Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli
Biography of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli
Giuseppe Francesco Antonio Maria Gioachino Raimondo Belli was an Italian poet, famous for his sonnets in Romanesco, the dialect of Rome.
Giuseppe Francesco Antonio Maria Gioachino Raimondo Belli was born in Rome to a family belonging to the lower bourgeoisie.
His father died, of either cholera or typhus, some time after taking up a job in Civitavecchia. Belli, with his mother and his two brothers, moved back to Rome, where they were forced to take cheap lodgings in Via del Corso. Belli began his poetical career initially by composing sonnets in Italian, at the suggestion of his friend, the poet Francesco Spada.
After a period of employment in straitened circumstances, in 1816 he married a woman of means, Maria Conti, and this enabled him the ease to develop his literary talents. The two had a son, Ciro, born in 1824. Belli made some trips to Northern and Central Italy, where he could come in contact with a more evolved literary world, as well with the Enlightenment and revolutionary milieu which was almost totally absent in Rome. It was during a stay in Milan that he came in touch with the rich local tradition of dialect poetry and satire, as modernized by Carlo Porta, whose witty vernacular sonnets provided him with a model for the poems in Roman dialect that were to make him, posthumously, famous.
His sonnets were often satirical and anti-clerical, as when he defined the Cardinals as 'dog-robbers', for example, or Pope Gregory XVI as someone who kept 'Rome as his personal inn'. Nevertheless, Belli's political ideas remained largely conservative throughout his life. During the democratic rebellion of the Roman Republic of 1849 he defended the rights of the pope.
After his wife's death in 1837, Belli's economic situation worsened again. In later years Belli lost much of his vitality, and he felt a growing acrimony against the world around him, describing himself as "a dead poet". Consequently, his poetical production dropped off and his last sonnet in dialect dates to 1849.
In his later years Belli worked as artistical and political censor for the papal government. Works of which he denied circulation included those of William Shakespeare, Giuseppe Verdi and Gioacchino Rossini.
He died in Rome in 1863 from a stroke. His nephew, painter Guglielmo Janni, wrote a monumental biography in 10 volumes, which was published posthumously in 1967.
Belli is mainly remembered for his vivid popular poetry in the Roman dialect. He produced some 2,279 sonnets that form an invaluable document of the 19th century's papal Rome and the life of its common people. They were mainly composed in the period 1830–1839. Belli kept them largely hidden, apart from his famous recitals before friends such as Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve and Nikolai Gogol and, just before his death, asked his friend Monsignor Vincenzo Tizzani to burn them. Fortunately, the prelate gave them back to Ciro Belli, who when first publishing a selection of them in 1866, severely edited in order not to offend the taste of the time.
The most striking characteristics of Belli's sonnets are the overwhelming humour and the sharp, relentless capability of satirization of both common life and the clerical world that oppressed it. Some of the sonnets, moreover, show a decided degree of eroticism. Although replete with denunciations of the corruption of the world of the Roman Church, and of the 19th century Rome in general, Belli's poems has been defined as "never impious". His verse is frequently obscene, reflecting the exuberant vulgarity and acerbic intuitions of the local world whose language he employed, but is always phrased with an acute technical mastery of rhythm within the difficult formal structures of the Petarchan sonnet, and by a sense of realism which was rarely matched in the poetical production of Europe, until the emergence of raw realism with Emile Zola and James Joyce.
A selection of Belli's sonnets were translated into English by Anthony, who employed a rough slang tinged with Lancastrian as a stand-in for Belli's Roman dialect. These translations appear in the novel ABBA ABBA, which deals with a fictional encounter between Belli and Keats. Belli's works have also been translated by the poet Harold Norse.
Among other English translators of Belli's work are Peter Nicholas Dale, William Carlos Williams, and Eleonore Clark.
Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli's Works:
The Sovrans of the Old World (1831)
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Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli Poems
When I watch folks of this world and see how widespread It is for those, that pile up treasure and put on fat, to chafe At the bit and grasp for more, the way they hunger for a safe As broad as the ocean, and so deep, that it'd never touch the seabed,
Li Frati D'Un Paese (The Friers Of The V...
Senti sto fatto. Un giorno de st'istate Lavoravo ar convento de Genzano, E ssentivo de sopra ch'er guardiano Tirava giù biastime a carrettate;
Er Confessore (The Confessor)
Padre... -- Dite il confiteor. -- L'ho detto. -- L'atto di contrizione? -- Già l'ho ffatto. -- Avanti dunque. -- Ho detto cazzo-matto A mi' marito, e j'ho arzato un grossetto. --
Li Spiriti Iv (Ghosts 4)
Un mese, o ppoco ppiù, doppo er guadaggno De la piastra, che ffece er zanto prete, Venne la pasqua, e 'r gabbiano che ssapete Cominciò a lavorà de scacciaraggno.
Er Giorno Der Giudizzio ( On Judgement D...
Quattro angioloni co le tromme in bocca Se metteranno uno pe cantone A ssonà: poi co ttanto de vocione Cominceranno a dì: "Fora a chi ttocca".
Er Caffettiere Fisolofo (The Philosophiz...
L'ommini de sto monno sò l'istesso Che vaghi de caffè ner macinino: C'uno prima, uno doppo, e un'antro appresso, Tutti quanti però vanno a un distino.
Li Spiriti Iii (Ghosts 3)
Tu conoschi la moje de Fichetto: Bè, lei giura e spergiura ch'er zu' nonno, Stanno una notte tra la vej'e 'r zonno, Se sentì ffà un zospiro accapalletto.
Li Galoppini (The Scroungers)
Jeri, a la Pulinara, un colleggiale Doppo fatta una predica in todesco, Setacciò tutt'er popolo in du' sale, E a la ppiù mejo vorze dà er rifresco.
La Bocca De-La-Verita' (The Mouth Of Tru...
In d'una chiesa sopra a 'na piazzetta Un po' ppiù ssù de Piazza Montanara Pe la strada che pporta a la Salara, C'è in nell'entrà una cosa benedetta.
Er Zagrifizzio D'Abbramo Ii (Abraham's S...
Doppo fatta un boccon de colazzione Partirno tutt'e quattro a giorno chiaro, E camminorno sempre in orazzione Pe quarche mijo ppiù der centinaro.
Er Logotenente (The Lieutenant)
Come intese a ciarlà der cavalletto, Presto io curze dar zor Logotenente: "Mi' marito... Eccellenza... è un poveretto Pe carità... Ché nun ha ffatto gnente".
La Piggion De Casa (The Rent)
Nun pòi sbajà ssi vòi. Qua ssu la dritta, Ner comincio der Vicolo der Branca, Doppo tre o quattro porte a manimanca Te viè in faccia una pietra tutta scritta.
Er Commercio Libbero (The Free Trade)
Be'? So' pputtana, venno la mi' pelle: Fo la miggnotta, si, sto ar cancelletto: Lo pijo in quello largo e in quello stretto: C'è gnent'antro da dì? Che cose belle!
La Scerta (The Choice)
Sta accusì. La padrona cor padrone, Volenno marità la padroncina Je portonno davanti una matina, Pe sceje, du' bravissime perzone.
La Penale (The Fine)
Li preti, già sse sa, fanno la caccia
A 'gni sorte de spece de quadrini.
Mo er mi' curato ha messo du' carlini
De murta a chi vò dì 'na parolaccia.
Toccò a me l'antra sera a la Pilaccia:
Ché giucanno co certi vitturini,
Come me vedde vince un lammertini,
Disse pe ffoja: "Eh buggiarà Ssantaccia!"