There is much talk about translation skills and whether a translator should also be a writer: This translation, which I love, is by D. H. Lawrence, and it is the answer. I have no doubt. That said, I have added some comments and observations.

La roba

Giovanni Verga


Il viandante che andava lungo il Biviere di Lentini, steso là come un pezzo di mare morto, e le stoppie riarse della Piana di Catania, e gli aranci sempre verdi di Francofonte, e i sugheri grigi di Resecone, e i pascoli deserti di Passaneto e di Passanitello, se domandava, per ingannare la noia della lunga strada polverosa, sotto il cielo fosco dal caldo, nell’ora in cui i campanelli della lettiga suonano tristamente nell’immensa campagna, e i muli lasciano ciondolare il capo e la coda, e il lettighiere canta la sua canzone malinconica per non lasciarsi vincere dal sonno della malaria: – Qui di chi è? – sentiva rispondersi: – Di Mazzarò -. E passando vicino a una fattoria grande quanto un paese, coi magazzini che sembrano chiese, e le galline a stormi accoccolate all’ombra del pozzo, e le donne che si mettevano la mano sugli occhi per vedere chi passava: – E qui? – Di Mazzarò -. E cammina e cammina, mentre la malaria vi pesava sugli occhi, e vi scuoteva all’improvviso l’abbaiare di un cane, passando per una vigna che non finiva più, e si allargava sul colle e sul piano, immobile, come gli pesasse addosso la polvere, e il guardiano sdraiato bocconi sullo schioppo, accanto al vallone, levava il capo sonnacchioso, e apriva un occhio per vedere chi fosse: – Di Mazzarò -. Poi veniva un uliveto folto come un bosco, dove l’erba non spuntava mai, e la raccolta durava fino a marzo. Erano gli ulivi di Mazzarò. E verso sera, allorché il sole tramontava rosso come il fuoco, e la campagna si velava di tristezza, si incontravano le lunghe file degli aratri di Mazzarò che tornavano adagio adagio dal maggese, e i buoi che passavano il guado lentamente, col muso nell’acqua scura; e si vedevano nei pascoli lontani della Canziria, sulla pendice brulla, le immense macchie biancastre delle mandre di Mazzarò; e si udiva il fischio del pastore echeggiare nelle gole, e il campanaccio che risuonava ora sì ed ora no, e il canto solitario perduto nella valle. – Tutta roba di Mazzarò. Pareva che fosse di Mazzarò perfino il sole che tramontava, e le cicale che ronzavano, e gli uccelli che andavano a rannicchiarsi col volo breve dietro le zolle, e il sibilo dell’assiolo nel bosco. Pareva che Mazzarò fosse disteso tutto grande per quanto era grande la terra, e che gli si camminasse sulla pancia. – Invece egli era un omiciattolo, diceva il lettighiere, che non gli avreste dato un baiocco, a vederlo; e di grasso non aveva altro che la pancia, e non si sapeva come facesse a riempirla, perché non mangiava altro che due soldi di pane; e sì ch’era ricco come un maiale; ma aveva la testa ch’era un brillante, quell’uomo.
Infatti, colla testa come un brillante, aveva accumulato tutta quella roba, dove prima veniva da mattina a sera a zappare, a potare, a mietere; col sole, coll’acqua, col vento; senza scarpe ai piedi, e senza uno straccio di cappotto; che tutti si rammentavano di avergli dato dei calci nel di dietro, quelli che ora gli davano dell’eccellenza, e gli parlavano col berretto in mano. Né per questo egli era montato in superbia, adesso che tutte le eccellenze del paese erano suoi debitori; e diceva che eccellenza vuol dire povero diavolo e cattivo pagatore; ma egli portava ancora il berretto, soltanto lo portava di seta nera, era la sua sola grandezza, e da ultimo era anche arrivato a mettere il cappello di feltro, perché costava meno del berretto di seta. Della roba ne possedeva fin dove arrivava la vista, ed egli aveva la vista lunga – dappertutto, a destra e a sinistra, davanti e di dietro, nel monte e nella pianura. Più di cinquemila bocche, senza contare gli uccelli del cielo e gli animali della terra, che mangiavano sulla sua terra, e senza contare la sua bocca la quale mangiava meno di tutte, e si contentava di due soldi di pane e un pezzo di formaggio, ingozzato in fretta e in furia, all’impiedi, in un cantuccio del magazzino grande come una chiesa, in mezzo alla