May 05, 2015

"To a Pope" a poem by Pier Paolo Pasolini, written upon the death of Pope Pius XII

Note: a Translation of 1958 poem "A un Papa", taken from Pasolini's collection of poems "La Religione del Mio Tempo". Pier Paolo Pasolini attacked the Pope for having done nothing to improve the social and economic conditions of the lower classes living in Rome, who until well into the sixties were still living in appalling conditions in peripheral slums, (the "borgate") where they had been transferred by Mussolini in the thirties in an effort to "clean up" Rome (Stephen Cachia).

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A few days before you died, death
cast her eye on one of your own age:
at twenty, you were a student, he a working lad,
you noble and rich, he a plebeian son of toil:
but those days you lived together illumined with a flame
of gold our ancient Roma, restoring her to youth again.
-I've just seen his corpse, poor old Zuchetto's.
Drunk, he was roaming the dark streets round the markets
and a tram coming from San Paolo ran him down,
dragging him along the rails under the plane trees:
they left him there for hours, beneath the wheels:
a few curious passers-by were standing staring at him
in silence: it was late, not many people in the streets.
One of those men who owe you their existence,
an old cop, in a sloppy uniform, libe any layabout,
kept shouting at those who went too close: "Fuck off!"
Then at last the hospital van arrived to carry him away:
the idlers began dispersing, but a few still hung around,
and the proprietress of a nearby all-night snack bar
who knew him well, told someone who'd just come by
Zuchetto had been run over by a tram, it was all over now.
You died a few days later: Zuchetto was one
of your vast apostolic human flock,
a poor old soak, no family, no home,
who roamed the streets at night, living as best he could.
You knew nothing of all that: knew nothing either
of thousands of others christs like him.
Perhaps we're crazy to keep on asking why
people like Zuchetto were unworthy of your love.
There are unspeakable hovels, where mothers and children
go on existing in the dust andf filthof a past long gone.
Not too far from where you lived yourself,
within sight of the vanglorious dome of St. Peter's
there is one of those places, il Gelsomino...
a hill half ravaged by a quarry, and down below,
between a stagnant sewer and a row of mansions blocks,
a mass of wretched shacks, not houses - pigsties.
All it needed from you was a gesture, a single word,
for all your children living there to find a decent roof:
you made no gesture, you spoke not a single word.
No one was asking you to give Marx absolution! An immense
wave, beating against thousands of years of life,
separated you from him, from his beliefs:
but does your own religion know nothing of pity?
Thousands of men under your pontificate
lived on dunghills, in pigsties, under your very eyes.
You knew that to sin does not just mean to commit evil deeds:
not to do good - that is the real infamy.
What good you might have done! And you did not:
there has been no greater sinner than yourself!!

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