Eugenio Cirese was born in Fossalto (Campobasso) in 1884 and died in Rieti in 1953, after having gone through all the levels of elementary teaching; teacher, didactic director and supervisor first in Molise, then in Abruzzo, and finally in Rieti. His early work is concerned mainly with the collection and study of Molisan folk songs, as shown by his first collection, Canti popolari e sonetti in dialetto molisano [Folk Songs and Sonnets in the Molisan dialect], 1910; at the end of his existential and poetic itinerary we find, emblematically, the massive and fundamental collection of Canti popolari del Molise (Rieti, 1953). His poetry is contained in the following works: Sciure de fratta [Hedge Flowers], Campobasso, 1910; La guerra: discurzi di cafuni [The War: Peasants' Talk], Campobasso, 1912; Ru cantone della fata [The Fairy's Rock], Pescara, 1916; Suspire e risatelle [Sighs and Laughter], Campobasso, 1918); Canzone d'atre tiempe [Song of Times Past], Pesaro, 1926); Rugiade [Dew], Avezzano, 1938; Lucecabelle [Fireflies], Rome, 1951; Poesie molisane [Molisan Poems], posthumous, Caltanissetta, 1955. Also worthy of mention is Gente buona [Good People], Lanciano, 1925, a regional school primer in keeping with the new directives of Gentile's reforms and of the pedagogical ideas of Lombardo Radice that confirms his mastery of the cultural anthropological patrimony of the region, repository of his dialect poetic world.
Criticism: P. P. Pasolini, "Un poeta in molisano," in Passione e ideologia, Milan 1960; E. Giammarco, Storia della cultura e della letteratura abruzzese, Rome 1969; G. Jovine, "La poesia dialettale molisana," in Benedetti molisani, Campobasso 1979; L. Biscardi, La poesia dialettale molisana, Isernia 1983; F. Brevini, Le parole perdute, Turin 1990; L. Bonaffini, "Eugenio Cirese," in Twentieth-Century Italian Poets, First Series, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Detroit-London 1991; L. Biscardi, in La poesia dialettale del Molise. Testi e critica, Isernia 1993.
In keeping with the critical perspective, presently considered canonical, of the Molisan poetic tradition in dialect unfortunately we still do not have the original manuscripts, nor the chronological data or a philologically adequate edition of the poetry of Raffaele Capriglione (1874-1921) , we reconfirm, for now, the premise postulated on several occasions, according to which the literary activity of Eugenio Cirese constitutes the most coherent, complete and consciously "experienced" poetic testimonial in dialect ever put forth by the not very long or substantial history of the province of Molise, an autonomous region for little over twenty years.
Eugenio Cirese's work, beginning in 1910 Canti popolari e sonetti in dialetto molisano [Folk Songs and Sonnets in Molisan Dialect], followed by La Guerra. Discurzi di cafuni [The War...Peasants' Talk], 1910 unfolds on a double register mimetic/realistic and lyrical/subjective , which finally, after a progressive and more personal development (Suspire e risatelle) [Sighs and Laughter], 1918 ; Rugiade [Dew], 1932, finds absolutely original modalities, grounded on an experimentally hermetic neo-Romanticism (Lucecabelle) [Fireflies], 1951; and, posthumously, Poesie molisane [Molisan Poems], 1955.
There are, however, certain observations to be made, based on a less widely accepted, less academic and even less stereotyped review of the poetic world of this author, undoubtedly regarded as the founder of Molisan poetry in dialect.
In truth, on the mimetic/objective side of his creativity, Cirese still wanders, with a romantically "aristocratic" vocation, on the surface of the reality he is portraying, perceived and assumed in tones that tend more towards an "idealization" of bourgeois origin, "urban," of the rural and pastoral universe, than an authentically and impulsively suffered empathy: Cirese stops at the gates of Hell, on the threshold of the true picture of the life and "toil" of the rural world, despite the fact that it is the recurrent theme of his poetic inspiration. Shepherds, peasants, farmers, field work, sheep trails, hovels, a harsh, barren land, animals, seasons and chores, hunger and rage are rather projected onto a sentimental imagination, often too soft, sugarcoated, at times even finely ironic, more often still preoccupied with the "transcendental" moments of religious meditation.
Can we accept the hypothesis of a Cirese determined to "purge" his inspiration and writings of the less sportive experiences of his life (his work as a journalist cf. the periodical Battaglie di Lavoro (1912-1914); of political activist; of promoter and organizer in the schools)? Meanwhile, we find no echo in his melos of the historical, civil, political storms raging in the province of Molise, and in all of Italy (but for Molise, intent upon the achievement of administrative autonomy, the situation was even more complex), in the years between the period preceding W.W.I. and the advent of Fascism.
In any case, in the twenty-year interval of the Fascist regime, Cirese plays a leading role in the context of Gentile's school reforms, and in full adherence to the programs outlined and promoted by Lombardo Radice, so that he is wholly taken with the representation of his "extremely rural" Molise, always with an "idyllic," gratified, very satisfied and satisfying vision of the "strapaese" typology (Gente Buona) [Good People], 1925 an elementary school primer; La 'lettricità [The Electricity], 1926, a poem in a good-naturedly ironic key.
But apart from the political cultural climate of the time, there still remains his commitment with regards to the project of autonomy for the region, at least two decades old (cf. the general Introduction), an autonomy to be based first of all on a homogenous, compact and identifiable linguistic-cultural tradition. This legitimizes Cirese's work during these years, independently of purely aesthetic and historiographic values, including the collection Rugiade (1932). L. Biscardi rightly notes that: "With respect to Suspire e risatelle, the essential novelty of Rugiade is marked by the rejection of most of the "passionate songs," which in the first corpus expressed the extreme tension of melic abandon, replaced by didactic, fable-centered, gnomic compositions, on the whole "ideological." The lines placed as premise to this last section of the collection (Don't be conceited: / read and think, / that even a peasant / can teach you something) represent its explicit interpretive key, in absolute consonance with Lombardo Radice's speech to the teachers of Florence. The "culture" of the "illiterate" people, rediscovered by the teacher, can accept and assimilate in its unchanging mindset even the novelties brought by time.
The overall sense of Cirese's cultural position in those years is clearly defined in the premise to Rugiade, where the vindication of the contribution of his research on folksongs and dialect poetry to the reconstruction of the cultural, and consequently geographical and historical, identity of Molise, (also to be remembered is his attempt at dialect prose Tempo d'allora: figure, storie e proverbi [Time of long ago: figures, tales and proverbs], 1939 in the tradition of the regional sketch) is inserted intentionally in the political and cultural context of the time [...]"
The third and final phase of Eugenio Cirese's poetic pursuit, also related to the climate of the new regional autonomy movements of the post-war period, as well as to the mood of conscious resistance to the incipient invasion of cultural massification with the resulting timely intensification of anthropological popular tradition studies (we are in the late 50s), closes with a research, psychological and formal, aimed at the most refined, ineffable, quintessential subjective expressiveness, based, in the context of the less ephemeral connotative tension of "modernist" style, on an almost mystical treatment of the parole, in this case dialect, which is dilated to absolute dimensions, in its semantic and phonosymbolic effects.
We again cite, for its precision, Luigi Biscardi's exhaustive profile, necessarily succinct, of the poet Eugenio Cirese: "Cirese's transition to a new poetic season is marked by the existential experience during the years of the Second World War, by the poet's physical separation from his region, by the recovery after the war, with its intense, fervent intermingling of cultural orientations and perspectives, and by a longing for deprovincialization. Cirese furnished a few concise but lucid and convincing insights concerning the radical renewal of his poetry in reply to questions by P.P. Pasolini:

