Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

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Pavese’s poems generally concern themselves with the struggle to understand the relationship of the self with other people and the external world. Even in early work, such as “Grappa in September,” Pavese presents his idea that the work of poets is first and foremost to convey clarity, or truth, to readers through a sequence of images. In this sense, “Grappa in September” might be misconstrued as simply a series of pastoral descriptions linked to an underlying theme of ripeness. At first glance, the poem does not seem to achieve the clarity important to the poet. However, a deeper reading reveals that the poem does indeed develop a philosophical idea: Women participate in the world, while men observe the world. The exceptionally beautiful images show how the poet assembles his philosophy.

Beginning with a recounting of color in nature (the mornings are “clear,” the river banks are “green,” the tobacco is “blackish” and gives off a “bluish” haze, the grappa is “the color of water”), and moving to a description of fecundity (fruit is “ripe,” clouds are “swollen,” and city streets are “mellowing”), the poet then tells of women who are by nature merged with the world, and finally of men who, by contrast, can merge with the natural world only by consuming its products.

The morning, the river, the clouds, the fog, the streets, even the trees ripe with fruit, form the background for Pavese’s illustration of women as a passive yet integral part of the natural world. Women are like other objects portrayed in the poem that ripen as a consequence of “standing still.” They are a part of a landscape where at daybreak, “you see only women.” Men, on the other hand, are removed from the scene. The only evidence that they exist comes from the “bluish haze” that drifts into the countryside. The haze is from tobacco smoke, and, since women “don’t smoke,” then men must be smoking. The smoke carries with it the smell of grappa, and since women “don’tdrink” then men must be drinking.

The poet exhorts the men to “stand/ still in the street and see how everything ripens.” However, only by smoking and drinking do the men “enjoy the morning” as much as the women do. Only by smoking and drinking can men actively connect with nature at all. Because the men smoke and drink, Pavese’s reader understands that men are separate from nature, they are removed from September’s profuse ripeness, and they have no need to establish a deeper relationship with it.