Antonio De Curtis

Published September 10, 2012 by Tony

“THE LEVEL” BY TOTO’

Antonio De Curtis best known by his stage name Totò (15 February 1898–15 April 1967) and whose complete name is prince Antonio Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno De Curtis di Bisanzio Gagliardi, was an Italian comedian, film and theatre actor, writer, singer and songwriter. He is widely considered one of the greatest Italian artists of the 20th century and loved by every Neapolitan as he was born in Naples and often talked in Neapolitan dialect. While he first gained his popularity as a comic actor, his dramatic roles, his poetry, and his songs are all deemed to be outstanding; his style and a number of his recurring jokes and gestures have become universally known memes in Italy. Probably people overseas do not know him, but for us Neapolitans Totò has become an icon, a legend whose name appears in all the encyclopedias.
If I had to pick one thing that Toto has done and that every Italian knows, I couldn’t not mention his poem entitled “La Livella” (The spirit Level), published in 1952, which for us is a must. A long poem set in a Neapolitan cemetery where the death and the dead persons are the protagonists.
But here the death does not frighten, the contrary is a source of humor and theatricality in an attempt to defuse act to allow the reader to appreciate not only poetry in and of itself, but also its high message, a metaphor which serves to enhance life before the death. Because as Totò says, death is like a “level” that leads to a world where there are no racial or social distinction. Everyone is equal to others being on the same “level”, whether during the earthly life he has been a king or a beggar.  For you it can appear a simple assumption, but hilariously told through a poem that looks more like a sketch, comic in the appearance but serious and grave in its meaning.

After a quick search on the internet, I think nobody has ever done a good English translation of this poem, so I will take a stab at doing it now. Obviously, the translation will lead to the loss of rhymes, while I have been obliged to adapt some ancient Neapolitan terms that have no equivalent in English.

  ‘A LIVELLA                                                                  THE LEVEL

Ogn’anno, il due novembre, c’è usanza

Every year, on November 2, it’s common for (1)

per i defunti andare al Cimitero.

the (day of the) Dead to go to the cemetery.

Ognuno ll’adda fà chesta crianza,

Everyone must do this good action,

ognuno adda tené chistu penziero.

everyone should have this attention.

 

 

Ogn’anno, puntualmente,in questo giorno

Every year, exactly on this day,

di questa triste e mesta ricorrenza,

of this sad and woeful celebration,

anch’io ci vado, e con dei fiori adorno

I go there too, and adorn with flowers

il loculo marmoreo ‘e zi’ Vicenza.

the grave stone of aunt Vincenza.

 

 

St’anno m’é capitato ‘navventura…

This year I have had an misadventure …

dopo di aver compiuto il triste omaggio,

after completed the sad homage,

Madonna! si ce penzo,e che paura!

oh my God! what a fear! If I think about it,

ma po’ facette un’anema e curaggio.

but then I took heart and courage.

 

 

‘O fatto è chisto, statemi a sentire:

The fact is this, listen to me:

s’avvicinava ll’ora d’à chiusura

it was time for the closing

io, tomo tomo, stavo per uscire

and I, slow…slow, was going to leave

buttando un occhio a qualche sepoltura.

having a look at some grave.

 

 

“Qui dorme in pace il nobile marchese

“Here sleeps in peace the noble Marquess

signore di Rovigo e di Belluno

lord of Rovigo and Belluno

ardimentoso eroe di mille imprese 

brave hero of a thousand feats 

morto l’11 maggio del ’31”

died on May 11 , ‘31 ” (2)

 

 

‘O stemma cu ‘a curona ‘ncoppa a tutto…

The coat of arms with a crown on top …

…sotto ‘na croce fatta ‘e lampadine,

a cross made with bulbs below,

tre mazze ‘e rose cu ‘na lista ‘e lutto,

three bunches of roses with a mourning list,

cannele,cannelotte e sei lumine.

candles, big candles and six grave-lights.

