We have just had two feast days here in Barga, here in Italy, and they were celebrated in style, with conviction and boundless energy.
The first was on the 25th of April, Giorno di Liberazione, when liberation from the horrors of fascism during the second world war is celebrated, and the second was on the first of May, International Workerâ€™s Day.
Politics is a particularly complex subject in Italy and there still seems to exist the reality of extreme right or left wing views. The part Italy played in the second world war is also extremely complex and all of this bubbles away just under the surface; you just need to scratch a bit and it all surfaces with ease; in the piazzas, on the streets or in the bars.
All of this brought to mind some poetry of relevance to these two recent feast days and it is this which I would like to share with you in this blog.
Hamish Henderson, although a pacifist was willingly involved in the war and wrote some of the best poetry from that war in Italy. He fought both against and for the Italians and forged close links which eventually blossomed into important and remarkable cultural ties. It was in fact Captain Henderson who accepted the surrender of Italy on 29th April 1945.
He is arguably Scotlandâ€™s finest poet of the 20th century.
â€œ Freedom is never a gift from above; it invariably has to be won anew by its own exercisesâ€
The D- Day Dodgers. ( A satirical attack on Lady Astor )
Weâ€™re the D – Day Dodgers, out in Italy –
Always on the vino, always on the spree.
8th Army scroungers and their tanks
We live in Rome – among the Yanks.
We are the D – Day Dodgers, way out in Italy.
We landed in Salerno, a holiday with pay,
The Jerries brought the bands out to greet us on the way
Showed us the sights and gave us tea.
We all sang songs – the beer was free,
To welcome D – Day Dodgers to sunny Italy.
Naples and Casino were taken in our stride,
We didnâ€™t go to fight there – we went there for the ride.
Anzio and Sangro were just names,
We only went to look for dames –
The artful D – Day Dodgers, way out in Italy.
On the way to Florence we had a lovely time.
We ran a bus to Rimini right through the Gothic line.
Soon to Bologna we will go
And after that weâ€™ll cross the Po.
Weâ€™ll still be D – Day Dodging, way out in Italy.
Once we heard a rumour that we were going home,
Back to dear old Blighty – never more to roam.
Then someone said: â€œIn France youâ€™ll fight !â€
We said : no fear – weâ€™ll just sit tight !â€
( The windy D – Day Dodgers to stay in Italy).
Dear Lady Astor, you think you know a lot,
Standing on your platform and talking tommy – rot.
You, Englandâ€™s sweetheart and its pride,
We think your mouthâ€™s too bloody wide,
Thatâ€™s from your D – Day Dodgers – in far off Italy.
Look around the mountains, in the mud and rain –
Youâ€™ll find scattered crosses – (thereâ€™s some which have no name).
Heartbreak and toil and suffering gone,
The boys beneath them slumber on.
Those are the D – Day Dodgers whoâ€™ll stay in Italy.
â€œRe cast in verseâ€ of Corrado Govoniâ€™s â€œLament for The Sonâ€ ( One of the most moving poems of the second world war)
He was the most beautiful son on Earth,
Braver than a hero of antiquity,
Gentler than an Angel of God:
Tall and dark, his hair like a forest,
Or like that intoxicating canopy
Which spreads over the Po valley ;
And you, without pity for me, killed him
– there , in a cave of dull – red sandstone.
He was the whole treasure
Of war, of sanctuary and of crown,
Of my accepted human poverty,
Of my discounted poetry –
You, once his hiding place was discovered
(after which no angel could sleep) –
You, with your thieving hands
That were strangers to no sacrilege, you carried him away at the run
Into the darkness
To destroy him without being seen –
Before I had time to cry out :
Put him down
That is my son!â€
He was my new sun, he was the triumph of my betrayed boyhood;
And you changed him in front of my
Into a heap of worms and ashes.
Mutilated, hurt, blinded,
Only I know the tragic weight I am carrying,
I am the living cross of my dead son.
And that tremendous and precious weight
Of such great suffering, of such unbearable glory
Becomes daily harder and more heavy;
It breaks my skin,
It fractures every joint,
It tears my soul;
And yet I shall have to carry it
As my sole good –
As long as I have one beat
Of love in my old veins for him.
I shall carry him, sinking on my knees, if I have to,
Until the day of my own burial.
Only then will we be down there together,
A perfect and obscure cross.
And finally I would like to share Hamishâ€™s brilliant song, â€œThe Freedom Come-All-Yeâ€ which he set the Â¾ pipe march; â€œThe Bloody Fields of Flandersâ€
Roch the wind in the clear dayâ€™s dawin
Blaws the cloods heelster-gowdie owâ€™r the bay,
But thereâ€™s mair nor a roch wind blawin
Through the great glen oâ€™ the world the day.
It s a thoucht that will gar oor rottans
– Aâ€™ they rogues that gang gallus, fresh and gay –
Tak the road and seek ither loanins
For their ill ploys tae sport and play.
Nae mair will our bonnie callants
Mairch tae war when oor braggats crousely craw,
Nor wee weans frae pit-heid and clachan
Mourn the ships sailing doon the Broomielaw.
Broken faimilies in lands weâ€™ve herriet,
Will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair, mae mair;
Black and white,ane til ither mairiet,
Mak the vile barracks oâ€™ their maisters bare.
So come all ye at hame wiâ€™ Freedom,
Never mind what the hoodies croak for doom,
In your hoose aâ€™ the bairns oâ€™ Adam
Can find breid, barley-bree and painted room.
When MacLean meets wiâ€™ his freens in Springburn
Aâ€™ the roses and geans will turn tae bloom,
And the black boy frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows oâ€™ the burghers doon.
( note – the black boy referred to in the last verse is Nelson Mandela)
What a powerful poem of freedom, equality and egalitarianism and what a wonderful national anthem it would make for Scotland.
These poems and much more of Hamishâ€™s work can be found on the CD – â€œHamish Henderson – Tribute Album.â€ CDTRAX 244
Greentrax Recordings Ltd, Edinburgh Rd. Cockenzie, East Lothian, Scotland. EH32 0XL.
Hamish Moore – Barga – 26th May 2008. – The eighth article from Hamish Moore – the premier small pipes bagpipe maker in Scotland now working in Barga as artist in residence 2008 – all of his articles can be read here