Friday, 14 June 2013

Gramsci’s Ashes by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1957)

It’s not like May, this impure air

that darkens the foreign garden

already dark, then blinds it with light

with blinding clarity… this sky

of foam, above the pale yellow eaves

that in enormous semicircles veil

the bends of the Tiber, the deep blue

mountains of Latium… Spilling a mortal

peace, estranged from our destinies,

between the ancient walls, autumnal

May. In this the grey of the world,

the end of the decade in which appears

among ruins the profound, ingenuous

effort to restore life over;

the silence, rotten and barren…

You were young, in that May when the error

was still life, in that Italian May

when at least passion was joined to life,

how much less baffled and impurely sound

than our fathers: not father, but simply

brother - already with your skinny hand, you

were outlining the ideal that illuminates

(but not for us: you, dead, and us

equally dead, with you, in this humid

garden) this silence. Can’t you

see it? - you who rest in this alien

place, again confined. Weariness

of nobility surrounds you. And, faded,

the solitary peal of the anvil reaches you

from the factories of Testaccio, lulled

in the evening: amid the shacks of the poor,

unadorned heaps of tin cans, old iron, where

singing, dissipated, an apprentice is ending

his day’s work, at the end of the rainfall.


Between the two worlds, the respite, in which we are not.

Choices, surrenders… we have no other sound

by now but this garden of the wretched

and noble in which, headstrong, the trick

that deadens life remains in death.

In the circles of sarcophagi we do not

reveal the fate of the survivor,

of secular people, secular inscriptions

on these grey stones, low,

grand. Again passions

unbridled, free from scandal, burn

the bones of millionaires from mightier

nations; buzzing, almost decomposing,

the ironies of princes, of pederasts,

their bodies strewn in urns

incinerated, and unchaste.

Death’s silence bears witness

to a civilised silence of men who remain

men, of a weariness that in the weariness

of the Park changes imperceptibly: and the city

indifferent, confines him at its centre

by hovels and by churches, their pitiless mercy,

their lost splendour. The earth,

fertile with nettles and vegetables,

brings forth these meagre cypresses, this black

damp that stains the walls around

the ashen, zigzag boxtree, that the evening

calm extinguishes into unadorned

tendrils of seaweed… this sparse grass

scentless, where one sinks into the sweet violet

the atmosphere, with a shiver of mint,

or decomposed hay, then quiet, foreshadows

the daylight gloom, exhausted

apprehensions of the night. Harsh

climate, sweet history,

between these walls is a soil under which

oozes another layer; this damp which

calls to mind another damp; and they echo

- intimate with latitudes

and horizons, where English forests crown

lakes lost in the sky, among meadows

as green as phosphorescent billiard tables or

like emeralds: ‘And O ye Fountains…’ - the pious



A red rag, like those the partisans

furled around their throats

and, nearby the urn, in the waxen soil

differently red, two geraniums.

Here you lie, exiled, with cruel Protestant

neatness, listed among the foreign

dead: Gramsci’s ashes… Between hope

and my ancient distrust, I draw near you, happening

by chance on this meagre greenhouse, in the presence

of your grave, in the presence of your spirit, afoot,

down here among the free. (Or is it something

else, perhaps more ecstatic

and even more humble, the enraptured symbiosis

of the adolescent, of sex and death…)

And, of this country which would not let you rest,

I feel this an injustice: your mental strain

- here among the silences of the dead - what

reason - our troubled destiny

You would have been inscribing your final

pages in the days of your assassination.

Here are the seeds - I testify -

still undispersed by the ancient rule,

these dead men chained to ownership

that over centuries submerges their shame

and their grandeur: at the same time, obsessed -

the striking of anvils, stifled,

quietly grieving - of the lowly

quarter - attesting to its end.

And here I am… a poor man, dressed

in clothes the poor ogle in store windows

of coarse splendour, that have faded,

in the filth of more lost streets,

of streetcar benches, from which my day

is removed: more and more rarely

I have these days off from the torment

of deciding to live; and if it should happen I

love the world, it’s not with a violent

and ingenuous sensual love

like I had, a confused adolescent, a season

I hated; if in it I hurt the bourgeois

affliction of my bourgeois self: and now, the world

- with you - cleft, that part which had the power

doesn’t it seem now an object of bitterness,

almost mystical contempt?

Yet without your rigour, I exist

not because I choose to. I live in the non-will

of postwar decline: loving

the world I hate - in its distress

contemptuous and lost - in a dark scandal

of consciousness…


The shame of contradicting myself, of being

with you and against you; with you in my heart,

in truth, against you in my dark inmost feelings;

traitor to my fatherland

-in thought, in a shadow of action -

I know that I am bound to it, in the heat

of instinct, of aesthetic passion

attracted by a proletarian life -

prior to you - it’s for me a religion;

this is happiness, not the millennial

struggle: man’s nature, not his

conscious mind; it’s the primal strength

of man, that has been lost in actions,

that offers this drunken nostalgia,

and poetic light: beyond that

I don’t know what to say, would it be

a just, but not pure abstracted

love, not grieving sympathy…

As poor as the poor, I attach myself

like them to humble expectations

like them, I fight each day

to stay alive. But even in my desolated state,

in my disinherited condition -

I own: the most glorified of all

bourgeois possessions:

But while I own history,

it owns me; it illumines me

But what use is such a light.


