Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli
(1791 - 1863)
è tradizionalmente considerato il poeta di Roma. Fra il 1824 e il 1846 scrisse
oltre 2,200 sonetti, ognuno dei quali è una fedele riproduzione della città
dei primi dell'Ottocento.
sua introduzione alla raccolta di sonetti inizia con queste parole "Io ho
deliberato di lasciare un monumento alla plebe di Roma...". Egli tuttavia
era in netto contrasto con la struttura sociale del suo tempo.
era governata dal pontefice, "il Papa Re". Un ristretto numero di
aristocratici e l'arrogante clero costituivano le classi sociali più alte, il
cui potere aveva ormai perso qualsiasi giustificazione storica o morale; a loro
si contrapponeva il popolino, fanatico e superstizioso, i cui unici diversivi
erano le molte manifestazioni di piazza, indette per celebrare e glorificare le
classi dominatrici, e le altrettanto numerose pubbliche esecuzioni (tanto che
uno dei boia, Giovan Battista Bugatti detto Mastro Titta, divenne addirittura un
nostri popolani non hanno arte alcuna: non di oratoria, non di poetica: come
niuna plebe n'ebbe mai. Tutto esce spontaneo dalla natura loro, viva sempre ed
energica perché lasciata libera nello sviluppo di qualità non fattizie".
un intellettuale, forse anche un moralista, e scrisse i sonetti con l'intento di
mettere alla berlina l'ipocrisia di questa società decadente, nel vano
tentativo di vederne cambiare la secolare struttura. La sua satira pungente ha
dato vita a un gran numero di vignette ricche di spirito, celandovi talvolta
amare considerazioni sulla vita e sulla condizione dell'uomo.
dei sonetti hanno per tema soggetti biblici; in essi i personaggi parlano,
pensano e agiscono alla stregua di tipici esponenti del popolo romano.
scrisse anche diversi saggi in italiano, ma è ricordato solamente per i suoi
ultimi anni di vita però il poeta li rinnegò, dichiarandoli "...sparsi di
massime, pensieri, parole riprovevoli...", e rifiutando di riconoscere in
essi i propri sentimenti; "...esiste una cassetta piena di miei manoscritti
in versi. Si dovranno ardere!" scrisse nel suo testamento.
raccolta dei "Sonetti Romaneschi" uscì per la prima volta oltre 20
anni dopo la sua morte. Molti altri furono rinvenuti in seguito (alcuni dei
quali incompiuti), e la prima edizione completa dovette attendere quasi un
secolo, venendo pubblicata nel 1952.
del loro vigore è dovuto all'uso del dialetto romanesco: diversamente, un gioco
di parole o un'espressione caratteristica non avrebbero la stessa efficacia, in
italiano come in nessun'altra lingua. Per questo motivo la letteratura "ufficiale"
non li ha mai tenuti in gran considerazione e, per quanto mi risulti, seri
tentativi di traduzione non ne sono mai stati fatti.
di essi racconta un breve aneddoto, uno schizzo della vita di tutti i giorni;
gli elementi principali della storia si snodano rapidamente nell'apertura,
mentre i versi finali contengono una conclusione, di solito umoristica o ironica,
a volte lirica o persino filosofica.
sonetto ha una struttura semplice: due quartine seguite da due terzine; la rima
nella maggioranza dei casi si attiene allo schema: A B B A - A B B A - C D C - D
C D, ma a volte: A B A B - A B A B - C D C - D C D
I sonetti di Giuseppe Giocchino Belli
Opere di Giuseppe Giocchino Belli
CHE LINGUE CURIOSE!
tu' Francia sarà una gran città,
li francesi che nascheno lì
una certa gorgia de parlà
ssia 'mazzato chi li po' capì.
ttre e ttre nun fa sei, tre e ttre ffa ssì,
quanno è robba tua, sette a ttuà.
dì de sì, se burla er porco: uì:
chi vò dì de no dice: nepà.
m'aricordo de quer zor monzù
pprotenneva che dicenno a ssé,
abbasta, nun ne vojo più.
de quell'antro che me se maggnò,
colazzione d'affogacce un Re,
E me ce disse poi che diggiunò ?!.
