Ricordo di fanciullezza

Attilio Bertolucci

Le gaggie della mia fanciullezza
dalle fresche foglie che suonano in bocca…
Si cammina per il Cinghio asciutto,
qualche ramo più lungo ci accarezza
la faccia fervida, e allora, scostando
il ramo dolce e fastidioso, per inconscia vendetta
si spoglia di una manata di tenere foglie.
Se ne sceglie una, si pone lieve
sulle labbra e si suona camminando,
dimentichi dei compagni.
Passano libellule, s’odono le trebbiatrici lontane,
si vive come in un caldo sogno.
Quando più la cicala non s’ode cantare,
e le prime ombre e il silenzio della sera ci colgono,
quasi all’improvviso, una smania prende le gambe
e si corre sino a perdere il fiato,
nella fresca sera, paurosi e felici.

Memory of youth

Attilio Bertolucci

The locust tree of my youth
cool leaves that sound in your mouth…
You walk along the waterless Cinghio,
a longer branch caresses
our fervid face, and then, pushing aside
the sweet and vexing branch, out of unwitting spite
you strip away a handful of tender leaves.
One is selected, and it is placed lightly
on your lips and played while strolling,
heedless of your companions.
Dragonflies pass, threshers are heard in the distance,
you live as if in a warm dream.
When no longer you hear the cicada singing,
and the first shadows and the silence of the night fall upon us,
almost suddenly, frenzy makes your legs itch
and you run until you are out of breath,
in the cool air, frightened and elated.

 

Translation @Matilda Colarossi 2020

Attilio Bertolucci’s strong passion for cinematography—a passion that he would pass on to his children, Giuseppe and Bernardo, both directors—is obvious in the execution of this poem. “Our eye continues to make frames: both when looking at landscapes or, similarly, the street of a big city, or a deserted room. During our day, the lights—of which someone like Storaro, for example, masterfully thinks when making a film—are the “thought” of the passing sun, the thickening of the shadows,” states Bertolucci, and the play of light is a protagonist in this brief poem, moving hand in hand with the memories of the poet’s youth.

Ricordo di fanciullezza”, Memory of youth, is from the collection Fuochi di novembre (November fires), composed in 1934.

The theme of the entire piece is a memory of the poet’s youth, a happy memory set amidst a nature that is painted in crepuscular hues. The poet remembers the leaves of the locust tree, which were used to make music. The poem is enveloped in an oneiric mist of nostalgia: it didn’t take much to be happy then, as a child, surrounded by nature and friends.

The entire piece seems suspended between a dream and reality where things, like his friends in line 10, suddenly appear, “sputano”. The memory becomes dreamlike as reality fades with the oncoming night (v. 14); and the children run through the fields and the cool air of the night, both frightened and elated.

The language is simple, the verse free with numerous refined terms (fresche foglie, s’odono, s’ode/ ). In the Italian original the author makes this very private memory impersonal by using the “si” (si cammina/ one walks or you walk etc.—I have opted for “you” when I absolutely needed the pronoun), and only uses the first person plural in lines 4 and 14 (ci accarezza, ci colgono) to embrace the reader in the caress of the branch, and later in the oncoming night: in both cases, there is a warmth, a gentleness, the tenderness that accompanies the memories of our youth.

The poetic elements include synesthesia: vv 1-2 (sight, the tree); vv 3-7 (touch, the fervid faces, gentle and vexing branch; handful of leaves); and vv 8-10 (sound, vague illusive descriptions of the thresher and the music of the leaves). Alliteration is used as well, and the repetition of the consonants s and f to give the poem musicality: I reproduced as many of these elements as I could, careful not to change the purpose behind the poet’s words. In line 6 we find an antithesis and an oxymoron: respectively, “ramo dolce e fastidioso”, which, in fact, is not one phrase but refers to two concepts, the easiness with which the children push the branch away, “dolce”, and the vexing fact that it is always in their way, “fastidioso”; and later the “inconscia vendetta”, when, out of spite, and, therefore, in a conscious manner, the children remove all the leaves “unwittingly” from the branches that are hindering their passage. In line 13 we find an anastrophe to underline the end of the cicada’s song and the coming of night: “Quando più la cicada non si sente cantare…” (when no longer you heed the cicada singing). – M.C.

The poem is found in the book Bertolucci, Le Poesie, Garzanti (2014), p. 46.

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