Mendicant Melody part 1

Edmondo De Amicis (1846— 1908)

De Amicis is best known to the world as the author of the children’s classic, Cuore. De Amicis was a follower of the tradition of Manzoni, and wrote graceful travel books and novels, short stories and poems. Of his delicately conceived tales, Mendicant Melody is one of the most charming. It forms a fitting contrast to the wild and savage beauty of D’Annunzio.

The present version is translated by Walter Brooks, and is reprinted from his volume, Retold in English. Copyright, 1905, by Brentano’s, by whose permission, and that of Signor Ugo de Amicis, it is here included.

Mendicant Melody

I wonder who is the sadder in this world of hunger, he who sings or he who listens?

I often think how much of this sadness I witnessed sitting by my study window in the house in which I spent fifteen years of my life, and looking out into the courtyard where the compassion of the landlord permitted all the singing and listening misery of Turin to enter.

This pitiful vagabond music came there to bemoan and entreat at all hours of the day, and under all conditions; sometimes I heard it at sunrise, and sometimes at the closing in of night.

There were moribund tenor voices still persistent in imploring the penny and refusing to be subdued by the rain; there were the childish notes of a song almost smothered by large flakes of falling snow, and sentimental ditties, accompanied by the rumbling of thunder, and interrupted by the singer stopping to shield his eyes from blinding flashes of lightning. And more than once in the burning heat of an August day, when the sun fairly baked the walls, and the whole house seemed stupefied in this flaming air and this dead silence, arose the voice of an unfortunate one whose very song gave evidence of a day passed without food.

What pitiful and manifold stanzas of melodious misery! All conditions from infancy, which commences to sing before knowing how to form its words, to decrepit old age, which has lost the power to form them, but still sings.

Every infirmity, every deformity, every aspect of misfortune and grief came under my window; from the mountaineer who sang a melancholy song in a dialect known only in the valleys of the Alps, to the Sicilian boy who, warbling all the way, had travelled the length of the Peninsula, and whose first notes caused me to lift my head and see a vision of an azure gulf with a leafy crown of orange trees.

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