Canto degli ultimi partigiani

Franco Fortini

Sulla spalletta del ponte
Le teste degli impiccati
Nell’acqua della fonte
La bava degli impiccati.

Sul lastrico del mercato
Le unghie dei fucilati
Sull’erba secca del prato
I denti dei fucilati.

Mordere l’aria mordere i sassi
La nostra carne non è più d’uomini
Mordere l’aria mordere i sassi
Il nostro cuore non è più d’uomini.

Ma noi s’è letta negli occhi dei morti
E sulla terra faremo libertà
Ma l’hanno stretta i pugni dei morti
La giustizia che si farà.

Song of the last partisans

Franco Fortini

On the wall of the bridge
The heads of those hanged
In the water of the spring
The saliva of those hanged.

On flagstones at the market
The nails of those shot
On dead grass in the garden
The teeth of those shot.

Chew the air chew the stones
Our flesh no longer that of men
Chew the air chew the stones
Our heart no longer that of men.

But we’ve read it in the eyes of the dead
And on earth we will bring freedom
But it was clenched in the fists of the dead
The justice that will come.

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2019

Franco Fortini is the pen name of Franco Lattes, an Italian literary critic and poet. In 1938 he meets up with other young antifascists, and it is then that his intellectual maturity begins. In 1941 he comes in touch with a Roman antifascist group. In 1943 he becomes a part of the resistance and participates in the Repubblica Partigiana dell’Ossola. This experience will be fundamental in his formation as a man and as a writer. In 1946 he publishes “Fogli di via e altri versi”, from which the poem Canto degli ultimi partigiani comes. A hermetic poet in origin, his experience in the ranks of the partisans, his struggle to free Italy from fascism, will change him and his writing style substantially. His language will be much more abrasive, harsher, and strongly allusive. Through crude realism, Fortini represents—in his choice of what appear to be insignificant particulars— all the horrors of war. The nazi-fascists did not consider the partisans soldiers, but bandits: they were hanged after suffering horrific types of torture.

The poem has a particular structure, a beating as that of a military cadence.

The first and third lines of the first two stanzas refer to places; and the second and the fourth lines refer starkly to the body parts of the slaughtered partisans. We have an unfolding of the scene with particulars that create a distinctively raw imagery.

The last lines are rays of hope that justice, held in tight fists (as opposed to the Roman greeting— an extended palm— the fascist shared), will surely come.

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