polvere del grano, che non ci si vedeva, mentre i contadini scaricavano i sacchi, o a ridosso di un pagliaio, quando il vento spazzava la campagna gelata, al tempo del seminare, o colla testa dentro un corbello, nelle calde giornate della mèsse. Egli non beveva vino, non fumava, non usava tabacco, e sì che del tabacco ne producevano i suoi orti lungo il fiume, colle foglie larghe ed alte come un fanciullo, di quelle che si vendevano a 95 lire. Non aveva il vizio del giuoco, né quello delle donne. Di donne non aveva mai avuto sulle spalle che sua madre, la quale gli era costata anche 12 tarì, quando aveva dovuto farla portare al camposanto.
Era che ci aveva pensato e ripensato tanto a quel che vuol dire la roba, quando andava senza scarpe a lavorare nella terra che adesso era sua, ed aveva provato quel che ci vuole a fare i tre tarì della giornata, nel mese di luglio, a star colla schiena curva 14 ore, col soprastante a cavallo dietro, che vi piglia a nerbate se fate di rizzarvi un momento. Per questo non aveva lasciato passare un minuto della sua vita che non fosse stato impiegato a fare della roba; e adesso i suoi aratri erano numerosi come le lunghe file dei corvi che arrivavano in novembre; e altre file di muli, che non finivano più, portavano le sementi; le donne che stavano accoccolate nel fango, da ottobre a marzo, per raccogliere le sue olive, non si potevano contare, come non si possono contare le gazze che vengono a rubarle; e al tempo della vendemmia accorrevano dei villaggi interi alle sue vigne, e fin dove sentivasi cantare, nella campagna, era per la vendemmia di Mazzarò. Alla mèsse poi i mietitori di Mazzarò sembravano un esercito di soldati, che per mantenere tutta quella gente, col biscotto alla mattina e il pane e l’arancia amara a colazione, e la merenda, e le lasagne alla sera, ci volevano dei denari a manate, e le lasagne si scodellavano nelle madie larghe come tinozze. Perciò adesso, quando andava a cavallo dietro la fila dei suoi mietitori, col nerbo in mano, non ne perdeva d’occhio uno solo, e badava a ripetere: – Curviamoci, ragazzi! – Egli era tutto l’anno colle mani in tasca a spendere, e per la sola fondiaria il re si pigliava tanto che a Mazzarò gli veniva la febbre, ogni volta.
Però ciascun anno tutti quei magazzini grandi come chiese si riempivano di grano che bisognava scoperchiare il tetto per farcelo capire tutto; e ogni volta che Mazzarò vendeva il vino, ci voleva più di un giorno per contare il denaro, tutto di 12 tarì d’argento, ché lui non ne voleva di carta sudicia per la sua roba, e andava a comprare la carta sudicia soltanto quando aveva da pagare il re, o gli altri; e alle fiere gli armenti di Mazzarò coprivano tutto il campo, e ingombravano le strade, che ci voleva mezza giornata per lasciarli sfilare, e il santo, colla banda, alle volte dovevano mutar strada, e cedere il passo.
Tutta quella roba se l’era fatta lui, colle sue mani e colla sua testa, col non dormire la notte, col prendere la febbre dal batticuore o dalla malaria, coll’affaticarsi dall’alba a sera, e andare in giro, sotto il sole e sotto la pioggia, col logorare i suoi stivali e le sue mule – egli solo non si logorava, pensando alla sua roba, ch’era tutto quello ch’ei avesse al mondo; perché non aveva né figli, né nipoti, né parenti; non aveva altro che la sua roba. Quando uno è fatto così, vuol dire che è fatto per la roba.
Ed anche la roba era fatta per lui, che pareva ci avesse la calamita, perché la roba vuol stare con chi sa tenerla, e non la sciupa come quel barone che prima era stato il padrone di Mazzarò, e l’aveva raccolto per carità nudo e crudo ne’ suoi campi, ed era stato il padrone di tutti quei prati, e di tutti quei boschi, e di tutte quelle vigne e tutti quegli armenti, che quando veniva nelle sue terre a cavallo coi campieri dietro, pareva il re, e gli preparavano anche l’alloggio e il pranzo, al minchione, sicché ognuno sapeva l’ora e il momento in cui doveva arrivare, e non si faceva sorprendere colle mani nel sacco. – Costui vuol essere rubato per forza! – diceva Mazzarò, e schiattava dalle risa quando il barone gli dava dei calci nel di dietro, e si fregava la schiena colle mani, borbottando: – Chi è minchione se ne stia a casa, – la roba non è di chi l’ha, ma di chi la sa fare -. Invece egli, dopo che ebbe fatta la sua roba, non mandava certo a dire se veniva a sorvegliare la messe, o la vendemmia, e quando, e come; ma capitava all’improvviso, a piedi o a cavallo alla mula, senza campieri, con un pezzo di pane in tasca; e dormiva accanto ai suoi covoni, cogli occhi aperti, e lo schioppo fra le gambe.
