Peter Russell: an English poet in Pian di Scò, Tuscany
Peter Irwin Russell is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century and the last of great modern poets.
He was born in Bristol, England, on 16 September 1921 and attended many well known colleges, standing out as Natural Science lector. Between 1948 and 1956 he was editor of the important literary magazine Nine in London, where works by major literary figures were published, including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, George Santayana, Kathleen Raine. At the same time Russell owned a small bookshop and printshop. He travelled and studied many foreign languages: French, Provencal, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Arabic.
He visited Italy for the first time in 1947 and came back in 1964-65, choosing Venice as his home and teaching centre. He then lived in Yugoslavia and in North America, where he was poet in residence at Purdue University, Indiana; at University of Victoria, in British Columbia; and other Canadian universities.
Between 1977 and 1979 he taught Philosophy at the Academy of Philosophy in Teheran; after the Islamic revolution in Iran forced him to leave the country, he moved to Italy, at first again to Venice and then in Pian di Scò, Tuscany.
On the river Resco, in a home converted from a water mill, he spent the last years of his life, completely devoting himself to poetry and literature, away from public and academic commitments. During the time in Pian di Scò he received many literary awards and prizes.
In 2001 he donated his library (more than 9,000 books) and archives to the Municipality of Pian di Scò. He died on 22 January, 2003.
Peter Russell’s human and cultural experience was exceptional: poet, essayist, controversialist, translator and lecturer, he was also an expert on the major literary and religious cultures of the world.
After his death the Association Peter Russell was established in Pian di Scò and a number of initiatives organized in order to catalogue and make known his vast body of work.
Associazione Peter Russell
c/o Comune di Castelfranco – Pian di Scò
Piazza del Municipio, 3
52026 Pian di Scò (AR)
Tel. 055 – 963 12 00 - 963 12 15 (Uffici Cultura del Comune)
See the Italian page for an essay by Leonello Rabatti about Peter Russell, taken from the literary magazine Pietraserena (no. 17, 2005).
I’m no more than an empty shell
Abandoned on the ocean shore,
The colours all are there inside,
But it’s so long since, all life died.
For I know nothing any more -
Where I am not Heaven, not Hell,
Not human or divine can tell.
Without a nature name or place
I’m barely a ripple in the race
I hide my face, I hide my face.
JUNE IRISES ON THE PRATOMAGNO
The rain has sopped the irises. Just look!
Great drops are clinging to the blooms,
Weighting them down.
Blue lanterns with a yellow flame
Rinsing the summer air.
18th May 1988
For I not whider I shal, ne hou longe her duelle
Half way up the hill,
And half way down the dale,
Is the ruined one-time mill
Where the waters never fail.
The mill-wheel, yes, has disappeared,
A flower grows from the ground;
The rusty gears no longer heard,
But in the silence – dying sound –
Lament triumphant – and on and on –
Descants above the others birds.
It is, it is, the dying swan –
Apollo’s voice, that needs no words
To say how bleak the landscape is
Without the laurel’s crown,
And how these modern melodies
Sadden the modern town.
15th March 1992
MY WILD HEART
Wild rose, wild vine, wild olive,
The wild cat, porcupine, wild boar,
Wild mint, wild rosemary, wild borage,
Wild brambles, thick growth of sloes, wild burdocks clinging,
Tangles and trails of old-man’s-beard,
Wild tops of poplars, tall wild willow-crests, -
The fireflies wild, the butterflies, the chafers flying wild,
The wild hare crouched or scampering beneath
A wild sky, – wild the dormouse, wild the long-eared owl,-
Steep sides of the wild valley, stag, fox, and weasel wild,
The wild ivy strangling everything,
The mountain stream wild as the wild marten
Bounding across the walnut trees…
Wild swallows ripple the surface of the placid pool,
The wild wind shakes the ilex and the alder leaves,
Wild rains fall on the struggling wilderness.
The wild whisky rakes these flagging hangfire veins
And wild thoughts like the whirlwind
Break in a wild rout
Through the defenceless borders of
My wild heart…
30th September 1989
Deep in the night in this lonely house on the mountain side
I hear a child’s voice singing, one walking the night.
Perhaps I should get up and go out and search for the stricken waif,
A soul in pain escaped from perdition or cast out by man’s brute blows,
A child in years but older than epochs and aeons. That singing
Was very clear in the night, in the dark, very strange.
It is warm in my house. The coffee and wine on the table
Refresh me, keep me awake, reassure me, as I read in an ancient book
Of the one true love that is obedience to the Beloved. Who is the Bride
That I should obey her call ? Who is the Bridegroom ? A virgin
From before the beginning of time, one uncreate but creating,
A word that created this God that created the world, and who now walks alone,
Through fields and pastures, a spirit deserted none cares to call on
At his own cost, – one nobody knows and nobody wants to know, -
Yet he knows every balk and furrow, every shoot in the vineyards of heaven.
He is the child, the bride, the bearded woman, Krishna the black, Arjuna shining white,
The old woman with her pale lantern, the grandfather with his plutonian bolts.
Barefoot on the hills he walks, a cry poured out on the world’s stricken altar,
An ancient condemned to the scourgings, the chambers, the poisons,
The imposts of hunger, of pests, and of ignominious crushing defeats,
A figure who haunts every age, every soul, who would be no more than a friend.
And I am an old poet prowling the night’s loose tiles, a sick or a senile ghost
Drunk and abandoned, lost in the billowing mists before down.
25th February 1989
In the cold damp night I walk up the hill
Past the ruined brick cages crumbling and flaked
On the slope of the hill above the mill-race
And the ghosts of the beavers move by moonlight
From the steep hill with the majestic oak
Down to the water’s edge
Silver-grey in the moonlight
Brown-green under the stars
Padding the matted turf
Swinging their massive tails
Friendly, without resentment
A half-century in their cages
Stripped of their skins
Free now, glad
On my little lake
They have come to built
17th February 1992
Mid-February, the mountain torrent’s still.
The weir above the waterfall is dry,
The millpool’s dry, stagnant, – the clouds have fallen ill.
The frogs are silent, – if trout there were, they’d die.
Moon, stars and tides, your sparkling vessels spill!
16th February 1989