San Lorenzo, io lo so perché tanto
di stelle per l’aria tranquilla
arde e cade, perché sì gran pianto
nel concavo cielo sfavilla.
Ritornava una rondine al tetto:
l’uccisero: cadde tra spini:
ella aveva nel becco un insetto:
la cena de’ suoi rondinini.
Ora è là, come in croce, che tende
quel verme a quel cielo lontano;
e il suo nido è nell’ombra, che attende,
che pigola sempre più piano.
Anche un uomo tornava al suo nido:
l’uccisero: disse: Perdono;
e restò negli aperti occhi un grido:
portava due bambole in dono…
Ora là, nella casa romita,
lo aspettano, aspettano in vano:
egli immobile, attonito, addita
le bambole al cielo lontano.
E tu, Cielo, dall’alto dei mondi
sereni, infinito, immortale,
oh! d’un pianto di stelle lo inondi
quest’atomo opaco del Male!
St Lawrence, I know why so many
stars through the still air
burn out and fall, why so many tears
glitter in the dome of the sky.
A swallow was returning to her roof
when they killed her. She fell among thorns.
She had an insect in her beak:
dinner for her brood.
Now she is there, as on a cross, offering
that worm to that distant sky;
and her nest is in the shadows, they are waiting,
peeping softer and softer.
A man was also returning to his nest when
they killed him. He said: I forgive,
a scream remaining in his open eyes.
He was bringing a gift of two dolls.
Now there, in the lonely home,
they’re waiting, waiting in vain;
he, motionless, astonished, offers
the dolls to the distant sky.
And you, Heaven, from on high
above all worlds, serene, infinite, immortal,
oh! with the weeping stars will you flood
this opaque atom of Evil!
Giovanni Pascoli’s X agosto was written in memory of the poet’s father, Ruggero, who was murdered on the Feast of San Lorenzo in 1867. Marking the anniversary of the murder, the poem was first published in Il Marzocco on 9 August 1896. The poem includes three of Pascoli’s principal themes: the nest (standing for the family hearth), human suffering, and the inscrutability of evil. In the poem, Pascoli invokes St Lawrence in order to liken his father’s death to that of the martyred saint, and to heighten the sense of injustice. Likewise, the metaphor of the murdered swallow serves to underscore the callousness of a death that would bring despair and ruin not only to the swallow, but also to its brood, as his father’s death had brought onto Pascoli’s family.