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Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu/Julia Bolton Holloway © 2012


 

FRANCESCA ALEXANDER AND JOHN RUSKIN

TUSCAN FOLK TALES
 
 

rancesca Alexander and John Ruskin collaborated on a joint publication, in which he edited and explained her drawings and transcriptions, which she gave in both Italian and English, of stories collected from an aged Tuscan contadina, Beatrice Bernardi and from other sources. Today, Giannozzo Pucci of Ontignano and I in Montebeni collaborate in celebrating their memory:

Francesca Alexander writes in her Preface:

These songs and hyms of the poor people have been collected little by little, in the course of a great many years which I have passed in constant intercourse with the Tuscan contadini. . . .

A great many of them were taught me by the celebrated improvisatrice, Beatrice Bernardi of Pian degli Ontiani, whose portrait I have placed in the beginning of the book, - one of the most wonderful women whom I ever knew.

This Beatrice was the daughter of a stonemason at Melo, a little village of not very easy access on the mountain side above Cutigliano; and her mother having died in Beatrice's infancy, she became, from early childhood, the companion and assistant of his father, accompanying him to his winter labours in the Maremma, and, as she grew larger, helping him at his work by bringing him stones for the walls and bridges which he built, carrying them balanced on her head. She had no education in the common sense of the word, never learning even the alphabet, but she had a wonderful memory, and could sing or recite long pieces of poetry. As a girl, she used in summer to follow the sheep, with her distaff at her waist; and would fill up her hours of solitude by singing such ballads as 'The War of St Michael and the Dragon! The Creation of the Word!! and The Fall of Man!!!' or 'The History of San Pellegrino, Son of Romano, King of Scotland'; and now, in her old age she knows nearly all the New Testament history, and much of the Old, in poetical form.

She was very beautiful then, they say, with curling hair, and wonderful inspired looking eyes, and there must always have been a great charm in her voice and smile; so it is no great wonder that Matteo Bernardi, much older than herself and owner of a fine farm at Pian degli Ontiani, and of many cattle, chose rather to marry the shepherd girl who could sing so sweetly than another woman whom his family liked better, and who might perhaps have brought more share of worldly prosperity.

On Beatrice's wedding day, according to the custom of the country, one or two poets improvised verses suitable to the occasion, and as she listened to them, suddenly she felt in herself a new power, and began to sing the poetry which was then born in her mind, and having once begun, found it impossible to stop, and kept on singing a great while; so that all were astonished, and her uncle, who was present, said, 'Beatrice, you have deceived me! If I had known what you were, I would have put you in a convent.' From that time forth she was the great poetess of all that part of the country, and was sent for to sing and recite at weddings and other festivals for many miles around.

. . . Her husband tried to stop her singing, which seemed to him a sort of madness, and at times he treated her with great unkindness: but sing she must, and sing she did, for it was what the Lord made her for: and she lived down his dislike; her husband loved her in his old age. . . Beatrice is still living, at a great age now, but still retaining much of her old beauty and brilliancy, and is waited on and cared for with much affection by a pretty grand-daughter bearing the same name as herself.


We shall give here two selections from their book, Beatrice Bernardi's, Francesca Alexander's, John Ruskin's Roadside Tales of Tuscany, published in England in 1885. The first about the patron saint of Lucca, a little servant girl; the second, a legend of a gypsy. In all of these the viewpoint of women is stronger than that of men, not usual in print culture, and in the visual documents accompanying the words, Francesca Alexander, again, most carefully records women's modes of expression, through stitches upon cloth, through embroidery and plain sewing, even the patch on the child's dress below and the braiding of her hair.


The first is of the medieval saint of Lucca, Santa Zita, St Zita (1218-1278):

St Zita, a mere servant, a mere girl grown to be an old woman, founded no monastic order, but instead became, with the Irishman, St Frediano, the major patron of a major Italian city, Lucca. Both outsiders came to be revered, through their lives teaching Christ in the midst of the city. Indeed, the second is buried in the church of the first, and on her feast day all Lucca comes to the glass coffin laying sweetsmelling blessed narcissi upon it, then carry these bouquets with their fragrance wherever they go in a city filled that day with flowers in her honour.

Ruskin, in 1884, was puzzled at the little servant girl's fame as a saint and wrote:

So Francesca Alexander published Bartolomeo Casenti's ottava rima 1616 ballad about the little servant girl become revered saint in parallel text, translating it as well from Italian into facing page English stanzas that almost improve upon the original.

THE BALLAD OF SANTA ZITA

I.
Splendor supremo, sommo Redentore,
per cui risiede tua infinita gloria;
concedi al basso ingegno il tuo favore,
aiuto porgi a mia debol memoria:
ch'io possa raccontar con puro cuore,
di Santa Zita la sua degna istoria;
acciò che sappia ogni fedel cristiano,
di sua nazione, e com'è in San Frediano

O Light of lights, Redeemer of mankind,
Whose glory most in mercy shines displayed,
Concede Thy favour to my humble mind,
Increase my feeble memory with Thine aid,
My heart to-day some fitting words would find,
To tell of Zita, Lucca's holy maid:
That Christians all may read her life, and how
She sleeps in old San Frediano now.

