Nei quartieri dove il sole del buon Dio
non dà i suoi raggi
ha già troppi impegni
per scaldar la gente d'altri paraggi,
una bimba canta la canzone antica della donnaccia
quello che ancor non sai tu
lo imparerai solo qui tra le mie braccia.
E se alla sua età le difetterà la competenza
presto affinerà le capacità con l'esperienza
dove sono andati i tempi di una volta per Giunone
quando ci voleva per fare il mestiere
anche un po' di vocazione.
Una gamba qua, una gamba là, gonfi di vino
quattro pensionati mezzo avvelenati al tavolino
li troverai là, col tempo che fa, estate e inverno
a stratracannare a stramaledire le donne,
il tempo ed il governo.
Loro cercan là, la felicità dentro a un bicchiere
per dimenticare d'esser stati presi per il sedere
ci sarà allegria anche in agonia col vino forte
porteran sul viso l'ombra di un sorriso
tra le braccia della morte.
Vecchio professore cosa vai cercando in quel portone
forse quella che sola ti può dare una lezione
quella che di giorno chiami con disprezzo
Quella che di notte stabilisce il prezzo alle tue voglie.
Tu la cercherai, tu la invocherai
più di una notte
ti alzerai disfatto rimandando tutto
quando incasserai delapiderai mezza pensione
diecimila lire per sentirti dire
"micio bello e bamboccione".
Se ti inoltrerai lungo le calate dei vecchi moli
In quell'aria spessa carica di sale, gonfia di odori
lì ci troverai i ladri gli assassini
e il tipo strano
quello che ha venduto per tremila lire
sua madre a un nano.
Se tu penserai, se giudicherai
da buon borghese
li condannerai a cinquemila anni più le spese
ma se capirai, se li cercherai
fino in fondo
se non sono gigli son pur sempre figli
vittime di questo mondo.
La città vecchia © 1965 Fabrizio De André
"La città vecchia" is set in old Genoa where De André spent much time, with its little back alleyways, bars, prostitutes, and the hard lives of the poor people and criminals who lived there on the margins of society, the opposite of what De André experienced with his own upper-middle class upbringing. The song was inspired by a poem of the same name by Umberto Saba set in the port zone of Trieste. And the first two lines were taken almost directly from a poem by Jacques Prévert, "Embrasse moi": "The sun of the good Lord doesn't shine on our parts/It already has too much to do in the rich quarters." Throughout his songwriting career, De André regularly took inspiration from and borrowed from other works of literature and music. (Translation notes: 1. "Giunone" is "Juno," but most people say "By Jove!" not "By Juno!" 2. In Italy, pensioners receive their checks on the 27th of every month.)
In the districts where the sun of the good Lord
gives not its rays,
it already has too many commitments
warming the people of other neighborhoods.
A little girl sings the ancient song of the whore:
that which you still don’t know,
you will learn only here in my arms.
And if at her age she might lack in competence,
she’ll quickly refine her skills with experience.
Where did the good old days go, by Jove,
when to practice the craft
still required a bit of a calling?
A leg here, a leg there, bloated with wine,
four pensioners half-poisoned at the table;
you’ll find them there, rain or shine, summer and winter,
guzzling it down and profusely bad-mouthing women,
the weather and the government.
They’re searching for bliss there inside a wineglass,
to forget having been taken for a fool.
There will be joy even in agony with strong wine.
They’ll wear on their faces the shadow of a smile
in the arms of death.
Old professor, what do you go seeking in that street door?
Perhaps she who alone can teach you a lesson,
she who by day you scornfully call
she who by night sets the price for your desires.
You’ll search for her, you’ll invoke her
on more than one night.
You’ll wake up exhausted postponing everything
til the 27th,
when you will cash and trash half your pension,
10,000 lira to hear yourself say
“sweet pussycat" and "big rag doll.”
If you enter along the walkways of the old piers,
in that thick air, laden with salt, swollen with odors,
there you will find the thieves, the assassins
and the strange fellow,
that one who sold his mother to a dwarf
for 3000 lira.
If you will think, if you will judge
as a righteous townsman,
you'll condemn them to 50,000 years plus expenses;
but if you will understand, if you will search them
through and through,
even if they are not lilies they are always children,
victims of this world.
English translation © 2014 Dennis Criteser
Canzoni, released in 1974, was a "filler" album, like Volume III, desired by De André's label. The only three previously unreleased songs here are covers of Dylan's "Desolation Row" and of two songs by Georges Brassens. Also included are two covers of Leonard Cohen songs.
Fabrizio De André, the revered Italian singer/songwriter, created a deep and enduring body of work over the course of his career from the 1960s through the 1990s. With these translations I have tried to render his words into an English that reads naturally without straying too far from the Italian. The translations decipher De André's lyrics without trying to preserve rhyme schemes or to make the resulting English lyric work with the melody of the song.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
La città vecchia - The Old City
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