A Beautiful and Good Valley

The trains on the line from Lucca to Aulla don’t always stop at Castelvecchio Pascoli station. It’s considered a minor stop but fortunately hasn’t suffered the fate of stations like Calavorno, Valdottavo and Ponte all’Ania which have long since closed.

Castelvecchio Pascoli station is located on the left bank of the river Serchio near Ponte di Campia on the junction between regional SR445 and provincial SP20 roads.

The station is now in private hands and also used as a social club. Last time I was there an animated game of briscola was being played. (If you don’t know how to play this typically Italian card game check out the rules at http://www.pagat.com/aceten/briscola.html)

There are three good reasons for alighting at Castelvecchio station (when the train stops there, that is!)

1. To look at the very attractive murals, commissioned by the Fondazione G. Pascoli and painted by Barga artist Sandra Rigali in 2003, reminding us that we are in the “valley of the beautiful and the good”, as the poet Giovanni Pascoli described the upper Serchio and where, in 1895, he bought a house which is now not only a museum but also the place where he is buried.

2. To visit the Casa Pascoli which gives both a fascinating insight into the poet and into the way middle-class people lived at the turn of the twentieth century. (See http://www.casapascoli.it/servizi/notizie/notizie_homepage_museo.aspx for more details)

3.  To go swimming. On hot summer days (remember them?) it’s nice to walk down the path to the river which at this point forms an excellent bathing area.

Some readers of this post may not be too familiar with Giovanni Pascoli who, after some past critical vicissitudes, is regarded as one of Italy’s greatest poets: the melancholic tinge which touches so much of his work and the often dark pessimism about the future have, for me, a close affinity to A.E. Housman’s poems.

Born in 1855, in Emilia-Romagna, Giovanni Pascoli had a tragic childhood: his father was murdered and his mother, sister and two brothers all died when he was still young.

His father’s murder occurred in 1867 when Giovanni was twelve. Ruggero Pascoli was returning home from the market in a cart drawn by a dappled-grey mare when an assassin hiding in a roadside ditch shot and killed him. The mare continued slowly on her way home with the body of her murdered master. The killer was never caught. The horrific sight of his dead father haunted Pascoli all his life and gave rise to perhaps his most famous poem (la cavallina storna) which every Italian child traditionally learns at school (or used to).

The great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, Nobel prize winner for 1995 and who died only last August, came to love much of Pascoli and was present in Bologna for the 2012 commemoration of the poet. I quote the last lines of his translation of “the dappled grey mare”:

The horses now no longer munched their feed.
They slept and dreamt the whiteness of the road.
They didn’t stomp the straw with heavy hooves.
They slept and dreamt of turning wheels in grooves.

In that deep silence my mother raised a finger.
She spoke a name… A great neigh rang in answer.

Italian poets become well-known to English-only speakers largely through the ease of translating their works. Cesare Pavese, for example, is relatively easy to translate, Pascoli is not. That’s one good reason for learning Italian because even the greatest translators could never satisfactorily capture the unique musicality, rhythm and complex verse forms which characterise Pascoli’s immortal poems.


If you want to learn more about Pascoli there is an excellent article on him at http://www.barganews.com/2012/05/30/giovanni-pascoli-poems-in-english/


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