II. . . .

III.
Or diam principio alla gentil Istoria,
di Santa Zita, gloriosa e pia.
Acciò ch'ognuno ne tenghi memoria,
saper dove gl'è nata e d'onde sia.
Quella, che gode or l'eterna gloria,
con altre verginelle in compagnia,
nacque di Lucca nel felice stato,
in una villa detta Monsagrato.

So listen kindly, friends, and I will tell,
The story of our saint, now raised so high:
And first I pray you to remember well
Her birthplace . . . To our city it lies nigh.
She who doth in the eternal glory dwell,
With other virgin saints above the sky,
Was born, long since, in Lucca's happy state,
At Monsagrato, so old books relate.
 

IV.
Fu questo l'anno di Nostro Signore,
cioè nel mille dugento diciotto,
venne al mondo così nobil fiore
di buona gente ognun assai rimoto
Una sorella avea di grand'onore,
religiosa; e dal mondo discosto;
il Padre suo, Giovan Lombardo detto;
uomo da bene e di molto rispetto.

Twas in the year twelve hundred and eighteen
This noble flower blossomed first on earth:
And in a poor man's household was she seen,
A household poor in gold, but rich in worth.
Her elder sister led a life serene
Within a convent, ere Saint Zita's birth.
Giovan Lombardo was the father styled,
A worthy parent of a saintly child.

V.
La madre che la fece era sì buona,
di giorno in giorno sempre più l'amava
Vedendo crescer sì la sua persona
in buon costumi, e sempre Iddio invocava,
Della verginità portò corona,
in Chiesa sempre ritirata stava
a contemplar d'Iddio la sua passione
con cuor contrito e con gran divozione.

Her mother was so good, that every day
She loved her better, seeing how she grew
In fear of God, and walking in His way
From earliest childhood, with devotion true.
Prayer was her great delight, she loved to stay
In church alone, and dream of all she knew
Of how God lived on earth, and how He died;
Until her heart could hold no dream beside.

VI. . . .

VII.
Torniamo a Zita che già cresciut'era,
con gran pensiero di servire Iddio;
orando sempre la mattina e sera,
il mondo lei s'avea preso in oblio.
Un dì pensando con ben mesta cera:
`Adesso levo il pane al Padre mio;
concedimi Signor, ch'io vada a stare,
in Lucca, questo vitto a guadagnare'.

Time passed, the girl grew older, well content
To do God's work, whate'er that work might be.
Her brightest hours on her knees were spent,
And little thought of worldly things had she.
One day to saddening care her mind was lent:
'I eat my father's bread, he works for me!'
She raised her heart in prayer: 'O Lord', she said,
'To Lucca let me go, and earn my bread'.

VIII.
Padre e Madre, ognun da Dio spirato,
andò a Zita e disse|: 'Vuoi venire,
a Lucca a stare in un nobil casato?
Poiché vediam che vuoi a Dio servire;
questo sia il luogo per te apparecchiato,
dove potrai ben vivere e morire'.
Zita rispose: 'Per amor di Dio,
di grazia andiamo, caro Padre mio'.

And He who hears in secret, heard that prayer:
For both her parents came, the selfsame day,
And asked her, 'Daughter, would'st thou now prepare
As servant in a noble house to stay?
For since to serve the Lord is all thy care,
In Lucca hath He marked thee out thy way.
There may'st thou live, there labour and there die'.
'Thank God! So be it!' Zita made reply.

IX.
Trovato il luogo dove Zita ha da stare
addomandata casa Fantinelli:
nobili signori sono da praticare,
i lor figliuoli saran come fratelli:
faranno sempre Zita rispettare,
benefattori son de' poverelli.
Zita ringrazia Iddio di tal ventura;
da fatigarsi subito procura.

They reached the house for Zita's home designed,
And Casa Fantinelli was its name.
A family of noble life and mind
Dwelt in it, when the saintly maiden came.
Just to their servants, - to the needy, kind.
With them her life could pass, almost the same
As with her parents. She, rejoiced indeed,
Gave thanks to God who did such grace concede.

X . . .

XI
Di dodici anni si mise a servire
in questa casa con molta affezione;
nè mai ci fu chi le potesse dire
tu non fai quel che vuole il tuo padrone.
Andava pura e onesta nel vestire,
non si curava mai di cose buone.
Sol le bastava ricoprir sua vita
di cose vili, e sempre scalza e` ita.

At twelve years old she did to service go,
And ever after in that house she stayed,
With love unwearied, which no change could know:
Her master's word she never disobeyed.
A humble mind her very looks might show,
So poor was all the dress of this poor maid!
The meanest garment pleased her best to wear,
And all the whole year round her feet were bare.

