The Italian Poems
of Giorgio de Chirico
The acclaimed painter Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was also a multifaceted artist, working across genres and languages throughout a long and prolific career. While his French writing has been translated by Louise Bourgeois and John Ashbery—who proclaimed his novel Hebdomeros a masterpiece of Surrealist literature—De Chiricos’s writing in his native Italian language has been overlooked. Geometry of Shadows presents for the first time the entirety of the artist’s Italian poetry, translated by award-winning poet Stefania Heim.
Praise for Geometry of Shadows:
De Chirico was an artist between and betwixt languages and modes of expression, and his timeless, migrating perspective forever gestured at what lies beyond our grasp. His poems, as essential and as mysterious as his paintings, evoke a multitude of places, emotional hues, and liminal states of being. How thrilling to have them for the first time in English thanks to Stefania Heim’s exacting and exuberant translations.
De Chirico’s Italian poems are translated here into deliriously precise English. Each poem is an ekphrastic evocation of an imaginary de Chirico painting. Or it is that Chirico’s paintings have, through some verbovisual alchemy, become a wordstream of uncannily syncretic images and lusciously wry juxtapositions, stretched to the point of intoxicating coherence? These ludic marvels are replete with the longing of anxiety and the desolation of perception. Yet, in some of the poems, as in “a second house,” one “no longer feels lost.”
De Chirico’s poems are like his paintings, clear and opaque at once, reminding us that surrealism isn’t all sewing machines and umbrellas. Sometimes it’s a series of the most lucid images presented in rapid succession, without comment or hierarchy, as in Stefania Heim’s marvelous translation of “To Paint.” Geometry of Shadows, de Chirico’s Italian poems, is a slim but vital body of work.
This is a revelatory collection of poems by an artist who, it’s now clear, knew the construction of poetic and prose lines as deeply as he knew the illustrated, visual line. Containing all of his known Italian-language poetry, Geometry of Shadows is blessedly bilingual, and chock-full of unexpected forms and focus. Probably best known for his surrealist leanings, de Chirico’s poems are by turns classical and clear-eyed, dream-logical, essayistic, and always, in the words of his extraordinary translator, beautifully constructed “containers for his wild and domestic musings across space and time.”
—John Francisconi, Bank Square Books
Both of de Chirico moods—the polemical metaphysical and the emotional baroque—are present in Stefania Heim’s wonderful new book … Heim has collected and translated all of Giorgio de Chirico’s known Italian-language poetry and drafts. This volume is a major achievement of research as well as sensitivity to the complex languages of the original.
–Judith Baumel at World Literature Today
“Giorgio de Chirico’s Italian Poetry“: Essay at Paris Review:
When I started translating de Chirico’s poems, I didn’t think we had much in common. Here was this iconic, curmudgeonly maestro of modern art. I understood and knew that the work was “Great” and great, too, but I also felt it—with its nightingales and sulfurous cascades and crumbling acropolises—to be distant from me and from my own urgent concerns …
The PEN Ten: An Interview with Author & Translator Stefania Heim:
My recent translation project, the writings of metaphysical artist Giorgio de Chirico, has been super interesting along these lines. Some of de Chirico’s sentences are mind-boggling, completely slippery—even in Italian, where you can push your syntax because word endings maintain connections. These ruptures, what he called “enigmas,” are a central feature of his paintings as well as his poetry …
Read de Chirico’s poem, “The Weary Archangel,” at LitHub:
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 …