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Vol. 2, No. 3

Partisans, 1944
by Curzio Malaparte


We went outside and set off across the forest,
  Silently following the partisans,
  Through an invisible, luminous rain
  In which butterflies traced the liquid outlines of their wings.
  A soft, immense murmuring rose from the grass,
  From the bushes, from the trees,
  Like the buzzing of gelatinous insects.
  And the sky curved gently, thickening
  As it neared the horizon,
  From light green to fleshy pink.
  It was a feminine sky, sad and pure.
  That sense of Northern abstraction:
  The impossibility of any heat, smell, or flavor,
  The air filled with water and stone,
  That thin, smooth odor of the Arctic--
  Not cold, in fact almost warm,
  But deprived of every animal substance,
  Of every human or vegetable weight--
  Was the dominant element
  In a landscape of trees, water, clouds;
  A landscape of distant prospects
  Modulated by musical rhythms,
  Rather than by anything visible to the eye.
  One's gaze lost itself
  In the green and pink remoteness of Lake Inari
  As if in some atonal horizon--
  A composition by Schoenberg,
  Or an abstract sonata by Hindemith.
  It was a sky without shadows,
  Clear yet lightly obscured,
  Similar to the insides of certain seashells,
  Where the light is equally reflected from the sea and sky,
  Creating a separate universe,
  Secret, pure, intact.
  And as seashells capture the reflections of the sandy shore,
  Of the sky, and of the sea,
  And of the voice of the sea,
  Melting them all together in a universe of light and sound
  Like the reflection of an alternate universe
  Invisible to the eye and inaudible to the ear,
  So this sky seemed a reflection of a universe far from us,
  A universe foreign to us, inhuman,
  A universe of a cruel and impassive abstraction.
  In certain hours of the day or night
  When the light came to rest
  And everything was still, dreamlike,
  Suspended over an immobile abyss of lakes, forests, rivers,
  It seemed that even the sky had abandoned us,
  That over our heads shimmered the void,
  The absolute void,
  Of experimental physics.
  Every smell, every color, was extinguished,
  And we spent long hours sitting by the shore of the lake,
  In that world without smell, without color, without sound;
  In that landscape of paper, glass, and luminous shadows,
  Of transparent stones and trees
  Where animals moved as they move in dreams:
  Soundless, colorless, odorless.
  Then it began to rain again,
  And that diffuse music of Hindemith,
  Of Schoenberg, would filter down upon us:
  Music that was as sad, as lonely, and as deep
  As a landscape reflected in a mirror.
  The partisans said farewell,
  And a few miles after crossing the river
  We passed the reindeer cemetery:
  A multicolored forest of antlers--
  Brown, green, white--
  Sprouting from half-buried skulls,
  Those peculiarly triangular reindeer skulls,
  Over which the grass had modestly spread
  A delicate green cover.
  I had often gone there before, alone,
  To wander through this garden of bones
  With its borders of distant sky and lake.
  And I would lie down among the forested antlers,
  Imagining myself wounded
  On some remote battleground of history:
  One of Xenophon's soldiers
  Reclining on the banks of the Euphrates;
  A Persian cavalryman abandoned among his dead horses;
  A worker stretched out among his broken machinery
  After some failed revolution.
  And I would rediscover in that grassy garden,
  Scattered with white bones,
  Those things which were most Pure,
  Precise, Mathematical, and Abstract
  About that long-ago bright morning of defeat
  On the banks of the Euphrates;
  That exact feeling of mechanism,
  Which the neighing of the King's horses
  Must have inspired when heard from the far shore;
  The voices of the Greek infantry
  Moving off through transparent air,
  Not yet ripened by the heat of the day,
  Toward distant mountains hovering blue and white
  In the finely etched glass of the sky.
  I would rediscover in that reindeers' graveyard,
  In that lake shining with the precision of milled steel,
  Those things which were most Dry,
  Arid, Thin, and at the same time Luminous
  About objects and animals:
  About polished weaponry, jewels, helmets,
  Chain mail, strips of leather,
  The wheels of wrecked chariots,
  The immobile outlines of dead horses and soldiers
  Lying on the silent, hard-packed battleground.
  I would rediscover in that remote horizon--
  In which the landscape, slightly shrunken,
  Appeared and disappeared
  Like an image reflected in a mirror--
  Those things which were most Precise,
  Essential, Functional, and Logical,
  About machines and their disemboweled parts:
  Dented wheels, transmission belts,
  Gleaming steel handles, bearings,
  Gauges, gearings, and crankshafts scattered
  On the factory floor
  Among workers who themselves had been cut loose
  With the essential and definitive precision,
  The unchanging precision of a machine.
  Those were moments when I felt most detached
  From humanity, from all those things
  That humanity contributes to life, to nature:
  Our sensuality and heat, our confusion.
  But I did not yet know how to value
  That sense of detachment,
  That feeling of intimate loneliness,
  Of distance and difference
  From everything that is recognizably human.

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