Carmine Di Biase at the Times Literary Supplement:
The interviews and letters, however, along with the essays in Collection of Sand, shed light on this final image and reveal a continuity of imagery that binds much of Calvino’s work together. The “shells washed clean by the waves” speak of the serenity, momentary though it may be, that comes when a bit of the world’s chaos is contained in a fixed form, like the dead ants in a sack, like the sand transformed, through the slow work of a mollusc, into a shell. Two years before this story was published, Calvino had written to Natalia Ginzburg from San Remo, where he had grown up. It was “overflowing with people on holiday”, so he stayed “locked up at home” or went “out on walks in the country”. A better refuge, however, lay in “an old collection of shells” he had found in the house. He had begun to draw them “in order not to lose contact with things”. He found the nautilus shells particularly difficult to draw. “I’m not good at it”, he said. He was also struggling to translate his “favorite four lines” from Baudelaire’s “Le mort joyeux”. McLaughlin renders them thus: “In fertile earth full of snails / I want to dig myself a deep grave, / Where I can stretch out my old bones in peace / And sleep in oblivion like a shark in the waves”. Here, perhaps, in this early letter to Ginzburg, is the origin of an image that would follow Calvino and inform his work for the rest of his life.