From the department of “vinum daemonum”…
Earlier this week, the adage that poetry is the Devil’s wine popped into mind because of a translation of a famous Italian poem from the late 19th century.
Here’s my translation and reading of “A Ciapin” (“To Ciapin”) by Giovanni Pascoli, originally published in 1899.
The Giuseppe (Pinotto) Galliano in the first and last stanzas is the colonial-era soldier for whom the liqueur is named.
The translation, including notes on some of the Ethiopian terms, follows the podcast.
Thanks for listening! It’s such a powerful poem. There’s so much to say about it. But for now, let’s let the words suffice.
An ode by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912).
Originally published in 1899; reprinted in the anthology “Odi e Inni” in 1906.
Not a drop has been shared from that pure
vintage you stored in the cellar below
three years ago, for when Pinotto*
arrives on leave.
that vintage flowed from the oak
on the hill, I believe; it despised the soil;
because no other had so much of your iron,
like Abba Garima’s red tide,**
that vintage simmered as it was
shaken by a gloomy pulse under
the first moon of March;
and now it’s kept in a sturdy bottle,
a silent but strong heart that holds back
yesterday’s wrath and the long, dreary
thought of revenge:
Trusty Ciapin, let that vintage shudder
in the darkened bottles marked
with cautious wax! Leave it be and let
that Barbera age!
Do not drink the wine of the hero who seeks
in his drink oblivion for his heart and
trembling legs! He lives: There he is, wandering
alone among the ambas.***
Save the wine of the hero, silent
but alive. Unknown constellations
watch him, as do the lions’ broad eyes
between the acacias
Save the wine of the hero who wants
what he wants, who remains at the post
where he will return like the sun, determined
and happy, when…
Save what he keeps still in his heart
when our morsels are like dogs
to the savage ghebbì**** and our honor
is like a servant…
Save your vermilion Barbera
for a day, not far off, when
all wrapped in his flag
* Giuseppe Galliano. Pinotto is a diminutive of Giuseppe.
** Abba Garima was one of the “Nine Saints” who helped to bring Christianity to Ethiopia in the 5th century. He and the other saints supposedly crossed the Red Sea from Asia (the Middle East) to Africa.
*** An amba is an distinctive Ethiopian landform, not unlike a mesa.
**** A ghebbi is a royal fortress-city.