poem

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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 –

WONDERFUL

Published May 20, 2012 by Tony

MERAVIGLIOSO

by Domenico Modugno

After the lyrics of yesterday, I could not avoid to put this other song by Modugno, another poem that speaks of the same subject, and that could be a response to the insane act of the man with the tail. Therefore, a hymn to life and as always I’ve tried to translate literally it, whereas possible. The video, however, refers to a recent version arranged by the Italian group Negramaro, a rock band from Puglia that has a lot of success here in Italy. I hope you like it.

WONDERFUL

It’s true
believe me it happened
at night on a bridge
watching the dark water
with the damn desire
to  take a dip down.
Suddenly
someone behind me
maybe an angel
dressed as a passerby
took me away telling me so:
Wonderful
but as you do not realize
how much the world is
wonderful.
Wonderful
your pain even
will seem then
wonderful….
But look around you
what gifts they did you:
they have invented
the sea
You say, I have nothing
Nothing seems (to you) the sun
Life
Love….
Wonderful
the fondness of a woman
who loves only you
wonderful….
The light of a morning
A friend’s hug
A child’s face
wonderful
wonderful…

The night was over
and I still felt (it)
(the) Taste of life
wonderful
wonderful….

OLD FRAC

Published May 19, 2012 by Tony

A Domenico Modugno Song

This is another song by the famous Italian singer Domenico Modugno, the writer of “Volare” (To fly). Entitled “OLD FRAC” is an old song but it’s always a pleasure to listen it, a song arranged later by other singers, but I’m proposing you the original version by the attached video. It is a melancholy poem whose words bring us back to old times, but through a timeless theme that unfortunately is still relevant: the suicide. The lyric masterfully composed, through a few words gives us the frames of some scenes while leaves much to the imagination. We can picture that man dressed in tailcoat, elegant and distinguished who is walking alone down the street late at night, was at a party or just been dumped by his woman. Sure he’s drunk, welcoming each object in its path by a simple bon nuit …. before reaching the bridge over the river. Whether for love or for bankruptcy, the next scene is clear: the top hat and tails floating in the water announce us his death, the death of a stranger who probably went away with the same discretion and elegance with whom he had lived.

In these cases, engaging in the translation of a lyric is always difficult, losing metric and rhymes. Therefore, consider it a simple literal translation and hear the song that is very beautiful.

OLD FRAC

Midnight is reached
noises are turned off
turned off even the last coffee’s sign
the streets are deserted
deserted and silent
that last carriage squeaking goes away
The river flows slowly
rustling under the bridge
the moon shines in the sky
sleeps through the city
only a man is going in a frac (tails)

He has a cylinder as hat
two diamonds for cuff-links
a stick of crystal
the gardenia as flagship
and on the candid waistcoats
a papillon, a blue silk papion

approaching slowly
with elegant gait
looking dreamy
melancholy and absent
don’t know from where comes
nor where he is going
Who ever is he
that man in frac

Buon nui, buon nui, buon nui, buon nui
good night
he is saying at anything
at the lanterns lit
at a rutting  cat
that stray goes away

And now it’s dawn
turn off the lights
wakes up gradually the whole city
the moon looks enchanted
surprise and pale
slowly fades into the sky and gradually will disappear

Yawns a window
on the silent river
and in the white light floating
a cylinder, a flower and a tail go away.

floating gently
let themselves rock
he goes down slowly
under the bridge to the sea
towards the sea
Who ever he will be
Who will ever be that man in frac.

Adieu, adieu, adieu, adieu, farewell to all the world
to the memories of the past
to a never dreamed dream
to a moment of love.

Italian Passion

Published December 2, 2011 by Tony

Frederick the Great’s Erotic Poem


It’s always been told that Italians and southern people are fiery and passionate and this was also known in the past, as evidenced by some letter of King Frederick II of Prussia. He even wrote an erotic poem in French called “Jouissance” (Sensual pleasure), where having recourse to Greek mythology, praised sex and orgasm during a night of love. The protagonists of this erotic story, described in detail, just were him and his lover Francesco Algarotti (an Italian essayist). It was written, according to correspondence with Voltaire (another close friend), in response to the Italian Algarotti friend’s contention, that northern Europeans were not as passionate as southern Europeans. Autograph letters and poem were found recently in the secret Prussian Archives in Berlin. The recently discovered manuscript is the original one owned by Algarotti. It was sent to Berlin in 1894, but was placed by Emperor William II in the Berlin archives where it has been ever since. The poem was printed in full in the German newspaper Die Zeit on September 15th.
In the end the king wrote,  “A moment of lust is worth as much to him who enjoys it as a century of honor.”

Francesco Algarotti   Frederick II

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