Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cecco Angiolieri- S'i fossi foco

This famous poem illustrates two things about Italy and the Italian language. First, the character known by the other Italians as toscanaccio. Yes, outsiders think of Tuscany as a sort of serene dreamland, otherworldy- but Tuscans can be rough, cantankerous, ornery, and a bit anarchic. Secondly, it uses the second type of a hypothetical sentence, which I call the unreal hypothetical. Imperfect subjunctive in the if clause, conditional in the other clause. Here is a good case of the unreality of the construction- bad boy Cecco, a medieval poet from Siena, really wants to be all these things to get back at the world and everybody in it, but can't. He must have been in a very, very bad mood that day, long ago, when he wrote it. Note that it is in old Italian, with its variations e.g s'i fosse instead of s'io fossi.

Above, a reading by Vittorio Gassman, one of Italy's best actors. The text does not correspond precisely.

S'i fosse foco, arderei 'l mondo,
S’i’ fosse vento, lo tempesteri;
S’i’ fosse acqua, io l’annegherei;
S’i’ fosse Dio, mandareil in profondo.
S’i’ fosse papa, sare’ allor iocondo,
Che tutt'i cristiani imbrigherei;
S’i’ fosse emperator, sa’ che farei?
A tutti mozzarei lo capo a tondo.

S’i’ fosse morte, andarei da mio padre;
S’i’ fosse vita, fuggirei da lui;
Similemente faria da mi’ madre.
S’i’ fosse Cecco com’i’ sono e fui,
Torrei le donne giovani e leggiadre,
E zoppe e laide lascerei altrui.

If I were fire, I'd burn up the world,

If I were wind, I'd storm it,

If I were water, I'd drown it,

If I were God, I'd hurl it to the depths,

If I were the Pope, I'd be pleased

To harass all the Christians,

If I were Emperor, know what I'd do?

I'd cut everyone's head right off.

If I were death, I'd go to my father,

If I were life I'd flee from him,

And I'd do the same for my mother,

If I were Cecco as I am and have been,

I'd take all the young, graceful women,

And leave the ugly and lame to others.