 

 

Proprio azzeccata ‘a tomba ‘e stu signore

Just close to the tomb of this gentleman

nce stava ‘n ‘ata tomba piccerella,

there was another tomb,  small,

abbandunata, senza manco un fiore,

abandoned without even a flower,

pe’ segno,sulamente ‘na crucella.

as a sign only a little cross.

 

 

E ncoppa ‘a croce appena se liggeva:

And on the cross barely read:

“Esposito Gennaro – netturbino”,

“Gennaro Esposito – garbage man”, (3)

guardannola, che ppena me faceva

looking at it, what a pity,

stu muorto senza manco nu lumino!

a dead without even a candle! (4)

 

 

Questa è la vita! ‘ncapo a me penzavo…

This is the life! I thought to myself …

chi ha avuto tanto e chi nun ave niente!

who had had much and those who has nothing!

Stu povero maronna s’aspettava

This poor fellow would have expected

ca pur all’atu munno era pezzente?

that even in the other world was wretched?

 

 

Mentre fantasticavo stu penziero,

As I mulled this thought,

s’era ggià fatta quase mezanotte,

it had already made ​​nearly midnight,

e i’rimanette ‘nchiuso priggiuniero,

and I remained close, captive and (5)

muorto ‘e paura…nnanze ‘e cannelotte.

scared to death.. in front of the grave-lights.

 

 

Tutto a ‘nu tratto,che veco ‘a luntano?

All of a sudden, who do I see from afar?

Ddoje ombre avvicenarse ‘a parte mia…

Two shadows approaching on my side …

Penzaje:stu fatto a me mme pare strano…

I thought: this thing seems to be strange …

Stongo scetato…dormo,o è fantasia?

Am I awake… am sleeping, or is it fantasy?

 

 

Ate che fantasia;era ‘o Marchese:

There is not fantasy! There was the Marquis

c’o’ tubbo,’a caramella e c’o’ pastrano,

with topper, monocle and overcoat,

chill’ato apriesso a isso un brutto arnese;

and the one behind him, not fine-looking,

tutto fetente e cu ‘nascopa mmano.

all dirty and with a broom in his hand.

 

 

E chillo certamente è don Gennaro…

And that certainly is Don Gennaro …

‘omuorto puveriello…’o scupatore.

The died poor man… the street sweeper.

‘Int ‘a stu fatto i’ nun ce veco chiaro:

I do not understand this thing:

so’ muorte e se ritirano a chest’ora?

are they dead and get back at this hour?

 

 

Putevano sta’ ‘a me quase ‘nu palmo,

They could be almost a foot from me,

quanno ‘o Marchese se fermaje ‘e botto,

when the Marquis stopped suddenly,

s’avota e tomo tomo..calmo calmo,

turns and indifferent… calm calm

dicette a don Gennaro:”Giovanotto!

told to Don Gennaro: “Lad!

 

 

Da Voi vorrei saper, vile carogna,

I want to know from you, vile carrion,

con quale ardire e come avete osato

how daring and how do you have dared

di farvi seppellir,per mia vergogna,

to let yourself bury, to my shame,

accanto a me che sono blasonato!

next to me who are a noble!

 

 

La casta è casta e va, si, rispettata,

Caste is caste and must be respected,

ma Voi perdeste il senso e la misura;

But you lost the sense and moderation;

la Vostra salma andava, si, inumata,

Your body had to be inhumed, yes,

ma seppellita nella spazzatura!

but buried in the trash!

 

 

Ancora oltre sopportar non posso

I cannot bear further

la Vostra vicinanza puzzolente,

your smelly presence,

fa d’uopo, quindi, che cerchiate un fosso

thus, it’s necessary that you look for a grave

tra i vostri pari,tra la vostra gente”

among your peers, among your people”.

 

 

“Signor Marchese, nun è colpa mia,

“Mr. Marquis, it is not my fault,

i’nun v’avesse fatto chistu tuorto,

I would not have done this affront,

mia moglie è stata a ffa’ sta fesseria,

My wife did this foolish thing,

i’ che putevo fa’ si ero muorto?

