hand of some inexorable ghost who would wake me, I fold beneath the contractions of an imminent birth…

The great metaphysical paintings go then, the hermetic visions fitted to suit the populous cities of faraway continents. The great river of the idiot crowd will filter them forward without trembling over the terrible mystery frozen within the frames’ rectangles…

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But then as centuries will have followed centuries and the new mechanics will have woven new laces of metal, sketched out new complications for the ossified exhaustion of the dead planet, my name, murmured within tribes chosen by the future, will be the sweetest emotion to the brother who I will never know but who will carry stamped in his eyes that strange and tremendous longing that in this faraway today burns my heart and brain, and shakes my weary body with rape, and across all my flesh darkens my veins with a blood pregnant with bile and tears.

–Translated from the Italian by Stefania Heim

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L’arcangelo Affaticato 

In questo pomeriggio d’aprile, mentre i mandorli cretini non sono soli a gittare i ori delle promesse, voglio innestare alle finestre e sulla mia porta di casa lo stendardo della società anonima di fresco fondata e di cui sono il principale azionista.

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La mia camera è un bellissimo vascello ove posso fare viaggi avventurosi degni d’un esploratore testardo.

Nell’anticamera s’affollano i ritornanti.

Che fanno essi mentre non li vedo? Mentre il sipario immobile della parete resta calato tra loro e me? Nessuno potrebbe dirmelo. Ogniqualvolta incuriosito lascio il mio lavoro e sulla punta delle pantofole m’approssimo a quell’uscio socchiuso e guardo nel mistero di quell’anticamera essi m’appaiono sempre nelle medesime pose naturali. Vere nature morte.

È la terribile naturalezza, la logica inesorabile che ogni oggetto destinato a stare per immurabili leggi di gravità sulla crosta del globo-terra, si porta stampata nel Centro.

Ma quando m’allontano e li rivedo solo con gli occhi della mente; quando sulla parete-sipario punto il mio sguardo come il dardo metallico della perforatrice allora, oh allora ogni ritornante mi sembra un altro ancora, e dietro ogni sipario sento muoversi cose non mai pensate.

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Allora anche la posa naturale dello scacchista seduto al suo tavolo di meditazione m’appare in tutta la sua tremenda spettralità. E dalla bocca cucita, vitata, imbavagliata, suggellata, blindata, sento scaturire il mòrmore mestissimo pel richiamo del compagno che forse in quell’ora siede anche lui laggiù, in qualche città lontana sulle terre industrializzate di là dei mari. Città tagliate dalle strade asfaltate e lucenti; abbellite dai perfetti quadrati delle piazze soleggiate e degli squares gravidi d’ombra. Città di cui la vita stridente canta notte e giorno tra la cerchia gioconda delle miniere e dei cantieri operosi, con le ferrovie nane che s’arrampicano e corrono beccheggiando come formiconi frettolosi, lungo i bastioni di cemento e sulle piattaforme gialle di terra gialla, con i vagoncini blindati ripieni della polpa e del sangue dei canali tagliati di fresco. Città che giostrano tra le impalcature metalliche impennacchiate da getti di vapore, e la dolce simmetria delle of cine basse e lunghe fasciate dalla cintura dei nestroni accademici; accovacciate ai branchi sott’il caldo del meriggio, vegliate dalla scolta solenne dei comignoli altissimi eruttanti di continuo i nuvoloni densi e cupi che poi lentamente s’ammosciano in un consolantissimo premier tra la città e il cielo torbido di calura ove su in alto nostalgiche famiglie di rapaci dal collo calvo segnano stanche spirali girando senza posa…

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Anch’io allora mi sento sbattuto da tutta quella lontananza e fatalmente come premuto dalla mano di gesso d’un qualche fantasma inesorabile che mi vegliasse, piego sotto le doglie del parto imminente…

Vadano poi le grandi pitture meta siche, l’ermetiche visioni quadrate per le città popolose dei continenti lontani. Il fiume grande della folla idiota colerà loro innanzi senza sussultar pel mistero terribile fermato tra i rettangoli delle cornici…

Ma poi che secoli avran seguito secoli e le meccaniche nuove avranno ordito nuove trine metalliche, imbastito nuove complicazioni sulla stanchezza ossificata del morto pianeta, il nome mio sussurrato intra tribù elette dai venturi sarà commozione dolcissima al fratello che non conoscerò mai ma che porterà stampata negli occhi quella nostalgia strana e tremenda che in questo lontano oggi brucia a me il cuore e il cervello, e squassa di stupro il corpo affaticato, e su per tutta la carne m’annera le vene d’un sangue pregno di fiele e di pianto.

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Stefania Heim received a translation fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for her work on Giorgio de Chirico. A founding editor of Circumference: Poetry in Translation, she is the author of the poetry collections Hour Book, which was selected by Jennifer Moxley for the Sawtooth Prize, and A Table That Goes On for Miles, which was selected by Brenda Shaughnessy for the Gatewood Prize. She lives in Washington.

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Excerpted from Geometry of Shadows by Giorgio de Chirico. Used with permission of Public Space Books. Translation copyright © 2019 by Stefania Heim.




Giorgio de Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was born in Greece to Italian parents. A gifted and prolific painter, de Chirico is considered the founder of the metaphysical school of art; and a significant influence on the surrealists. Over the course of his long career, de Chirico was involved with many of the twentieth century’s major art-world figures: he designed costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and set productions for Luigi Pirandello; he was photographed by Irving Penn. De Chirico was also a prolific writer. His French writing has been translated by John Ashbery and Louise Bourgeois, among others.








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