LYRIC CO. Rocco Scotellaro “To the Carter’s Daughter”

I can live near you no longer / someone binds the voice in my chest / you are the carter’s daughter / who takes the breath from my mouth. / Because below us in the stable / the mules move in their sleep / because your father huffs near us / and does not go yet, high on his cart/ to chase off the stars with his whip

translated by William Weaver, The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry, edited by Geoffrey Brock, p. 427.

FRAME OF REFERENCE The difference of self-love and love of other-being is subtended by a givenness in which the difference is not at all an opposition, but emergent into form out of the more original passage of the porosity of being.
WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Between, 226.

Analogy looks like an expanded metaphor, a this-as-that with the spread of a story. What does it feel like to decide your love has become impossible? Rocco Scotellaro’s lyric shows you. Never heard of him? Now you have, via his poem. He’s said to be a Neo-liberal, a socialist; he died researching agrarian economy; he died young. His years were 1923-1953.

It’s a fine poem. Like the poems of Catullus (84-54), it makes you feel what it’s like to make that life-transforming decision. It’s like dying. You can no longer speak. (The extremity of THAT is especially extreme for a poet!)

As a lyric in good standing (critics go on and on about the status of the lyric mode, well, just look at this one), it draws subtle hints from the language (the academics love to say it’s the language not the poet that speaks). Here lines two and four look a lot alike. Who is causing this crisis? The beloved (line two) or … herself? We expected him to say her father, whose oppressive presence makes it impossible for them to love each other.

But it’s not that simple. His love is turning into hatred.

The poem turns quietly to the world outside the speaker’s consciousness. BECAUSE. The imagery is of the world of flesh, of fellow creatures: mules shifting asleep in their stalls under the living quarters shared by the carter and his daughter. Her father “huffs,” waking in the dawn for another work day.

It’s a moment of change in the between sketched by the poet. The moment is specific. And yet it is more than the sum of its parts. There’s an equivocal issue— does he blame his beloved for being who she is? At first it seems like it. But the poem ends on an image of universal aspect: the stars fading from the lightening skies at dawn.

The poem is MORE than broken-hearted and stoic (that unstable stable combination explored by Catullus). It embraces so much more than the immediate voice suggests. The last line achieves an aspect switch that opens the poem to the world the fading light of the stars sheds on humanity.

So technically, the moment of decision is analogous to the bigger moment of accepting the larger drama, rather grandiloquently pictured in the last line. The father-figure has a profile now. To be his daughter is to be connected to a central player in the difference between night and day. It is to be connected to the way things are.

That’s the mode of analogy showing its ultimate power. By comparing two widely different (night and day) things it gets at the truth between them. It is a figure of the between, the metaxy between mortals and immortality (see the word “porosity” in the FRAME OF REFERENCE). Analogy is the great lyric figure as it makes us fleetingly aware of the darkness of God, the ultimate site of our loves and lives.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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