LearnItalianwith Us!Start Learning!
It’s March, and there’s blossom all around us. A couple of days ago we were going for a walk down in the valley when I saw a beautiful bush of biancospino (hawthorn) covered in white flowers. Without thinking I started reciting a poem from my childhood: “Oh! Valentino vestito di nuovo, come le brocche dei biancospini …” “What poem is that?”, asked Geoff. “A poem that we used to study at primary school called “Valentino” by Giovanni Pascoli”.
I explained the poem to Geoff: “ It is said that one day the poet saw a child running around outside the church. He was very happy and extremely proud of himself because he was wearing the new suit that his mother had made for him, yet he was barefoot. The poet asked the child his name: “Mi chiamo Valentino, Signore” (“My name is Valentino, Sir”) said the child. “E perché non hai le scarpe?” (“Why don’t you have any shoes?”) asked Pascoli. “Perché la mamma ha finito i soldi” (“Because my mother has run out of money”) came the reply. Touched by the child’s frank words, Pascoli wrote a poem about barefooted Valentino and his new suit”.
Well, I don’t know if that is the real story behind the poem, but it’s what la maestra (the teacher) told us, and that’s how I’ve always imagined it, a happy contadinello (little peasant boy) so pleased with his new suit that he didn’t notice or care about his bare feet.
I also have another childhood memory linked to this poem, this time a real one: my older brother Andrea had a friend called Valentino. One day my mother asked Valentino’s mother why she had chosen that particular name, and this is the story she recounted: “When I fell pregnant, I started working on the corredino (baby’s outfit), I knitted blankets, little cardigans, and so on, but decided to leave the shoes for last”. “They are so small and simple that they won’t take long to knit, I thought to myself. So I kept postponing them, until suddenly I went into labour. They took me to hospital with my knitting needles and the wool still in my hands, but the baby was born before I had a chance to finish the first pair of shoes. My baby was a boy, and so we decided to name him Valentino after the little boy in the poem”.
Here is Pascoli’s poem, with our translation into English:
“Valentino” di Giovanni Pascoli
Oh! Valentino vestito di nuovo,
come le brocche dei biancospini!
Solo, ai piedini provati dal rovo
porti la pelle de’ tuoi piedini;
porti le scarpe che mamma ti fece,
che non mutasti mai da quel dì,
che non costarono un picciolo: in vece
costa il vestito che ti cucì.
Costa; ché mamma già tutto ci spese
quel tintinnante salvadanaio:
ora esso è vuoto; e cantò più d’un mese
per riempirlo, tutto il pollaio.
Pensa, a gennaio, che il fuoco del ciocco
non ti bastava, tremavi, ahimè!,
e le galline cantavano, Un cocco!
ecco ecco un cocco un cocco per te!
Poi, le galline chiocciarono, e venne
marzo, e tu, magro contadinello,
restasti a mezzo, così con le penne,
ma nudi i piedi, come un uccello:
come l’uccello venuto dal mare,
che tra il ciliegio salta, e non sa
ch’oltre il beccare, il cantare, l’amare,
ci sia qualch’altra felicità
Oh! Valentino clothed anew,
like the blossoms of the hawthorns!
Just, your little feet tried by the brambles
you wear the skin of your little feet;
you wear the shoes mother made you,
that you haven’t changed from that day,
that didn’t cost a penny: but
the suit she made for you is expensive.
It’s expensive: mother already spent
that jingling moneybox:
now it’s empty: and for more than a month,
the whole poultry pen sang to fill it.
Remember January, when the burning log
wasn’t enough for you, you were shivering, pity me!
and the hens were singing: An egg!
here here an egg, an egg for you!
Then, the hens brooded, and March arrived,
and you, thin little peasant
remained half finished, with plumage,
but barefooted, just like a bird:
like the bird come from the sea,
which hops around the cherry tree, and doesn’t know
that besides pecking, singing, loving,
there could be another happiness.