XII.
Diero i padroni piena autoritade,
niente in casa a Zita si serrasse;
abbi ogni cosa in sua libertade,
ed a suo posto meglio governasse.
Zita, che de' poveri avea pietade,
con diligenza lei ben rassettasse.
Molte cose che in casa avanzava,
quelle raccoglie e ai poveri le dava.

Her master and her mistress orders gave,
That Zita should in all things have her way;
Left all in Zita's hand to spend or save,
And told her, 'Do for us as best you may!'
And she, with care, and with attention grave,
Gave heed that nought were lost or thrown away;
But many things which wasted were before,
She gathered up, and gave them to the poor.

XIII.
Da i suoi padroni li furono date
di molte robe per il suo vestire
voglian che per lei siano accomodate,
per la gran fedeltà del suo servire.
Ed umilimente lei l'ha ringraziate,
pigliò la roba con molto desire.
Tosto che l'ebbe li venne in desio,
di darla a` poveri per l'amor di Dio.

The noble family with whom she dwelt,
Did many garments give for Zita's wear:
For all within the house great kindness felt
For her who served them with such loving care.
She thanked them humbly, yet her heart would melt,
For longing with the poor such gifts to share.
And as she could, in secret, day by day,
For love of God she gave the best away.

XIV.
E spesse volte lei cercando andava,
se per contrada fosse un ammalato.
Se povero era, bene l'aiutava,
del proprio cibo suo che l'era dato,
per dare a quello, lei digiuna stava,
purché avesse il povero aiuto.
E de suoi panni li volea vestire
sempre cercando per Gesù patire.

And often through the country far she sought,
If any sick in lonely cottage pined;
She helped them in their need, and to them brought
Of her own food, the best her hand could find:
And clothed them with her garments, caring nought
For cold or hunger, but with willing mind
Gave all, and did her chiefest pleasure take,
In toil and harship for the dear Lord's sake.
 


 

XV.
Andava spesso Zita a visitare
negli spedali i poveri ammalati;
e qualche cosa li solea portare;
ed ancora a i poveri carcerati.
Anco le chiese voleva onorare,
sebbene da sua casa allontanati;
non si curando d'esser conosciuta
per far le sue orazioni com'è dovuta.

So would she visit in her loving care,
The hospital, and all who in it lay;
Or those in prison would her kindness share;
Or to some church, it might be far away,
At times with thankful heart she would repair,
Where, all unseen, unnoticed, she could pray.
For more she loved to be with God alone,
Than have by others her devotions known.

XVI.
Ogni notte in sull'ora del mattutino,
subito desta a San Frediano andava;
era la Chiesa presso a lei vicino,
cioè alla casa, dove serva stava.
Andava a sentir l'Uffizio Divino,
ritirata, il Suo Gesù guardava,
pensando sempre alla sua passione,
e così stava con gran divozione

And every morning, when but first awake,
To San Frediano straight her way she made,
For early matins, ere the day could break
('Twas near the house where she as servant stayed)
Her place there in a corner she would take,
And listen till the Service all was said.
In holy contemplation lost, until
'Twas time her morning duties to fulfil.

XVII.
Avendo una mattina dimorato,
in questa sua santa devozione,
Zita di fare il pan s'era scordato,
per aver posto a Dio tant'affezione.
E tosto ch'ebbe il suo perdon pigliato,
di tal cosa li venne in menzione.
A casa se n'andò con molta fretta.
A dover far il pane Zita aspetta.

It chanced one day, - and only one, 'tis said, -
That Zita lingered, being lost in prayer,
And quite forgot she had not made the bread,
Which on that morning should have been her care.
Till, service over, as she homeward sped,
She recollected and would now repair
Her error, so ran quickly all the way,
To make the bread , which must be baked that day.

XVIII.
Zita fatto e coperto quello vede,
e sopra della tavola era accomodato:
che dai padroni fatto lei lo crede,
lo prese, portandolo al forno diviato.
Tornata a casa pur nessun non la vede,
che nessun dal letto anco è levato.
Zita ringrazia il suo dolce signore,
che gli Angeli han fatto tal favore.

But on the table what did she behold?
The loaves all there, a cloth above them laid.
At sight of which was Zita much consoled,
Not doubting but her mistress had them made:
But no, the house was silent; young and old
Had slept, while Zita in the church delayed.
She could but thank her Lord, with heart content,
Who by His angels had this favour sent.

XIX.
Essendo la Pasqua del Nostro Signore,
della nascita del verbo Divino;
con aspro freddo e con tale stridore
faceva andare ognuno a capo chino.
Zita, ch'è innamorata del Signore,
essendo giunta l'ora di mattutino,
si mise in punto per volervi andare,
e dal padrone fu fatta fermare.

One feast, 'twas the day when Christ was born,
When most in church all Christians love to meet;
An ice-cold wind, that freezing winter morn,
Made all men go with heads down, in the street.
When Zita, with her garment poor and worn,
But heart all glowing with devotion sweet,
Set out for matins ere the break of day,
Her master called her back, and bade her stay.

