Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli trans. Michael Pickering (from the Roman dialect)
Quell'esse, pe, ccu, erre, inarberate
Sur portone de guasi oggni palazzo,
Quelle sò cquattro lettere der cazzo,
Che nun vonno di ggnente, compitate.

M'aricordo però cche dda regazzo,
Cquanno leggevo a fforza de frustate,
Me le trovavo semipre appiccicate
Drent' ni dell'abbeccé ttutte in un mazzo.

Un giorno arfine me te venne l'estro
De dimannanne un po' la spiegazzione
A ddon Furgenzio ch'era er mi' maestro.

Ecco che mm'arispose don Furgenzio:
"Ste lettre vonno di, sor zomarone,
Soli preti qui rreggneno: e ssilenzio."

Those letters - SPQR - like a crowned head
Over the top of almost every doorway
Were written by some prick: there isn't no way
They'd get to be like anything when sounded.

And yet I do recall that as a kid,
- I learned to read because they whipped me well -
Bunched up like XYZ - or MNL -
I couldnít guess what those four letters did.

One day, in the end, it got to me to come
And get the explanation out of Him:
Our reverend teacherís clever (and then some).

And Don Furgenzio, never a ha or hum,
Goes "Donkey, that's what we call an acronym:
Don't Set Priests Questions Right?" Which struck me dumb.

*S.P.Q.R.: these letters refer to Latin Senatus Populusque Romanus (the Senate and the People of Rome).

Trans. Copyright © Michael Pickering 2002

translator's next