On 26 November is the 110th anniversary of the famous speech “The great Proletarian has risen”, pronounced by the poet Giovanni Pascoli in Barga at the Differenti Theatre in 1911 and later published in the journal La Tribuna. Barga’s theatre, which had been at the time in activity for some centuries, was the place chosen by the poet to express his view about the Italo-Turkish War underway in those months.
The purpose of the war, fought by the Kingdom of Italy against the Ottoman Empire in September of 1911 and that ended in October of the following year, was to conquer North Africa’s Tripolitania and Cyrenaica regions. At the time, the socio-political situation was rather turbulent: many Italians were compelled to emigrate in order to find a respectable job, but unfortunately, they were often treated as slaves. Pascoli discusses this subject extensively:
In America, they became a bit like the Negroes, these compatriots of the man who discovered her. And like the Negroes, they were sometimes outlawed and dehumanized; they were lynched. […] But the great proletarian found a place for them: a vast region bathed by our sea andPascoli’s speech, translated into English by Baranello Adriana.
that our small islands watch over, like advanced sentinels. Our great island impatiently reaches out toward this vast region, where once, by the work of our forefathers, water was abundant as were the crops. It was covered with trees and gardens, but now due to the inertia of the nomadic and indolent populations, it has long since become mostly desert.
There they will be workers, not day laborers, poorly paid, poorly valued, and insulted; they will not be foreigners. They will be workers in the noblest sense of the word, and they will farm their own property, on the soil of the Motherland. They will not be forced to renounce allegiance to their Motherland, but instead will clear paths, cultivate new land, channel water, build houses, and open ports always seeing our tri-color flag flying high over the waves of our great sea.
Thanks to Pascoli’s speech, a fragment of which we have quoted above, we can gain profound insight into the poet’s thoughts regarding the socio-political scene of the period: the situation was arduous and, considering that, once conquered, Libya would have been part of Italy, war was seen by the poet as a necessity to solve the urgency of emigration and slavery suffered by Italians. For this reason, war was presented by Pascoli as an act of defence, a necessary and justifiable move.
“The great Proletarian has risen”, sentence which opens the speech, refers to the citizens, to the proletarians who did something in order to improve their condition. Pascoli expresses then his respect for the wounded and the victims of the war, who died for their homeland and with the purpose of making Italy a better country.
In closing, it is important to remember how Pascoli refers to Italy as a unique Country, without distinctions between North and South, a Country that has to unify to arrive at a common objective. This way of thinking was not so common at the time:
He who wishes to know about Italy’s current condition: look at her armada and her army. Look at them in action. Land, sea and sky, mountains and plains, peninsulas and islands, north and south, they are perfectly fused. The rosy and grave Alpine fights near the thin, brown Sicilian; the tall Lombard grenadier swears brotherhood to the small, sallow Sardinian rifleman. The infantryman, the artillery of our Piedmontese homelandPascoli’s speech, translated into English by Baranello Adriana.
(but who would want to assign to the infantrymen, flowers of the Pan-Italic youth, a particular origin?), share between them the risks and the guard duties with the mariners of Genoa and of Venice, of Naples and of Ancona, of Livorno, of Viareggio, of Bari.
To conclude we should note how Giovanni Pascoli, strictly attached to his little nest, to small and simple things which had for him an inestimable value, got interested about topics of significant importance and decided to express his opinion about such a delicate subject as a colonial war and the Nation’s socio-political interests.
- http://www.comune.bologna.it/iperbole/llgalv/iperte/colonialismo/libri/proletaria.htm (last access 4/11/2021)
- https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_grande_proletaria_si_%C3%A8_mossa (last access 4/11/2021)
- https://it.wikisource.org/wiki/La_grande_proletaria_si_%C3%A8_mossa (last access 4/11/2021)
- http://www.andreaconti.it/alternat/storia06.html (last access 4/11/2021)
- https://www.viv-it.org/index.php?q=schede/grande-proletaria-si-%C3%A8-mossa-pascoli-pubblico-e-privato (last access 4/11/2021)
- https://www.britannica.com/event/Italo-Turkish-War (last access 4/11/2021)
- Baranello, A. M. (2011). Giovanni Pascoli’s ‘La grande proletaria si e’ mossa’: A Translation and Critical Introduction. California Italian Studies, 2, (1).
— Written and translated by Margherita Paolinelli