I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native Garden is in Flames.” Each of these prose poems is divided into numbered sections, and given its own page. While each poem has its own story and flavor, they all revolve around the relationship that gardens have with family, desire, memory, and war. Complex and possibly triggering themes exist in the text regarding love, family, and isolation. Visceral descriptions of violence, including murder, cannibalism, abuse, rape, and molestation are also prevalent.
Both the original Spanish and the accompanying English translation are beautifully written, and although the themes within the text are at times highly disturbing, they are written in an enchanting style that pulls the reader into the fantastic world that di Giorgio created. Pitas’s translation brings the pain and beauty of the original into the English quite masterfully, and I spent many hours poring over both versions of the poems presented within the book.
“The History of Violets” is characterized by death, separation, and impermanence, intertwined with family and innocence. There is a recurring theme of recurrence, renewal, and change. Di Giorgio captures the cycles of life, using the language of nature and the logical nature of what feels like a young narrator to express feelings of loneliness, but also hope and expectation. In turn, the accompanying translation brings the poem into an anglophone context, and breathes life into the English poetry as a reflection of the Spanish original.
My perspective of the narrator of “The History of Violets” is that of a child who is interpreting life and death through the lens of imagination and interactions with the natural world. Reality is made supernatural to cope and understand the depth of human relationships as they begin and as they end. The narrator experiences a kind of sexual awakening and coming of age, which is tainted by a shiny veil concealing darkness.
One theme that persists throughout the collection is the smooth, dream-like quality to the poems. The narration is short and simple, but also flows in a way that appears to rapidly change subjects, while still connecting them in ways that one might not necessarily expect. The vivid images and bright colors of the poems hide some of the darker aspects of actions that are taken by the subjects of said poems. There is a certain and uncomfortable amount of violence in the prose, though it somehow remains enchanting, and keeps one inside the curious world that the narrator lives in, the shapes and shadows that haunt the garden.
The main theme present in “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native Garden is in Flames” is the loss of innocence. The narrator in these poems is older than that of the first, and yet the poem also reads as a coming of age, as well as a sexual awakening. That this occurs in the context of violence and often violation is something that should be noted and something that I was not prepared for upon reading the text. There is a common theme of human to animal and animal to human transformation, as well as supernatural figures that are a mix of animal and human. Fairies and Angels are both featured in the text and are portrayed as both the instigator of conflict and that which appeases it. There is a sense that the narrator is the only person who sees things clearly, as other characters in the poem seem oblivious, indifferent, or malicious. The narrator seems to have very little agency throughout the course of the poems.
Overall, I consider I Remember Nightfall to be a fantastic collection, and one that I feel has changed my perspective on how violence can be portrayed in art. Violence in poetry can sometimes glorify or sugar-coat the acts presented; however, in these poems they exist sometimes in stark relief, and sometimes subtly, but never in a way that cloaks the horror of the events as they occur.