October 26, 2005

A HITHERTO UNPUBLISHED PASOLINI POEM -- on the 30th anniversary of the poet's death, a DIRELAND exclusive

November 2 will be the 30th anniversary of the death of Pier PaoloPasolini_pensive_4  Pasolini (right)-- and to commemorate his disappearance, DIRELAND is proud to publish here, for the first time ever in an English translation, a major Pasolini poem, "Victory."

That I am privileged to publish this poem in its English language première is due to our friend Norman MacAfee, who selected and translated the Collected Poems of Pasolini (now published in paperback by Farrar Straus Giroux). Norman offered DIRELAND this poem in recognition of my extensive reporting, on this blog and elsewhere, on Pasolini's murder (see, for example, my August 3 L.A. Weekly article, "Restoring Pasolini," which details Pasolini's life and assassination.)

Pasolini was a hugely influential polymath of postwar Italian culture — although many outside of Italy know him only as a brilliant, idiosyncratic filmmaker, he was also the greatest Italian poet of his generation, as well as a novelist, playwright, literary critic, political columnist and painter, who frequently celebrated homosexuality in his writings and films. (Of Pasolini’s more than 50 books, only a handful have been translated into English.)

The official version of Pasolini’s 1975 murder -- that he was killed by a teenage hustler and juvenile delinquent, Pino “the Frog” Pelosi -- is now completely discredited. Even the court that sentenced Pelosi to just seven years in jail after he confessed to the murder noted at the time the enormous differences between the confession and the forensic evidence, which indicated multiple persons were involved in the killing.

This past May, Pino the Frog recanted his 1975 confession in an interview on Pasolini_corpse_4 Rai 3 Italian television, saying the 30-year-old murder was committed by three men with Sicilian accents, who beat the poet to death (at left, Pasolini's corpse) after they discovered Pasolini having sex with Pino, and who shouted anti-gay and anti-communist epithets (a very public and well-known figure in Italy, Pasolini had a life-long, love-hate relationship with the Communist Party -- which had expelled him for homosexuality when he was 26 -- and always called himself a “Catholic Marxist.”)

In the wake of Pino the Frog’s recantation, and after demands by parliamentarians and the mayor of Rome, the investigation into Pasolini’s murder was officially re-opened -- only to be rapidly shelved in early October. The police were, after all, being asked to investigate their own earlier bungling of the case, and after three decades the trail to the real culprits had gone cold.

It is widely believed in Italy that Pasolini’s assassination was political -- some say he was killed by neo-fascists (who reviled Pasolini Pasolini_1965_1as the epitome of “left-wing decadence, and who had often staged violent attacks on theaters presenting his plays and films), others that it was a Mafia hit (at the time of his murder Pasolini was working on a film about the Mafia and prostitution). And it is not entirely out of the question that the murder was simply a particularly vicious gay-bashing. But after Pino the Frog’s recantation, the judge who had sentenced him told Rome newspapers that, in 1975, the possibility the murder had been political was “never investigated” by the police. (Above left, Pasolini the year after he wrote the poem below).

Norman MacAfee (right), the translator of the poem below, is a distinguished Norman_macafee_2_bw_1 poet in his own right. In addition to being the English-language translator of Pasolini's poems, he has also translated the letters of Jean-Paul Sartre and Les Miserables. His books include The Death of the Forest, an opera to music of Charles Ives (Amsterdam: Beppie Blankert DanceConcerts, 2004); The Gospel According to RFK: Why It Matters Now (New York: Basic Books/Boulder: Westview, 2004); and A New Requiem (poetry, 1988). Norman has written, especially for DIRELAND, an introduction to this never-before-published Pasolini poem, in which he describes its history and explains some references in it that might otherwise escape some American readers:

PASOLINI: THE GUN IN THE POEM -- Introduction by Norman MacAfee

Pasolini was born the year the fascists took power in Italy, 1922, and spent his first twenty-three years living under a system he despised. He later described himself during that time as "an unarmed Partisan/who fought with the weapons of poetry." In the last months of the Second World War, his younger brother, Guido, decided to join the Partisan forces fighting the fascists in the mountains near their town of Casarsa in Friuli. Pier Paolo saw Guido off at the train station and gave him a book of poems by Eugenio Montale, the major poet of the previous generation. But the quiet book of poems held a surprise: Pier Paolo had carved out enough space in the book’s pages to hide a gun.

