Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The Life of Man

[Warning: some four-letter words ahead.]

Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli (1791-1863), "La Vita Dell’Omo" (dated January 18, 1833; tr. Hermann W. Haller):
Nine months in the stench: then the swaddling clothes,
with kisses, milk and tears,
then on the leash, in the cradle, in toddling clothes,
harness and pants.

Then begins the torment of the school,
the ABC, the whip, the chilblains,
measles, the shit in the seat,
and a bit of scarlet fever and smallpox.

Then comes the apprenticeship, fasting, work,
the rent, the jail and taxes,
the sick bed, debts and fucks.

The summer's sun, the winter's snow ...
And at last, God bless us all,
comes death, and it all ends with hell.
Belli's sonnet in the original Romanesco dialect:
Nove mesi a la puzza: poi in fassciola
tra sbasciucchi, lattime e llagrimoni:
poi p' er laccio, in ner crino, e in vesticciola,
cor torcolo e l'imbraghe pe ccarzoni.

Poi comincia er tormento de la scola,
l'abbeccè, le frustate, li ggeloni,
la rosalía, la cacca a la ssediola,
e un po' de scarlattina e vvormijjoni.

Poi viè ll'arte, er diggiuno, la fatica,
la piggione, le carcere, er governo,
lo spedale, li debbiti, la fica,

er zol d'istate, la neve d'inverno ...
E pper urtimo, Iddio sce benedica,
viè la Morte, e ffinissce co l'inferno.
Another translation, by Mike Stocks:
Nine months in a bog, then swaddling clothes
and sloppy kisses, rashes, big round tears,
a baby harness, baby walker, bows,
short trousers and a cap for several years,

and then begin the agonies of school,
the ABC, the pox, the six of the best,
the poo-poo in the pants, the ridicule,
the chilblains, measles, fevers on the chest;

then works arrives, the daily slog, the rent,
the fasts, the stretch inside, the government,
the hospitals, the debts to pay, the fucks ...

The chaser to it all, on God's say-so,
(after summer's sun and winter's snow)
is death, and after death comes hell—life sucks.
Translated into Scots by Robert Garioch:
Nine month in the stink, syne rowed-up, dosed wi dill,
mang kisses, milk, greitan and curly locks,
harnessed, happit in babby-clouts and frocks,
in a bairn-fank pentit wi Jack and Jill.

And syne stairts aa the torment of the schuil,
the A.B.C and chulblains, pawmies, knocks,
the cackie doun the hole, a puckle poax,
rush-fever, measles or some ither ill.

Syne lairnin hou to fast and mak a levin,
the rent, the government, the presoun cell,
hospital, dyvourie, mockage and grieving,

the simmer suin, the winter snaw and hail ...
And at the feenish o't Gode bliss us, even
eftir aa thon, comes daith and, lastly, hell.
Translated into Yorkshire dialect by Paul Howard:
Nine month long in't'stink: then a babby born
smother'd in kisses, milksop an' tears:
then t'reins, t'walker, an't'babby-cluwes worn,
w''t'bonnet an't'breeaks up to't'ears.

Then next up t'sufferin' o' skooel comes,
t'ABC, t'slipperin', t'canin’, t'chilblains,
t'German measles, t'sittin' on't'bog wi't'runs,
bit o' small-pox, few scarlet fever pains.

Then there's t'livin' to mek, t'graftin' in't'muck,
t'fastin', t'guverment, t'prison if no rent,
t'ospit'l an't'debt an' mebee t'odd fuck:

t'summer sun, t'winter wet, what t'season's sent ...
An' in't'end, God bless us, if truth to tell,
there's nowt but Deeath, and eternal 'ell.
Translated into "Strine" by Peter Nicholas Dale:
Nine munths in the stench: then swaddlen ban's,
An smoochy kisses n' cradlecap n' whingy tears:
Then jolly jumpers n' strollers ta ged'em off their han's,
Dressed up in frippery, hedpads, britches an gear.

Then school starts up, an with it the torchure:
The alfabet, the canens an the chillblains,
German measles n' poopen on a potty chair,
Scarlet fever, chickenpox, mumps an sprains.

Then learnen a trade, fasts, n' the sheer brun'
A life—the rent, the prisons, the hospiddul,
The gum'ment athoridies, dets an cun'.

Sun over summer: snow fru the win'er spell ...
An then, at long last, God bless us all,
Deth bowls on in, an it all en's up with hell.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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