XX.
Rimase di ciò Zita tutta mesta,
sperando non lasciar tal devozione
non si curava di freddo e di tempesta,
purché licenza abbia dal suo padrone.
Questo si tolse una pelliccia in vesta
vista di Zita la disposizione.
Disseli: in dosso questa porterai,
fuori che a me, a nessuno la darai.

Full sad she was to lose the morning prayer,
On Christmas day of all days, and did so
Entreat her master, though the snow-filled air
Was piercing cold. At length he let her go.
But taking off the cloak himself did wear,
He did it kindly on her shoulder throw.
'Wear this', he said, 'what time thou wilt remain
In church, but bring it safe to me again'.

XXI.
Zita la prende con piacevolezza,
tosto spiegando l'orazione a Dio,
a me, Signor, è troppo commodezza,
tutta quanta contro il voler mio:
abbi pietà della mia Fanciullezza,
di patir per Te è il mio desio;
poiché in tal notte, Signor glorioso,
venisti al mondo per darci riposo.

She thanked her master, and with heart content,
Set off for church amid the driving storm;
With soul uplifted, praying as she went;
And in these words her prayer at length took form.
'O Lord, behold the cloak my master lent;
Too fine it is for me, too soft and warm;
Forgive me if I wear it on the night
When Thou didst leave Thy glory and Thy light.

XXII.
Con quella veste andò per obbedire
il suo padrone che gliel'avea prestata
purché il mattutino lei possa sentire,
non temendo nè freddo nè brinata.
Entrando in chiesa con suo buon desire,
nell'amore di Dio ben riscaldata,
s'incontrò in un povero mal vestito,
tutto tremante dal freddo smarrito.

'The night when Thou was born on earth so poor,
To give us peace; but, Lord, 'tis not my will,
Thou knowest I would willingly endure
More than this cold, Thy pleasure to fulfil!
So help me, keep me in Thy love secure!'
Just then the church she entered, praying still,
And by the door a beggar, weak and old,
In scanty garments stood, half dead with cold.

XXIII.

Zita li venne di ciò compassione:
chiamollo a sè dicendo: 'Fratel mio,
tien questa veste ch'è del mio padrone.
La terrai in dosso fin che sto qui io;
non vo lasciamo questa divozione;
accompagnamoci con l'amor di Dio.
Finito il mattutin meco verrai;
in casa del mio padron ti scalderai.'

She looked awhile, her heart with pity led,
Then called him, saying, 'Brother, come to me'
Come, take this cloak, and wear it in my stead;
It is not mine, or I would give it thee.
Then kneel beside me till the prayers be said;
Pray with me, and God's love shall with us be.
Then matins over, I would much desire
To lead thee home and warm thee by our fire'.

XXIV.

Un po' di vesta ella in dosso avea,
miseramente scalza se ne stava.
Al poverello piu` non attendea
ritirata il suo Signore adorava.
Le ginocchia nude in terra avea,
con gli occhi bassi sempre lagrimava;
pensando, il suo Gesù al mondo venne,
a che, per salvar noi, pene sostenne.

She said no more; her gown was old and thin,
Her feet were bare, but little did she heed:
And, praying fervently, did soon begin
To feel her heart and spirit warm indeed
For thinking how, when we were lost in sin,
The Lord Himself had pity on our need,
And how for us, on just so cold a day,
Himself on earth, a new-born infant lay.

XXV.

Mattutin detto colla Santa Messa,
ogni persona a casa se ne andava.
Zita verso il povero s'appressa,
di ritrovarlo ben desiderava.
Di serrar il Sagrestan facea gran pressa,
e Zita fuor di chiesa l'aspettava.
A casa al fuoco lo volea menare,
e la veste al suo padron volea tornare.

Till, matins over and the mass as well,
As home from church the people turned once more,
She sought the beggar, but it now befell
The sacristan made haste to shut the door.
She waited, but he came not, strange to tell!
She sought him, as she never sought before;
For she would lead him to her fire, and then
Would give her master back his cloak again.

XXVI.
Serrò la chiesa e fuor no'l vide riscire,
guardò a sorte se fosse nella via;
quando non vide il povero apparire,
queste arole intra se dicia:
qualcheduno al padron l'ha fatto ridire,
per tal causa levato a lui il sia.
Il poverin gran freddo avrà patito,
e per temenza a casa se n'è ito.

The church was closed, she had not seen him pass,
She searched the street in trouble and dismay:
'No doubt while I was waiting at the Mass,
Some one who saw me' (thus did Zita say)
'Went home and told my master, and, alas!
He sent in haste and took the cloak away.
The beggar must have suffered much, and now
Has gone home cold and frightened, who knows how.

XXVII.
Alzando Zita gli occhi verso il cielo,
dicendo 'Iddio non mi abbandonare!
se quella veste al padron non rivelo,
non so in che modo potermi scusare,
della sua roba sempre avrà gran zelo,
non si potrà di Zita più fidare.
Starà sempre in pena non dia via;
di questo potria nascer qualche cosa ria.