In tal modo a poco a poco Mazzarò divenne il padrone di tutta la roba del barone; e costui uscì prima dall’uliveto, e poi dalle vigne, e poi dai pascoli, e poi dalle fattorie e infine dal suo palazzo istesso, che non passava giorno che non firmasse delle carte bollate, e Mazzarò ci metteva sotto la sua brava croce. Al barone non era rimasto altro che lo scudo di pietra ch’era prima sul portone, ed era la sola cosa che non avesse voluto vendere, dicendo a Mazzarò: – Questo solo, di tutta la mia roba, non fa per te -. Ed era vero; Mazzarò non sapeva che farsene, e non l’avrebbe pagato due baiocchi. Il barone gli dava ancora del tu, ma non gli dava più calci nel di dietro.
Questa è una bella cosa, d’avere la fortuna che ha Mazzarò! – diceva la gente; e non sapeva quel che ci era voluto ad acchiappare quella fortuna: quanti pensieri, quante fatiche, quante menzogne, quanti pericoli di andare in galera, e come quella testa che era un brillante avesse lavorato giorno e notte, meglio di una macina del mulino, per fare la roba; e se il proprietario di una chiusa limitrofa si ostinava a non cedergliela, e voleva prendere pel collo Mazzarò, dover trovare uno stratagemma per costringerlo a vendere, e farcelo cascare, malgrado la diffidenza contadinesca. Ei gli andava a vantare, per esempio, la fertilità di una tenuta la quale non produceva nemmeno lupini, e arrivava a fargliela credere una terra promessa, sinché il povero diavolo si lasciava indurre a prenderla in affitto, per specularci sopra, e ci perdeva poi il fitto, la casa e la chiusa, che Mazzarò se l’acchiappava – per un pezzo di pane. – E quante seccature Mazzarò doveva sopportare! – I mezzadri che venivano a lagnarsi delle malannate, i debitori che mandavano in processione le loro donne a strapparsi i capelli e picchiarsi il petto per scongiurarlo di non metterli in mezzo alla strada, col pigliarsi il mulo o l’asinello, che non avevano da mangiare.
Lo vedete quel che mangio io? – rispondeva lui, – pane e cipolla! e sì che ho i magazzini pieni zeppi, e sono il padrone di tutta questa roba -. E se gli domandavano un pugno di fave, di tutta quella roba, ei diceva: – Che, vi pare che l’abbia rubata? Non sapete quanto costano per seminarle, e zapparle, e raccoglierle? – E se gli domandavano un soldo rispondeva che non l’aveva.
E non l’aveva davvero. Ché in tasca non teneva mai 12 tarì, tanti ce ne volevano per far fruttare tutta quella roba, e il denaro entrava ed usciva come un fiume dalla sua casa. Del resto a lui non gliene importava del denaro; diceva che non era roba, e appena metteva insieme una certa somma, comprava subito un pezzo di terra; perché voleva arrivare ad avere della terra quanta ne ha il re, ed esser meglio del re, ché il re non può ne venderla, né dire ch’è sua.
Di una cosa sola gli doleva, che cominciasse a farsi vecchio, e la terra doveva lasciarla là dov’era. Questa è una ingiustizia di Dio, che dopo di essersi logorata la vita ad acquistare della roba, quando arrivate ad averla, che ne vorreste ancora, dovete lasciarla! E stava delle ore seduto sul corbello, col mento nelle mani, a guardare le sue vigne che gli verdeggiavano sotto gli occhi, e i campi che ondeggiavano di spighe come un mare, e gli oliveti che velavano la montagna come una nebbia, e se un ragazzo seminudo gli passava dinanzi, curvo sotto il peso come un asino stanco, gli lanciava il suo bastone fra le gambe, per invidia, e borbottava: – Guardate chi ha i giorni lunghi! costui che non ha niente! –
Sicché quando gli dissero che era tempo di lasciare la sua roba, per pensare all’anima, uscì nel cortile come un pazzo, barcollando, e andava ammazzando a colpi di bastone le sue anitre e i suoi tacchini, e strillava: – Roba mia, vientene con me! –  
Property[1]  

