Translated by Jonathan Galassi


La Belle Dame Sans Merci


Surely the cantonal seagulls have waited in vain
for the bread crumbs I tossed
onto your balcony so you’d hear their cries
though you’re shut up in sleep.

Today we both missed our appointment
and our breakfast is going cold among piles
of useless books for me and for you the leavings
of I don’t know what: calendars, cases, phials and creams.

Stupefying your face keeps on persisting
above the morning’s bird-lime ground;
but a life without wings can’t reach it and its suffocated
fire is the glow of my cigarette lighter.

This poem was translated from the original Italian.


Eugenio Montale was the 1975 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. During his lifetime, he published over 20 books of poetry, prose, and translation, and is widely considered to be one of modern Italy’s greatest lyric poets. He died in 1981.


Jonathan Galassi is president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has been translating Montale’s work since 1982. His books of poems are Morning RunNorth Street and Left-Handed. In 2015 he released his first novel, MUSE.