Erotic Tradition: Adriano Bulla's Erotic Poetry between the Sheets with Pascoli and Rimbaud


Of Adriano Bulla's poems that we know of, only two are entirely erotic: 'Letter to M-'  and the delicate 'Between Dreams'. It is the latter that, in my opinion, is a little masterpiece. It is not just one of those poems that seem perfect, it is also a poem that, as the author so often does, draws on the European tradition for inspiration and translates two diametrically opposite poems in French and Italian into English. Yet, it is not a translation, it is parody at its most delicate, it is homage.

              Between Dreams
'As if in dreams, I rest my nose between
Your cheeks – the moon is sleeping on my face
Still wet with love and passion, silver drops
In rivulets of nectar flow down the slopes
And kiss my lips, disclosed like rose to dew,
And drown my face along a milky way
Of satin waves, and find the humid source
Of joy – a plump carnation brown and dark
Like loquat nested warm and snug in you;
A silent kiss I stole from slumber’s arms.'   

Both the subject matter of 'Between Dreams' and some of its imagery look at Rimbaud's 'Sonnet du trou du cul':

'Obscur et froncé comme un oeillet violet
Il respire, humblement tapi parmi la mousse
Humide encor d’amour qui suit la pente douce
Des fesses blanches jusqu’au bord de son ourlet.
Des filaments pareils à des larmes de lait
Ont pleuré, sous l’auteur cruel qui les repousse,
À travers de petits caillots de marne rousse,
Pour s’en aller oï la pente les appelait.
Ma bouche s’accouple souvent à sa ventouse
Mon âme, du coït matériel jalouse,
En fit son larmier fauve et son nid de sanglots
C’est l’olive pâmée et la flûte câline
C’est le tube oï descend la céleste praline
Chanaan féminin dans les moiteurs éclos.'

The 'oillet violet' effortlessly translates into 'a plump carnation', retaining the floral imagery of Rimbaud's poem, and the 'larmes de lait' become a 'milky way', linking the stellar imagery to the floral one, a bit like in Wordsworth's 'Daffodils'. And a bit like in 'Daffodils' the poet finds in this metaphorical flower 'the humid source / Of joy'.

Yet, if the imagery is reminiscent of Rimbaud's poem, 'Between Dreams' is less descriptive and more emotional. The French poet dwells on the metaphorical description of the anus, which has 'lamier fauve',  'nid de sanglot' and 'petits caillots de marne rousse', while 'Between Dreams' stops short of detailed allusion. The author is not intent of 'seeing' the moment, but 'feeling' it. In fact, the poem seems to be more tactile: 'I rest my nose between your cheeks', 'still wet', 'the moon is sleeping on my face', 'kiss my lips' are all tactile. Moreover, the visually described 'oillet violet' becomes a 'plump' carnation and a 'loquat', something to feel and taste.

However, there may be another reason why Adriano Bulla chooses to soften visual imagery. Unlike Rimbaud's 'Sonnet', which is clearly manifest, 'Between Dreams' deals with a secret moment, a 'silent kiss' that is 'stolen' from 'slumber's arms'.  It is a more delicate moment, a moment to treasure and cover in secrecy. Thence the sustained alliteration of the sound 's', which culminates in the final line: 'A silent kiss I stole from slumber's arms'. As well as being visual and tactile, the poem is deeply auditory.

Its perfect rhythm, in iambic pentameters gives it that lulling quality that links it to the event it originates from, a bit like in Pascoli's 'Nevicata':

'Nevica: l'aria brulica di bianco;
la terra è bianca; neve sopra neve:
gemono gli olmi a un lungo mugghio stanco:
cade del bianco con un tonfo lieve.

E le ventate soffiano di schianto
e per le vie mulina la bufera:
passano bimbi: un balbettio di pianto;
passa una madre: passa una preghiera.'

Just like in the Italian poem, 'Between Dreams' is covered by a white aura. Although it takes place at night, it is the light of the moon that quietly dominates the scene: 'the moon is sleeping on my face', 'in silver drops'. The poem gets darker as it progresses, as if the speaker was falling asleep, till it meets a 'plump carnation brown and dark', then he is back in 'slumbers arms'.

It is the still and silent quality of the poem, as well as its colour imagery that links it to 'Nevicata'. The use of caesura to slow down lines, the regular rhythm and in general, that aura of perfect accomplishment, the sensation that the poem is hermetically sealed in time, a perfect expression of a tiny impression.


Like 'Nevicata', 'Between Dreams' has a volta in the middle. In Pascoli's poem, the snow seems to muffle sounds of pain ('gemono' , whimper, and 'tonfo' a deaf falling sound, 'mugghio', again, a muffled moan) in the first stanza, yet in the second, sounds become more violent ('Schianto', slam in the volta, then 'pianto',  cry, as we realise the snow has turned into a blizard, 'bufera').

Likewise, 'Between Dreams' has a volta in the middle, where movement changes: if in lines 1-5 the speaker is the receptacle of the gentle movements of the anus and the night ('the moon is sleeping on my face', 'in rivulets of nectar flow... and kiss my lips') and diction suggests mainly stillness ('rest', 'still wet', 'sleeping' and 'disclosed'), in lines 6-10 the speaker 'returns the kiss', reciprocates the action of his object of passion with the same delicacy as he received it: he 'drowns', 'finds' and 'steals' the very kiss he received from the object of love, which now, as the speaker was at the start, is sleeping and peaceful, passive ('nested').

There are in fact two kisses in this poem, not necessarily two physical kisses, but the reciprocation of a an intimate and tender night kiss, passive becomes active and active becomes passive without solution and realisation. In this way, the two poems achieve that sense of binary perfection that makes them timeless, instantaneous yet infinite.

This poem is, like most of Adriano Bulla's poems, deeply rooted in the European tradition. It is highly syneshtaetic and very rich in imagery, and yet the author always manages to make his poerty a personal matter, an experience of the soul, his soul, in its entirety. Tradition is only there to help.

Leona Sandgrove

'Between Dreams' in Adriano Bulla, Ybo and Other Lies, 2005, Poetry Monthly Press 1-906126-19-0


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