What could I do if I was dead?

 

 

Si fosse vivo ve farrei cuntento,

If I were living I would make you happy,

pigliasse ‘a casciulella cu ‘e qquatt’osse

I’d take the coffin with the four bones

e proprio mo,obbj’…’nd’a stu mumento

and right now, really, in this moment

mme ne trasesse dinto a n’ata fossa”.

I would get in another grave.”

 

 

“E cosa aspetti,oh turpe malcreato,

“And what are you waiting, filthy badly created

che l’ira mia raggiunga l’eccedenza?

that my wrath reaches the surplus?

Se io non fossi stato un titolato

If I had not been a titled

avrei già dato piglio alla violenza!”

I’d already used violence! “

 

 

“Famme vedé..-piglia sta violenza…

“Let me see .. use this violence …

‘A verità,Marché,mme so’ scucciato

Marquis, in truth,  I’m tired

‘e te senti;e si perdo ‘a pacienza,

to listen to you, and if I lose my patience,

mme scordo ca so’ muorto e so mazzate!..

I forget that I’m dead and beat up …

 

 

Ma chi te cride d’essere…nu ddio?

Who do you think you are … a god?

Ccà dinto,’o vvuo capi,ca simmo eguale?…

In here, try to understand, that we’re all equal​​…

…Muorto si’tu e muorto so’ pur’io;

dead are you, and dead I also am ;

ognuno comme a ‘na’ato é tale e quale”.

each one is similar at another”.

 

 

“Lurido porco!…Come ti permetti

“You dirty bastard! … How do you dare 

paragonarti a me ch’ebbi natali

to compare yourself to me that I had

illustri, nobilissimi e perfetti,

natal illustrious nobles and perfect (6)

da fare invidia a Principi Reali?”.

that rivals Royal Princes?”.

 

 

“Tu qua’ Natale…Pasca e Ppifania!!!

“But what Natal…Easter and Epiphany!

T”o vvuo’ mettere ‘ncapo…’int’a cervella

do you want put in your head… in your brain

che staje malato ancora e’ fantasia?…

that you’re sick of fantasy? …

‘A morte ‘o ssaje ched”e?…è una livella.

Do you know what death is? … is a level.

 

 

‘Nu rre,’nu maggistrato,’nu grand’ommo,

A king, a judge, a great man,

trasenno stu canciello ha fatt’o punto

going beyond this gate has realized that

c’ha perzo tutto,’a vita e pure ‘o nomme:

has lost everything, life, and also the name:

tu nu t’hè fatto ancora chistu cunto?

Don’t have you realized this yet?

 

 

Perciò,stamme a ssenti…nun fa”o restivo,

So, listen to me … don’t be reluctant,

suppuorteme vicino-che te ‘mporta?

endure my presence, what do you care?

Sti ppagliacciate ‘e ffanno sulo ‘e vive:

These antics are done by living (being) only;

nuje simmo serie,appartenimmo à morte!”

we are serious … we belong to the death! “

 

 

 

(1) In Italy the “All souls’ day” comes on 2 November.

(2) – The author is reading a grave epitaph.

(3) – Gennaro and Esposito are respectively a name and a surname very, very common in Naples, and once specifically concerning  the low-class.

(4) – For Neapolitans the dead’s cult is very strong and most braves have a grave-light always on (once, candles too), by an annual subscription.

(5) – Maybe, in the past the cemeteries closed at midnight, or it only is the author to choose this hour as it is correlated with the spirits apparition.

(6) The exact term to use here was “origin” but I used “natal” because in Italian the term “origin” is told “natali” which is just similar to the word “Natale” (Christmas in Italian) or can represent its plural, and this because the sweeper  is then ironic on this word playing with it, even adding other celebrations. The meaning of his next sentence could be “But which “natali” are you talking about…”, meaning they have no importance by now.

“At my funeral it will be very nice because there will be speeches, big words, praises; I will be discovered as a great actor, because this is the beautiful country where, to have gratitude then something must die.” – Totò –

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