Giovanni Verga/ D.H.Lawrence  


The traveller passing along by the Lake of Lentini, stretched out there like a piece of dead sea, and by the burnt-up stubble-fields of the Plain of Catania, and the evergreen orange-trees of Francoforte [2], and the grey cork-trees of Resecone, and the deserted pasture-lands of Passanetto and of Passinatello, if ever he asked, to while away the tedium of the long dusty road, under the sky heavy with heat in the hour when the litter-bells ring sadly in the immense campagna, and the mules let their heads and tails hang helpless, and the litter-driver sings his melancholy song so as not to be overcome by the malaria-sleep, “Whom does the place belong to?” was bound to get for answer, “To Mazzaro.” And passing near to a farmstead as big as a village, with store barns that looked like churches, and crowds of hens crouching in the shade of the big well, and the women putting their hands over their eyes to see who was going by:—”And this place?”—”To Mazzaro.”—And you went on and on, with the malaria weighing on your eyes, and you were startled by the unexpected barking of a dog, as you passed an endless, endless vineyard, which stretched over hill and plain, motionless, as if the dust upon it were weighing it down, and the watchman, stretched out face downwards with his gun beneath him, beside the valley, raised his head sleepily to see who it might be. “To Mazzaro.”—Then came an olive grove thick as a wood, under which the grass never grew, and the olive-gathering went on until March. They were the olive trees belonging to Mazzaro. And towards evening, as the sun sank red as fire, and the countryside was veiled with sadness, you met the long files of Mazzaro’s ploughs coming home softly, wearily from the fallow land, and the oxen slowly crossing the ford, with their muzzles in the dark water; and you saw on the far-off grazing land of Canziria, on the naked slope, the immense whitish blotches of the flocks of Mazzaro; and you heard the shepherd’s pipe resounding through the gullies, and the bell of the ram sometimes ringing and sometimes not, and the solitary singing lost in the valley. All Mazzaro’s property. It seemed as if even the setting sun and the whirring cicalas belonged to Mazzaro, and the birds which went on a short, leaping flight to nestle behind the clods, and the crying of the horned-owl [3] in the wood. It was as if Mazzaro had become as big as the world, and you walked upon his belly. Whereas he was an insignificant little fellow, said the litter-driver, and you wouldn’t have thought he was worth a farthing, to look at him, with no fat on him except his paunch, and it was a marvel however he filled that in, for he never ate anything more than a penn’orth of bread, for all that he was rich as a pig, but he had a head on his shoulders that was keen as a diamond, that man had.
In fact, with that head as keen as a diamond he had got together all the property, whereas previously he had to work from morning till night hoeing, pruning, mowing, in the sun and rain and wind, with no shoes to his feet, and not a rag of a cloak to his back; so that everybody remembered the days when they used to give him kicks in the backside, and now they called him Excellency, and spoke to him cap in hand. But for all that he hadn’t got stuck-up, now that all the Excellencies of the neighbourhood were in debt to him, so that he said Excellency meant poor devil and bad payer; he still wore the peasant’s stocking-cap, only his was made of black silk, which was his only grandeur, and lately he had started wearing a felt hat, because it cost less than the long silk stocking-cap. He had possessions as far as his eye could reach, and he was a long-sighted man—everywhere, right and left, before and behind, in mountain and plain. More than five thousand mouths, without counting the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, fed upon his lands, without counting his own mouth, that ate less than any of them, and was satisfied with a penn’orth of bread and a bit of cheese, gulped down as fast as he could, standing in a corner of the store-barn big as a church, or in the midst of the corn-dust, so that you could hardly see him, while his peasants were emptying the sacks, or on top of [4] a straw-stack, when the wind swept the frozen country, in the time of the sowing of the seed, or with his head inside a basket, in the hot days of harvest-time. He didn’t drink wine, and he didn’t smoke, he didn’t take snuff, although indeed he grew plenty of tobacco in his fields beside the river, broad-leaved and tall as a boy, the sort that is sold at ninety shillings. He hadn’t the vice of gaming, nor of women. As for women he’d never had to bother with any one of them save his mother, who had cost him actually a dollar when he’d had her carried to the cemetery.
