Italian Language Blog

Bocca di Rosa Posted by on Jun 27, 2010 in Culture

A few days ago all the major Italian newspapers reported that Liliana Tassio, who is believed to have been the inspiration behind the song Bocca di Rosa (Rose Mouth) by il cantautore (the singer-song-writer) Fabrizio De Andrè, had died in Genova, at the age of 88.

Published in 1967, Bocca di Rosa is a ballade dedicated to a prostitute who arrives one day in the small village of Sant’Ilario near Genova, bringing with her love, and passion. The jealous wives of the village soon denounce Bocca di Rosa to the authorities, who expel her from the town. Escorted by the Carabinieri to the railway station, she finds that all of the village men are there to bid her farewell, including the police superintendent. But in these little communities news travel fast, and when the train arrives at the next station an even larger crowd is waiting there to welcome Bocca di Rosa, showering her with flowers and kisses. Amongst the crowd is the priest, who promptly invites the recently exiled prostitute to participate in the procession of the Virgin Mary through their village!

Here are the abridged lyrics of De Andrè’s famous ballade:

La chiamavano Bocca di Rosa
metteva l’amore metteva l’amore
la chiamavano Bocca di Rosa
metteva l’amore sopra ogni cosa.
Appena scese alla stazione
del paesino di Sant’Ilario
tutti si accorsero con uno sguardo
che non si trattava di un missionario.
C’è chi l’amore lo fa per noia,
chi se lo sceglie per professione.
Bocca di Rosa nè l’uno nè l’altro
lei lo faceva per passione.
Ma la passione spesso conduce
a soddisfare le proprie voglie
senza indagare se il concupito
ha il cuore libero oppure ha moglie.
E fu così che da un giorno all’altro
Bocca di Rosa si tirò addosso
l’ira funesta delle cagnette
a cui aveva sottratto l’osso.

E quelle andarono dal commissario
e dissero senza parafrasare:
"Quella schifosa ha già troppi clienti
più di un consorzio alimentare".
E arrivarono quattro gendarmi
con i pennacchi con i pennacchi
e arrivarono quattro gendarmi
con i pennacchi e con le armi.
Il cuore tenero non e’ una dote
di cui sian colmi i carabinieri
ma quella volta a prendere il treno
l’accompagnarono malvolentieri.
Alla stazione c’erano tutti dal
commissario al sagrestano
alla stazione c’erano tutti
con gli occhi rossi e il cappello in mano.
A salutare chi per un poco
senza pretese, senza pretese
a salutare chi per un poco
portò l’amore nel paese.
C’era un cartello giallo
con una scritta nera, diceva:
"Addio Bocca di Rosa
con te se ne parte la primavera".
Ma una notizia un po’ originale
non ha bisogno di alcun giornale
come una freccia dall’arco scocca
vola veloce di bocca in bocca.
E alla stazione successiva
molta più gente di quando partiva
chi manda un bacio, chi getta un fiore,
chi si prenota per due ore.
Persino il parroco che non disprezza
fra un miserere e un’estrema unzione
il bene effimero della bellezza
la vuole accanto in processione.
E con la Vergine in prima fila
e Bocca di Rosa poco lontano
si porta a spasso per il paese
l’amore sacro e l’amor profano!

They called her Bocca di Rosa
she put love, she put love 
they called her Bocca di Rosa
she put love above everything.
As soon as she got off at the station 
in the little village of Sant’Ilario
everybody knew at a glance
that she wasn’t a missionary.
There are those who make love because of boredom, those who choose it as a profession. Bocca di Rosa did neither, she did it for passion.
But passion often leads to the satisfaction of one’s own desires
without investigating whether the object of ones lust has a free heart or a wife.
And so it was that from one day to the next Bocca di Rosa attracted
the fatal fury of the bitches 
from whom she had taken the bone. 

And the bitches went to the chief of police, saying, without mincing their words, "That dirty woman has already too many clients, even more than a food shop".
And four guards arrived
with their plumes with their plumes
and four guards arrived
with their plumes and their weapons.
A soft heart is not a quality 
for which the carabinieri are noted,
but on that occasion they unwillingly accompanied her to catch the train.
Everybody was at the station, from the
chief of police to the sacristan
everybody was at the station
with red eyes and their hats in their
To say goodbye to someone who for a little while, without pretention, without pretention, to say goodbye to someone who, for a little while, brought love to their village.
There was a yellow board
with black writing on it, saying:
"Farewell Bocca di Rosa
you take spring away with you".
But unusual news doesn’t need a newspaper: it quickly flies from mouth to mouth as the arrow shoots from the bow. And at the following station were 
many more people than when she left 
some blowing a kiss, some throwing a flower, some booking a couple of hours.
Even the priest who,
whilst saying a prayer of mercy or the last rites, doesn’t despise the ephemeral good of beauty,
wants her near him in the procession.
And with the Virgin at the front and Bocca di Rosa close by
he leads through the village
love both
sacred and profane!

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  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    What a marvelous poem! It made me feel like I felt the first time I saw the movie ‘Mediterraneo’. Italians seem to have a special warm spot in their hearts for any worthy “Bocca di Rosa”. I guess, that in a land without birth control and divorce (during the centuries past), love without obligation, duty, official sanction or procreation would provide an almost mystic sense of freedom.

    I do have a question about the translation. Does the term ‘cagnette’ in Italian have the same connotation as ‘bitches’ does in English? In English a ‘bitch’ is a nasty, demanding, and complaining woman. I didn’t get that sense from the Italian.

    Wonderful post. I get much more from your posts that I did in classroom! Every day is a surprise!



    • serena:

      @Vince Mooney Ciao Vince,

      Sì che Mediterraneo è un bellissimo film, how I enjoy your comments and analysis!
      Cagnetta does have the same meaning as ‘bitch’ in English, although we normally use cagna, which is probably even stronger than it’s English equivalent. It’s certainly not a word to use lightly.
      We also use the word vacca (cow) to insult an ‘unpleasant’ woman.

      A presto, Serena

  2. Aidan Conlon:

    Salve Serena,

    This Fabrizio De Andrè performance of Bocca di Rosa on Youtube is sorprendente :

    Grazie per il tuo lavoro.

    Ciao Aidan

    • serena:

      @Aidan Conlon Salve Aidan, grazie per il link a youtube.
      Saluti da Serena

  3. Charles laster:

    Love, love love this ballad. Especially when she gets called to process with the virgin mary!

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