7 dicembre 1831
L'ABBICHINO DE LE DONNE
donna, inzino ar venti, si è contenta
l'anni che ttiè ssempre li canta:
cresce uno oggni cinque inzino ar trenta,
se ferma lì ssino a quaranta.
quarantuno impoi stenta e nun stenta,
ne dice antri dua sino ar cinquanta;
allora, che aruvina pe la scenta,
la senti sartà ssubbito a ottanta.
ar cresce li fiji de li fiji,
potenno esse ppiù donna d'amore,
ffigurà da donna de conziji.
allora er cardinale o er monziggnore,
j'allisciava er pelo a li cuniji,
a recità da confessore.
ER COMMERCIO LIBBERO
So' pputtana, venno la mi' pelle:
la miggnotta, si, sto ar cancelletto:
pijo in quello largo e in quello stretto:
gnent'antro da dì? Che cose belle!
ce sò stat'io puro, sor cazzetto,
com'e tutte le zitelle;
mo nun c'è chi avanzi bajocchelle
la lana e la paja der mi' letto.
de che me laggn'io? No der mestiere
ssarìa bell'e bono, e quanno butta
pò ttrovasse ar monno antro piacere.
de ste dame che stanno anniscoste
laggno, che, vedenno quanto frutta
Lo scortico, ciarrubbeno le poste.
16 dicembre 1832
Poet's Choice By Edward Hirsch
Sunday, January 4, 2004; Page BW12
The 19th-century Italian poet Giuseppe Belli (1791-1863) created sonnets that are small, explosive, highly compressed dramas. He was a lifelong resident of Rome and wrote in the Romanesco dialect of Trastevere, which Miller Williams, who has brilliantly translated Belli into an earthy American idiom, calls a sister language of Italian. When I lived in Trastevere for a year in the late 1980s, I discovered that the Romani or Trasteverians still tend to call themselves Noiantri: we others. It was for these proud, irrepressible "others" that Belli wrote more than 2,000 sonnets over a 30-year period.
Belli had a strong theatrical streak and liked to tell stories. He had a tough, streetwise wit, a terrific ear for slang, and a deep sympathy for working people. His poems are cunning, ironic and robust. They are unexpected and shocking, as when one gravedigger says to another:
So what are we gonna do? Nobody dies.
That smell of malaria wasn't worth a damn.
People are holding onto their crazy lives.
You'll love gravedigging, they said. So here I am.
E cc'affari vòi fà? ggnisuno more:
Williams notes that Belli all but turned the sonnet into a ballad form. He gave it raw, narrative energy. A good example is "La nottata de spavento," a chilling poem that he wrote on Jan. 22, 1835.
Night of Terror
You're not going back out, as mad as you are?
Look, I don't like the way you're acting tonight.
Jesus! What is it? What have you got under there?
Holy Virgin, you're looking for a fight!
Pippo, my darling, you're not in any shape
To be out there carousing around town.
Pippo, listen to me, for pity's sake.
Okay, give me the knife. Just put it down.
You're not going out. I'm not yours anymore
The minute you leave. Cut me, go ahead.
There's no way you're going through that door.
Look at our sleeping angel. What a surprise
Not to find his father beside his bed
Smiling at him when he opens his eyes.
Aritorni via?! Ccusì infuriato?!
Belli despised cant. He worked as a petty bureaucrat and completely identified with the poor people of Trastevere. He was darkly funny and approached the world with the eye of a disabused lover. He knew how things worked. "Christ made great houses and palaces/for prince and earl, marquis, queen and duchess," he wryly declared in "The Two Human Species." "He made the earth for us, the dog-faces."
