Pier Paolo Pasolini

Saturday 20 October 2012 13:25

This text is a work in progress. Le Ceneri Di Gramsci (Gramsci’s Ashes) is a beautiful and important work, the meeting point of two great Italians - Pier Paolo Pasolini, poet, novelist, filmmaker, auteur, and Antonio Gramsci the founder of the Italian Communist Party whose writings, in particular his prison notebooks written while incarcerated by Benito Mussolini, have given structure to much left-wing interpretation of class struggle, politics and culture. I had the honour of meeting, while reading at the University of Bologna some years ago, the great translator of Gramsci Derek Boothman. He remarks, in the introduction to his Further Selections From the Prison Notebooks that ‘any translator would indeed be hard-pressed to follow Gramsci on every single point without expert help and advice. The current translator is no exception...’ In my case, I only need to substitute the name of Pasolini for that of Gramsci. Le Ceneri di Gramsci is at once an intensely personal poem for Pasolini and a fiercely public one: the combination is vertiginous for a translator. Gramsci himself remarked that: ‘The intellectual''s error consists in believing that one can know without understanding and, even worse, without feeling and being impassioned (not only for knowledge in itself, but also for the object of knowledge’*. I hope, at least to avoid that error.

It is a long and, particularly from a translator’s viewpoint, very complex poem in six sections.  I project an engagement of some years, during which I plan to add, from time to time, to this page, drawing for assistance on my knowledgeable Italian friends, the true experts on this great work.

In the meantime, a partial and incomplete work in progress.

Read the full text in Italian

Comprehensive Wikipedia entry on Pier Paolo Pasolini

Excellent Theory.org pages on Gramsci, including biography

*This quotation comes from an article on Pasolini and Gramsci by Maurizio Viano (http://www.jstor.org/stable/488690).

Gramsci’s Ashes


Not like May, this impure air

that makes darkens the shade

of this stranger’s garden or the glare

that blinds with brightness

or the sky drizzling over the yellow attics

a half circle of veils on the sweep

of the Tiber & the blue mountains

of the Lazio, spreading a mortal

peace loveless like our destiny

between the ancient autumnal

walls of May. The greying of the world

is there, this decade’s end in which appear

through the ruins the profound

& simple power of remaking life;

the silence, drenched & barren…

You, young man, in that summer

when life was still your sin, that Italian summer

that gave to life at least some force

how less indulged & wholesome

than our fathers – not father, but poor brother –

already with your fine hand

you sketched the dream that lights

(though not for us, dying with you

in this airless garden)

this silence. Can’t you feel it? you

who sleep in this stranger’s place,

a prisoner still; still the tedious

patricians wall you in. & fading out

some few notes reach you from

the workshop anvils of Testaccio

easing the evenings: between miserable huts,

raw tips of cans, scrap iron, where

cruelly singing a youngster circles,

his day already ended in the slanting light.


Between two worlds, our uninhabitable

reprieve. Choices, loyalties… today

this bleak and noble garden is their finale

where the device that deadened life

lives stubborn still in death.

In the circles of sarcophagi

On those grey low stones secular

inscriptions demonstrate only the appropriate

scripts of secular lives.

Still they burn, without scandal,

the bones of billionaires of bigger nations;

they buzz, almost hidden,

the ironies of princes, pederasts

whose bodies lie

in these scattered urns

burnt but never purified.

Here the silence of the dead is faithful

to the civil silence of the live

a tedium in the tedium of the park

discrete, mute: and the indifferent city

that confines it in the midst of slums

and churches, impious in its piety

will lose its splendour. Its soil

fat with nettles and vetch

from these fat cypresses, this black

mould that flecks the inside walls

around faded charcoal marks

this evening spins off adorned

only in algal perfume,

this bitter dry grass, violets soaking

the air and a topnote of mint

or rotting hay, and quietly foreshadows

diurnal melancholy, the pent

apprehensions of the night. Rude

climate, the sweetest of histories,

the soil between these walls oozes

other soil; this moisture

that recalls other wetness; and – familiars

of latitude and longitude –

where English woodland crowns

lakes spread to the skies, in lawns

phosphor green like billiard tables

or like emeralds - ‘And O ye Fountains”

- the pious invocation.

The translation is Creative Commons