It is an image that sums up Pasolini’s approach to culture and history—Italian poetry at the time, speaking in a hermetic code to avoid fascist censorship, needed an opening up to history, to meaning, to the struggle all around, to "sex, death, political passion," to reality. Pasolini would spend the rest of his life shooting his way out of the hermeticism of those decades under fascism. The gun in the book was also a fatal sign: Guido would be shot and killed a few months later in Partisan struggles in the mountains.

After the war, Pasolini became a central figure in Italian culture, embodying the overthrow of fascism, the new era of democratic free speech, and new possibilities for gay people. He wrote brave long poems that contested the world around him: "The Ashes of Gramsci," "The Tears of the Excavator," "The Religion of My Time," "Reality," "A Desperate Vitality," "Plan of Future Works," and "Victory." He wrote novels about the Roman slums. Beginning in 1961, he made 26 films, including Accattone, Mamma Roma, The Gospel According to Matthew, Hawks and Sparrows, Teorema, Medea, The Decameron, The Arabian Nights, and the posthumously released Salò: The 120 Days of Sodom, one of the most scandal-creating films ever made. He painted and wrote plays. He was the defendant in thirty-three trials for his work, mostly involving allegations of obscenity, blasphemy, and anti-national statements. He was hectored and persecuted even as he was listened to. "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," he wrote in 1963 in "A Desperate Vitality," one of his most extraordinary poems, composed while watching Jean-Luc Godard make Contempt, from a novel by Pasolini’s close friend Alberto Moravia.

In the 1970s, Italy’s most respected and influential newspaper, Il Corriere della sera, invited him to write several times a week a front-page column on whatever subjects he wanted. He seized the opportunity to shake things up. He wrote that he knew the names of those responsible for a decade of terrorism in Italy, asserting CIA and Mafia involvement. He compared consumerism to fascism. Shortly before his death he said, "You can’t have ideas like mine and expect to be left alone."

As he was dying, I was on a train from New York to Philadelphia finishing the first draft of a poem dedicated to him. The next morning, I woke to the front-page headline, "Italian Filmmaker Bludgeoned to Death." Inured to the mysteries surrounding the American assassinations of the 1960s, I assumed that we would never know conclusively how Pasolini died. One thing I could do, however, to balance this crime, to keep Pasolini alive in some way, was to translate his poetry, which had not yet appeared in English. But my Italian was rudimentary, and so, the next month, December 1975, again on the train to Philadelphia, I was lucky to sit next to Luciano Martinengo, an Italian documentary filmmaker, who quickly agreed to help me. The first and second poems we translated were "Reality" and "Victory." They are ecstatic, euphoric, prophetic, political, epic, everything American poetry was not. Most American poets of the 1970s were acting like they were living under the new fascism of consumerism, hermetically writing about their marriages, divorces, houses, and students.

"Reality" would appear in the selection of our translations of Pasolini’s poems, published in the U.S. by Random House in 1982 and in the U.K. by John Calder in 1984, and republished by Farrar Straus & Giroux in 1996. As we were making final decisions on the book, Jonathan Galassi, my editor at Random House and later at Farrar Straus & Giroux, and I felt that the manuscript was too long, and we reluctantly agreed on "Victory" as the poem to cut.

"Victory" is, I think, Pasolini’s last great poem. As he wrote it, he was making The Gospel According to Matthew; his attention shifted to filmmaking and the poems became sketchy. It is a bold poem: I would refer the reader to the final pages, with their exhortations to violence against neocapitalism. "Victory" has never before appeared in print in English. It will be I hope an inspiration to poets who write in English.