Belli developed a healthy contempt for crass wealth, for dirty politicians, and corrupt ecclesiastical authorities. His political poems are forthright, knowing and scornful. The people he writes about are instantly recognizable. Have things changed? Here is "Li padroni de Roma," which he wrote in April 1835.
The Bosses of Rome
These are the bosses of Rome; take a good look.
They know how to deal with scum like us. They learn
To cook us on both sides as no other cook
Could cook us, turned out perfectly, done to a turn.
First comes the pope, for all the afflicted. Now
The cardinals, like endless rows of roses,
And then the bishops, holier-than-thou,
Making up laws and looking down their noses.
Each one in his place, and number four,
The heads of the orders of monks to kill the bull,
To finish us off. Coming behind them, the corps
Of foreign diplomats with open knives
To claim the bull's ears. And last of all
The gentlemen of Rome with their beautiful wives.
PADRONI DE ROMA
Eccheve li padroni c'a nnoi guitti
Ce cuscineno mejjo de li cochi,
Ché spesso sce trovamo tra ddu' fochi
E da tutte le parte semo fritti.
Prima viè er Papa a conzolà l'affritti:
Dietro a li Cardinali e a li
Poi viengheno a ttajjà la testa ar
(All quotations are from "Sonnets of Giuseppe Belli," translated by Miller Williams. Louisiana State University Press. Translations )
Published: 18 December 2012
From “On Christ’s Nativity” – Five sonnets
In an introduction to translations of six sonnets by the Roman dialect poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (1791–1863), the poet Peter Dale wrote that despite the popularity of Belli’s work in Italy it is barely known to the wider critical world partly, perhaps, because of a traditional Italian embrace of native idiom that is not always shared elsewhere. Successful dialect versions of Belli’s poems have been made. In those by the Scots poet Robert Garioch, for example, Joseph Farrell found “a sinewy toughness, a relaxed humour and an energy of spirit” that caught the tone of the originals. But their popularity has not endured. Perhaps in the interest of accessibility, then, most translators, as Dale notes, opt for “flat paraphrase in a standardized tongue, with an occasional vernacular gesture”.
He makes an exception, however, for the versions by Manchester-born Anthony Burgess, whose decision to preserve Belli’s Petrarchan rhyme scheme also reflects the fact that, although much of his poetry was anarchic, blasphemous and obscene, it was structurally highly conventional. Burgess seems to have been fascinated by this paradox. In his novel (1977), in which these translations appeared, he imagines Belli meeting the dying John Keats in Rome and telling him that mere nature-worship leads to “nothing but Truth and Beauty and Goodness till you fall sick”, and that the English Romantics could do with calling a spade a shovel now and again. But he also reveres the sonnet which, he thinks, “must have existed from the beginning”, to be made flesh by Petrarch: “In my eight lines X, in my six lines Y, but my total fourteen ever the unity, the ultimate statement whose meaning is itself”. ABBA ABBA is, of course, the rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan octave. But for Burgess it is no accident that it is also Christ’s cry to his Father from the Cross. What else is the sonnet, he has Belli ask, “but the true image of God?”.
You know the day, the month, even the year. The Angel Gabriel, like a heaven-hurled hoop, Was bowling towards her through the atmosphere.While Mary ate her noonday plate of soup, He crashed a window. Mary, without fear, A lily in his fist, his wings adroop, “Ave”, he said, and after that, “Maria.Saw him come through the hole in one swift swoop,
“Rejoice, because the Lord’s eternal love Has made you pregnant – not by orthodox Came silently and nested in your box”.Methods, of course. The Pentecostal dove“A hen?” she blushed. “For I know nothing of –” The angel nodded, knowing she meant cocks.
