In February 1898 Eleonora Duse was a guest in Santa Margherita Ligure. The great artist was looking to recuperate her health compromised by her strenuous theatrical tours. Besides this, the vacation represented a special parenthesis to the turning point which her relationship with Gabriele D’Annunzio had taken.
They had recently made up after the brusque break-up which she had wanted because the artitic betrayal she felt by the Poet when he entrusted the interpretation of the play “La Città Morta” (The Dead City) to the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. The play “Sogno di una Mattina di Primavera” (Dream of a Spring Morning) written for Duse was the first act of reconciliation by D’Annunzio.
In turn, she offered a gesture of good will and good taste following from Rome, via telegraph, a performance of the play which was the cause of their separation. The third gesture of reconciliation was by D’Annunzio who joined Duse in Santa Margherita.
In three sonnets he left the proof of his loyal love.
In 1904 this would once more come undone when another “artistic betrayal” would signal an amorous betrayal. One of the three sonnets remained unpublished until 1951. It was published by Emilio Mariano in the magazine “New Anthology”. It was written in Santa Margherita and deserves to be reprinted here. In fact, included in the two quatrains is a walk along the Tigullian gulf by moonlight, a walk that was probably contemplated from the window of the Hotel Metropole where Duse was staying.
As one can read in “The Annals of Santa Margherita Ligure” by prof. Attilio Regolo Scarsella, in February of 1898 there were no street lights yet in city because mayor Giovo felt that it was too expensive the city’s budget. The “Mount” (of Portofino is) thus stood out to the poet like a giant sleeping lion. Dark against the starry sky, it dominated the space it occupied while it soaking its huge paws in the sea. The comparison may be a bit even though it reflects exactly the state of mind of a man waiting for a woman. In such a way the consciousness of the poet is fully unified with the nature that surrounds him. It is, in fact, the profound silence of the nocturnal hour, the light of the moon that reveals the contour of things, that expands to the infinite the mysterious fascination of that pure, uncontaminated night. In the title, the poet defines it “apollinian” and in the eighth verse says that here was concentrated. all the beauty of the world”. And this, which the poet of beauty attributed to Santa Margherita Ligure, is no small homage.
A night of perfect beauty
The mountain covers the heavens
with its brooding silhouette.
And don’t you hear hin breaffiing?
The rock hanging over The sea
as the claws of a sleeping lion.
Like my thought the quiet shape
stands out against the silence of Moon.
All my past flows through my heart.
The beauty of the world overwhelms me.
Woman who holds sway over death.
The success of the soul is imminent.
More noble than a Laurel Wreath,
your hands circle my temples.
Santa Margherita Ligure, 20 february 1898
Portofino, a World apart.