The Poem

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.

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...

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Forms and Devices

“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...

(The entire section is 531 words.)