~ language and poetry ~
- 7 -

Cesare Pascarella
(1858 - 1940)

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Cesare Pascarella, less known than Belli e Trilussa outside Rome, is certainly one of the city's best literary representatives. The size of his body of work is smaller than that of the two more famous dialect poets, but not lesser in quality.
The poet was born during very crucial years for Italy's history. After three national independence wars, the unification of many regions, from the north to the south of the country, had almost been achieved (1860); Rome, though, was still under the Pope's government, which fell to the Italian troops no sooner than 1870. By that time, the poet was 12 years old, and studied in a seminary in Frascati, just south of Rome. A curious anecdote about him says that when the young Pascarella learned about the news of the pope's fall, he got excited at the point of sneaking away from the seminary and returning to Rome on foot, where an anticlericalist, seeing him dressed up as a priest, slapped him in the face a couple of times.
How much these historical events influenced the boy's imagination can be told by his works.

Villa Gloria
It is a small poem dated 1886, comprising twenty-five sonnets, that describes the failed attempt by a small group of patriots to seize Rome. The fact had taken place almost twenty years earlier, on October 23rd, 1867, when less than one hundred volunteers who fought on Garibaldi's side, led by Enrico Cairoli, came to Rome by river, and gathered on the hill by the confluence of the Tiber with the Aniene (today's Villa Glori, a large public park located in the northern part of the city). They were intercepted by the Swiss guards, and in the clash Cairoli lost his life, as many others did, while his brother Giovanni was seriously wounded. The survivors retreated after dusk; some of them were captured by the papal guards and faced either a death sentence or life inprisonment. The detailed description of the events is so lively and dramatic that Villa Gloria can be considered a small epic poem, dedicated to Benedetto Cairoli, a third brother who was a patriot, as well, and who, once the Papal State fell, became prime minister twice. Poet Giosuè Carducci (Nobel Prize winner in 1906), an admirer of Pascarella, wrote an introduction to this work, praising the author.

Storia Nostra
A much longer work called "Our History", comprising 267 sonnets, tells about the history of Italy, from Rome's foundation through the 1800s. It was written since c.1895, but it remained unfinished. In the last part, some verses are missing, while for other verses variants exist, suggesting that the poet had not yet decided the final draft. A large part of the poem is dedicated to ancient Rome, and also to the Risorgimento movement, which ended with the unification of the Kingdom of Italy. It is spangled with funny and fantastic renderings of the most famous events of the ancient times, mentioning renowned personages (e.g. the seven kings of Rome, Scipio Africanus, Cola di Rienzo, Beatrice Cenci, etc.) and popular anecdotes, as history mingles with legend.

La scoperta de l'America
Pascarella's best known work, entitled "The Discovery Of America", is a poem dated 1894, which bears a dedication to his own mother. It comprises fifty sonnets, in which a group of common people, who meet in a tavern, discuss the famous story of Christopher Columbus and how he discovered the American continent.
One member of the party tells the story to his friends; in doing so, he makes amusing comments. Every now and then they take a break for drinking wine.
Also this work is based on a historical event; but the adventures of Christopher Columbus are described in an even more colourful way than in the aforesaid Villa Gloria and Storia Nostra, being entirely filtered through the people's imagination, with the addition of some very amusing details. All the elements of a traditional children's tale are identifiable: the hero (Colombus), the villains (the king and his ministers), adventure on the seas, and exotic and mysterious faraway lands.
And all personages of the story obviously speak and behave as if they were Roman commoners themselves, using typical expressions and making ingenuos remarks. For instance, as Columbus' sailors are lost on the high seas, the narrator's comment is:

Ma l'acqua è peggio, assai peggio der foco.
Perché cór foco tu, si te ce sforzi
Co' le pompe, ce 'rivi tu a smorzallo;
Ma l'acqua, dimme un po', co' che la smorzi?
Water is worse, much worse than fire.
Because, if you make an effort,
You can still put out fire with a pump;
But tell me, what could you ever put out water with?
[sonnet XIV]

The following pages contain the original poem in dialect, with a parallel translation. A few descriptive notes have also been added, to fully understand and enjoy the amusing story of America's discovery, seen through the eyes of the Roman people.

