. Obedience by Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (1791-1863) translated from Romanesco by Joseph S. Salemi It’s not true, Christians, what you have been told— That you need endless patience to obey. Obedience gives great rest to man, I say. That’s why the custom of obeying’s old. Listen: God blessed and joined you in this league— A lovely truth: the Sovereign thinks and plans; The subject carries out His strict commands. By doing half, you’re saved from deep fatigue. And who would ever dream (except a fool) To pay what doubled tax-bills would be costing If the Pope had not made this same rule? One example, and I’ll shut up faster: At theaters, whose part is the more exhausting? Tell me: the puppet, or the puppet-master? . . Original Romanesco L’ubbidienza Nò, vveh, ccristiani, nun è vvero mica Che ppe ubbidí cce vò ttanta pazienza. È un gran riposo all’omo l’ubbidienza; E ppe cquesto in ner monno è ccusí antica. Ma ssentite, ch’Iddio ve bbenedica, Che bbella verità: er Zovrano penza, E er zúddito esiguissce; e in conzeguenza Oggnuno fa ppe ssé mmezza fatica. E a cchi de noi saría venuto in testa De pagà la dativa ariddoppiata Si er Papa nun penzava puro questa? Un essempio e ffinisco. Ar teatrino Chi la sostiè la parte ppiú ssudata? Dite, er burattinaro o er burattino? —Volume II, poem 1637 . Translator’s Note: Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (1791-1863) was an amazingly prolific poet who wrote in Romanesco, the dialect of his native city of Rome and its environs. His massive two-volume collected works contain over two thousand sonnets in this dialect, composed largely between the years 1824 and 1849. These sonnets, in Petrarchan form, are satirical, comic, anticlerical, erotic (grossly obscene at times), and meant to display the attitudes and vulgarity of the Roman lower classes. But they show a strong sympathy for the tribulations of those lower classes, and a contempt for the ecclesiastical hierarchy that oppressed them. Despite this, Belli was never impious or anti-Catholic, and in fact he served in the Papal government for some time. He was a strong conservative, and defended the independence of the Papal States when the Risorgimento occurred. Belli’s appeal is worldwide, despite the obscurity of Romanesco. He was loved by the Russian Nikolai Gogol, the Frenchman Charles Sainte-Beuve, the Irishman James Joyce, and some of his work was translated by the American William Carlos Williams and the Englishman Anthony Burgess. The latter poet even attempted to put Belli’s Romanesco into a strong north-country Lancastrian dialect. Some of Belli’s work was translated into Australian “Strine,” though I cannot recall the translator. Belli’s poetry is enjoying a renaissance in Rome today, where the malignant stupidities and arrogance of the current Antipope have enraged many Italian Catholics and Roman citizens. A very healthy anticlericalism, which had largely been absent from Rome since the Lateran Concordat of 1929, is now coming back with a vengeance. Bergoglio’s financial corruption, his protection of pedophiles, his open favoring of paganism and sodomitic perversion, his hatred of the traditional contemplative Orders, and his attempt to suppress the Latin Mass, have all raised anticlericalism to staggering new levels among real Roman Catholics. I call this healthy, because antibodies are a healthy reaction to disease. Bergoglio is a spiritual disease. It makes perfect sense that Belli’s reputation and work should rise up again in our blighted time. The above sonnet on “Obedience” is typical of Belli’s satiric style. The poem ostensibly supports resignation and acceptance of one’s political subordination, by arguing that it is established by God and traditional. But it also argues that such subordination aids the lower classes by exempting them from the fatigue of having to think. Since the Pope has established the same rule for his sovereignty, we Romans don’t have to pay the double tax of both thinking, and carrying out orders. The sonnet ends with the sardonic image of the lucky puppet on strings, who doesn’t have to work as hard as his puppet-master pulling the strings. Belli’s orthography is idiosyncratic, since he was anxious that the correct pronunciation be understood by readers of his Romanesco text. The unusual initial double consonants are meant to reinforce the harsh friction of certain Romanesco words, especially when they are preceded by vowels. . . 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.