~ language and poetry ~
- 6 -

(1871 - 1950)

skip the introduction

Trilussa is the anagram of the surname of the Roman poet Carlo Alberto Salustri, who signed with this pen-name a large number of compositions, some of which in the form of sonnets (see Belli), some others with a variable pattern of metrical structure, others in free verse. Among the Roman dialect poets he is by far the most well-known and appreciated outside his own hometown, also because of his less harsh style, which makes him more undestandable by a non-Roman public: « Trilussa's Roman dialect is a language so close to the common language that it can be easily understood by Italians from every region.» (from the foreword by Arnoldo Mondadori to the first complete collection of his poems).

plaque by Trilussa's birthplace
Carlo Alberto was born from a middle class family in via del Babuino 115, just a few metres away from the famous Spanish Steps. Only a few months earlier, Rome had changed its status, from the city-state ruled by the pope king to the new capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and society was considerably changing.
During the same years, following the first publication of Belli's verses, the use of the local dialect was growing more and more popular in the field of literary arts, by poets, writers, playrights and actors, among whom Cesare Pascarella, Giggi Zanazzo, Filippo Chiappini (also remembered as the author of the very first dictionary of Roman dialect ever published), Nino Ilari, Luigi Ferretti, Augusto Marini, Giggi Pizzirani, Augusto Sindici, Luigi Randanini, Pippo Tamburri.

In this milieu, the teenager Carlo began to take his first steps in the world of poetry. However, he was not brilliant as a student, and he repeated the second and third grade in primary school. When his first compositions were examined by Filippo Chiappini who, besides being a dialect author, was also his teacher of literature, the latter expressed to the boy's mother his strong doubts that her son may ever become a poet. And despite his prediction was later completely disproved by facts, over the following years Chiappini kept criticising Trilussa, claiming that the dialect he used was gentrified, breaking with tradition (envy for his success might have likely been a further reason for such a harsh judgement).

When in 1887 the dialect magazine Rugantino, which had been just refounded by Giggi Zanazzo, and therefore was seeking for new talented authors, published some of the verses by the 16 year-old Carlo, they received an excellent appreciation by the readers, at the point that only two years later his first collection of poems, Le stelle de Roma (The Stars of Rome), was published. Later on his compositions appeared also in some of the most popular Italian newspapers, among which il Messaggero and il Resto del Carlino.

Trilussa in his youth
and in his late years
During the first two decades of the new century, his popularity gradually grew into actual fame: he held many recitals in several cities, during which he read his own poems, becoming well-known and appreciated also in the rest of the country; in 1924 he even held some in South America.
Nevertheless, he never became an intellectual, nor he attended literary circles, and kept spending his time in the common people's favourite places, such as coffee-bars and taverns. He hated the Futurist movement, which in those years was rapidly spreading, as the themes emphasized in the works by Marinetti and other members (i.e. movement, speed, technology, war, etc.) were completely opposite to the ones Trilussa pursued.

He was a man of striking physical appearance: he was very tall, and he always dressed elegantly; he hedonistically enjoyed the pleasures of life, despite his frequent financial problems. In the early years on the 1900 he had a flirt with an actress of the silent movies, Leda Gys (Gisella Lombardi), whose carreer had been promoted by Trilussa himself, but he never married.

Trilussa's bust in the square named after him

Trilussa's star kept shining until the late 1930s. After World War II his last collection of verses (the 30th), Pane e vino (Bread and Wine), was released in 1944.

Trilussa sitting in a coffee-bar
The poet was now old, sick, and his economic problems kept worsening.
In 1950 he was awarded the title of lifetime senator for his high merits in the literary and artistic fields; "We are rich!" was his ironical comment to his old housekeeper Rosa in learning the news, well knowing that it was not much more than a honorary degree. But he did not remain a senator for long, as only twenty days after his appointment he died.

the poet's tomb, decorated with the ancient sarcophagus
Rome Municipality had his tomb adorned with an authentic ancient sarcophagus, in this being the only Roman dialect poet to receive such acknowledgment. Four years later, piazza di Ponte Sisto in Trastevere district was renamed piazza Trilussa in his honour, and a monument dedicated to him was set there, in which he is featured in the act of reciting one of his poems, leaning from some ancient ruins; but the bronze bust was criticised for its curious attitude.