Then said she (while new terror filled her breast),
'O Lord, I pray Thee do not me forsake!
Perhaps 'tis lost, and all must be confessed,
And I shall have but poor excuse to make.
Oh, help me! I can have nor peace nor rest
Until I find, and to my master take,
The cloak which, wrongly, I the beggar lent!'
Thus saying, heavy-hearted, home she went.

XXVIII.
Mentre che Zita in casa se n'entrava
ecco venirli incontro il suo padrone!
Se avea la veste ben lui la guardava,
non li diè punto di soddisfazione:
con essa Zita il padron razionava,
facendoli di molta riprensione.
Mentre il padrone con lei contendea,
giunse il mandato che la veste avea.

But just as Zita, trembling, passed the door,
Her master met her, and with searching eye
He looked to see if still the cloak she wore:
'Twas gone! at which his anger rose so high,
With bitter words he did his rage outpour,
And sharp reproof, while she made no reply.
But while in loud and angry voice he spoke,
Behold appear the beggar with the cloak!

XXIX.
Portava quella sopra le sue braccia,
dettela a Zita e quella ringraziò;
era sì risplendente la sua faccia
che tutta quella faccia illuminò.
Di ragionar con seco ognun procaccia,
quello disparve e mente non parlò.
Rimase ognun di lor sì consolato,
li parve un Angel da Gesù mandato.

Who thanking Zita kindly, as he might,
Gave back the cloak like one in haste to go-
His face all changed, and shone with heavenly light,
And lighted hers, with its reflected glow.
They tried to speak, but he had passed from sight.
No beggar he, of those that walk below!
Great comfort he left their hearts within,
An angel of the Lord had with them been.

The ballad continues with a further episode where Zita draws water from the well for a pilgrim - and it is wine. Finally, after a long life in service, for which she came to be greatly honoured, she lies dying, first receiving the Last Sacraments.

XXXIX
Non fu sì tosto l'anima spirata,
per Lucca i putti si sentian gridare,
adesso è morta la Zita beata,
a casa Fantinelli vogliamo andare.
Si vide il giorno una stella onorata,
sopra la casa risplendente stare,
questo si nota fosse chiaro segno
l'anima fosse giunta al Sacro Regno.

That very hour in which her spirit fled,
Young children through the town began to say
(Before they heard), 'The blessed Zita's dead!'
And crowd about the house wherein she lay.
A star appeared, and did much radiance shed,
O'er Casa Fantinelli at mid-day;
Which was to all a clear and certain sign
Her soul had joined the company divine.

XL.
L'uno e l'altro si andavano a chiamare,
la Santa Zita a visitare andiamo!
L'ordine è dato si ha da sotterrare,
chi andava a casa, e chi a S. Frediano.
Ognun cercava potersi accostare,
chi per vederla e chi baciar sua mano.
Molti per accostarsi gran forza facea,
per torli un po' di quel ch'attorno avea.

But hardly could they bear her to her grave,
The crowd of mourning people was so great;
Some thronged her chamber, one more look to crave,
While others did in San Frediano wait,
To kiss her hand, or some memorial save,
Their sorrow to console or consecrate.
Her very garments in the press were torn
That each might have some fragment she had worn.

XLI
Zita, per Lucca tua città famosa,
prega quanto tu puoi l'eterno Iddio;
della grazia sua ne sia copiosa;
ed adempisci d'ognuno il buon desio,
per quella libertà ch'è l'alta cosa!
Questo è quanto desidera il cuor mio.
Prega per grazia il tuo caro Signore,
ci salvi e guardi a tutte quante l'ore.

XLIII
And now to end my tale, I must relate,
'Twas April on the twenty-seventh day,
And in the year twelve hundred eighty-eight,
That she from earth to heaven was borne away.
Which day returning, still we celebrate;
And let each faithful soul due honour pay
To her whose life has made the way so plain,
The blessed country of our hope to gain.

Indeed, come to Lucca on 27 April. For on that day the humble servant girl, grown old, is laid in state in her church of San Frediano (and he was an Irish pilgrim who converted Lucca to Christianity), in a crystal coffin. One brings bunches of sweet-smelling, blessed narcissi, laying them against the glass, then walks about the ancient Romanesque town filled with glorious churches, flower stalls everywhere and the perfume of the narcissi about one. Everywhere are paintings, medieval ones, Renaissance ones, eighteenth-century ones, with scenes of other miracles of St Zita's life, such as the one where she beats the devil with her broom to rescue from his clutches some terrified child. Lucca has three patron saints, St Martin, the soldier, who is shown on the Cathedral cutting his cloak in half for the beggar with his sword, San Frediano, the priest, from Ireland, and this local servant girl, - and she is the greatest of the three. Lucca is always fascinating, but on that day it is glorious and one walks in a dream, time being no more.


