I am presently moved
by sundrenched Parthenopea,
my thanks are for you, Ischia,
to whom a fair wind has brought me
rejoicing with dear friends
from soiled productive cities.
How well you correct our injured eyes,
how gently you train us to see things
and men in perspective
underneath your uniform light
From ‘Ischia’ by W. H. Auden, June 1948While
in Washington last month at BookExpo America doing what I love best – interviewing smart book people for my podcast – I received an email from a friend who lives in Ischia, Italy, inviting me there to report on Pesce azzuro & Baccal, a first annual tourist festival celebrating the island’s ancient food and fishing tradition. I tell him that books are my singular obsession these days, and that they, if anything, will be the subject of whatever writing may come from my visit. He approves, and so I’m here, swept over by fair winds, living the maxim that ‘like attracts like’; experiencing gusts of bibliophilic synchronicity as never before.
W.H. Auden, a revered poet whose work I just happen to collect, summered here from 1948 to 1957 and wrote a poem called ‘Ischia’. Some of the finest examples of early Greek alphabetic writing, scratched and painted on broken pottery, have been found off the island’s coast. Nestor’s Cup is on displays at the local Archaeological Museum of Pithecusae. On it is inscribed a three-line epigram alluding to The Iliad. The inscription, in Euboian letters, is the only extant example of a piece of poetry dating from the same time that this epic masterpiece was first spoken.Continue reading “Literary Ischia”