For individual sonnets, instead, Pascarella's favourite themes are minor facts of everyday's life. Although this was a common subject also for Belli's and Trilussa's poetry, their rendering by these poets is rather different.
Belli made use of a scorching satire, both against the ruling class of his time, and againsts the commoners, who endured it and supported it, using for such purpose a very crude language, and remarking the sharp contrast between their conditions, yet disguising it in the shape of humorous facts and circumstances. Also Trilussa, by adopting a much milder style, always includes his sense of humour, even in the most lyrical sonnets, pointing out human vices and defects.

Pascarella, instead, uses an almost opposite approach; by means of a witty description of society, he points out some paradoxical aspects, sometimes amusing, sometimes bitter, without taking position, leaving the critical opinion to the reader. So, it may happen that in one sonnet, a funeral turns into an opportunity for two passers-by to enjoy some band music, or in another sonnet, a crime gives somebody the inspiration for betting on good lottery numbers. But what's wrong with this? It's life, seems to be the poet's message. In some cases the sense of humour is very light, or it may even be lacking; what is more important for Pascarella is to render a faithful cross-section of society in Rome, the new capital of the Kingdom of Italy, whose change in lifestyle, after the fall of the centuries-old and obscurantist Papal State, had indeed stirred the author's imagination.

Besides being a poet, Pascarella was also a talented painter, and he even entered an artistic society called i XXV della Campagna Romana ("the 25 of the Roman countryside"), fouded in 1904, whose members sought for inspiration among the charming suburban views, particularly along the Ancient Appian Way. In those years, Rome's boundaries still lay almost completely within the ancient set of Aurelian's walls, and the countryside started just beyond the city gates. One of Pascarella's favourite subjects were donkeys.

a letter sent by Pascarella with the
sketch of a traveller (maybe himself)

Another curious aspect of Pascarella was his passion for exotic travels: from 1885 to c.1900 circa, he toured parts of the world rarely reached by Europeans in those days, such as North America, South America, Japan, but he also visited several other countries closer to Italy. The note he left on the door of his flat on the occasion of one of his travels is still remembered, as it said: "I'm just going to India, I'll be right back".

Pascarella's dialect
Pascarella's language is definitely milder than the harsh dialect used by Belli. In particular, double consonants are never spelt at the beginning of words, and common elisions, e.g. co' for con ("with"), and pe' for per ("for"), always carry an apostrophe. Some expressions are spelt according to the standard rules of Italian, leaving their correct pronunciation to the reader's knowledge of Roman dialect; for instance, ci ho, ci avemo ("I got, we got"), which Belli spelt phonetically ciò, ciavemo.
Back from the Fields (1919), one of Pascarella's paintings

As for verb tenses, the third plural person of imperfect indicative tense almost always takes the ...veno inflection (instead of ...vano): bevéveno ("they drank"), annàveno ("they went"), scoprìveno, ("they discovered"), and so on. Furthermore, a distinctive feature of Pascarella is the contracted inflection ...orno for third plural person in passato remoto tense: portorno (they took) for portarono, cominciorno (they began) for cominciarono, seguitorno (they continued) for seguitarono, and so on, as well as several other typical corruptions such as scense (he/she came down) in place of scese, or vedde ("he/she saw") for vide, agnede ("he/she went") for andò, most of which were abandoned over the 1900s.

La scoperta de l'America

pag. 1 . . . . . I - V
pag. 2 . . . . . VI - X
pag. 3 . . . . . XI - XV
pag. 4 . . . . . XVI - XX
pag. 5 . . . . . XXI - XXV
pag. 6 . . . . . XXVI - XXX
pag. 7 . . . . . XXXI - XXXV
pag. 8 . . . . . XXXVI - XL
pag. 9 . . . . . XLI - XLV
pag. 10 . . . . XLVI - L