The second is of a folk legend about a Gypsy and the Madonna:

LA MADONNA E LA ZINGARELLA

THE MADONNA AND THE GIPSY
 

Gypsy
Dio ti salvi bella signora,
e ti dia buona ventura.
Benvenuto vecchierello
con questo bambino bello.

God be with thee, Lady dear,
Give thee comfort, give thee cheer!
Welcomd, good old man, to thee,
With thy Child so fair to see!

Madonna
Ben trovata, sorella mia.
La sua grazia Dio ti dia,
ti perdoni i tuoi peccati
l'infinita sua bontade.

Sister, in this lonely place
Glad I am to see thy face!
God forgive thee all thy sin,
Plant His grace thy soul within.

Gypsy
Siete stanchi e meschini
credo, poveri pellegrini,
che cercate d'alloggiare
vuoi, Signora, scavalcare.

By your looks I understand
You are strangers in the land,
Seeking shelter for the night:
Lady, will thou please alight?

Madonna
Tu che sei sorella mia,
tutta piena di cortesia,
Dio ti renda la carità
l'infinita sua bontà.

Oh my sister! that kind word
Is the first that we have heard!
God reward thee from above,
For thy courtesy and love!

Gypsy
Oh scavalca, signora mia.
Hai una faccia di una dia.
Ch'io terrò la creatura
che sto cuore m'innamora.

Oh alight, dear Lady mine!
Something in thee seems divine!
Let me - for I long to - bear
In my arms thy infant fair!

Madonna
Noi veniamo da Nazaretto,
semo senza alcun ricetto;
arrivati alla strania
stanchi e lassi dalla via.

We have come from Nazareth here,
All the way in haste and fear:
Weary, lost, on foreign ground,
We no shelter yet have found.

Gypsy
Sonno donna zingarella;
benché sono poverella,
t'offerisco la casa mia
benché non è casa per tia.

Though a gypsy poor am I,
Yet to help you I would try:
This my house I offer fre,
Though 'tis not a place for thee.

Madonna
Or sia da me Dio lodato
e da tutti ringraziato.
Sorella le tue parole
mi consolano al cuore.

God be praised without end
For the comfort He doth send!
Sister, kind indeed thou art,
And thy words console my heart.

Gypsy
Se non è come meritate
signoruccia perdonate;
come posso io meschina,
accettar una regina?

If 'tis not as you deserve,
Still I hope that it may serve;
How can I, so poor and mean,
Fitly entertain a queen

Aggio qua una stallicella,
buona per la somarella;
paglia e fieno se ne getto;
che per tutto lo ricetto.

Here I have a little shed
Where the donkey can be led:
Straw there is; I'll bring some hay;
All can safely rest till day.

E tu, vecchierello, siedi
sei venuto sempre a piedi.
Avete fatto, o bella figlia,
trecento e tante miglia

Father, thou must weary be;
Thou hast come on foot, I see;
Thou hast walked the country o'er,
Full three hundred miles and more.

Oh che bello sto figliarello
che par fatto col pennello.
Non ci so dare assomiglio,
bella madre e bello figlio.

Lovely is this Child to view,
More than artist ever drew.
Nothing with you may compare,
Babe and Mother, both so fair.

E sei stata a Bettelemme
signoruccia, ancor teme?
Non avere più paura
sei arrivata alla buon ora.

Thou has now from Bethlehem fled;
Still I see thee pale with dread.
Lady, there's no cause for fear;
Herod cannot reach thee here.

Se ti piace o gran signora,
t'indovino la ventura
Noi signora cosi fino
facciam sempre l'indovino.

Lady, it would please me well
If I might thy fortune tell:
Ever since the days of old,
All my race have fortunes told.

Ma quel che dirò a te,
tu lo sai meglio di me.
Alla tua bella presenza,
mostri assai di sapienza.

Yet, with all my art can do,
I may tell thee nothing new;
For in thy sweet face doth shine
Wisdom greater far than mine . . . .

Esco pazza d'allegrezza,
piena son di contentezza.
Che da quanto io discerno
fosti eletta tu ab eterno.

Ah! this joy is all to great!
Scarce my heart can bear the weight.
Wondrous things mine eyes behold . . . .
God hath chosen thee of old!

Fosti sempre da Dio amata,
pura, santa, immacolata;
tu sei quella di Dio madre,
che ha in cielo suo Padre.

God hath cause thee to endure,
Ever holy, spotless, pure.
And on earth hath granted thee,
Mother of the Lord to be.

Anna chiamavasi la tua madre,
e Gioacchino il tuo padre.
Ti chiamerò, signora mia,
col bel nome di Maria.

Joachim and Anne his wife,
Were thy parents in this life.
Thee, my Lady, I will call
MARY, sweetest name of all.

E cresciuta ti presentaro
ed al tempio ti portaro.
Là mangiavi, là dormivi,
là insegnavi là leggevi.

