Mendicant Melody part 4

The exhausted and famished tenor sings to the capon hanging outside an upper window, as he inhales the appetizing aroma of the roast cooking in the kitchen on the ground floor, and while he scratches and scrapes his violin a dog sets up a howl, boys stand and jeer, and the curious rise from the table and with mouths full appear at the windows.

Alas! alas! what cruel contrasts and what bitter ironies! The tightened heartstrings respond with the one pitiful note, “The penny for food.”

Instead of experiencing a feeling of irritation at all these discordant voices and all these instruments of auricular torment, my heart turned in unconscious admiration toward this superhuman art which is the refuge of derelict creatures too old or not old enough to work; toward this much-outraged melody which obtains for unfortunate humanity the crust of bread, otherwise sought often in vain from the charity of fellowman, and which although offending the ear gives compensation by

Mendicant Melody part 3

What strange subterranean passages of sentiment and tone, from the lively airs of the opera-bouffe to the plaintive entreaties directed toward deserted windows!

“Signori, something for charity’s sake! Take compassion on a poor unfortunate!”

And what an extraordinary and incredible mutilation and confusion of musical motives and words which give the impression of the bewildering song of a dreamer or the delirium of a musical maniac!

There came often a whole family, father, mother, and a nestful of children, who stood in a group in the center of the court and sang all together with wide-open mouths, each one on his own account, like a shipwrecked family on a raft calling desperately for succor to a far-off vessel.

Perfectly motionless

I remember also a diminutive hunchback who used to play upon a trombone larger than himself, out of which, with closed eyes, he blew distressing and threatening notes having no connection at all

Mendicant Melody part 2

Evidences of poverty and misery and signs, of a life of hardship were manifested by the instruments themselves; the voice of weariness and anguish cried out in the squeaking violins, the discordant harps, the coughing and wheezing flutes and trombones, and the loosely strung tambourines held out by tired hands to receive charity.

From time to time I heard a voice melodious, but impaired by ill- usage, the remains of a former glory, which drew the curious to the window and gave their faces an expression of sorrow that such a precious article should be destroyed. The accent and modulation were those of the stage, and the story could be readily divined: from the theater to the cafe, from the cafe to the tavern, from the tavern to the courtyard, and then to the hospital. And was it strange that the singer continued in adversity to ask bread of the art which had so lavishly provided for him in better days, when so many without voice, without ear, without musical sense, resort t

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 sing