The Country Whore

By Cesare Pavese 1908–1950 Cesare Pavese

Translated By Geoffrey Brock

The big front wall that blocks off the courtyard
often catches the newborn light of the sun
like the side of a barn. The body awakes
in the morning to a room, messy and empty,
that smells of the first, clumsy perfume.
Even that body, wrapped now in sheets,
is the same that it was when it thrilled in discovery.

Her body wakes alone to the extended call
of morning, the languor of another morning
returning in the heavy shadows: the barn
of childhood and the heavy tiredness of sun
hot in the indolent doorways. A perfume
worked itself into the usual sweat
of her hair, a smell the animals knew.
Her body took secret pleasure in the sun’s
suggestive, serene caress—like a real touch.

The languor of bed saps the sprawled limbs,
still youthful and plump, like a child’s.
The clumsy child used to smell the mixed scent
of tobacco and hay, used to tremble when touched
by the man’s quick hands: she liked playing games.
Sometimes she played lying down with the man
in the hay, but he wasn’t smelling her hair:
he’d find her closed legs in the hay and pry
them open, then crush her like he was her father.
The perfume was flowers ground upon stones.

It often returns, in the slow rise from sleep,
that undone aroma of far-off flowers,
of barns and of sun. No man can know
the subtle caress of that sour memory.
No man can see, beyond that sprawled body,
that childhood passed in such clumsy anxiety.

“The Country Whore” from Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950 by Cesare Pavese. Published in 2002 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.

Source: Dissaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950 (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)

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Poet Cesare Pavese 1908–1950


Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Disappointment & Failure, Relationships, Love, Men & Women

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Cesare Pavese is widely regarded as one of the foremost men of letters in twentieth-century Italian cultural history, and in particular as an emblematic figure: an earnest writer maimed by fascism and struggling with the modern existentialist dilemma of alienated meaning. Little known in the United States, Pavese was profoundly influenced by American literature, and, when official censorship closed his mouth, he would use his . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Disappointment & Failure, Relationships, Love, Men & Women


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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