Poetry for Sunday: my favorite Pasolini (and Orson Welles)

The embedded video below is one of my all-time favorite movie clips. It’s from an episodic movie called RoGoPaG (1963), to which Pasolini contributed the segment La Ricotta. In Pasolini’s segment, Orson Welles plays an American director making a movie about the life of Christ in Rome.* It is simply brilliant, on so many levels (I love the music and the dancing). It is rivaled only by the sequence where Welles recreates Pontormo’s Deposition in the Church of Santa Felicita in Florence.

In the clip, Orson Welles reads a poem by Pasolini, “I am a force of the past.” In thinking about culinary tradition, pizza paired with wine, and the recent censoring of “ethnic” food in Italy, I realize that the poem is actually and entirely topical (even more so when considered in the context of the entire Welles sequence).

I am a force of the Past.
My love lies only in tradition.

Here’s an as-of-yet unpublished translation by the Italian translator I admire most, my friend Stephen Sartarelli, who has also translated the Montalbano detective series. I wrote to Stephen who graciously shared his excellent rendering.

I am a force of the Past.
My love lies only in tradition.
I come from the ruins, the churches,
the altarpieces, the villages
abandoned in the Appennines or foothills
of the Alps where my brothers once lived.
I wander like a madman down the Tuscolana,
down the Appia like a dog without a master.
Or I see the twilights, the mornings
over Rome, the Ciociaria, the world,
as the first acts of Posthistory
to which I bear witness, for the privilege
of recording them from the outer edge
of some buried age. Monstrous is the man
born of a dead woman’s womb.
And I, a fetus now grown, roam about
more modern than any modern man,
in search of brothers no longer alive.

Io sono una forza del Passato.
Solo nella tradizione è il mio amore.
Vengo dai ruderi, dalle chiese,
dalle pale d’altare, dai borghi
abbandonati sugli Appennini o le Prealpi,
dove sono vissuti i fratelli.
Giro per la Tuscolana come un pazzo,
per l’Appia come un cane senza padrone.
O guardo i crepuscoli, le mattine
su Roma, sulla Ciociaria, sul mondo,
come i primi atti della Dopostoria,
cui io assisto, per privilegio d’anagrafe,
dall’orlo estremo di qualche età
sepolta. Mostruoso è chi è nato
dalle viscere di una donna morta.
E io, feto adulto, mi aggiro
più moderno di ogni moderno
a cercare fratelli che non sono più.

A little Sunday poetry. Thanks for reading…

Buona domenica a tutti…

* Pasolini was a deeply religious man and he made a beautiful film about the life of Christ, Il vangelo secondo matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964).

14 thoughts on “Poetry for Sunday: my favorite Pasolini (and Orson Welles)

  1. As I read this Forza Italia passage again, I was reminded of a John Cheever quote from today’s Writer’s Almanac: “A page of good prose is invincible.”

  2. Thanks everyone for reading. And thanks are really due to Stephen who shared this unpublished translation. He wrote me that U Chicago wanted to cut some of the works to make the volume more cost-effective but Stephen insisted that they publish the entire collected poems… they agreed…

  3. Jeremy:

    I watched Pasolini’s “Gospel According to St. Matthew” a couple nights ago. As someone who grew up Catholic and was forced to watch some pretty dreadful adaptations of the Passion story, I was quite impressed by this film. At the start, it seemed a bit amateurish to me, but after a few scenes I was drawn in. Pasolini’s images are wonderful and he really lets the message of the film come across without the usual bells and whistles other directors have used to tell this story.

    It’s a very moving film.

  4. @Tom it really is an amazing film, isn’t it? It was filmed in Ravello on the Amalfi coast. One of the things PPP was trying to do was recreate Renaissance depictions of Christ on the screen. I believe he was more interested in 17th century painting at that point than 16th. It was part of the Italian nouvelle vague notion that movies should tell stories with moving paintings rather than with dialog. Of all of PPP’s movies, this is the one were dialect plays the smallest role… (similar to his Oedipus and Medea).

  5. Jeremy:

    Thanks for the insight. You’re right- the visual is much more important here than dialogue.

    Wasn’t part of it also filmed amidst the caves of Basilicata?

  6. For the record, Pasolini was an atheist. The poem is famous as an insight to his torn self. Starts out by proclaiming his love for tradition and ends with embracing his modern self, but also highlighting that he’s alone (because of this contradiction in his personality). Shame you missed the obvious point.

  7. Pasolini was actually atheist. His film Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo was much more about revealing the timelessness of the story of Christ than it was about religion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s