On June 1, 1931 Antonio Gramsci, from prison, wrote a letter to his family containing the tale Il topo e la montagna; and it goes something like this…

The mouse and the mountain
by
Antonio Gramsci

In a house in the country, on a lovely island called Sardinia, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea a child is sleeping soundly in his bed.
His name is Antonio and he is not well!

On the table in the kitchen in the house in the country on the lovely island called Sardinia sits a tumbler of milk waiting for the child to wake up.

In a hole in the wall in the dark kitchen in the house in the country on the lovely island called Sardinia, a tiny Mouse is crouched, waiting for dawn.

When the first rays of light filter through the dusty glass, which keeps the island winds from blowing into the room, Mouse slips out of his den and moves gingerly into the room. He scurries to the table, scuttles up the leg of a chair, scampers onto the table-top and there, unable to resist, he tips the tumbler and drinks the milk!

But Antonio is not well, and the milk his mother has set aside is just for him, and it is needed to help him grow, and it was needed to help him get better.

When the sun’s rays flood over Antonio and the new day enters the room, Antonio opens his eyes. He drags himself out of bed and up to the table. He looks at the tumbler…but his milk is gone!

Little Antonio screams!

His mother screams!

The little Mouse screams: he understands the harm he has done!

“Oh, my, oh dear, oh my!” says Mouse. “How do I repair the damage done? How do I repair it?!”

He dashes this way and that.

“Oh my!” he squeaks, “Oh dear!” he screams, “Oh my!” he shrieks.

He bangs his head against the wall.

He bangs his head against the floor.

Mouse—oh dear, oh my, oh dear— is desperate. But he knows that by giving up hope he will not get the milk back. So he thinks and he thinks and he decides to do something.

He runs outside to find the goat:

“Mrs. Nanny-goat” cries tiny Mouse, “Would you have some milk to spare for the boy Antonio who is not well?”

“I would gladly give you some milk,” replies Mrs. Nanny-goat, “if only I had some grass to eat!
But look how thin I am! I have no milk.”

So the tiny Mouse runs out into the meadow in search of grass:

“Miss Meadow,” he says, “Would you happen to have some grass to spare for Nanny-goat who would gladly give some milk to the child Antonio who is not well?”

“I would gladly give her some grass,” says Miss Meadow, “but my land is so dry. Look at what the drought has done to me! How can I help you when I have no water?”

So the tiny mouse goes to the fountain in the square:

“Mr. Fountain,” says Mouse, “could you spare some water for the meadow which has no grass to give to the goat who would gladly give some milk to the child Antonio who is not well?”

“I would gladly give you some water,” responds Mr. Fountain, “but the bombs from the war have ruined my well and there is no water in my spout!”

So the tiny Mouse goes to the builder:

“Mr. Builder,” asks the mouse, “could you help me rebuild the fountain, because the boy Antonio is not well and the goat would gladly give him some milk if she had grass, and the meadow would gladly give the Nanny-goat grass if she were not dry, and the fountain would gladly give the meadow water if his well were fixed!”

“I would gladly help you rebuild the fountain,” replies the builder, “but I have no stones to build it with!”

So the tiny Mouse runs to the mountain:

“Mr. Mountain,” says the tiny mouse exhausted, “I need your help!”

The rough and rocky mountain, whose beautiful trees have been stripped away by the greed of Man, looks down on the tiny mouse with sympathy.

It echoes from its deep, lonely hollows, shaking its barren, wind-swept crest:

“How could I possibly help you? Can’t you see what Man has done to me? Can’t you see my rotted stumps, my arid soil? Can’t you see how the gusts of wind circle over me whistling icily?
Can’t you see the ruins of deforestation? ”

The tiny Mouse plucks up its courage, stands firmly, and says:

“I didn’t know the boy Antonio was ill, and I drank his milk. I want to make makes amends.
So I asked the goat for milk, and she said yes, but she is so thin because has no grass. So I asked the meadow for grass, and she said yes, but she is so dry because she has no water. So I asked the fountain for water, and he said yes, but he was broken by war and has no well. So I asked the builder to help me build the fountain, and he said yes, but he has not stones. So now I’m asking you: If you give me stones, I promise the child will grow big and strong and he will plant fir, and oak, and chestnut trees on your hills. And those trees will grow and their roots will keep your slopes from sliding. They will keep the wind from sweeping over you ceaselessly, and you will be happy again.”

So the mountain gives the builder the stones, who build the fountain a well, who gives the meadow water, who gives the goat grass, who gives the mouse milk, who gives the milk to the child Antonio.

And there is so much milk that the mouse can bath in it, and there was so much grass that the goat grows fat, and there was so much water that the meadow rows lush, and the water in the well is so abundant that the fountain spouts night and day. And everything changes: The tree-covered mountain rises proudly towards the sky. And the underbrush becomes soft and black and rich. And the winds stop devouring the crests of the mountain. And the rains bath the leaves and fill the streams.
And the animals had water to drink and pine nuts to eat.

And that’s how the tiny Mouse moved the Mountain.

Translated by © Matilda Colarossi 2020 all rights reserved

The original story:

Antonio Gramsci
Lettere del 1 giugno, 1931  

Carissima Giulia,
puoi domandare a Delio, da parte mia, quale dei racconti di Puskin ami di piú. Io veramente ne conosco solo due: Il galletto d’oro e Il pescatore.
Vorrei ora raccontare a Delio una novella del mio paese che mi pare interessante. Te la riassumo e tu gliela svolgerai, a lui e a Giuliano.

Un bambino dorme. C’è un bricco di latte pronto per il suo risveglio. Un topo si beve il latte. Il bambino, non avendo latte, strilla, e la mamma che non serve a nulla corre dalla capra per avere del latte. La capra gli darà il latte se avrà l’erba da mangiare. Il topo va dalla campagna per l’erba e la campagna arida vuole l’acqua. Il topo va dalla fontana. La fontana è stata rovinata dalla guerra e l’acqua si disperde: vuole il maestro muratore; questo vuole le pietre. Il topo va dalla montagna e avviene un sublime dialogo tra il topo e la montagna che è stata disboscata dagli speculatori e mostra dappertutto le sue ossa senza terra. Il topo racconta tutta la storia e promette che il bambino cresciuto ripianterà i pini, querce, castagni ecc. Cosí la montagna dà le pietre ecc. e il bimbo ha tanto latte che si lava anche col latte. Cresce, pianta gli alberi, tutto muta; spariscono le ossa della montagna sotto il nuovo humus, la precipitazione atmosferica ridiventa regolare perché gli alberi trattengono i vapori e impediscono ai torrenti di devastare la pianura. Insomma il topo concepisce un vero e proprio piano di lavoro, organico e adatto a un paese rovinato dal disboscamento.  
Carissima Giulia, devi proprio raccontare questa novella e poi comunicarmi l’impressione dei bimbi.  
Ti abbraccio teneramente.  
ANTONIO          

One thought on “Antonio Gramsci: The mouse and the mountain (a tale about determination)

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