Poetry corner - De André

Poetry corner – De André

With Bob Dylan winning the Nobel prize for literature, it is appropriate to draw attention to an Italian singer-songwriter whose lyrics were deeply influenced by modern poetry – Fabrizio De André. Indeed some of his lyrics are included in school poetry books.

Born in Genoa in 1940, he died of lung cancer in Milan in 1999. An anarchist and unconventional man, he dedicated his life to composing and performing songs, often in the style of ballads, with many featuring the disenfranchised. He railed against abuses of power in the name of egalitarianism and brotherhood. De André also translated and performed songs written by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the French singer-songwriter Georges Brassens. He recorded 13 LPs. He considered La buona novella (The Good News, an LP focussed on Jesus’s human qualities) to be his best.

The following song Le passanti was translated by our own Canberra poet Mark O’Connor who is a real admirer of De André. I recommend listening to the song on Youtube either on https://www.youtube.com.watch?v=9SOKH_3H1is or https://www.youtube.com.watch?v=jTVdY-5ZA0M. The second version is recorded live so its quality is inferior but includes some musings on women. Students of Italian will appreciate the clarity of De André’s diction.

Le passanti

Io dedico questa canzone
ad ogni donna pensata come amore
in un attimo di libertà
a quella conosciuta appena
non c’era tempo e valeva la pena
di perderci un secolo in più.
A quella quasi da immaginare
tanto di fretta l’hai vista passare
dal balcone a un segreto più in là
e ti piace ricordarne il sorriso
che non ti ha fatto e che tu le hai deciso
in un vuoto di felicità.
Alla compagna di viaggio
i suoi occhi il più bel paesaggio
fan sembrare più corto il cammino
e magari sei l’unico a capirla
e la fai scendere senza seguirla
senza averle sfiorato la mano.
A quelle che sono già prese
e che vivendo delle ore deluse
con un uomo ormai troppo cambiato
ti hanno lasciato, inutile pazzia,
vedere il fondo della malinconia
di un avvenire disperato.
Immagini care per qualche istante
sarete presto una folla distante
scavalcate da un ricordo più vicino
per poco che la felicità ritorni
è molto raro che ci si ricordi
degli episodi del cammino.
Ma se la vita smette di aiutarti
è più diffile dimenticarti
di quelle felicità intraviste
dei baci che non si è osato dare
delle occasioni lasciate ad aspettare
degli occhi mai più rivisti.
Allora nei momenti di solitudine
quando il rimpianto diventa abitudine,
una maniera di viversi insieme,
si piangono le labbra assenti
di tutte le belle passanti
che non siamo riusciti a trattenere.

The passers-by
[translation by Mark O’Connor, Oct 2017]

I dedicate this song of mine
to every woman thought of as a love
in some moment of freedom or fancy.
To that one who was so barely known
–there was no time; and she deserved all the time
to have lost yourself with her an age.
To her, who was all but a fantasy –
in such a rush you once glimpsed her pass by
from the balcony to some secret within –
and you like to remember that smile
she never gave, but you feigned you saw it,
in a vacuum of happiness.
And to the travelling companion
her eyes the best part of the landscape
made the road seem much shorter
and perhaps you alone understand her
and you hand her bags down, and don’t follow,
without even brushing her hand.
To those ones now already taken
and living out sad bitter hours
with a man already so changed
— who left you, in a useless folly,
a glimpse in the bottomless sorrow
of a future, already despaired.
Dear images – but for few minutes!
soon part of a whole distant crowd
overwhelmed by some memory more recent.
— Though the joy may return for a little
it’s so rare that we pause to re-visit
the episodes met on the way.
But if life ceases being your friend
then it’s harder to push out of mind
all those joys you once dimly knew,
like the kisses you did not dare offer
chances left to await some vague future,
eyes never encountered again.
Then in the moment of solitude
when regret settles into a habit,
and the way to accept what’s around you,
then we sob for those lips, now so absent
of all of those women once passing
whom we could not manage to hold.

Yvette Devlin