And he had thought about it and thought about it times enough, all that property means, when he went with no shoes to his feet, to work on the land that was now his own, and he had proved to himself what it was to earn his shilling a day in the month of July, to work on with your back bent for fourteen hours, with the foreman on horseback behind you, laying about you with a stick if you stood up to straighten yourself for a minute. Therefore he had not let a minute of his whole life pass by that wasn’t devoted to the acquiring of property [5]; and now his ploughs were as many as the long strings of crows that arrive in November; and other strings of mules, endless, carried the seed; the women who were kept squatting in the mire, from October to March, picking up his olives, you couldn’t count them, as you can’t count the magpies that come to steal the olives; and in vintage time whole villages came to his vineyards, so that as far as ever you could hear folks singing, in the countryside, it was at Mazzaro’s vintage. And then at harvest time Mazzaro’s reapers were like an army of soldiers, so that to feed all those folks, with biscuit in the morning and bread and bitter oranges at nine o’clock and at mid-day, and home-made macaroni [6]in the evening, it took shoals of money, and they dished up the ribbon-macaroni [7] in kneading-troughs as big as wash-tubs. For that reason, when nowadays he went on horseback along the long line of his reapers, his cudgel in his hand, he didn’t miss a single one of them with his eye, and kept shouting: “Bend over it, boys!” [8] He had to have his hand in his pocket all the year round, spending, and simply for the land-tax the King took so much from him that Mazzaro went into a fever every time.
However, every year all those store-barns as big as churches were filled up with grain so that you had to raise up the roof to get it all in; and every time Mazzaro sold his wine it took over a day to count the money, all good dollar pieces, for he didn’t want any of your dirty paper in payment for his goods, and he went to buy dirty paper only when he had to pay the King, or other people; and at the cattle-fairs the herds belonging to Mazzaro covered all the fairground, and choked up the roads, till it took half a day to let them go past, and the saint in procession with the band had at times to turn down another street, to make way for them.
And all that property he had got together himself, with his own hands and his own head, with not sleeping at night, with catching ague and malaria, with slaving from dawn till dark, and going round under sun and rain, and wearing out his boots and his mules—wearing out everything except himself, thinking of his property, which was all he had in the world, for he had neither children nor grandchildren, nor relations of any sort; he’d got nothing but his property. And when a man is made like that, it just means he is made for property.
And property was made for him. It really seemed as if he had a magnet for it, because property likes to stay with those who know how to keep it, and don’t squander it like that baron who had previously been Mazzaro’s master, and had taken him out of charity, naked and ignorant, to work on his fields; and the baron had been owner of all those meadows, and all those woods, and all those vineyards, and all those herds, so that when he came down to visit his estates on horseback, with his keepers behind him, he seemed like a king, and they got ready his lodging and his dinner for him, the simpleton, so that everybody knew the hour and the minute when he was due to arrive, and naturally they didn’t let themselves be caught with their hands in the sack. “That man absolutely asks to be robbed!” said Mazzaro, and he almost burst himself laughing when the baron kicked his behind, and he rubbed his rear with his hand, muttering: “Fools should stop at home. Property doesn’t belong to those that have got it, but to those that know how to acquire it.” He, on the contrary, since he had acquired his property, certainly didn’t send to say whether he was coming to superintend the harvest, or the vintage, and when and in what way, but he turned up unexpectedly on foot or on mule-back, without keepers, with a piece of bread in his pocket, and he slept beside his own sheaves, with his eyes open and the gun between his legs.