A few details in the poem below may need explaining: The "day of victory" of the poem’s last line is April 25, 1945, when German troops surrendered in Italy, effectively ending the fascist era. "Ab joy," Provençal for "of joy, joyous," evokes the exhilaration and the ecstasy of the troubadors that Pasolini felt in writing, in Togliatti_2 understanding. The Tagliamento and Livenza are the rivers of the Friulian farm country where Pasolini spent much of his youth. Palmiro Togliatti (1893–1964, at left) was head of the Italian Communist Party, Pietro Nenni (1891–1980, at right) head of the Italian Nenni_2Socialist Party. In 1964, when the poem was written, the U.S. (through the CIA) had financed a schism in the Socialist Party, creating and funding a right-wing, militantly anti-communist social democratic party, the PSIUP (the maneuver backfired, and only wound up strengthening the Communists while weakening the Socialists.) The Cervis were brothers killed by the Nazis. During riots in Reggio Calabria for better working conditions in the early 1960s, several demonstrators were killed. Piazzale Loreto is the square in Milan where Mussolini’s body was hung upside down. Marzabotto was a village in the Appenines, destroyed, along with its inhabitants, by the Nazis. Via Tasso is a street in Rome where the Nazis and Fascists had their torture headquarters.

by Pier Paolo Pasolini
translated by Norman MacAfee with Luciano Martinengo

Where are the weapons?
I have only those of my reason
and in my violence there is no place

for even the trace of an act that is not
intellectual. Is it laughable
if, suggested by my dream on this

gray morning, which the dead can see
and other dead too will see but for us
is just another morning,

I scream words of struggle?
Who knows what will become of me
at noon, but the old poet is “ab joy”

who speaks like a lark or a starling or
a young man longing to die.
Where are the weapons? The old days

will not return, I know; the red
Aprils of youth are gone.
Only a dream, of joy, can open

a season of armed pain.
I who was an unarmed Partisan,
mystical, beardless, nameless,

now I sense in life the horribly
perfumed seed of the Resistance.
In the morning the leaves are still

as they once were on the Tagliamento
and Livenza—it is not a storm coming
or the night falling. It is the absence

of life, contemplating itself,
distanced from itself, intent on
understanding those terrible yet serene

forces that still fill it—aroma of April!
an armed youth for each blade of grass,
each a volunteer longing to die.
. . . . . . . . .
Good. I wake up and—for the first time
in my life—I want to take up arms.
Absurd to say it in poetry

—and to four friends from Rome, two from Parma
who will understand me in this nostalgia
ideally translated from the German, in this archeological

calm, which contemplates a sunny, depopulated
Italy, home of barbaric Partisans who descend
the Alps and Apennines, down the ancient roads...

My fury comes only at the dawn.
At noon I will be with my countrymen
at work, at meals, at reality, which raises

the flag, white today, of General Destinies.
And you, communists, my comrades/noncomrades,
shadows of comrades, estranged first cousins

lost in the present as well as the distant,
unimagined days of the future, you, nameless
fathers who have heard calls that

I thought were like mine, which
burn now like fires abandoned
on cold plains, along sleeping

rivers, on bomb-quarried mountains. . . .
. . . . . . . . .
I take upon myself all the blame (my old
vocation, unconfessed, easy work)
for our desperate weakness,

because of which millions of us,
all with a life in common, could not
persist to the end. It is over,

let us sing along, tralala: They are falling,
fewer and fewer, the last leaves of
the War and the martyred victory,

destroyed little by little by what
would become reality,
not only dear Reaction but also the birth of

beautiful social-democracy, tralala.

I take (with pleasure) on myself the guilt
for having left everything as it was:
for the defeat, for the distrust, for the dirty

hopes of the Bitter Years, tralla.
And I will take upon myself the tormenting
pain of the darkest nostalgia,

which summons up regretted things
with such truth as to almost
resurrect them or reconstruct the shattered

conditions that made them necessary (trallallallalla). . . .
. . . . . . . . .
Where have the weapons gone, peaceful
productive Italy, you who have no importance in the world?
In this servile tranquility, which justifies

yesterday’s boom, today’s bust—from the sublime
to the ridiculous—and in the most perfect solitude,
j’accuse! Not, calm down, the Government or the Latifundia

or the Monopolies—but rather their high priests,
Italy’s intellectuals, all of them,
even those who rightly call themselves

my good friends. These must have been the worst
years of their lives: for having accepted
a reality that did not exist. The result

of this conniving, of this embezzling of ideals,
is that the real reality now has no poets.
(I? I am desiccated, obsolete.)