Our Lady had a painful Christmas Day And heaven the monopoly of mirth.Between an ox and ass she brought to birth A stableboy that stank of rags and hay. His substitutive dad had to obey The Law, so took the yelling lord of earth Of hypostatic foreskin cut away.Templewards, to have half a farthingworth
Thirty years later saw the blessed Lord on A journey to the rolling river JordanTo be baptised by Mary’s cousin’s son. A Christian man thus sprang from a prepuceless But make a rare exception for this one.Jew. I call most turncoats fucking useless
Ner mentre che la Verginemmaria
Se maggnava un piattino de minestra,
L'Angiolo Grabbïello via via
Vieniva com'un zasso de bbalestra.
Per un vetro sfassciato de finestra
J'entró in casa er curiero der Messia;
E cco un gijjo a mman dritta de man destra
Prima je rescitó 'na vemmaria.
Poi disse a la Madonna: « Sora spósa,
Sete gravida lei senza sapello
Pe ppremission de Ddio da Pascua-rosa ».
Lei allora arispose ar Grabbiello:
«Come pò èsse mai sta simir cosa
S'io nun zo mmanco cosa sia l'uscello? »
G.G. Belli, 12 gennaio 1832
LA SCIRCONCISIONE DER ZIGNORE
Sette ggiorni e un po’ ppiú ddoppo de cuello
1. ↑ Putativo.
2. ↑ Singhiozzo.
3. ↑ Prepuzio. Con questa voce i Romaneschi burlano gli Ebrei.
4. ↑ Tevere, per nome appellativo di fiume.
5. ↑ I volubili.
G. G. BelliTranslated by Anthony Burgess (1976)
Andrew Biswell on a spunky collection that illuminates the range of Anthony Burgess's interests, Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems
Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems
by Anthony Burgess, edited by Kevin Jackson
112pp, Carcanet, £9.99
It should have come as no surprise that Byrne, Anthony Burgess's last novel (published posthumously in 1995), was written entirely in verse. Four of the book's five chapters are composed in ottava rima, a verse-form chosen by Burgess because it was the one that Lord Byron had used in his longer poetic narratives, such as Don Juan. Burgess's previous 31 novels, in which limericks, songs, poetic parodies, verse interludes and poet-characters abound, had done much to prepare readers for the sustained, spermatic, Byronic wit of Byrne:
name survives among film-music-makers
Because the late-night shows subsist on trash.
His opera's buried by art's undertakers,
His paintings join his funerary ash.
He left no land. "My property's two achers,"
Stroking laborious ballocks. As for cash,
He lived on women, paying in about
Ten inches. We don't know what they paid out.
The same bawdy, libidinous qualities that are on display here may be found in Burgess's earliest surviving poems, now collected for the first time in book form by Kevin Jackson. One of Burgess's schoolboy poems, "The Music of the Spheres", written in 1934 while he was studying at Xaverian College in Manchester, offers two possible interpretations. The "spheres" of the title could well be the harmony-producing celestial bodies of mythology. Or else they are testicles, in which case the poem must be referring to a coarser, orgasmic kind of music:
raised and poised a fiddle
Which, will you lend it ears,
Will utter music's model:
The music of the spheres.
By God, I think not Purcell
Nor Arne could match my airs.
Perfect beyond rehearsal
The music of the spheres.
Burgess returns repeatedly in his poems to the conjoined ideas (as he sees them) of maleness and creativity. Reading through the poems gathered here, I was struck by the number of allusions to the sexual act, often communicated through images of axes, drills, swords and gushing rivers of sperm. Taken together, these amount to an implicit argument about writing itself as a masculine business, which is echoed elsewhere in Burgess's fiction and in his swaggering verse translation of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. Like Cyrano in the play, Burgess used to walk the streets and subways of New York armed with a sword-stick, and this experience fed into another long poem, "The Sword".
Some of Burgess's most inventive sonnets appear in the novella Abba Abba (1977), a book which draws its title from the rhyme-scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet. Burgess imagines a meeting in Rome between the dying John Keats and Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli (1791-1863), the blasphemous sonneteer who wrote in the Roman dialect. The second half of the book contains translations of 71 of Belli's sonnets. Reviewing the novella, Tom Paulin said that Burgess "justifies his title, which isn't an example of merely tricksy punning, but an absolutely appropriate naming of his subject". The Belli translations are consistently filthy, but they preserve much of the obscene energy that drives the Roman originals. These lines are from "The Annunciation" (the Angel Gabriel is speaking):
said, and after that, "Maria.
