words in the night

I was in Buenos Aires recently (I know, ‘Don’t cry for me…’). The trip gave me a chance to reread Merwin’s translations of the ‘aphorisms’ of Antonio Porchia (1886-1968). I put quote-marks around the word aphorisms because Porchia objected to being called an aphorist. An Italian immigrant to Argentina, he opened a print shop with his brother, and struggled to make a living in his adopted country, all the while refining his short writings. He published one book, Voices, in several editions. He was never fully embraced by the Argentine literati. But as Merwin says in his intro, “Shortly before his death he had been recorded reading from his Voices, and for some time after he died his voice was used by a Buenos Aires radio station, each night as it signed off. In Porchia’s slow, deep utterance…"

Before I travelled my road I was my road.

One lives in hope of becoming a memory.

He who tells the truth says almost nothing.

A wing is neither heaven nor earth.

The world understands nothing but words, and you come into it with almost none.

When there is no treasure to show, night is the treasure.

It is a long time now since I asked heaven for anything , and still my arms have not come down.

It is easier for me to see everything as one thing than to see one thing as one thing.

A large heart can be filled with very little.

He who has made a thousand things and he who has made none, both feel the same desire to make something.

Night is a world lit by itself.

What words say does not last. The words last. Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.

The important and unimportant are the same only at the start.

—Antonio Porchia, Voices (Cooper Canyon, 2003) by Antonio Porchia, translation by W. S. Merwin.

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