To the Temple did they bear
Thee, a child, and left thee there;
Where thou didst, for many a day,
Eat, and sleep, and read, and pray.

Poi ti dettero questo sposo,
puro, santo e grazioso.
Per miracolo di Dio,
la sua verga lì fiorio.

Till for thee a mate they find,
Joseph, holy, pure, and kind:
By a miracle of GOD,
Flowers did blossom on his rod.

Concepisti sto bambino
per lo Spirito Divino.
Questo figlio è vero tuo,
ma sto sposo non è padre suo.

But this Infant's birth had place,
By the Holy Spirit's grace;
Thou art Mother . . . But I know,
He not father hath below.

Tu sapesti il che, il come,
avea Dui da farsi uomo.
Ti dotò di tante dote,
nella tua concezione.

Thou didst know that God one day
Would put on our mortal clay;
Unto thee, in Earth or Heaven,
Only, such a grace was given.

Dio mandò l'ambasciatore,
Gabrielle con splendore:
eri in camera serrata,
quando fece l'imbasciata.

God to thee His angel sent,
Gabriel with the message went,
Thou wast in thy room alone,
When he made his errand known.

E di grazia ti disse piena,
sei del ciel fatta regina.
Il Signore già è con tia
Dio ti salvi a te Maria

Full of grace! did Gabriel say,
Queen of Heaven thou art to-day!
God shall ever with thee be;
Blessed Mary, hail to thee!

Nel vederti salutata,
nel interno eri turbata.
Maria levati ogni pianto;
ciò è per opera dello Spirito Santo.

As his speech did thus begin,
Troubled was thy soul within.
Mary, cast away thy fear,
God it is who sent me here.

Tu sarai vergine e madre,
per la tua grande umilitate.
Benedetto ne sia il frutto,
redentor del mondo tutto.

Virgin Mother shalt thou be,
For thy great humility:
To a Son thou shalt give birth,
Who will ransom all the earth.

Allor subito umiliata,
acconsentisti all'imbasciata.
Son l'ancella del Signore:
venga, venga il Redentore.

Thou in humble worship bent,
To the message didst consent.
I, God's handmaid, wait His will:
Let Him all thy words fulfil.

Di là a tempo tu partisti,
collo sposo te ne gisti;
camminando a Bettelemme
e passaste tante pene.

When the destined time had come,
Lady, thou didst leave thy home;
Thou and Joseph, with much pain,
Did the town of Bethlehem gain.

Non poteste allor trovar,
da potervi alloggiare,
che una grotta alla strania . . .
come facesti signora mia?

There no shelter couldst thou find,
House, or roof of any kind:
To a cave thou didst repair . . .
Lady dear, what didst thou there?

Oh che povero ricetto.
Senza fuoco, senza letto.
Credo ancora che la grotta
era bagnata e poco asciutta.

What a place to pass the night!
Without bed, or fire, or light.
On the ground thou didst abide;
Damp it was, and cold beside.

A mezzanotte partoristi;
senza dolore lo facisti,
questo figlio inzuccherato
tanto al mondo desiato.

In this lodging so forlorn,
Just at midnight He was born;
This sweet child, whose wondrous birth,
Long was waited for on earth.

Riverente l'adorasti,
ed in panni l'infasciasti.
Lo mettesti, signora, poi
in mezzo l'asino e lo buoi .

Thou didst worship, while thy hands
Wrapped Him in those linen bands:
Then didst place Him on the hay,
'Twixt the ox and ass He lay.

Una sola magiatoia . . .
n'è lo ver, bella signora?
Oh che notte d'allegrezza;
tutto gaudio e contentezza.

In the manger! . . . Lady fair,
Was it not as I declare?
Such a night of joy serene.
Ne'er before on earth was seen.

Fu la notte risplendente
che stupì tutta la gente.
Nacque Cristo in sulla terra,
mise pace e levò guerra.

For at midnight shone such light,
All men wondered at the sight.
Christ is born, and war departs,
Peace he gives to all our hearts.

Li pastori l'adorarono
li presenti gli portarono;
e dicevan per la via,
è già nato il gran Messia.

Shepherds, hastening to adore,
While their humble gifts they bore,
Said to all along the way,
Christ the Lord is born to-day.

Ora tu, signora mia,
che sei piena di cortesia,
mostramelo per favore,
lo tuo figlio, il Redentore.

Now, Lady, kind of heart . . .
Full of courtesy thou art . . .
Pray thee, let me look upon
My Redeemer, thy dear Son.

Madonna
Datemi, oh caro sposo,
lo mio Figlio grazioso;
quando vide sta meschina
zingarella ch'indovina.

Pray thee, husband, give me here,
From thine arms my infant dear;
When the gypsy shall him view,
She may tell his fortune too.

Questo, sorella, è lo tuo Dio,
ch'è lo cuore e lo stato mio,
Guarda bene sto bel viso;
allegrezza di paradiso.

Here thy GOD, my sister, see:
Heart and soul, and life to me!
Look on this sweet face with care;
All of Heaven's joy lies there.

