Pier Paolo Pasolini, like Pablo Neruda in the generation prior to him and Wanda Coleman in the generation subsequent to him, was not only one of the great civic poets of his epoch, but one of the supreme lyric poets, although lyrical poetry can very well be a civic one and vice versa. Pasolini’s first book of poems was written in Friulian, the dialect native to the region in northeast Italy where his mother grew up in the town of Casarsa. It is from this book that the four Friulian poems translated here are drawn. The book, which appeared in 1942 under the title Poesia a Casarsa, was comprised of 14 poems and self-published by Pasolini. He had chosen Friulian in part as a counter to the authoritarian linguistic policies of the fascist regime. In fact, Pasolini, who had come with his mother and brother to live in Casarsa during the war, had joined a group of young people who had formed an association meant to preserve and defend the dialect. To write in Friulian was thus an overarching politico-cultural affirmation, and all the more because it was not even a second familial language for him but rather a learned language. To write in Friulian was for Pasolini an affirmation of what he saw as the more emphatic authenticities of agrarian-peasant class struggle and existential immanence. Friulian was the language spoken by those whom he “loved in all tenderness and vehemence.” It was thus a self-propelled “regression from one language to another, to one more pure.” As Massimo Cacciari has written in a marvelous essay on Pasolini’s Friulian verse (“Pasolini Provencal?”), if Goethe could speak of “singing a song in an unknown language” then just because “Friulian is not his language” Pasolini is able to find the pure “language of song.” Shortly after the book’s appearance Pasolini received a letter from the well-known literary critic, Gianfranco Contini, telling him that “he liked the book so much he would write a review of it.” The joy Pasolini felt was one he described as an absolute fulfillment such that a poet would never again need more. “I danced along the balustrades of the University of Bologna!” And already in this first book we see in the immediacies and intensities, in the erotics and exultations of his lyricism the shimmering of an ever exhilarating and deeply affectionate intelligence, one that has always been at the center of his verse.
His justly celebrated poem, “The Ashes of Gramsci,” which appeared in 1957 in a book of the same title, made him famous and won him a place among the great poets and civic poets of the twentieth century. But too often this poem becomes the primary focus of commentary and unfortunately leads to neglect of the enchanting and sustained brilliance of other poems in the book, such as the unsurpassable “The Apennines.” But if the long form suited the essayistic and civic side of Pasolini’s poetic project, he still found his way back to that “singing of song” in concentrated and short poems such as this wonderful suite of “nocturnes” which are the Italian poems translated here. Written during the years 1943 to 1949, they first appeared in Pasolini’s 1958 volume of poems L’usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica (The Nightingale of the Catholic Church), which collected together the verse from the aforementioned years. The force of intelligence and existential tenderness–the dynamism and vibrato of a mimetic of lyrico-social and lyrico-critical reckoning–ever interlace in this diction so clear, so serene, so joyous, for all its ache and anguish and for all the analytical weight it has taken upon itself. Like the music of Frédéric Chopin and the paintings of Naoko Haruta, Pasolini’s “nocturnes” are the transcription of the absolutely finest points of soul and sentience.
– Steve Light
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