Now that Togliatti has exited amid
the echoes from the last bloody strikes,
old, in the company of the prophets,
who, alas, were right—I dream of weapons
hidden in the mud, the elegiac mud
where children play and old fathers toil—

while from the gravestones melancholy falls,
the lists of names crack,
the doors of the tombs explode,

and the young corpses in the overcoats
they wore in those years, the loose-fitting
trousers, the military cap on their Partisan’s

hair, descend, along the walls
where the markets stand, down the paths
that join the town’s vegetable gardens

to the hillsides. They descend from their graves, young men
whose eyes hold something other than love:
a secret madness, of men who fight

as though called by a destiny different from their own.
With that secret that is no longer a secret,
they descend, silent, in the dawning sun,

and, though so close to death, theirs is the happy tread
of those who will journey far in the world.
But they are the inhabitants of the mountains, of the wild

shores of the Po, of the remotest places
on the coldest plains. What are they doing here?
They have come back, and no one can stop them. They do not hide

their weapons, which they hold without grief or joy,
and no one looks at them, as though blinded by shame
at that obscene flashing of guns, at that tread of vultures

which descend to their obscure duty in the sunlight.
. . . . . . . . .  

Who has the courage to tell them
that the ideal secretly burning in their eyes
is finished, belongs to another time, that the children

of their brothers have not fought for years,
and that a cruelly new history has produced
other ideals, quietly corrupting them?. . .

Rough like poor barbarians, they will touch
the new things that in these two decades human
cruelty has procured, things incapable of moving

those who seek justice. . . .

But let us celebrate, let us open the bottles
of the good wine of the Cooperative. . . .
To always new victories, and new Bastilles!

Rafosco, Bacò. . . .  Long life!
To your health, old friend! Strength, comrade!
And best wishes to the beautiful party!

From beyond the vineyards, from beyond the farm ponds
comes the sun: from the empty graves,
from the white gravestones, from that distant time.

But now that they are here, violent, absurd,
with the strange voices of emigrants,
hanged from lampposts, strangled by garrotes,

who will lead them in the new struggle?
Togliatti himself is finally old,
as he wanted to be all his life,

and he holds alarmed in his breast,
like a pope, all the love we have for him,
though stunted by epic affection,

loyalty that accepts even the most inhuman
fruit of a scorched lucidity, tenacious as a scabie.
“All politics is Realpolitik,” warring

soul, with your delicate anger!
You do not recognize a soul other than this one
which has all the prose of the clever man,

of the revolutionary devoted to the honest
common man (even the complicity
with the assassins of the Bitter Years grafted

onto protector classicism, which makes
the communist respectable): you do not recognize the heart
that becomes slave to its enemy, and goes

where the enemy goes, led by a history
that is the history of both, and makes them, deep down,
perversely, brothers; you do not recognize the fears

of a consciousness that, by struggling with the world,
shares the rules of the struggle over the centuries,
as through a pessimism into which hopes

drown to become more virile. Joyous
with a joy that knows no hidden agenda,
this army—blind in the blind

sunlight—of dead young men comes
and waits. If their father, their leader, absorbed
in a mysterious debate with Power and bound

by its dialectics, which history renews ceaselessly—
if he abandons them,
in the white mountains, on the serene plains,

little by little in the barbaric breasts
of the sons, hate becomes love of hate,
burning only in them, the few, the chosen.

