Giovanni Pascoli  

Lenta la neve fiocca, fiocca, fiocca.
Senti: una zana dondola piano piano.
Un bimbo piange, il piccol dito in bocca;
Canta una vecchia, il mento sulla mano.  

La vecchia canta: intorno al tuo lettino
C’è rose e gigli, tutto un bel giardino.
Nel bel giardino il bimbo si addormenta.
La neve fiocca lenta, lenta, lenta.

Giovanni Pascoli  

Softly snowflakes flutter, flutter, flutter.
Listen: a cradle rocks silent silent.
A child cries, in his mouth his finger;
A nana sings, in her hand her chin.  

Sings the nana: around your little bed
Are roses and lilies, a fine garden.
In that fine garden the child finds sleep.
Snowflakes flutter softly, softly, softly.

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2021  

Translator’s note:

Two days to play with eight lines in what may seem like an easy poem in which Pascoli uses seemingly simple words. If I were to list all the changes I made during this translation, it would be as long as all the moments of the day. There is really no end to the different solutions possible or to the devices one could try to keep or inevitably lose; and if it were only a question of metre or rhyme…well then better solutions could perhaps be found. But it is not just the metre and the rhyme and all the poetic devices, there are so many things going on in this poem, first and foremost, Pascoli’s own pain, his own feelings of abandonment (which stem from real loss, real pain), his own fragile condition, that of the orphan, a feeling he will never shake and which is ever present in his poetry, in his endless search for the “nido”, the nest that will keep him safe from the outside world and the cruelty of man. And thus, here too we find his aversion to the outside world, which is white but cold, and which opens and closes this poem, and his attraction to the world inside, the cradle, which is like a fine garden, soothing and warm.

The poem is composed of two stanzas; a total of eight lines in hendecasyllabic metre. There is alternating rhyme in the first stanza(ABAB) and rhyming couplets in the second (CCDD).

His use of numerous poetic devices, which include chiasmus, anaphora, assonance, consonance and even hyperbation (“Sings the nana…”) will create a sort of lullaby.

But let’s take one thing at a time: the chiasmus is found in the first (Lenta la neve fiocca, fiocca, fiocca/  La neve fiocca lenta, lenta, lenta) and last lines as is the anaphora (fiocca, fiocca, fiocca/ lenta, lenta, lenta). These give a constant rhythm to the falling of the snow, giving the reader a feeling of peace and tranquility; it will also distract us from the seriousness of the theme (the orphan). Alliteration, assonance and consonance (lenta la neve; and il picol ditto in bocca; and again mento sulla mano, etc.), enjambment (intorno al suo lettino c’è rose…) and, of course, the repetitions (piano, piano, bel giardino) reinforce the core of the poem. Together with these, the comparison in the description of the child and the old woman (picol ditto in bocca/ mento sulla mano) create a clear contrast between the child’s world and the adult’s: the child can be soothed, while the woman cannot; the former is oblivious to the outside world, but the latter is not. I read in the nana’s stance the consciousness of her state as she holds her chin in her hand (pondering, worrying?) while in the child’s, who is lying in his “nido”, there is the peace that is brought on by sleep.

The poem awakens in me both specific sounds and images: the quiet sound of the cradle, the weeping of the child, the soothing song of the nana, and also the flurries, as the cold snow falls, and the fine garden with its roses and lilies.

I would like to say that my translation evokes in me the same feelings that the original does, but I have counted the beats too many times and changed the words too many times to actually know anymore. I certainly hope so. – M.C.

For the image to be included with the poem, I have chosen a painting by Lagrenée L’Ainé (1785) La mélancolie. After reading the poem numerous times and translating it, what touched me most was the nana’s condition, her view of life, her heavy head (and heart?) as she sings to the orphan.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

2 thoughts on “Giovanni Pascoli: Orfano/ Orphan

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