Poesie - Lelio Porreca


La ballata dei briganti


Questa nel ‘60[1.It]

era terra di briganti.

Tutti san che questa nel ‘60

era terra di briganti.


Ma c’era il capo-brigante,

più terribile degli altri.  Più ardito non era:

era più temerario.  Più robusto non era:

era più prepotente.


E c’era un altro brigante,

che talvolta salvava i galantuomini[1].

Solamente perché uccidere non li poteva

così a freddo: solamente per umanità.

“Faccia a terra”[2.It.] gridava;

e sparava di quarto[3.It.].

“Zitto e fermo” diceva;

e smanacciando si allontanava col gruppo.


E c’era un altro brigante,

tradito d’amore:  perciò era brigante.

E poiché la sfortuna conosceva

più spietato degli altri si mostrava;

e ad ogni sortita con più rabbia

sparava e sparava.


C’erano molti briganti; ma questi tre

terrorizzavano galantuomini e mezzecalzette[4.It.]

e a questi tre ubbidivano

i cafoni[5.It.] e gli altri briganti.


Tutti san che questa nel ‘60

era terra di briganti.

ma dicono che dal ‘70

questa non è più terra di briganti.


Erano morti ammazzati tanti briganti.

Ma il più terribile era vivo e ricco

e libero viaggiava per i paesi e per le città;

e l’innamorato era libero e ricco anche lui

e s’era fatto un amante, che amava i suoi soldi.

E così li aveva sistemati l’amnistia generale.


Ma quello che aveva salvato a rischio suo

la povera gente e aveva detto “faccia a terra”

quello era stato fucilato al crepuscolo

contro il muro della chiesa

e la gente aveva sputato sul cadavere

e aveva insegnato a farlo ai bambini.

Poi il corpo era stato trascinato

due strisce rosse due strisce sporche

e sepolto fuori del cimitero.


Là il vento non si scontra con le croci di Cristo.

E passa senza voce

pettinando la soffice erba chiaro verde

quando l’alluma la luna chiara.


* * * * *


The Brigands’ Ballad


In the 60’s[1.Eng] this

Was a land of brigands.

Everyone knows that in the 60’s this

Was a land of brigands.


But there was the Chief-brigand,

More terrible than all the others. He wasn’t more daring:

He was more reckless. He wasn’t tougher:

He was more domineering.


And there was another brigand

Who sometimes saved the “gentlemen”[1.Eng.].

Only because he was not able to kill them

Thus in cold blood: only for humanity.

“Face to the ground”[2.Eng] he shouted;

And fired a shot to the side.

“Shut up and keep still” he shouted;

And gesticulating wildly he would leave with his group.


And there was another brigand,

Betrayed by love: that’s why he was a brigand.

And since he had suffered misfortune

He seemed even more ruthless than the others;

And at each sortie with ever greater anger

He would shoot and shoot


There were many brigands; but these three

Terrorised both “gentlemen” and “people of little importance”

And these three were obeyed

By the peasants and by other brigands.


Everyone knows that in the 60’s this

Was the land of brigands.

But they say that since the 70’s

This is no longer the land of brigands.


Many brigands were killed dead.

But the most terrible one was alive and wealthy

And travelled freely through the villages and the towns;

And the lover was free and wealthy too

And he had found a lover, who loved his money.

And this was how the general amnesty had punished them.


But the one who at his own risk had saved

The poor people and had said “Face to the ground”

He was shot at nightfall

Against the Church wall

And people spat on his body

And they taught their children to do that too.

Then his body was dragged

Two red stripes two dirty stripes

And buried outside the cemetery.


There the wind doesn’t meet Christ’s crosses

And passes silently

Combing the soft, clear green grass

When the bright moon lights it up.


* * * * *

[1.It] 1860’s – dopo l’unificazione d’Italia c’era il brigantaggio nell’Abruzzo; un fenomeno imponente e temevole, che, communque aveva pure degli aspetti positivi. Tra i briganti ve n’erano a;cuni sinceri e meritevoli che, assieme ai Bourboni, furono convinti di difendere la causa della giustizia.

[1.It.] Galantuomini: professionisti, proprietari, terrieri, autorità

[2.It.] Faccia a terra: intimazione analoga all’attuale “mani in alto”, ma ancor più sicura e efficace

[3.It] Di quarto: di lato

[4.It] Mezzecalzette: artigiani

[5.It] Cafoni: contadini

[1.Eng.] 1860’s – Brigandage broke out in Abruzzo in the 1860’s, following the unification of Italy; brigandage was an imposing and fearful phenomenon which did, however, have its positive aspects. Amongst the brigands there were some sincere and worthy men who, together with the Bourbon regime, were convinced about defending the cause of justice.

[2.Eng.] “Gentlemen”: professionals, land-owners, people of authority

[3.Eng.] “Face to the ground”: a warning similar to “hands up”, but safer and still more efficient

[4.Eng.] “people of little importance”: artesans


Some historical facts:

In 1860, after the fall of the Bourbon regime, defeated by Garibaldi's army of volunteers, the South was annexed to the other Italian States but it was burdened with conditions of great backward economy and social injustice. The new government of 1861 was a creature of the bourgeoisie, and they dealt with the problems of the South by establishing an alliance between the rich proprietors of the North and the Southern landowners, disregarding the agrarian reform advocated by the peasants of the South. A strict centralized administration was established supported by heavy rules, most burdensome for the economically weakest.

Between 1861 and 1865 Brigandage swept the whole South with awful force. It was the violent expression of a deep social and economic disease following Garibaldi's expedition.

Bands of brigands were formed mainly by former Garibaldi's red shirts, former soldiers of the Bourbon army, farm-labourers, waged peasants who lived in utter poverty, and also by their women, as valiant as the men. They were groups of outlaws who gathered around a leader and, fully-armed attacked people and property. They became thieves, murderers and criminals; armed revolution was the only way they could gain political rights and fight poverty.

The situation got still worse when the possessions of the Church and of the Southern landowners were auctioned. Buyers mostly belonged to the new rural bourgeoisie, who proved to be even more tyrannical than the former lords.

In the summer of 1861 armed bands of brigands started in to rob, kill, burn, occupy the properties of the new rich class in Abruzzo (also in Calabria, Apulia, Campania, Basilicata). They took refuge in the mountains and were protected and hidden not only by the poor peasants, but also by the clergy and former landowners whose properties had been confiscated.

The Italian government reacted by employing more than 120,000 soldiers. This army was faced not with a few thieves, but with the revolution of a whole people.

Reprisals were cruel and bloody on both sides and often the poor population was dragged into the fights, whole villages were destroyed and hundreds of peasants were shot without trial under the unfounded accusation of protecting the brigands.

This general worsening of the economic conditions under the newly established Kingdom of Italy (1861), gave rise, not only to brigandage but also marked the onset of massive emigration both abroad and also to more industrial Italian areas. 

Only in 1878 was brigandage completely defeated.


  English translation courtesy of
Marion Apley Porreca

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