And in that way Mazzaro little by little became master of all the baron’s possessions; and the latter was turned out, first from the olive groves, then from the vineyards, then from the grazing land, and then from the farmsteads and finally from his very mansion, so that not a day passed but he was signing stamped paper [9], and Mazzaro put his own brave [10] cross underneath. Nothing was left to the baron but the stone shield that used to stand over his entrance-door—which was the only thing he hadn’t wanted to sell, saying to, Mazzaro: “There’s only this, out of everything I’ve got, which is no use for you.” And that was true; Mazzaro had no use for it [11], and wouldn’t have given two cents for it. The baron still said thou to him, but he didn’t kick his behind any longer. “Ah what a fine thing, to have Mazzaro’s fortune!” folks said, but they didn’t know what it had taken to make that fortune, how much thinking, how much struggling, how many lies, how much danger of being sent to the galleys, and how that head that was sharp as a diamond had worked day and night, better than a mill-wheel, to get all that property together. If the proprietor of a piece of farm-land adjoining his persisted in not giving it up to him, and wanted to take Mazzaro by the throat [12], he had to find some stratagem to force him to sell, to make him fall, [13]in spite of the peasant’s shrewdness [14]. He went to him, for example, boasting about the fertility of a holding which wouldn’t even produce lupins, and kept on till he made him believe it was the promised land, till the poor devil let himself be persuaded into leasing it, to speculate with it, and then he lost the lease, his house, and his own bit of land, which Mazzaro got hold of—for a bit of bread. And how many annoyances Mazzaro had to put up with! His half-profits peasants [15]coming to complain of the bad seasons, his debtors, always sending their wives in a procession to tear their hair and beat their breasts trying to persuade him not to turn them out and put them in the street, by seizing their mule or their donkey, so that they’d not have anything to eat.
“You see what I eat,” he replied. “Bread and onion! and I’ve got all those store-barns cram full, and I’m owner of all that stuff.” And if they asked him for a handful of beans from all that stuff, he said ]: “What, do you think I stole them? Don’t you know, what it costs, to sow them, and hoe them, and harvest them?” And if they asked him for a cent he said he hadn’t got one, which was true, he hadn’t got one.
He never had half-a-dollar in his pocket; it took all his money to make that property yield and increase, and money came and went like a river through the house. Besides money didn’t matter to him; he said it wasn’t property, and as soon as he’d got together a certain sum he immediately bought a piece of land; because he wanted to get so that he had as much land as the king, and be better than the king, because the king can neither sell his land nor say it is his own.
Only one thing grieved him, and that was that he was beginning to get old, and he had to leave the earth there behind him. This was an injustice on God’s part, that after having slaved one’s life away getting property together, when you’ve got it, and you’d like some more, you have to leave it behind you. And he remained for hours sitting on a small basket, with his chin in his hands, looking at his vineyards growing green beneath his eyes, and his fields of ripe wheat waving like a sea, and the olive groves veiling the mountains like a mist, and if a half-naked boy passed in front of him, bent under his load like a tired ass, he threw his stick at his legs, out of envy, and muttered: “Look at him with his length of days in front of him; him who’s got nothing to bless himself with [16]!”
So that when they told him it was time for him to be turning away from his property, and thinking of his soul, he rushed out into the courtyard like a madman, staggering, and went round killing his own ducks and turkeys, hitting them with his stick and screaming: “You’re my own property, you come along with me!”[17]  