Dialect is a language. In order for it to be a means of poetic expression and transform itself into literary language and images, it is necessary that it be possessed totally; that one be conscious of its cultural content and its human expressive power. In my childhood and early youth... I have spoken, I have collected songs, I have been happy, I have wept, thought in dialect.
I am not about to maintain the greater expressive effectiveness of dialect over the literary language a commonplace without merit, because every language has fullness and effectiveness of forms : I am only saying that the possession of dialect facilitates the search for forms in effective attitudes and proper imagery: in sum, it increases the possibility of giving and this is for me the vital need of dialect poetry something new to itself and, why not?, to the literary language (1953).

Cirese will make the poetic significance of Lucecabelle (1951) explicit: no longer the use of dialect in the sense of memory and vernacular reconstruction, rooted, therefore, in an "objective" or realistic mimesis, but rather chosen exclusively to serve a subjective expressive need, for a linguistic incisiveness and stylistic poignancy more adequate and suitable with respect to literary language. Thus, it is not by chance that calques and transpositions from Italian to dialect, present to a conspicuous degree in so much "poetry in dialect" of the Twentieth Century, are not detectable in Cirese's poetry.
Cirese's approach to the formal methods characteristic of Twentieth-Century poetic experiences may seem different, but only prima facie. As was said already, Cirese's poetic work, through selections, rejections and linguistic probings, was inspired by a rigorous tension toward a rarefied expressiveness at the edge of silence, which found convergence and confirmation in Twentieth Century sensibility and quest for an "essential" poetry."

Giambattista Faralli

1Cf. Luigi Biscardi, "Eugenio Cirese", in Poesia Dialettale del Molise. Testi e Critica (edited by Luigi Bonaffini, Giambattista Faralli, Sebastiano Martelli), Isernia, Marinelli, 1993, p.118.
2Indeed, to this epoch belongs the publication of La Lapa (1953-55), a review of Popular History and Literature, edited by Eugenio Alberto Mario Cirese, and of the Canti Popolari del Molise (1957),edited by the same authors.
3L. Biscardi, op. cit., p. 126.


