Attilio Bertolucci, the Absence that becomes poetry

Attilio Bertolucci in the company of his son Bernardo, in 1975, during the shooting of the film Novecento

Attilio Bertolucci was born on 18 November 1911 in the province of Parma, and soon became one of the most singular exponents of 20th century Italian literature. At the age of eight he began writing poetry, entrusting to verse the sadness of someone who, still in need of his mother’s embraces, had to leave the reassuring family nest too early to settle at the Maria Luigia boarding school in Parma. After graduating from high school, Bertolucci enrolled in Law, studies that he soon abandoned for Literature, thus putting his immense passion for writing first. The poet managed to get himself noticed thanks to the intervention of Zavattini, who promoted the publication of the first collection of verses signed Attilio Bertolucci and titled ‘Sirio’ in 1929, poems with the rural landscape and everyday life as their background.

‘Absence’, the poem I propose to you, is taken precisely from the collection Sirio. Absence is a short and intense poem with an extremely engaging lyricism.


most acute presence.

Vague thoughts of you
vague memories
disturb the calm hour
and the sweet sun.

Sorrowful the breast
carries you
like a stone


più acuta presenza.

Vago pensiero di te
vaghi ricordi
turbano l’ora calma
e il dolce sole.

Dolente il petto
ti porta,
come una pietra


To whom does Bertolucci address himself? To an intimate you, known to the writer and unknown to the readers. In the verses, the poet reveals a kind of suffering (aching chest) that is nevertheless tolerated by him because this absence is like a light stone, and the vague thought of you and the vague memories manage to transform them into a more acute presence.

In this poem we can observe the mastery of poetic language possessed by Bertolucci, his mastery in concentrating in a few verses a set of rhetorical figures, which are fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle to enrich the form, and to reveal the most intimate nuances, starting with the intense and effective oxymoron absence/presence to then find the evocative metaphor on pain bearable because on the aching chest like a light stone, and in the last stanza the figures of sound are used, the repetition of the letter p in chest, door, stone, phonic structures perfectly related to the sense of the lyrical message. Bertolucci’s is a unique and unmistakable style that embraces symbolism; an intelligible poetic writing, limpid, not at all hermetic, and strongly profound.

Attilio Bertolucci, Absence poem from the collection Sirio

Translated with Translator

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