Publication Date: October 1, 2019
De Chirico's poems are as essential and as mysterious as his paintings.
Gathered from early twentieth-century Italian magazines, manuscripts, correspondence, television recordings, and ephemeral art volumes, Geometry of Shadows is the first comprehensive collection of Giorgio de Chirico’s Italian poems, with award-winning poet Stefania Heim’s English translations presented alongside the Italian originals.
A multifaceted artist who lived in multiple languages, de Chirico was just becoming famous in France for the paintings that inspired surrealism when he returned to Italy in 1916 to enlist for the First World War. Quickly determined unfit for the front line, de Chirico was assigned to desk duty and began to write poems in his native language. Translating his iconic visual imagination into literary form, Geometry of Shadows is a gorgeous document celebrating the elasticity and innate potential of language, by an artist ever in pursuit of deeper understanding.
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was born in Greece to Italian parents. A gifted and prolific painter, de Chirico is considered the founder of the metaphysical school of art and a significant influence on the surrealists. Over the course of his long career, he was involved with many of the twentieth century’s major art-world figures: he designed costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and set productions for Luigi Pirandello; he was photographed by Irving Penn. De Chirico was also a prolific writer. His French writing has been translated by John Ashbery, Louise Bourgeois, and others. Geometry of Shadows compiles for the first time in translation the entirety of de Chirico’s Italian poems.
Stefania Heim received a translation fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for her work on Giorgio de Chirico. A founding editor of CIRCUMFERENCE: Poetry in Translation, she is the author of the poetry collections HOUR BOOK and A Table that Goes On for Miles. She lives in Washington.
De Chirico was an artist between and betwixt languages and modes of expression, and his timeless, migrating perspective forever gestured at what lies beyond our grasp. His poems, as essential and as mysterious as his paintings, evoke a multitude of places, emotional hues, and liminal states of being. How thrilling to have them for the first time in English thanks to Stefania Heim’s exacting and exuberant translations.
De Chirico’s paintings have, through some verbovisual alchemy, become a wordstream of uncannily syncretic images and lusciously wry juxtapositions, stretched to the point of intoxicating coherence. These ludic marvels are replete with the longing of anxiety and the desolation of perception.
De Chirico’s poems are like his paintings, clear and opaque at once, reminding us that surrealism isn’t all sewing machines and umbrellas.
This is a revelatory collection of poems by an artist who, it’s now clear, knew the construction of poetic and prose lines as deeply as he knew the illustrated, visual line. Containing all of his known Italian-language poetry, Geometry of Shadows is blessedly bilingual, and chock-full of unexpected forms and focus. Probably best known for his surrealist leanings, de Chirico’s poems are by turns classical and clear-eyed, dream-logical, essayistic, and always, in the words of his extraordinary translator, beautifully constructed “containers for his wild and domestic musings across space and time.”
—John Francisconi, Bank Square Books
That de Chirico was a poet, and a great one, is not in dispute. He could condense voluminous feeling through metaphor and association.