Rejoice because the Lord's eternal love
Has made you pregnant - not by orthodox
Methods, of course. The Pentecostal dove
Came silently and nested in your box."
"A hen?" she blushed. "For I know nothing of -"
The angel nodded, knowing she meant cocks.
Burgess seems to have derived his theory of poetry from Robert Graves's eccentric but (in its day) widely influential critical book, The White Goddess (1948). Graves spoke of poetry as "a wild Pentecostal speaking with tongues", and Burgess writes in one of his own poems that "the Pentecostal sperm came hissing down" at the moment of creative generation. This is how he believed poems got made: by a process of insemination from without, or (as Graves puts it) through "religious invocation of the Muse, the experience of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites".
This theory of poetry is played out most conspicuously in the four comic novels that Burgess wrote about his alter ego, the sociopathic poet Francis Xavier Enderby, who composes most of his best work on the lavatory seat (which he likens to Shakespeare's "wooden O"). Enderby is literally inspired, in the strict sense of having words breathed into him, by a mystical white goddess, his ethereal muse. Within the fictional frame, Burgess's own early poems are reattributed to Enderby, including a sequence of five sonnets (the "Revolutionary Sonnets" of this volume's title) which won the mild approval of TS Eliot, to whom Burgess had sent them in the early 1950s:
yes, but for everyone the same.
The thought that wove it never dropped a stitch.
The absolute was everybody's pitch,
For, when a note was struck, we knew its name.
That dark aborted any wish to tame
Waters that day might prove to be a ditch
But then was endless growling ocean, rich
In fish and heroes till the dredgers came.
Wachet auf! A fretful dunghill cock
Flinted the noisy beacons through the shires.
A martin's nest clogged the cathedral clock,
But it was morning: birds could not be liars.
A key cleft rusty age in lock and lock.
Men shivered by a hundred kitchen fires.
What is revolutionary about this sonnet? Certainly not the approach to form, which is tight and metrically exact. The revolution lies in the subject matter: it is about the convulsive transition from the Middle Ages to the Reformation. As the fictional poet explains in Inside Mr Enderby (1963), the "martin's nest" in the sestet stands for Martin Luther and "the beginning of dissolution, everybody beginning to be alone, a common tradition providing no tuning-fork of reference and no way of telling the time, because the common tradition has been dredged away".
Other sonnets address other revolutions, such as the fall of man, the close of the Augustan age and the beginning of the romantic revival. Burgess's addiction to the sonnet form proclaims that the 1930s are his poetic point of origin, and the concerns of this sequence correspond closely to WH Auden's historical musings in his 1938 Chinese sonnets (first published in Journey to a War), which Burgess had read when he was an undergraduate.
Jackson's selection of Burgess's poems, including some ephemeral work culled from newspapers and magazines, is illuminatingly footnoted, and the editor has taken care to give the texts in their earliest surviving versions. Yet a surprisingly large number of Burgess's poems are simply missing from this book: the verse interludes from The Worm and the Ring, "A Long Trip to Tea-Time" and "One Hand Clapping"; the long poems and acrostics from Napoleon Symphony; the "Elegy for X" from Hockney's Alphabet; the songs from A Long Trip to Tea-Time and from the Broadway musical, Cyrano.
The most disappointing omission is "An Essay on Censorship", Burgess's long verse-letter to Salman Rushdie (written immediately after the 1989 fatwa), a spirited imitation of Alexander Pope's Essay on Man. Can Jackson be persuaded to add it to a second edition, or must we wait for a fuller, more scholarly volume of Collected Poems?
Andrew Biswell's biography of Anthony Burgess is published by Picador later this year