Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italy)
Pasolini's youth was spent in northern Italy, his father's military career necessitating several moves throughout the region. In 1937, he returned to his native city of Bologna, where he enrolled at the University, studying literature and art history. It was at this time that he began to write poetry in Friulian, a Rhaeto-Romanic dialect. His first book of poetry, Poesie a Casarsa, was published at his own expense in 1942.
The next year, the family moved to Casarsa, the subject of his previous book and the birthplace of Pasolini's mother. There Pasolini's interest in poetry grew, and he continued writing, both in Friulian and in Italian. In 1949 his mother and he moved to Rome, where he remained the rest of his life.
Pasolini's poetry reflects his personal interests and concerns: his work is particularly infused with a sense of the poverty and joy of the working classes and his love for them. The protaganists of poetry and fiction─and often of his films─are Rome's uneducated youths, forced to live apart from and alienated by the bourgeois.
However, Pasolini's Marxist positions were highly personalized, primarily because of his homosexuality, expressed openly in much of his work. At the same time, his life, particularly when he began making motion pictures in the 1960s, pulled him further away from the poor, with whom he so identified. Pasolini explored these issues intensely in his films and his works of poetry and fiction such as L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica (1958; The Nightingale of the Catholic Church), Ragazzi di vita (1955, The Ragazzi) and Una vita violenta (1959; A Difficult Life).
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s Pasolini directed films of international renown, most notably Accattone (1961), Uccellacci e uccellini (1964, Hawks and Sparrows), Teorema (1968), Medea (1970) and Salò; o, le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975).
In 1975 Pasolini was murdered by a young man, whom he had evidently picked up for a homosexual encounter. The incident was internationally reported, with some parties suggesting that Pasolini had been murdered for political reasons.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Poesie a Casarsa (1942); Le ceneri di Gramsci (Milan: Aldo Garzanti Editore, 1957); L'usignolo della chiesa cattolica (Milan: Longanesi, 1958); La religione del mio tempo (Milan: Aldo Garzanti Editore, 1961); Poesia in forma di rosa (Milan: Aldo Garzanti Editore, 1964); Trasumanar e organizzar (Milan: Aldo Garzanti Editore, 1971); Le poesie (Milan: Aldo Garzanti Editore, 1975); La nuova gioventù: poesie friulane 1941-1974 (Torino: Einaudi, 1975).
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS
Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poems, trans. by Norman MacAfee with Luciana Martinengo (New York: Random House, 1982); Roman Poems, trans. by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Francesca Valente (San Francisco: City Lights, 1986).
For a reading in Italian with Pasolini and Ezra Pound, click here:
from A Desperate Vitality
(Draft, in progress, in current slang, of
what's gone before: Fiumicino, the old
castle, and a first true idea of death.)
As in a film by Godard: alone
in a car moving along the highways
of Latin neocapitalism─returning from the airport─
[where Moravia remained, pure among his luggage]
alone, "piloting his Alfa Romeo,"
in a sun inexpressible in rhymes
that aren't elegiac, because it's celestial
─the most beautiful sun of the year─
as in a film by Godard:
under that sole still sun slitting
the canal of the port of Fiumicino
─a motorboat returning unobserved
─Neapolitan sailors in their wool rags
─an auto accident, with a little crowd around it...
─as in a film by Godard─rediscovery
of romanticism in the seat of
neocapitalistic cynicism and cruelty─
at the wheel
on the road from Fiumicino,
and there's the castle (what sweet
mystery for the French screenwriters
in the troubled, endless, centuries-old sun,
this papal monster, with its crenelations
above the hedges and vine rows of the ugly
countryside of peasant serfs)...
─I'm like a cat burned alive,
crushed by a truck's tires,
hanged by boys to a fig tree,
but still with at least eight
of its nine lives, like
a snake reduced to a bloody pulp,
an eel half-eaten
─sunken cheeks under dejected eyes,
hair horribly thinned on skull,
arms skinny as a child's,
─a cat that doesn't die, Belmondo
who "at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo"
within the logic of the narcissistic montage
detaches himself from time, and inserts in it
in images that have nothing to do with
the boredom of the hours in a line,
the slow splendid death of the afternoon...
Death is not
in not being able to communicate
but in no longer being able to be understood.
And this papal monster, not devoid
of grace─reminder of
the rustic condescensions of patronage,
which were innocent, in the end, as the serfs'
submissiveness was innocent─
in the sun that was,
through the centuries,
for thousands of afternoons,
here, the only guest,
this papal monster, crenelated,
crouched among poplar groves and marshes,
fields of watermelons, embankments,
this papal monster, armored
by buttresses the sweet orange color
of Rome, cracking
like Etruscan or Roman buildings,
is at the point of no longer being understood.
