“At the End of Empty Streets”

Cesare Pavese may have been the saddest poet of the twentieth century. His was a life weighed down by the heavy stone of depression. Unlucky in love, he still managed to write poems with the tenderness of a barely perceptible kiss, forever hopeful of that kiss’s return. His suicide in some anonymous hotel room in Turin on August 26, 1950 places a veil of sadness over his work. In all of the photographs of him, few show a man who is happy or at peace with himself. Even in his work, this reader feels a strong lack of contentment.

In his last collection of poems, Verrá la morte e averá occhi, Death Will Come and Have Your Eyes, published after his death, one finds “In the Morning You Always Come Back.” This is a strange little poem consisting of just 18 lines. But like the greatest of poets, and surely Pavese deserves a place in that particular pantheon, “In the Morning You Always Come Back” gives its reader an entire world. That world is the empty streets of sleep just before the dawn. The poem depicts the vast space that separates two lovers who are sleeping side by side. As close as they physically are, sleep presents an unbridgeable gap between them. There is an unrealized sadness in this truth of this. Yet there is also a profound sense of intimacy. The poem seems to say: I sleep beside you, you sleep beside me, leaning against one another, the breath of sleep heavy in the room, yet we are miles apart in a space where only each of us can go separately. But in the poem the two lovers are stirring, and dawn is breaking. When they wake they will realize that they may have journeyed far from one another in the night, but morning finds them together, as always.

The poem presents its contemporary reader with the awful truth that Pavese would wake some day to find his lover gone, and not too soon after that he would condemn himself to an eternal sleep. I find “In the Morning You Always Come Back” to be as sad as any Pavese has written. The powerful imagery of those empty streets, with its silent and barely perceptible dawns, ebbs and flows out of consciousness of the reader. We know that the light at the end of the poem is destined to be impermanent. This is something the poet may or may not have known. But a reader coming to Pavese after 1950 knows how it all ends: the poet falls asleep one final night and dreams of himself searching for his lover down lanes and through landscapes, only to end up alone at the end of empty streets.

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