Poppies & A Ballad

In May the wheat waves green in the Po River Valley. Knee-high, it hasn’t yet grown enough to hide the blood-red poppies threading their way through.

When I spot the seas of green and red, I’m always reminded of Fabrizio de André’s ballad of the soldier Piero who dies in a field of poppies when he doesn’t shoot a man wearing a uniform of a different color.

Fabrizio de André (1940-1999), a singer and songwriter from Genoa, was artistically active for 40 years. La Guerra di Piero (Piero’s–or Peter’s–War) is one of his best known songs.

La Guerra di Piero

Dormi sepolto in un campo di grano,
Non è la rosa non è il tulipano
che ti fan veglia dall’ombra dei fossi,
ma sono mille papaveri rossi.

Lungo le sponde del mio torrente
voglio che scendano i lucci argentati
non più i cadaveri dei soldati
portati in braccio dalla corrente.

Così dicevi ed era d’inverno
e come gli altri verso l’inferno
te ne vai triste come chi deve
il vento ti spunta in faccia la neve.

Fermati Piero, fermati adesso,
lascia che il vento ti passi un po’ addosso,
dei morti in battaglia ti porti la voce,
chi diede la vita ebbe in cambio una croce.

Ma tu non la udisti e il tempo passava,
con le stagioni a passo di giada
ed arrivasti a varcar la frontiera
in un bel giorno di primavera.

E mentre marciavi con l’anima in spalle
vedesti un uomo in fondo alla valle,
che aveva il tuo stesso identico umore,
ma la divisa di un altro colore.

Sparagli Piero, sparagli ora
e dopo un colpo sparagli ancora,
fino a che tu non lo vedrai esangue
cadere in terra, coprire il suo sangue.

E se gli spari in fronte o nel cuore
soltanto il tempo avrà per morire,
ma il tempo a me resterà per vedere,
vedere gli occhi di un uomo che muore.

E mentre gli usi questa premura,
quello si volta ti vede, ha paura
ed imbracciata l’artiglieria
non ti ricambia la cortesia.

Cadesti a terra senza un lamento
e ti accorgesti in un solo momento
che il tempo non ti sarebbe bastato
a chiedere perdono per ogni peccato.

Cadesti a terra senza un lamento
e ti accorgesti in un solo momento
che la tua vita finiva quel giorno
e non ci sarebbe stato ritorno.

Ninetta mia crepare di maggio
ci vuole tanto, troppo coraggio.
Ninetta bella dritto all’inferno
avrei preferito andarci d’inverno.

E mentre il grano ti stava a sentire,
dentro le mani stringevi il fucile,
dentro la bocca stringevi parole
troppo gelate per sciogliersi al sole.

Dormi sepolto in un campo di grano,
non è la rosa non è il tulipano
che ti fan veglia dall’ombra dei fossi,
ma sono mille papaveri rossi.

Piero’s War

You lie slain in a wheatfield sleeping,
and it’s neither the rose nor the tulip
that bears witness from the shadow of ditches,
but rather thousands of blood-red poppies.

“Along the banks of this country stream
I’d like to spy the silver pike swimming,
and not a suite of soldiers’ corpses
carried along with the stream like broken branches.”

So you said in the cold of winter,
and, just like the others, you’re bound for hell
marching to do your sad duty,
the wind spitting snow in your face.

Stop, Peter, stop marching now!
Let the wind caress your body,
Listen to the voices of the fallen
who gave up their lives for a wooden cross.

But you didn’t listen, and time passed you by
with the seasons at a java step
and so you crossed the border
on a warm and bright spring day.

And trudging on, shouldering your soul
you saw a man down in the valley
stepping along sadly like you
but with a uniform of a different colour.

Shoot him, Piero, shoot him now!
Shoot again to make sure he’s dead,
shoot until he falls dead to the ground
into his own blood, mortally wounded.

“And if I aim at his forehead or at his heart
I’ll leave him merely the time to die,
but I shall have plenty of time
to look in the eyes of a dying man.”

And while you hesitate,
he turns around, sees you, turns white with fear;
Positioning his rifle he pulls the trigger
and doesn’t repay your favour.

You fell to the ground in silence
and noticed in less than a second
that time was lacking
to beg pardon for all your sins.

You fell to the ground in silence
and noticed in less than a second
that your life was at an end,
and that you’d never come back home again.

“Oh Ninetta darling, to die in May
one needs much too much courage.
Oh Ninetta darling, I’d like best
to go to hell in a cold winter’s day.”

And while the wheat was listening to your words
you held your rifle clenched in your hands,
you held your words frozen in your mouth
already too cold to melt in the sun.

You lie slain in a wheatfield sleeping,
and it’s neither the rose nor the tulip
that bears witness from the shadow of ditches,
but rather thousands of blood-red poppies.

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11 thoughts on “Poppies & A Ballad

  1. I was so taken by the photos I neglected to notice the song. It was a bittersweet song in deed. I also notice the artist passed at a young age…I am glad he left such a legacy of thoughtful lyrics

  2. Thanks for coming back for a second look. Yes, Fabrizio de Andre has a whole body of thoughtful songs. He was kidnapped at one point by the Red Brigades.

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