Teste fiorite

Gianni Rodari


Se invece dei capelli sulla testa

ci spuntassero i fiori, sai che festa?

Si potrebbe capire a prima vista

chi ha il cuore buono, che la mente trista.

Il tale ha in fronte un bel ciuffo di rose:

non può certo pensare a brutte cose.

Quest’altro, poveraccio, è d’umor nero:

gli crescono le viole del pensiero.

E quello con le ortiche spettinate?

Deve avere le idee disordinate,

e invano ogni mattina

spreca un vasetto o due di brillantina.

Flowering heads

Gianni Rodari


What if on our heads instead of hair

we had lovely flowers growing there?

We would surely know at first sight

whose heart is gold, whose mind’s not right.

A spray of roses on so-and-so’s brow:

and bad thoughts seem unfeasible somehow.

This other poor dear who’s so distressed:

flowers of sadness spring from his crest.

And what of the one whose nettles are tousled?

His thoughts too must certainly be muddled,

and in vain every morning

he uses jars of gel and combing cream.


Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2020



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3 thoughts on “Gianni Rodari: Teste fiorite/ Flowering heads

  1. ‘E quello con le ortiche spettinate?’
    This line and the translation to me were a special, enjoyable challenge, not easily abandoned. I found Ital. ‘ortiche’ to be partly cognate with Engl. ‘artichoke,’ via Spanish from Arabic. So my imagination ran to a head flowering with an artichoke, and a conversation about combing and making wavy or parting the hair in such a case. Thinking back and staying with ‘nettles’ then, the translation of the action word ‘tousled’ for ‘spettinate’ would be a challenge because the sense of ‘tousled’ evokes transitive action with the bare hands, an irritating prospect indeed, such that ‘unraked’ could be suggested for ‘spettinate;’ but then the final foot of this rhythmic line would not lend itself in your translation to pairing with ‘muddled’ in the next stanza. Fair enough. You certainly had fun with this one! You also did well in the prior pairing of ‘stressed’ and ‘crest’–very good. However in this couplet only, on the Engl side, no actual flower is named, and the sense of violet, even deep violet, evoking sadness, though understandable in a Classical or Romantic period sense is not in my American dialect (but now may become so, thanks to you). The sense imposed/suggested by Rodari in the poem overall seems to be primitivist, even childlike, as many paintings by kindergartners/elementary schoolers map grass onto the hair of the earth.
    Thank you for the opportunity to comment once again on your interesting, valuable work.


    • Thank you, Joseph, for reading the translation so closely. I have come to realize that everything I write, every solution I find for a word or line is so very personal: what I read and see, and especially hear, in a poem is inside me, like a heartbeat, something that resounds in a certain way in me.
      In “ortiche pettinate”, for example, it was his use of the T, the consonance, that excites me “orTiche speTTinaTe”. I couldn’t find Ts to satisfy me and opted for S: “TouSled nettleS” because I like the sound.
      “Spettinare” (infinitive of spettinate) is a transitive verb, of course, but also an adjective: you say “capelli spettinati”, he says “ortiche spettinate”, and those nettles make me think of itchy scratchy (ortiche are certainly itchy scratchy); and, therefore, the tousled hair that is a consequence of the scratching and itching head.
      The choice of “flower of sadness” was not easy: it is, in fact, a synonym of the lily; and lilies are our funeral flowers, just like viola (del pensiero) is the flower and the colour of grief, funerals, death.
      In the Italian, there is also a play on the actual meaning of the words: viola del pensiero is a “worried violet” (“essere in pensiero” is to worry) for the man who is in a bad mood (umor nero). There was no other flower that could recreate at least one of the literary devices.
      As always, something is lost in translation: I always hope I haven’t lost too much…Thank you for commenting.- Matilda


  2. Dear Mati, after your comments I appreciate so much more, first, the line
    ‘E quello con le ortiche spettinate,’ not only for the alveolar stops /-t(t)-/ you mention, but for the velars in /que-, co-, -che/ as well. Your interpretation is enhanced I think by a heightened phonic awareness of the Italian /t-/ in the environment of a following mid-to-high front vowel. So very personal indeed, but broadening and deepening the understanding of the poet’s alternations.
    Second, and I really want to thank you for setting me straight, on ‘viole de pensiero’ as an entire phraseological unit in Italian, referring to ‘pansies’ and having cognate meanings of mood in English, not dependent on ‘viole’ alone.
    Finally, returning to the problem set in the poem”s last verses coupling ‘mattina’ and ‘brillantina’: how challenging it is to handle this with a satisfying rhythm, rhyme and sense! You wrote:
    and in vain every morning
    he uses jars of gel and combing cream.
    This definitely captures the poets rambling abandonment of line discipline and mocking of the agoniste. But Rodari manages to keep to that final rhyming of ‘-tina.’ The best I could come up with, using your first line, would be something
    and in vain every morning
    combs on gel in gobs for glorying.
    Anyway, it is morning for me now, Mati.
    You and Rodari did a great job, and I have eroded all the good soil from my brain, so at the moment not even weeds will grow. Ciao for now, Joseph


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