Cesare Pavese, The Langhe Are Never Lost


In this post, we continue our investigation of the meaning of #nobility. This time we look at the word through the eyes of writer Cesare Pavese, to whom the Pavese Festival of Santo Stefano Belbo, the village where he was born, is dedicated every August and September. Cesare Pavese saw nobility as resistance to abandonment, that is, an ability to draw the strength to find one’s place in the world from one’s roots.

Today you saw the big hill with its hollows, the stand of trees, the brown and the blue and the houses, and you said: it is as it is. As it must be. This is enough for you. It’s an everlasting land. Can you want anything more? You pass over these things and you wrap them up and you live them, like the air, like the burr of the clouds. Nobody knows that it’s all here.

Cesare Pavese, Il mestiere di vivere, 1947 (Published in English in 1952 under the title The Burning Brand)

It’s all here, in the Langhe: the sun, the clouds, the grapevines, the villages, the rivers, the rhythm of the seasons, the colours, the people’s hands. It’s all here, because here (in the Langhe), history is connected with legend, the past of humanity with everyday life, blending into a single vibrant, vital whole.

Every one of us, right from childhood, has a special relationship with the places and landscapes in which he or she is born. This was the case of Cesare Pavese, who found his “sense of place” in the geography of the Langhe, the space/time coordinates that underlie all of his spiritual and cultural background. Pavese attributed to his hills, particularly those around Santo Stefano Belbo, very great symbolic value: the ability to tell those capable of listening to them profound truths about the essence of things and of the world.


Cesare Pavese was born on 9 September 1908 in Santo Stefano Belbo, a village on the boundary between the Langhe and Monferrato districts. He was a timid, introverted book lover and shunned human company in favour of long walks over the hills and refreshing dips in his own personal “sea”, the Belbo, the river that crosses Santo Stefano and gives its name to the valley. He lost his father when young and was raised by a cold, severe mother, who had him complete his studies in Turin, a city of great importance for his intellectual formation, though he always viewed it through the eyes of an exile from his native land.

“The Langhe are not lost,” he noted in I mari del Sud, the poem that opens his Lavorare Stanca (Hard Labour, published in 1936). He wrote the text when in internal exile in Brancaleone Calabro because of his anti-fascist position, and it speaks specifically of uprooting and distance, of solitude and the return to nature. The return of his cousin, who sailed the southern seas for more than twenty years before coming home; and that of the poet himself, who learned nothing from life in the city but “infinite fears”. And yet, the “Langhe are never lost”, as Pavese says: the place where we are born and grow up makes an indelible mark on our lives, and becomes a part of us, almost biologically, something we can never give up.


If the Langhe cannot be forgotten it is because they also represent the way Pavese learned about the world. The hills are the writer’s childhood, the “lens” through which he interprets reality and the “yardstick” with which to measure the distance between what he was and what he has become. The Langhe are not just a landscape, but a tangible sign of the immense fatigue of generations, of hands and arms that have worked the earth for thousands of years, becoming an integral part of it. Pavese learns to know not only the natural elements of this landscape, but the people, the traditions, the rituals, the stories of yesterday and today. All the images of the Langhe vibrate in this humanity of the past, in the energies that have been stratified with history and formed the roots out of which the values of today have grown.

No longer just the place where the author spent his childhood, the Langhe are elevated to the status of “myth”. The hills, the vineyards, the rivers, the trees and the clouds, however poetic in themselves, are not just “images”, but represent a “second sight”, as Pavese says in Il mestiere di vivere. The first is that of the myth: it came before us, it has always been there, it is the form of our eyes. The second is, instead, what we see, what we remember, what helps us give meaning to why we are living by attempting to connect with our original vision and suggests what our place in the world might be. The Langhe have a magical magnetism for Pavese. Every time the writer uses the word “hill”, or the word “village”– and he uses them obsessively in his compositions – he is attempting to perform a ritual, a mythological collective re-enactment: going back to his own personal history, his own memories, and connecting them with the universal one, with all men for all times: “A village is necessary, if only for the pleasure of leaving it behind. A village means not being alone, knowing that there is something of you in the people, in the plants, in the earth, something that is there waiting for you even when you are away”.

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