Ah, Desperation that knows no laws!
Ah, Anarchy, free love
of Holiness, with your valiant songs!
. . . . . . . . .
I take also upon myself the guilt for trying
betraying, for struggling surrendering,
for accepting the good as the lesser evil,

symmetrical antinomies that I hold
in my fist like old habits. . . .
All the problems of man, with their awful statements

of ambiguity (the knot of solitudes
of the ego that feels itself dying
and does not want to come before God naked):

all this I take upon myself, so that I can understand,
from the inside, the fruit of this ambiguity:
a beloved man, in this uncalculated

April, from whom a thousand youths
fallen from the world beyond await, trusting, a sign
that has the force of a faith without pity,

to consecrate their humble rage.
Pining away within Nenni is the uncertainty
with which he re-entered the game, and the skillful

coherence, the accepted greatness,
with which he renounced epic affection,
though his soul could claim title

to it: and, exiting a Brechtian stage
into the shadows of the backstage,
where he learns new words for reality, the uncertain

hero breaks at great cost to himself the chain
that bound him, like an old idol, to the people,
giving a new grief to his old age.

The young Cervis, my brother Guido,
the young men of Reggio killed in 1960,
with their chaste and strong and faithful

eyes, source of the holy light,
look to him, and await his old words.
But, a hero by now divided, he lacks

by now a voice that touches the heart:
he appeals to the reason that is not reason,
to the sad sister of reason, which wants

to understand the reality within reality, with a passion
that refuses any extremism, any temerity.
What to say to them? That reality has a new tension,

which is what it is, and by now one has
no other course than to accept it. . . .
That the revolution becomes a desert

if it is always without victory. . . that it may not be
too late for those who want to win, but not with the violence
of the old, desperate weapons. . . .

That one must sacrifice coherence
to the incoherence of life, attempt a creator
dialogue, even if that goes against our conscience.

That the reality of even this small, stingy
State is greater than us, is always an awesome thing:
and one must be part of it, however bitter that is. . . .

But how do you expect them to be reasonable,
this band of anxious men who left—as
the songs say—home, bride,

life itself, specifically in the name of Reason?
. . . . . . . . .
But there may be a part of Nenni’s soul that wants
to say to these comrades—come from the world beyond,
in military clothes, with holes in the soles  

of their bourgeois shoes, and their youth
innocently thirsting for blood—
to shout: “Where are the weapons? Come on, let’s

go, get them, in the haystacks, in the earth,
don’t you see that nothing has changed?
Those who were weeping still weep.

Those of you who have pure and innocent hearts,
go and speak in the middle of the slums,
in the housing projects of the poor,

who behind their walls and their alleys
hide the shameful plague, the passivity of those
who know they are cut off from the days of the future.

Those of you who have a heart
devoted to accursèd lucidity,
go into the factories and schools

to remind the people that nothing in these years has
changed the quality of knowing, eternal pretext,
sweet and useless form of Power, never of truth.

Those of you who obey an honest
old imperative of religion
go among the children who grow
with hearts empty of real passion,
to remind them that the new evil
is still and always the division of the world. Finally,

those of you to whom a sad accident of birth
in families without hope gave the thick shoulders, the curly
hair of the criminal, dark cheekbones, eyes without pity—

go, to start with, to the Crespis, to the Agnellis,
to the Vallettas, to the potentates of the companies
that brought Europe to the shores of the Po:

and for each of them comes the hour that has no
equal to what they have and what they hate.
Those who have stolen from the common good

precious capital and whom no law can
punish, well, then, go and tie them up with the rope
of massacres. At the end of the Piazzale Loreto

there are still, repainted, a few
gas pumps, red in the quiet
sunlight of the springtime that returns

with its destiny: It is time to make it again a burial ground!”
. . . . . . . . .
They are leaving . . .  Help! They are turning away,
their backs beneath the heroic coats
of beggars and deserters. . . . How serene are

the mountains they return to, so lightly
the submachine guns tap their hips, to the tread
of the sun setting on the intact

forms of life, which has become what it was before
to its very depths.  Help, they are going away!—back to their
silent worlds in Marzabotto or Via Tasso. . . .

With the broken head, our head, humble
treasure of the family, big head of the second-born,
my brother resumes his bloody sleep, alone
among the dried leaves, in the serene
retreats of a wood in the pre-Alps, lost in
the golden peace of an interminable Sunday. . . .
. . . . . . . . .
And yet, this is a day of victory.


Translation copyright © 1982, 2005 by Norman MacAfee
Copyright © 1964 by Aldo Garzanti Editore

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