Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tutti morimmo a stento:
   Ballata degli impicatti - Ballad of the Hanged Men

Tutti morimmo a stento
ingoiando l'ultima voce
tirando calci al vento
vedemmo sfumare la luce.

L'urlo travolse il sole
l'aria divenne stretta
cristalli di parole
l'ultima bestemmia detta.

Prima che fosse finita
ricordammo a chi vive ancora
che il prezzo fu la vita
per il male fatto in un'ora.

Poi scivolammo nel gelo
di una morte senza abbandono
recitando l'antico credo
di chi muore senza perdono.

Chi derise la nostra sconfitta
e l'estrema vergogna ed il modo
soffocato da identica stretta
impari a conoscere il nodo.

Chi la terra ci sparse sull'ossa
e riprese tranquillo il cammino
giunga anch'egli stravolto alla fossa
con la nebbia del primo mattino.

La donna che celò in un sorriso
il disagio di darci memoria
ritrovi ogni notte sul viso
un insulto del tempo e una scoria.

Coltiviamo per tutti un rancore
che ha l'odore del sangue rappreso
ciò che allora chiamammo dolore
è soltanto un discorso sospeso.

Ballata degli impiccati © 1968 Fabrizio De André/Giuseppe Bentivoglio/
Gian Piero Reverberi


"La ballata degli impiccati" is closely related to a 1462 poem, "Ballade des pendus" by François Villon, written in prison while waiting for his execution. Whereas Villon asks for pity for the condemned, those in the lyrics of De André and Bentivoglio express rancor for the ones who judged, buried, and even remembered, all of whom will inevitably also meet their ends. These condemned men are unrepentant, and in death sit in judgment against the cruelty of capital punishment, waiting to restart their "suspended discourse" until joined in death by those who sent them there.

We all died a hard death,
swallowing the last voice.
Kicking in the wind,
we saw the light vanish.

The scream overwhelmed the sun,
the air became close,
crystals of words,
the final curse uttered.

Before it was all over
we reminded whoever still lives
that the cost was life
for the harm done in an hour.

Then we sunk into the chill
of a dead man without surrender,
reciting the ancient credo
of whoever dies without pardon.

Whoever mocked our defeat
and the extreme shame and the manner,
choked by the very same grip
he may learn to recognize the knot.

Whoever spread earth over the bones
and took to the road again, tranquil,
even he may arrive at the grave shocked,
with the fog of early morning.

The woman who concealed in a smile
the discomfort of giving us memory
may rediscover every night on her face
an insult of time and some dross.

We cultivate for everyone a resentment
that smells like clotted blood.
What we back then called sadness
is just a suspended discourse.

English translation © 2014 Dennis Criteser


Tutti morimmo a stento, released in 1968, was one of the first concept albums in Italy. In De André's own words, the album "speaks of death, not of bubble gum death with little bones, but of psychological death, moral death, mental death, that a normal person can encounter during his lifetime." After the success of Volume I, De André was provided for this next album a cutting edge recording studio complete with an 80-member orchestra, directed by Gian Piero Reverberi, and a children's chorus. The whole project was under the direction of Gian Piero's brother Gian Franco Reverberi. This album also met with commercial success, becoming the highest selling album in Italy in 1968. In 1969 a version of the album was made with De André re-recording the vocals in English. The album was not officially released.
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