About half a century before Trilussa's approach to poetry, Belli had been inspired by the sharp contrast between the high and the low social classes, and the daily struggle for life by the latter, to satisfy even their basic needs for life. But Rome by the turn of the century, finally freed from the yoke of the pope-king, had a quite differnt social structure: the petty bourgeoisie, which Trilussa himself sprang from, had grown and was now the most numerous social class. Therefore, his poems are crowded with new personages, typical of this new world, such as the housewife, the shop assistant, the maid, the politician, and so on.

However, while Belli wrote sonnets as a hobby, and did not publish them, Trilussa did so as a job. So, while the former could freely stand in open opposition both to the ruling class (Belli as a poet was definitely anticlerical) and to the uncultured mob, Trilussa had to finely adjust his irony, especially during the years of dictatorship. Although some of his compositions seem to ridiculize the regime's censorship (see below, In the shade), he never stood openly sympathetic to the partisan cause, calling himself 'non-fascist' (that is neutral), rather than anti-fascist. And although in some poems priests are made fun at (see Christian Charity), rather mildly, there are also poems in which the author clearly reveals himself as a man of faith; one of them, called La guida (The Guide) was publicly recited by pope John Paul I, during his very short pontificate.

Besides writing verses, the poet also illustrated some of his sonnets and poems with drawings, a small selection of which is featured on the left and below, revealing another side of his artistic temperament.

The dialct used by Trilussa is rather different from the one used by Belli in his "Sonnets": much softer, closer to standard Italian, as the Roman dialect was in fact spoken in those days, being this one of the effects of the population's new average cultural level, which in the late 1800s, after the fall of the Papal State, had considerably risen. For this reason Trilussa was also criticized by some other dialect poets of his age who were closer to tradition.

Also the contents of their works clearly differs. While Belli used poetry as a pretext for writing satires, Trilussa used humour as a pretext for writing poems. As a direct consequence, Trilussa's compositions are less pungent, less bitter than Belli's scorching sonnets, but the type of humor they are both based upon is exactly the same.

Another feature in Trilussa's works is the frequent use of several kinds of animals: in many of his poems, lions, monkeys, cats, dogs, pigs, mice, give life to amusing situations, which ridiculise man's many defects and bad habits; the short poem called L'Omo e la Scimmia ("the Man and the Monkey") is emblematic:

L'Omo disse a la Scimmia:
— Sei brutta, dispettosa:
ma quanto sei ridicola!
ma quanto sei curiosa!

Quann'io te vedo, rido;
rido nun se sa quanto!... —
La Scimmia disse: — Sfido! 
T'arissomijo tanto!...
The Man told the Monkey:
— You are ugly, mischievous:
how ridiculous you are!
what a curious creature!

When I see you, I laugh;
I laugh, you can't imagine how much!... —
The Monkey replied: — I'm not surprised!
I'm so similar to you!...

In doing so, Trilussa renewed an ancient tradition, whose roots go back in time to Aesop's fables (6th century BC), followed over the centuries by several other authors, up to the French poet La Fontaine (mid 17th century).

some of the sketches by Trilussa
inspired by his verses

Among his many artistic merits, Trilussa is remembered for having cooperated with two famous stage stars of his age, actor Ettore Petrolini (1884-1936), with whom he wrote some brilliant gags in dialect, and quick-change artist Leopoldo Fregoli (1867-1936); furthermore, he also signed some publicity slogans.




While reading the usual newspaper,
snuggling in the shade of a haystack
I see a hog, and I say: - hello, pig! -
I see a donkey and I say: - hello, jackass! -

Maybe these animals won't understand me,
but at least I feel satisfied
for being able to say how things are for real
without the fear of landing in jail.