There is something so playful about translating rhyme. I don’t know if translating is the right word, really I don’t: how can something that has so much to do with sound actually be “translated” when to reproduce the authors’ “sounds” you have to use words so different from their own? I’m presenting two examples here (with audio), one almost a translation and the other an interpretation!

The first rhyme remains very close to the original. It was easier because the theme, the semi-colon, is a part of both Italian and English and the reasoning was very much the same.

La famiglia punto e virgola

Gianni Rodari

C’era una volta un punto
e c’era anche una virgola:
erano tanto amici,
si sposarono e furono felici.
Di notte e di giorno
andavano intorno
sempre a braccetto:
“Che coppia modello”
la gente diceva
“che vera meraviglia
la famiglia Punto-e-virgola”.
Al loro passaggio
in segno di omaggio
perfino le maiuscole
diventavano minuscole:
e se qualcuna, poi,
a inchinarsi non è lesta
la matita del maestro
le taglia la testa.
The semi-colon family
Gianni Rodari

Once upon a time there was a dot
and there was a comma
who were so friendly
they joined in matrimony.
All day and all night
they walked the land
forever hand in hand:
“Such a lovely couple,”
folks would say
“yes, the Semi-colon family
is quite exemplary.”
And as they walked past,
in sign of respect,
upper case letters
to lower case bent:
and if anyone dared
bow too slowly,
the teacher’s pen
cut their head readily!

Translation © Matilda Colarossi 2021

The second rhyme had to be rewritten: Gianni Rodari was a teacher. Many of the things he wrote were for educational purposes. The rhyme I have chosen was meant to teach children about apostrophes. In Italian the use of the apostrophe can change the meaning of the words. In this particular case the original word is Lago (lake) di Garda and l’ago (the needle). There are few contractions in English to play with. Many are misused by native speakers: they’re, their, there; your, you’re…None was suited to making the rhyme work. I opted for the future because a child who was ill could become “I’ll”. -M.C.

 L’ago di Garda

Gianni Rodari

C’era una volta un lago, e uno scolaro
un po’ somaro, un po’ mago,
con un piccolo apostrofo
lo trasformò in un ago.
“Oh, guarda, guarda –
la gente diceva
l’ago di Garda!”
“Un ago importante:
è segnato perfino sull’atlante”.
“Dicono che è pescoso.
Il fatto è misterioso:
dove staranno i pesci, nella cruna?”
“E dove si specchierà la luna?”
“Sulla punta si pungerà,
si farà male…”
“Ho letto che ci naviga un battello”.
“Sarà piuttosto un ditale”.
Da tante critiche punto sul vivo
mago distratto cancellò l’errore,
ma lo fece con tanta furia
che per colmo d’ingiuria,
si rovesciò l’inchiostro
formando un lago nero e senza apostrofo.
The future of ill

Gianni Rodari

Once upon a time there was a pupil, and she was ill.
Part wizard and part magician,
an apostrophe in hand
she thought of the future and wrote “I’ll…”.
“Oh, look, look,”
people said,
“from ill she’s become I’ll…
a bright future for sure:
there’s no doubt she’s found a cure.”
“They say it’s rather peculiar,
the girl must be quite remarkable.”
“But with no treatment and no pills?
Tell me, how can apostrophes heal?”
“It’s the future it calls to mind:
tomorrow, the next day and all we’ll find.
Happiness, games, joy and the things
we all want the future to bring.”
“But how many apostrophes would it take?
And what if we run out of ink?”
“If apostrophes run short
to ‘shall’ and ‘will’ we will resort!
Long form or short, it makes no difference,
only wanting a future does make sense.”

Translation © Matilda Colarossi 2021

All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Gianni Rodari: (reinventing rhyme in translation) La famiglia punto e virgola; L’ago di Garda.

  1. Thank you for visiting the blog! These two poems are not the greatest place to start reading Italian, I’m afraid…I took a lot of liberties with the translation! But most of the other texts found in parallel on the blog are very close! Enjoy and thank you again!


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