Guest poem submitted by Jayanth Srinivasan :
(Poem #1404) An Old Sicilian Song
A woman crossing the square slips in the mud and falls head over heels. Her skirts go over her head She shows her bum The fools laugh fit to burst and shout dirty words The King passes on horseback, the mud makes him slip The fine beast and the King roll on the ground and in his turn he shows his bum through his torn breeches. The fools rush to take off their hats Only a madman across the way seeing this new and unfamiliar face of power can't help laughing his head off. The fools chorus at the top of their voices - so as to drown the madman's laughter- their praise of the great royal bum 'Oh, magnificent cheeks basking in the sun hailed by God, wonderful spheres' The fools, because the King has shit himself, for fear, begin to praise the stink of the noble motion The madman runs up waving a censer and sings Te Deum to the King's shit and plants a jasmine sprig in it. The fools applaud and then by a miracle understand the jape and take up stones and sticks and make to lynch the mocker. But since they know it is great bad luck to kill a madman protected as they are by the pity of St Francis 'the great madman of God' the fools, impotently watch the pantomime of the madman. Later at home, in secret, each one by himself remembers the madman's pantomime and laughs. They laugh till they pee themselves. The fools for a moment forget they are fools but only for a moment because, alas, madmen are few and far between and the fools don't get much chance to see their mad, obscene pantomimes.
I'm sending this in as part of the "poems by people more famous for their prose" theme [ie, some time ago - t.]; the above isn't exactly a poem by Dario Fo, rather, it's his translation of an old Sicilian folk song. I found this in the author's note at the beginning of Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" (translated into English by Stuart Hood). This was my first Fo play - I had to trek to a remote corner of my university's main library to find the play, but it was well worth the effort. It's a short play and very easy to read. The play itself looks at police corruption and at a larger level, the unaccountability of figures of authority. Fo's translation of the poem is crude, common, and vulgar. Just like the language in the play. Fo's writing was intentionally coarse - tuned more to suit the proletariat, rather than the cultured. Fo was attempting to create awareness among the common people, the masses. But the language doesn't prevent him from conveying a deep message - the need to question and speak against the establishment if they're doing something wrong. The political turmoil Italy went through a decade after WWII inspired Fo to write a series of plays and popular prose - to a large extent, the students and general public of today can't relate to the kind of political and social mayhem that the 50s and 60s saw. However, thinking about it, lots of themes from Fo's work are relevant today too - if it's not police corruption, it's corruption in big business (Kenneth Lay, etc.) - unaccountability of public figures and public bodies (Bush(I couldn't resist:)), the CIA leak being handled as an internal investigation, WMD evidence ...). All this seems to make the poem all the more relevant. There are some other nice things about the poem - it reminded me of the "Emperor's new clothes" for obvious reasons. Finally, I loved the St. Francis reference. Jayanth.