(Without a dissolve, in a sharp cut, I portray myself
in an act─without historical precedents─of "cultural
I, voluntarily martyred...and
she in front of me, on the couch:
shot and countershot in rapid flashes,
"You"─I know what she's thinking, looking at me,
in a more domestic-Italian Masculine-Feminine,
always à la Godard─"you, sort of a Tennessee!"
the cobra in the light wool sweater
(and the subordinate cobra
gliding in magnesium silence).
Then aloud: "Tell me what you're writing?"
"Poems, poems, I'm writing! Poems!
poems she wouldn't understand, lacking as she is
in metric knowledge! Poems!)
poems no longer in tercets!
Do you understand?
This is what's important: no longer in tercets!
I have gone back, plain and simple, to the magma!
Neocapitalism won, I've
been kicked out on the street
as a poet [boo-hoo]
and citizen [another boo-hoo]."
And the cobra with the ballpoint:
"The title of your work?" "I don't know...
[He speaks softly now, as though intimidated, assuming
the role the interview, once accepted, imposes
on him: how little it takes
for his sinister mug
to fade into
the face of a mama's boy condemned to death]
or...'A New Prehistory' (or Prehistory)
[And here he rears up, regaining
the dignity of civil hate]
'Monologue on the Jews'..."
flounders like the weak unaccented beat
of a jumbled octosyllable: magmatic!]
"And what's it about?"
"Well, my...your, death.
It is not in not communicating [death],
but in not being understood...
(If she only knew, the cobra,
that this is a tired idea
concocted coming back from Fiumicino!)
They're almost all lyrics, whose composition
in time and space
consists (strangely enough!) of an automobile ride...
meditations from forty to eighty miles per hour...
with quick pans (and dollies
following or preceding them),
over significant monuments, or groups
of people, inducing
an objective love...by the citizen
(or user of the road)..."
"Ha, ha─[it's the cobress with the ballpoint, laughing] and...
who is it that doesn't understand?"
"Those no longer among us."
Those no longer among us!
Lifted, with their innocent youth,
by a new breath of history, to other lives!
I remember it was...because of a love
that invaded my brown eyes and honest trousers,
the house and countryside, morning sun
and evening sun...on the good Saturdays
of Friuli, on the...Sundays...Ah, I can't
even utter that word of virgin
passions, of my death (seen in a dry
ditch swarming with primroses, between
vine rows stunned by gold, next to
dark farmhouses against a sublime blue sky).
I remember that in that monstrous love
I nearly screamed in pain
for the Sundays when the sun must shine
"above the sons of the sons!"
I was crying, in my narrow bed, in Casarsa,
in the room that smelled of urine and laundry
on those Sundays with their dying glow...
Incredible tears! Not only
for what I was losing, in that moment
of heatrending immobility of splendor,
but for what I would lose! When new
young me─of whom I couldn't conceive,
so like those dressing now
in heavy white trousers and tight English jackets,
with a flower in the buttonhole, or in dark
cloth, for weddings, cared for with filial kindness
─would populate the Casarsa of future lives,
unchanged, with its stones, and its sunlight
covering it in golden water...
Through an epileptic impulse of homicidal
grief, I was protesting
like someone sentenced to life imprisonment, locking myself
in my room,
without anybody else knowing,
to scream, mouth stuffed with
the blankets darkened by
the burns of the irons,
the dear blankets of the family,
on which I was brooding over the flowers of my youth.
And one afternoon, or one evening, I ran,
through the streets of Sunday, after the game,
to the old cemetery, there, beyond the railroad tracks,
and performed, and repeated, till I bled,
the sweetest act of life,
I alone, on the little pile of earth,
the graves of two or three
Italian or German soldiers,
no names on the wood-plank crosses
─buried there since the other war.
And that night, amid my dry tears, the bleeding
bodies of those poor unknowns
dressed in olive drab
appeared in a cluster above my bed
where I was sleeping, naked and emptied,
to smear me with blood till the sun rose.
I was twenty, no, less─eighteen,
nineteen...and a century had already passed
since my birth, an entire lifetime
consumed in the pain of the idea
that I would never be able to give my love
except to my hand, or the grassy ditches,
or perhaps the earth of an unguarded grave...
Twenty years, and, with its human history, and its cycle
of poetry, a life had ended.
─Translated from the Italian by Norman MacAfee
(from Poesia in forma di rosa, 1964)