Lettere dal carcere

Di Antonio Gramsci

22 febbraio, 1932

Caro Delio,

mi è piaciuto il tuo angoletto vivente coi fringuelli e i pesciolini. Se i fringuelli scappano talvolta dalla gabbietta, non bisogna afferrarli per le ali o per le gambe, che sono delicate e possono rompersi o slogarsi; occorre prenderli a pugno pieno per tutto il corpo, senza stringere. Io da ragazzo ho allevato molti uccelli e anche altri animali: falchi, barbagianni, cuculi, gazze, cornacchie, cardellini, canarini, fringuelli, allodole ecc.; ho allevato una serpicina, una donnola, dei ricci, delle tartarughe. Ecco come ho visto i ricci fare la raccolta delle mele.

Una sera d’autunno quando era già buio, ma splendeva luminosa la luna, sono andato con un altro ragazzo, mio amico, in un campo pieno di alberi da frutto, specialmente di meli.

Ci siamo nascosti in un cespuglio, contro vento. Ecco, a un tratto, sbucano i ricci, cinque, due piú grossi e tre piccolini. In fila indiana si sono avviati verso i meli, hanno girellato tra l’erba e poi si sono messi al lavoro: aiutandosi coi musetti e con le gambette, facevano ruzzolare le mele, che il vento aveva staccato dagli alberi, e le raccoglievano insieme in uno spiazzetto, ben bene vicine una all’altra. Ma le mele giacenti per terra si vede che non bastavano; il riccio piú grande, col muso per aria, si guardò attorno, scelse un albero molto curvo e si arrampicò, seguito da sua moglie. Si posarono su un ramo carico e incominciarono a dondolarsi, ritmicamente; i loro movimenti si comunicarono al ramo, che oscillò sempre piú spesso, con scosse brusche e molte altre mele caddero per terra. Radunate anche queste vicino alle altre, tutti i ricci, grandi e piccoli, si arrotolarono, con gli aculei irti, e si sdraiarono sui frutti, che rimanevano infilzati: chi aveva poche mele infilzate (i riccetti), ma il padre e la madre erano riusciti a infilzare sette o otto mele per ciascuno. Mentre stavano ritornando alla loro tana, noi uscimmo dal nascondiglio, prendemmo i ricci in un sacchetto e ce li portammo a casa. Io ebbi il padre e due riccetti e li tenni molti mesi, liberi, nel cortile; essi davano la caccia a tutti gli animaletti, blatte,maggiolini ecc. e mangiavano frutta e foglie d’insalata. Le foglie fresche piacevano loro molto e cosí li potei addomesticare un poco; non si appallottolavano piú quando vedevano la gente. Avevano molta paura dei cani. Io mi divertivo a portare nel cortile delle biscie vive per vedere come i ricci le cacciavano. Appena il riccio si accorgeva della biscia, saltava lesto lesto sulle quattro gambette e caricava con molto coraggio. La biscia sollevava la testa, con la lingua fuori e fischiava; il riccio dava un leggero squittio, teneva la biscia con le gambette davanti, le mordeva la nuca e poi se la mangiava pezzo a pezzo.

Questi ricci un giorno sparirono: certo qualcuno se li era presi per mangiarli. [ … ]

Ti scriverò un’altra volta sul ballo delle lepri e su altri animali: ti voglio raccontare altre cose che ho visto e sentito da ragazzo: la storia del polledrino, della volpe e del cavallo che aveva la coda solo nei giorni di festa, – la storia del passero e del kulak, del kulak e dell’asinello, dell’uccello tessitore e dell’orso, ecc. Mi pare che tu conosci la storia di Kim; conosci anche le Novelle della Giungla e specialmente quella della foca bianca e di RikkiTikki-Tawi?

E Giuliano è anche lui un udarnik? Per quale attività? Ti bacio – papà. – Bacia per

parte mia Giuliano e mamma Julca.

Letters from prison

By Antonio Gramsci

February 22, 1932

Dear Delio,

I liked your little angel with the finches and the fish. If the finches happen to fly out of the cage, don’t grab them by the wings or the legs, which are delicate and can be broken or torn; you must hold them in your palm, by the body, without squeezing hard. When I was a boy I looked after many birds and other animals: hawks, barn owls, cuckoos, crows, goldfinches, larks etc.; I looked after a snake and a weasel, some hedgehogs, and turtles. This is how I saw the hedgehogs gather apples.

One evening in autumn, when it was already dark but the moon was bright, I went with another boy, a friend, into a field full of fruit trees, mostly apple.

We hid in the bushes, facing the wind. Well, all of a sudden some hedgehogs appeared: five, two big ones and three little ones. They walked out in single file and went towards the apples, roaming through the grass and then finally getting to work: with the help of their snouts and little legs, they pushed the apples the wind had shaken off the trees, and they gathered them in a little clearing, neatly, one next to the other. But obviously the apples on the ground were not enough; so the biggest hedgehog, snout raised to the sky, looked around him, chose a bent tree and climbed it, followed by his wife. They sat on a branch full of apples and started rocking rhythmically; their movements passed to the branch, which began to move back and forth, back and forth, jolting briskly, and a lot of other apples fell to the ground. As soon as they gathered these with the others, all of hedgehogs – both the big and little ones – rolled, spines erect, onto their backs and lay down on the apples, spearing them with their spines:  some held only a few apples (the hoglets), but the father and mother hedgehog were able to spear seven or eight apples each.  While they were going back to their hollow, we left our hiding place, put the hedgehogs in a bag and took them home with us. I got the father and two hoglets and kept them for many months, setting them free in the yard; they hunted every sort of insect:  roaches, beetles etc. and ate fruit and salad leaves. They liked fresh leaves a lot and so I could train them a bit; they didn’t curl into balls when they saw people. They were really afraid of dogs. I had fun bringing garden snakes into the yard to see how they hunted them. As soon as the hedgehog discovered the snake, it would quickly stand on its legs and charge it courageously. The snake would lift its head, stick out its tongue and hiss; the hedgehog squeaked softly, held the snake in its front legs, bit the nape of its neck and then ate it one piece at a time.

One day these hedgehogs disappeared: someone must have taken them to eat them. […]

I’ll write again and tell you about how hares dance and about other animals: I’d like to tell you about the other things I saw and heard as a child: the story about the colt, about the fox and the horse who only had a tail on holidays, – the story about the sparrow and the kulak, about the kulak and the donkey, about the weaver finch and the bear etc. I think you know the story of Kim; do you know the Jungle Book and especially the stories about the white seal and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?

And is Giuliano an udarnik, too? What does he do? Kisses – dad. – Kiss Giuliano and mummy Julca for me.

Translation by ©Matilda Colarossi

Antonio Gramsci, (1891, Sardinia – 1937, Rome), was an intellectual and politician, and the founder of the Italian Communist Party.The party was outlawed by Mussolini, and Gramsci was arrested and imprisoned. At his trial the fascist prosecutor argued, “We must stop his brain from working for 20 years.”

Many of his propositions became a fundamental part of Western Marxist thought and influenced the post-World War II strategies of communist parties in the West. The letters he wrote from prison, “Letters dal Carcere”, from which the letter is taken, were published posthumously.
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