Italian Language Blog

Timeless Emigrants – Part 1 Posted by on Dec 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

I came across the poem Gli Emigranti (The Emigrants) by chance, and I was immediately struck by its timeless message. In a period when the news is flooded by images of thousands of migrants leaving their war torn countries to the apparent ‘safety’ of the west, we can forget that we Italians have also been migrants for many decades.

Gli Emigranti was written by Edmondo De Amicis in 1882, at a time when thousands of Italians were emigrating to find a new life in Europe (mainly France and Germany) and America (USA, Argentina and Brazil). They mostly left from the north of Italy, in particular from Piemonte, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia-Giulia. It is estimated that between 1876 and 1900 more than 5 millions Italians left their homeland.


Italian Emigrants at the beginning of 1900

Gli Emigranti is a long poem, so I’ve divided it in two parts. Here is part 1 with our translation into English:

Gli Emigranti di Edmondo De Amicis
The Emigrants by Edmondo De Amicis

Cogli occhi spenti, con le guancie cave,
pallidi, in atto addolorato e grave,
sorreggendo le donne affrante e smorte,
ascendono la nave
come s’ascende il palco de la morte.

With their lifeless eyes, their empty cheeks,
pale, with a sorrowful and grave gesture,
supporting their wan, heartbroken women,
they climb aboard the ship
as one climbs to the gallows.

E ognun sul petto trepido si serra
tutto quel che possiede su la terra.
Altri un misero involto, altri un patito
bimbo, che gli s’afferra
al collo, dalle immense acque atterrito

And each clenches to his heart
all he possesses on the earth.
Some a pour bundle, some a suffering
child, who clenches on
to his neck, terrified by the immense waters.

Salgono in lunga fila, umili e muti,
e sopra i volti appar bruni e sparuti
umido ancora il desolato affanno
degli estremi saluti
dati ai monti che più non rivedranno.

They climb aboard in a long line, lowly and dumb,
and on their dark and haggard faces
still damp the sad weariness
of the final farewells
to the mountains that they’ll never see again.

Salgono, e ognuno la pupilla mesta
sulla ricca e gentil Genova arresta,
intento in atto di stupor profondo,
come sopra una festa
fisserebbe lo sguardo un moribondo.

They climb aboard, and each of them his sad gaze
rests upon Genoa, rich and gentle,
intent in an act of profound awe,
as a dying man would fix his gaze
upon a party.

Ammonticchiati là come giumenti
sulla gelida prua morsa dai venti,
migrano a terre inospiti e lontane;
laceri e macilenti,
varcano i mari per cercar del pane.

Piled up over there like beasts
on the freezing prow bitten by the winds,
they migrate to inhospitable and faraway lands;
ragged and emaciated,
they cross the seas to find bread.

Traditi da un mercante menzognero,
vanno, oggetto di scherno allo straniero,
bestie da soma, dispregiati iloti,
carne da cimitero,
vanno a campar d’angoscia in lidi ignoti.

Betrayed by a lying merchant,
they go, object of ridicule to the foreigner,
beasts of burden, despised Helots,
meat for the cemetery,
they go and live in anguish upon unknown shores.

Vanno, ignari di tutto, ove li porta
la fame, in terre ove altra gente è morta;
come il pezzente cieco o vagabondo
erra di porta in porta,
essi così vanno di mondo in mondo.

They go, ignorant of everything, where hunger
will take them, to lands where other folk have died;
like the blind or vagabond beggar
wanders from door to door,
they move from world to world in this way.

Vanno coi figli come un gran tesoro
celando in petto una moneta d’oro,
frutto segreto d’infiniti stonti,
e le donne con loro,
istupidite martiri piangenti.

They go with their children like a great treasure,
hiding in their chest a golden coin,
secret fruit of endless hardships,
and the women with them,
stupefied crying martyrs.

Part 2 will follow later this week.

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  1. Philip Vulliamy:

    Many thanks for this moving and richly relevant poem. I have “enjoyed” the challenge of translating what I could and then consulting your translation to fill in the blanks.

    So delighted with your “blogs”, which are so varied and imaginative. How do you find the time and the inspiration?

  2. Phil:


    I just finished reading “L’orda: quando gli albanesi eravamo noi” by Gian Antonio Stella. For those of us here in the USA whose “genitori” were among the people described in his book and this poem, it is a heart wrenching read. I doubt that many people with family among these poor folks truly understood what they experienced and suffered. They never talked much about it and wanted their children and grandchildren to “be Americans.” I only regret not having the inclination “da giovane” to have spoken with my grandparents who were part of “L’orda.”

    Thanks for publishing this poem. It makes me sad that my nonni experienced this but happy that they ended up somewhere and were able to make a good life for themselves and their families.

    Grazie mille!


  3. Mike Nicolucci:

    Serena, che bella poesia. È veramente tristezza

  4. Chippy:

    Generalmente, non sono un’ammiratrice della poesia ma questa, che commovente! Senz’altro cosi` oggi. Grazie

  5. Joseph T. Madawela:

    moving! it is a shame the Donald Chump can not read this

  6. rosemarie:

    very touching poem. I look forward to the second half. rosemarie

  7. R Claridge:

    How moving and how beautiful. Thank you.

  8. Marihanita:

    This is very realistic and sad poem, thank you so much! Just the translation needs to be improved.

    • Geoff:

      @Marihanita What suggestions do you have to improve the translation? Would you like to translate it for us?

      A presto.

  9. Ottavio Forte:

    L’emigrante sono stato io. Allora no, ma adesso, da adulto, la poesia mi va venire i brividi.

  10. Lesley:

    Thank you for sharing this moving poem. I love the variety of your blogs. Both of you obviously spend a lot of time in the research and presentation. Tante grazie come sempre. Lesley

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