Iè notte e iè serene
dentr'a ru core e 'n ciele.
Le stelle
a cócchia a cócchia
o sole,
com'a pecurelle
stanne pascenne
l'aria de notte
miez'a ru campe
senza rocchie
e senza fine.

Sponta la luna
e pare lu pastore
che guarda e conta
la mandra sparpagliata,
e z'assecura
che nisciuna
ze sperde
miez'a ru verde.
Canta nu rasciagnuole
la litania d'amore
dentr'a na fratta.
Canta pe te
che viglie, bella,
e siente
la serenata
dent'a la stanza

Nen t'addurmì, dulcezza,
veglia fin'a demane,
e penza a me che stonghe
a repenzà luntane,
e guarde
la luna ghiancha
che t'accarezza
e pare che t'arrenne
ru vasce che te donghe.

da Poesie molisane, 1956

Serenatella È notte ed è sereno / nel cuore e nel cielo. / Le stelle / fermate / vicine / a coppia a coppia / o sole, / come pecorelle / stanno pascendo / l'aria di notte / in mezzo al campo / senza cespugli / e senza fine. / Spunta la luna / e pare il pastore / che guarda e conta / la mandra sparpagliata, / e si assicura / che nessuna / si perde / in mezzo al verde. / Canta un usignolo / la litania d'amore / dentro una fratta. Canta per te / che vegli, / bella, / e senti / la serenata / dentro la stanza / rischiarata. / Non addormentarti, dolcezza, / veglia fino a domani, / e pensa a me che sto / a ripensare lontano, / e guarda / la luna bianca / che t'accarezza / e pare che ti rende / ridendo / il bacio che ti do.

(Traduzione di Luigi Bonaffini)


It's nighttime
my heart and the sky
are clear.
The stars
in pairs
or alone,
the night air
like sheep
in the field
without shrubs
and without end.

The moon comes out
and seems a shepherd
that watches and counts
the scattered flock,
and makes sure
that none
gets lost
amid the green.
A nightingale sings
a litany of love
inside a thicket.
It sings for you
who're still awake, my love,
and hear
the serenade
the brightened room.

Don't fall asleep, my darling,
stay awake till tomorrow,
and think of me who keep
thinking far away,
as I watch
the white moon
its light touch
that seems to return
with a smile
the kiss that I give you.

(Translated by by Luigi Bonaffini)

Canzone d'atre tiempe

I' parte pe na terra assai luntana,
l'amore m'accumpagna e me fa lume.
A notte passe e beve a la funtana,
me ferme a la pagliara 'n faccia a sciume.
Ma l'acqua de la fonte è n'acqua amara,
repose chiù nen trove a la pagliara.

Nen tenghe chiù pariente né cumpagne,
nen tenghe chiù na casa pe reciétte;
perciò mo vaglie spiérte, e nen me lagne,
ca tu me rieste, amore benedette!
Te sola m'à lassata ru destine,
lampa che scalle e nzegne ru camine.

La via è longa e sacce addò me porta:
me porta a nu castielle affatturate
dó campene la gente senza sorta,
dó scorde ru dolore appena ntrate.
Tu famme core a core cumpagnia,
nen fa stutà la lampa pe la via.

da Poesie molisane, 1956

Canzone d'altri tempi Io parto per una terra assai lontana, / l'amore m'accompagna e mi fa lume. / A notte passo e bevo alla fontana, / mi fermo al pagliaio davanti al fiume. / Ma l'acqua della fonte è un'acqua amara, / riposo più non trovo nel pagliaio. / Non ho più parenti né compagni, / non ho più una casa per ricetto; / perciò ora vado sperduto, e non mi lagno, / che tu mi resti, amore benedetto! / Te sola mi ha lasciato il destino, / lampada che scaldi e insegni il cammino. / La via è lunga e so dove mi porta: / mi porta a un castello affatturato / dove campa la gente senza sorte, / dove scordi il dolore appena entrato. / Tu fammi cuore a cuore compagnia, / non far spegnere la lampada per la via.

(Traduzione di Luigi Bonaffini)

Song of Times Past

I'm leaving for a very distant land
accompanied by love that lights my way.
At night I drink the water from the fountain
I stop along the river in the hayrick.
But now the water has a bitter taste,
in the hayrick I can no longer rest.

I have no longer relatives nor friends,
I do not have a house to call a home;
and so I wander lost, but do not bend,
because I still have you, my blessed love!
You alone my fate didn't take away
lamp that gives me warmth and shows the way.