[1] Roba is, yes, property but includes everything from land to goods, to food, and, especially, money. I would not have known how to translate it better. Maybe differently throughout the text: property, possessions, money or stuff, depending on the context. It would, in any case not had the impact of “la roba”.

[2] Francofonte (typo).

[3] Lawrence opts for horned-owl, but it is found in America; assaiolo, on the other hand, is the Eurasian scops owl: I do, however, understand the choice in the text, which, perhaps, was Americanized as was the currency (dollars etc.). This is a choice that still leaves translators wondering when translating a text: do we leave local references or make them accessible to the target language reader?

[4] Literally, it is next to. I imagine this was a choice, not a mistaket.

[5] As already mentioned, in the sense of accumulating things in general, not just property.

[6] I absolutely love this. I gives me insight into what the English (not necessarily Lawrence who lived in Italy, but the people he was writing for) knew about Italian food. I guess macaroni was the go-to word for just about everything made from flour and water that had sauce on it.

[7] Ibidem.

[8] Verga writes “Curviamoci” which is a first person plural that means “let’s get to work”; because Mazzarò worked as hard as anyone and was as much a worker as everyone else. Of the whole, wonderful translation by Lawrence, I believe this is perhaps the only thing I would have translated differently. I think that the fact that Verga uses the first person plural underlines something important about the protagonist and something he has mentioned other times in the text.

[9] These signed papers are today’s contracts, which are still only legal when properly stamped using “marche da bollo” (therefore called carta bollata).

[10] “brava croce“: I believe Verga wanted to underline the fact that Mazzarò did it often, casually, like breathing or eating the little food he ate. That Mazzarò placed a “brave x” would be in contrast with everything said about the protagonist thus far. From Treccani brava“: “Riferito a cosa, come rafforzativo familiare.”

[11]] Verga’s play on the word fare, here is phenomenal. Fare here means two different things, and it could be somewhat lost when trying to translate it using the same verb (do, make, or in this case “use”). In the first case, “non fa per te” literally means “not suited to you”, in the sense that the Baron is saying that Mazzarò will never be a gentleman/nobelman; in the second case “non sapeva che farsene” means, as the Lawrence writes, “had no use for it”. Verga, with the simple use of the word fare underlines what each man thinks of the other. Lawrence changes the meaning of the first non fa per te slightly, softening the scorn held in “non fa per te” while maintaing the play on words and still getting the actual meaning across. It is a wonderful solution.

[12] From the Free dictionary (the only place I found the idiom) we find: To approach, confront, or deal with a problem or difficult situation directly and with clear, confident action. If you grab someone or something by the throat or take them by the throat, you make a determined attempt to control, defeat, or deal with them.

While in Treccani: p. per il collo, fig., imporre condizioni, spec. economiche, particolarmente gravose, far pagare una somma troppo alta. And in De Mauro : mettere in difficoltà, spec. imponendo oneri gravosi: i creditori lo hanno preso per il collo.

But in context, I would say simply that they were trying to get Mazzarò to pay too much, because in Italian it is always used in a monetary context.

[13] “farcelo cascare” means to “persuade him/con him”, to make the peasant buckle.

[14] It is not this particular peasant’s shrewdness, but the shrewdness of all peasants, which is a common belief in Italy and reinforced by Mazzarò’s own success.

[15] Sharecropper.

[16] Added by the translator and not found in the original.

[17] This line is one of the most famous of all Italian literature. Rarely do people not know the origin and the true meaning. In Italian it is brief, said in a language that is of the common people, filled with desperation: “Roba mia, vientene con me!” I would probably have spent days on it because it is one of the things I studied in university and that has always stayed with me because it represents, for me, the absurdity of life, this useless accumulation of stuff. How would I have said it? I have no idea. – M.C.

After WW1 D. H. Lawrence went on his “savage pilgrimage”. He spent this time, this voluntary exile far from home. He left Britain and returned only twice for brief visits. He spent the remainder of his life travelling with Frieda. He lived in many places, and Italy was among them. It was here that he read and fell in love with the works of Giovanni Verga. For more information on Lawrence in Italy: here

The complete work by Giovanni Verga in translation by D. H. Lawrence: here


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

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