The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

Cesare Pavese’s “Grappa in September” is a four-stanza, free-verse narrative poem about the state of nature just before harvest. First published before World War II, the poem describes autumn mornings in the northern Italian countryside in the early part of the twentieth century. The land has reached the height of its season, and the women flourish as much as the land; even the clouds in the sky give the impression of being at the peak of perfection. The men, however, are not a part of this autumnal readiness. They watch their land and their women from a distance, enjoying the view, consuming the products of past harvests. The men do not interact with the world around them.

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Mornings in this part of Italy “run their course, clear and deserted/ along the river’s banks,” which turn a darker green just before the fog is burned off by the rising sun. A house that sits close to the edge of a field sells tobacco that “tastes of sugar” and “gives off a bluish haze.” The house also sells grappa, a cheap, potent brandy common to northern Italy made from the leftover skins and stems of grapes used to manufacture wine. Distant trees that stand under “occasional” plump clouds conceal “fruit so ripe/ it would drop at a touch.” The ripeness of autumn is not confined to the country, however. In the city, houses are “mellowing in the mild air.”

The land is lush and fecund, and in the early mornings only women are outside. The women are as lush as the land, as the fruit on the trees, and as the streets that “ripen by standing still.” The women “stand in the sunlight,/ letting it warm their bodies.” As these women, who “don’t smoke,/ or drink,” bask in the morning sun, the narrator implies they enjoy the morning. The morning air is like the colorless grappa, so strong it “has to be swallowed in sips.” As the sun begins to heat the earth, “everything here” scents the air with “its own fragrance.” Even the river’s banks carry the scent of the water they contain.

The poet narrator believes that every man should see the countryside at this particular time of the year, should see “how everything ripens.” A breeze rises, but it is not strong enough to move the clouds, only to maneuver a blue haze that carries the scent of tobacco and grappa, a sign that men are smoking and drinking in the house at the edge of the field. The men are enjoying the morning too, consuming the products of nature.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 531

“Grappa in September” is a free-verse poem; it has no formal meter or rhyme. Most of the lines in the poem are end-stopped; either the poet’s thought is completed in each line, causing the reader to pause, or punctuation marks require the reader to pause at the end of the line. End-stopped lines slow down the movement of a poem, and Pavese’s use of end-stopped lines contributes to the meditative quality of “Grappa in September.” Pavese’s lines are similar to prose; his diction instructs his reader to speak the poem quietly.

Pavese admired the work of the early American poet Walt Whitman, whose style Pavese emulates in this poem by relying on editorial omniscience rather than first-person narration to lavish attention on related images of the everyday and the ordinary. The narrator’s point of view is clarified in each stanza. In the first stanza, the narrator describes the countryside impartially and hierarchically, from how the sun rises to which house sells grappa and tobacco. Because the poet does not use the word “I,” by the second stanza the reader realizes that the narrator is not a part of the scenes being described. The narrator is simply making observations and comparisons. However, in the third stanza the poet uses the second-person singular. Here, Pavese’s use of the word “you” to tell his reader he or she will “see only women” so early in the mornings assumes that the reader and the narrator are both spectators who share the same perceptions. However, in the final stanza, the narrator separates himself from the reader by stating an opinion: “This is the time when every man should stand/ still in the street and see how everything ripens.”

Like Whitman, Pavese uses implied rather than direct metaphors; that is, he uses metaphors without conjunctions or the verb “to be.” For example, lines 19 and 20 (in the third stanza) say, “water in the river has absorbed the banks,/ steeping them to their depths.” A comparison is being made between the action of the river on its banks and the process by which the skins and stems of grapes are absorbed and distilled in the manufacture of grappa.

Pavese’s similes are direct and provide the reader with a sense of pleasure. For example, women “stand in the sunlight,/as if they were fruit” and “The streets/ are like the women.”

Instead of employing complex symbolism, Pavese structures his poem as a series of images that continually foreshadow and augment each other. In the first stanza, for instance, mornings are as “clear” as the grappa that is “the color of water.” The tobacco that is “blackish in color” and “gives off a bluish haze” recalls the dawn that turns “foggy,/ darkening” the green of the river’s banks. In the second stanza, trees deepen in color like the green in the first stanza that darkens. The fruit of the trees ripens, as do the “occasional clouds.” Even houses in the distant city are “mellowing.” Pavese’s technique for showing the connection between the different aspects of a September morning develops and underscores the poem’s theme of ripeness and waiting, of observation and participation.

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Themes