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Easter!

by Rosario Previti (1882-1967), from Italian by Joseph S. Salemi

Why your bitter torment on the cross,
Martyr of Golgotha, if the world on which
You poured your blood in agony remains
Savage and fierce, and man still steeped in sin?

The hand that healed the leprous and the lame
Did not cleanse the craving, evil heart—
Why not wash away its shamelessness,
Its brutal instincts and ferocity?

Today is Easter—from the tomb’s cold dark
You climb again to heaven with quick steps,
To trumpet-flourish and the roll of drums.

But that same earth which you leave behind
Rests in the tainted, bought, and weighted hands
Of Caiaphas and Pilate, and their spawn.

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Poet’s Note: This is a poem by my grandfather, from his book Raccolta di Poesie Siciliane e Italiane (Messina: Edizioni Ferrara, 1960). He was an anarchist, a Deist, and a Freemason, and a very intense anticlerical. The poem is in standard Italian hendecasyllables, with the rhyme scheme ABABABCCDEDEDE. I have translated without rhyme, in order to maintain closeness with the poem’s meaning.

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Original Italian

Pasqua!

A che l’amaro strazio sulla croce,
O martire del Golgota, se’l mondo
Sul cui versasti il sangue è si feroce
E l’uomo del peccato non è mondo?!

Se l’hai redento e tratto dell’atroce
Mal di lebbra e del servile pondo,
Perchè dal brutto istinto e l’impudore,
Neglettamente, non lavaste il core?

Oggi è Pasqua, e dal sepolcro oscuro
Al ciel risale con spedito passo
Con squil di tromb’ e rullo di tamburro.

Ma quella terra che tu lasc’ in basso
Rest’ al governo parzial’ e impuro
Dello stesso Pilato e Caifasso.

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Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.


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13 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    Thanks for sharing this vehement, urgent questioning of Our Lord, in it’s original and in your able translation. And today, I assume, your grandfather would redouble his sentiments; hence your decision to present the sonnet.

    Reply
  2. Joe Tessitore

    His kingdom is not of the world, and He has defeated the world.
    May your grandfather Rest In Peace
    A Blessed Easter to you, Joe.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The same good wishes to you and yours. Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.

      Reply
    • Allegra Silberstein

      Thanks for sharing your Grandfather’s wonderful poem.

      Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    Joseph, your father asks a good question with a passionate demand that is reminiscent of Job challenging God to a debate. How I wish that we had an answer as to why God filled the promised cup of salvation half-way on Easter only to save the best part for later! If I were God I would have done it your father’s way! But, fortunately, I am not God, and because, like Job, I repent in dust and ashes, I am able to celebrate and give thanks for the full victory that is ours at Easter. I believe that I would have enjoyed knowing your father. Like yourself, he seems to have been a man who knew who he was and where he stood. You honor him with your powerful rendering of his poem. Thank you for sharing him with us today as we share the blessings of Easter together.

    Reply
  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Joe S., what an honor to read your translation of your grandfather’s beautiful and philosophical poem. I am certain his poignant and pertinent questions are on the lips of many this Easter. For me, this powerful poem has hit me hard… and I thank you for this comment above; “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat”… words of hope in a seemingly hopeless world. I am glad your grandfather’s gift for poetry lives on today in you. A very happy Easter to you!

    Reply
  5. C.B. Anderson

    The apple does not fall far from the tree. I am happy you have shared what, in an important sense, is for you a legacy and a family tradition. The sun shines brightly today, on the day we celebrate the risen Son.

    Reply
  6. James Sale

    A powerful translation, Joe, well done. Translating is always tricky – here we see the Italian so easily accommodates all those flowing feminine rhymes, but you rather eschew this in favour of mainly strong masculine endings (indeed, as you say, without the rhymes). But I think this – in English – conveys the import and seriousness of the subject matter more effectively.

    Reply
  7. BRIAN YAPKO

    Joe S., this is a magnificently powerful poem. I do not know Italian so I cannot separate your translation from your grandfather’s original other than to suggest that this poem represents a deep spiritual collaboration between the generations. Your poem is beautiful but carries with it a harsh — but accurate — assessment of historical truth. This poem really moves me with its depth and its pointed observations. It uncomfortably forces me to probe where I stand and it makes me want to commit to not be a child of Caiaphas or Pilate. A poem that can shine this type of light on questions of truth and choice is a rare offering indeed. Thank you for sharing it. Happy Easter!

    Reply
  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Thank you all for your kind comments. And a happy and blessed Easter to all.

    Reply
  9. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is absolutely mesmerizing; and I surmise that that is because these things are universal thoughts, and you (and your grandfather) have articulated them profoundly, emotionally, and rhythmically here! Besides often wondering about these things myself (and writing about them), I have thought about questions like these when imagining myself in the places of characters like Noah, Moses, Job, David, and any number of other biblical persons. Thank you very much for this poem, Joseph!

    Reply

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