The road is long and I know where it ends:
it takes me to an old enchanted fortress
where only ill-starred people go to stay,
where once inside I'll soon forget my pain.
Stay close to my heart, and keep me company,
don't let the light die out along the way.

(Translated by Luigi Bonaffini)


Me guàrdene le case a uocchie apierte:
Quisse chi iè?
Da donda vè?
La casa méia
tè l'uocchie chiuse e morta pare.

Sciume, tu sule tié la stessa voce,
tu sule, sciume, m'é recanusciute.
Chi songhe, donda venghe
e dó so iute spierte,
raccóntele a lu mare.


Ritorno Le case mi guardano ad occhi aperti: / Questo chi è? / Da dove viene? / La mia casa ha gli occhi chiusi e morta pare. / Fiume, tu solo hai la stessa voce, / tu solo, fiume, mi hai riconosciuto. / Chi sono, da dove vengo / e dove sono andato perduto, / raccontalo al mare.

(Traduzione di Luigi Bonaffini)


The houses look at me with open eyes:
Who is he?
Where does he come from?
My house
keeps its eyes closed and it appears dead.

River, you alone have the same voice,
you alone have recognized me, river.
Who I am, where I come from
and where I wandered lost,
tell it to the sea.


(Translated by Luigi Bonaffini)


Né fuoche né liette né pane
né sciate de vocca
né rima de cante
né calle de core.
E tu? e tu? e quille?
Finitoria de munne.
L'uocchie sbauttite
iè ssutte.


da Poesie molisane, 1956

Niente Né fuoco né letto né pane / né fiato di bocca / né rima di canto / né caldo di cuore. / Niente. E tu? e tu? e quello? / Niente. / Fine del mondo. / L'occhio sbigottito / è asciutto.

(Traduzione di Luigi Bonaffini)


Neither fire nor bed nor bread
nor breath from a mouth
nor rhyme from a song
nor the warmth of a heart.
And you? and you? and him?
World in ruins.
The eyes, bewildered,
are dry.


(Translated by Luigi Bonaffini)

La svota

com'a chiumme
pesante lu passe.
Pe copp'a la maiese sementata
la morra de curnacchie ze spaleia
e chiama e scennechéia.

Chi chiama?
dall'anne e la fatía appesantite
ru nome

Z'è fatte scure e ze ntravede
la svota;
nu lume z'arrappiccia.
Ce sta, ce sta, ce sta chi me la leva
da 'n cuolle la vesazza e l'arrappénne
pe chi vé ppriésse.

Penna de piette
la pesantezza è deventata.
Nesciuna via chiù
né chiù maiése né curnacchie
sott'a ru vule.
Lu suonne antiche torna sule sule.
Viente de ciele passa, zitte zitte.

da Poesie molisane, 1956

La svolta Affonda / come piombo pesante / il passo. / Sopra il maggese sementato / una banda di cornacchie si sparpaglia / e chiama e batte le ali. / Chi chiama? / dagli anni e la fatica / appesantito / il nome / sprofonda. / Si è fatto scuro e si intravvede la svolta; / un lume si riaccende. / Ci sta, ci sta, ci sta chi me la leva / di dosso la bisaccia e la riappende / per chi viene dopo. / Penna di petto / la pesantezza è diventata. / Nessuna via più / né più maggese né cornacchie / sotto il volo. / Il sonno antico torna solo solo. / Vento di cielo passa, zitto zitto.

(Traduzione di Luigi Bonaffini)

The Crossroads

The footstep
like heavy lead.
Over the fallow ground already sown
a band of crows scatter and call
and flap their wings.

Whom are they calling?
Weighed down by the years and the hardships
the name
drops to the depths.

It's getting dark, and you can make out
the crossroads;
a light comes on again.
There is, there is, there is someone to take
the knapsack from my back and hang it up
for those who follow.

A feather from the breast
the heaviness has become.
No longer any roads
nor any fallow fields nor crows
beneath the flight.
All alone returns the ancient sleep.
A wind from the sky passes, very still.

(Translated by Luigi Bonaffini)

Sole de vierne

Nu sulecielle
che ze n'è sciute apposta da la negghia
pe fa rrivà na spera e dà nu fiate
a llu curnicchie de purtone
addó alméia,
de sotte
nu cence de cappotte,
nu mucchietiélle d'ossa arrannecchiate.

da Poesie molisane, 1956

Sole di inverno Un solicello / che se n'è uscito apposta dalla nebbia / per fare arrivare un raggio e dare un fiato / all'angolo di portone / dove respira appena, / sotto / un cencio di cappotto / un mucchietto d'ossa rannicchiato.

(Traduzione di Luigi Bonaffini)

Winter sun

A faint sun
that has come out on purpose from the fog
to send a shaft of light and give some breath
to the niche in the doorway
where a huddled pile of bones
wheezes softly
beneath a ragged coat.

(Translated by Luigi Bonaffini)