Figlio è dell'Eterno Padre
come Dio di maestade
e come uomo e figlio mio
per sua mera cortesia.

God His Father is, and He
Like to God in majesty.
Yet like man, and child of mine,
By his courtesy divine.

Ecco sorella il Redentore;
venne qua pel peccator.
Pate Lui, pato io,
e sto caro sposo mio.

The Redeemer from above
Come to earth for sinners' love!
Much to suffer here, and we
Shall with Him afflicted be.

Gypsy
Oh che figlio inzuccherato.
Il mio cuore ha innamorato,
signora ed imperatrice,
benché sono peccatrice.

Oh, but what a babe divine!
Lady, all this heart of mine
Burns with love as Him I see:
Sinful creature though I be!

Il suo nome è Gesù;
chi non l'ama non sa più.
Vi domando perdonanza;
peccator quest'è l'usanza.

Jesus is His name; their lot
Darkness is, who love Him not.
At his feet shall sinners bow,
Evermore, as I do now.

Buona sorte fu la mia,
d'incontrarvi per la via.
Mi parlava ognor il cuore,
mi diceva esci fuori.

Happy fate was mine to-day
Thus to meet Thee in the way!
Go! the heart said in my breast:
Go out! And I could not rest.

Già che Dio così destina
ch'io faccia l'indovina,
fammi grazia signorino
dammi qua lo tuo manino.

Since the good God destined me
Fortune teller thus to be,
Do not, Lord, my prayer decline,
Lay thy little hand in mine.

Io non faccio ste parole,
me le pico dallo cuore:
bella madre di clemenza,
preparatevi a penitenza.

Naught do I invent or make,
From my heart the words I take.
Oh, prepare thee, Mother dear,
Sad and fearful things to hear!

Passati alcuni anni,
Gesù dirà a San Giovanni,
voglio essere nel Giordano,
battezzato di tua mano.

When some years have passed away,
Jesus to Saint John will say,
In the Jordan's stream, by thee,
Will I now baptized be.

After that, for many a day,
In the desert He will stay.
Fasting, in that place of dread,
Tasting neither wine nor bread.

Satan there will Him persuade,
Stones he would to bread were made.
But will shortly, by GOD's might,
Be confused and put to flight.

Christ shall enter through the gate
Of Jerusalem in state.
Boughs of palm His followers bring,
Hymns and psalms of praise they sing.

Later, He, the Lord of all,
Will the twelve apostles call,
All for lover and mercy's sake,
His last supper to partake.

And, while all in reverence wait,
He the bread shall consecrate.
This, shall say the Lord of Heaven,
Is My body, for you given.

By a word of power, the wine
Will be changed to Blood divine.
Ne'er did earth such wonders view,
As his mighty love shall do!

When the Sacrament is past,
(Of His earthly acts the last,)
Love will Him constrain, to give
All His life, that man may live.

Rising, thence He makes His way
To a garden, there to pray:
Bowed with grief, from all apart,
With great anguish in His heart.

On that night of sore dismay,
Judas shall His Lord betray;
And of silver shall but win
Thirty pieces for such sin!

Then the Jews shall Him surround;
They, alas! will lead Him bound,
To tribunals more than one,
As though evil He had done!

By unwilling Pilate, He
Sentenced, at the last, shall be:
To content the Jews, who cry,
Let Him bear His cross and die!

This sweet Babe, all prayers in vain,
Must before thine eyes be slain,
On a cross thou shalt Him see . . .
Oh dear Child! and must this be?

Till that day of torment past,
Dead and white and still at last,
In thy arms, with tears and pain,
They will lay thy Child again.

With what tears and bitter sighs,
Thou shalt hide Him from thine eyes,
In a tomb which one shall lend . . .
And with this thy woes shall end.

Listen, Mother, full of grief,
Pray for our poor souls' relief!
God thy Father was, and thou
Of His Son art Mother now.

Thou the Holy Spirit's bride,
O'er all creatures glorified.
And thou wast so glorious made,
For our comfort and our aid.

'Tis enough, thou weary art,
Lady, but before we part,
Unto this poor gypsy, pray
Give an alms, if ask I may.

Silver ask I not, not gold;
Though all wealth thy hand doth hold
Star of light! For on thy breast
Christ, th'omnipotent, doth rest.

Grant me, by thy prayers, to win
True repentence for my sin:
That my soul may, soon or late,
Enter through the heavenly gate.

END OF THE SONG OF THE MADONNA AND THE GIPSY

 

See also Edith Stein, Two Dialogues

John Ruskin, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, were all deeply inspired by Italian art and by its Catholicism, the PreRaphaelite Movement paralleling the Oxford Movement, where part of the Church of England sought to rejoin Protestantism back to Catholicism with Anglo-Catholicism. In Francesca Alexander's writings and drawings we witness all these strands working together at once, adding to them the dimension of women, peasants and gypsies, of their art, culture and wisdom.
 

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