I’m not talking about the individual,

phenomenon of sensual, sentimental fervour…

he has other vices; his destiny, his fate

go by another name…

But in him are scrambled common

innate vices - and also

objective sin! They are not immune -

those internal and external acts that

bring him to life - to any of

the religions that exist in the real world,

mortgaging death, established

to cheat the light, bringing to light the deception.

His mortal remains are fated

to be interred in Verano; it’s catholic,

his struggle with them: Jesuitical

are the manias with which he regulates his heart;

and even deeper: his consciousness obtains

Biblical tricks… and ironic liberal

zealousness… and a coarse splendour, among the dislikes

of a provincial dandy, of a provincial

well-being… Even to the basest details

in which Authority and Anarchy vanish

into the vulgar deep… well protected

by unclean virtue and by drunken sin,

defending an obsessive naïveté

and with what consciousness! The I lives: I

alive, evading life, within the breast

the sense of a life that would be a

grieving, violent oblivion… Ah, as I realise,

speechless, drenched in the whispers

of the wind, here where Rome is silent

among the weary, confused cypresses,

near you, the spirit whose graffitto resounds

Shelley… How I understand the whirlpool

of feeling, the whim (greek, in the patrician’s

heart, northern summer visitor)

that swallowed him in the dark

azure of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the sensual

joy of adventure, aesthetic

and childish: meanwhile Italy, face-down

as if within the belly of a giant

cicada; opening wide white coastlines,

strewn across Latium veiled throngs of pine,

queer, faded yellowish glades

of garden rocket, where a young

peasant of the Roman campagna sleeps

amid rags, his penis erect, goethian dream.

In the Maremma dark, marvelous sewers

of spiked grasses, a clear impression

of the hazelnut tree, along footpaths the herdsman

fills to overfllowing with his youth - unaware.

Blindly fragrant in the sharp curves

of the Versilian coastline, on

the entangled, blind sea, the bright stuccoes,

delicate marquetry of its pascual

countryside, quite human, it unfolds

darkening on the Cinquale

unravelling underneath the burning Apuan Alps,

glassy blue against rose… landslides,

overturned rocks, as if panicked

by a fragrance, on the Riviera, soft,

steep, where the sun wrestles the breeze

to offer utmost sweetness to the oils

of the sea… And all around the buzz of happiness

the boundless percussion, drumming

of sex and light: so accustomed

is Italy to this, she doesn’t even tremble, as if

dead within her life: fervently they shout

from hundreds of seaports, the name

of their comrade, the young men, wet with sweat,

faces tanned, brown, among the people

of the Riviera, near kitchen-gardens of thistles

on foul little beaches…

Will you ask of me, dead man, unadorned,

that I abandon this hopeless

passion to be in the world?


I’ll take my leave of him. I leave you in the evening

that however sad, is almost sweet, falling on

us, living creatures, with its waxen light

that sets the quarter in twilight.

And stirs it up. Makes it larger, emptier

in close, and, at a great distance, rekindles it

a raving life, that of the hoarse

rolling racket of the tram, of human clamour,

dialects, creating a faintly heard

and positive harmony. And you feel like those faraway

creatures that in life shout, laugh

in those vehicles of theirs, those wretched

apartment blocks, where the false and

expansive gift of existence is consumed -

that life is nought but a shiver;

corporeal, collective presence;

you feel the absence of any true

religion; not living, but surviving

- perhaps more joyous than living - like

a nation of animals, within its mysterious

orgasm - there would be no other longing

than that for daily action, work:

a humble ardour which lends a sense of festivity

to humble corruption. How much more empty

- in this void of history, in this

humming pause in which existence holds its tongue -

is each ideal, clearly better is

the immense, bronzed voluptuousness,

almost Alexandrian, which illuminates

and impurely ignites all, when here

in the world, something tumbles down, and

the world drags itself along, in the twilight, coming

home to empty market-places, to disheartened factories…

Already the lamps are lit, spangling

Via Zabaglia, Via Franklin, all of

Testaccio, stripped between its great

foul mount, the lengths of the Tiber, the black

back-drop beyond the river, that Monteverde

amasses or diminishes unseen in the heavens.

Diadems of light lose themselves,

dazzling, with a chill of sadness

almost sea-like… Suppertime is almost here;

the quarter’s scarce buses glitter,

with bunches of workers at their ticket windows.

And groups of soldiers vanish, languidly,

toward the mount - which at the centre of

rotten excavations, dry heaps of filth -

streetwalkers are concealed in shadow

waiting, enraged, on the aphrodisiac

filth: and, not far away, among illegal

shacks clinging to the mountain, in

palaces, their own worlds, boys light

as paper play in the breezes,

no longer chill, but springlike; burning

with the recklessness of youth, on a

Roman evening in May, dark adolescents

whistle along the pavements, in the evening’s

festivity; and the rolling shutters

of garages roar, and crash, joyously;

the darkness has surrendered the night serene,
and in the midst of the plane trees in Piazza Testaccio

the wind falling, quivering with unexpected disaster

is sweet enough, although grazing one’s hair

and the porous stones of Macello, there one becomes

drenched with decomposed blood, everywhere

the waste and stench of poverty is stirred up.

It’s a cacophony, this life, and those lost

in it, lose it cloudlessly, if their hearts

are filled with it: enjoying themselves,

behold the wretched, the evening: powerful

in them, defenceless before them, the myth

is reborn… But I, with my aware heart,

which is alive only in history,

can I ever again act with a pure love,

if I know that our history is ended?