La mia infanzia fu povera e beata

Umberto Saba

La mia infanzia fu povera e beata
di pochi amici, di qualche animale;
con una zia benefica ed amata
come la madre, e in cielo Iddio immortale.

All’angelo custode era lasciata
sgombra, la notte, metà del guanciale;
ma più cara la sua forma ho sognata
dolo la prima dolcezza carnale.

Di risa irrefrenabili i compagni,
e a me di strano fervore argomento,
quando alla scuola i versi recitavo;

tra fischi, cori, animaleschi lagni,
ancor mi vedo in quella bolgia, e sento
solo un’ intima voce dirmi bravo.

My early life was poor and full of bliss

Umberto Saba

My early life was poor and full of bliss
with but a few friends, and but a few pets;
with an aunt as generous and precious
as mother, and on high God infinite.

Beside me for my guardian angel
I left half my pillow every night;
but a shape different and sweetly carnal
aroused my first desires while I slept.

To fits of laughter were stirred my classmates,
and with a strange excitement I was filled,
when in the school my verses I performed;

among hoots, and jeers, and beastly laments,
I see myself in that commotion still,
and hear my inner voice softly speak: bravo.


Translation: ©Matilda Colarossi 2019

La mia infanzia fu povera e beata is a poem by Umberto Saba. It was published in 1924 in the collection Autobiografia, which was later part of the book of poems Canzoniere.

In La mia infanzia fu povera e beata  the poet remembers his youth as conflicting and paradoxical: deep psychological trauma and profound interior conflict live side by side, in his memory, with a feeling of joy for the world around him.

Of the many poetic devices used in this sonnet (Oxymoron: povera e beata. Hendiadys: benefica e amata. Alliteration: in cielo Iddio immortale. Numerous enjambment: 1-2, 3-4, etc.. Metaphors: l’angelo custode, the guardian angel is his nurse Peppa Sabaz*, animaleschi grugniti is the grunting of animals, and bolgia is the infernal bedlam that is the class. Simile: come la zia…. Anastrophe: Quando alla scuola i versi recitavo. Synecdoche: versi used to mean poem. Hyperbaton: di risa irrefrenabile i compagnie. And rhyme: 1-3-5-7-, 2-4-6-8, etc..) some I was able to reproduce, some were impossible or just sounded wrong. For the metre (hendecasyllable in Italian), I wrote in iambic pentametre, where possible because the form is that of a classical Italian sonnet (2 quatrains and 2 tercets). The rhyme scheme is, in both Italian and English ABAB ABAB CDE CDE; in English the rhyme is almost always imperfect*. You never know how far to take the translation of a poem, how many devices to reproduce, how “loyal” you should be. But translation is like a crazy puzzle: sometimes the pieces come together perfectly, and sometimes you use too much force (and the picture is slightly off)!

*His nurse is omnipresent in the collection.

*Oblique rhyme- The sounds do not quite match. Sometimes they are called half, approximate, near, off, or slant rhymes. Examples are filled and still, night and slept.

Photo of the poet found here.

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