Donna Sabella


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Idling with this translation I wondered if the original folksong would ring bells with anyone. How about you, Will, from la Salierno bella? I tried and failed to attach the recording made by NCCP (from Napoli) which is very powerful. The plaintive tone and the story of loss remind me very much of ancient Irish songs. I particularly liked the abrupt closure. I’d be grateful also for advice on the translation.

Donna Sabella

Nun me chiammate cchiù donna ‘Sabella
chiammateme Sabella ‘a sventurata!
Aggio perduto trentatré castella
la chiana Puglia e Baselecata.
Aggio perduto la ‘a Salierno bella
ch’ era lo svago della disgraziata.
‘Na sera me embarcha ‘mbarchecella
e la matina me trovai necata

Never call me Lady Isabella,
call me Isabella the unlucky.
Today I lost three and thirty castles,
the plain of Puglia and Basilicata;
today I lost the beautiful Salerno
That was the consolation of the wretched.
Of an evening I boarded a barque
and the morning found me drowned.

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18 thoughts on “Donna Sabella

  1. I love this song! Yes, the closure is a rather powerful understatement – a song from the dead?
    about the translation, I would only take out the ‘today’ from both lines 3 and 5. The word ‘aggio’, though similar to ‘oggi’, should stand for the auxilary ‘I have’ in the compound verb – I have lost. Will and Serena, what do you think? I am from the ‘provincia’ of Salerno – so I am unsure whether I can be a reliable source…

  2. Grazie Fedra. Il dialetto è difficlle. We Irish are uncomfortable with the perfect tenses. I feel they lose immediacy. I would prefer to translate ‘I have lost’ with ‘I lost’, but I feel this is a characteristic of Hiberno-English.

    Never call me Lady Isabella,
    call me Isabella the unlucky.
    I lost three and thirty castles,
    the plain of Puglia and Basilicata;
    I lost the beautiful Salerno,
    the consolation of the wretched.
    Of an evening I boarded a barque
    and the morning found me drowned.

    Do you know the story? I gather Donna Isabella fu una principessa e il suo marito fu in esilio. Returning from Spain she drowned.

  3. Mari, hai ragione su ‘aggio’ (io ho/I have), anche se credo che ‘today’ ad inizio verso serva a mantenere il ritmo dell’originale, visto che il simple past è una parola mentre il passato prossimo ne ha due. Piuttosto ho dei dubbi su ‘the consolation of the wretched’, perché non so se si capisca che la ‘wretched’ è solo lei e non un collettivo undescript: ‘of my wretched self/soul’ suona troppo altisonante? Magari tagliando ‘that was’ per accorciare il verso. ‘La mattina me trovai necata’: qual’è il soggetto? Ritrovare sé stessa annegata, come se la morte la cogliesse di sorpresa, (in)volontariamente…da pensare. baci a tutti s

  4. Are you suggesting that Surriento is a consolation to Isabella alone? I think her personal wretchedness is implied in the general.
    Thinking of the rythm, I changed line 4.

    Never call me Lady Isabella,
    call me Isabella the unlucky.
    Today I lost three and thirty castles,
    the plain of Puglia, Basilicata;
    I lost the beautiful Salerno,
    consolation of the wretched.
    Of an evening I boarded a barque
    and the morning found me drowned.

  5. Lo svago della disgraziata…sorry to disagree with u Will, I strongly believe it is her own wretchedness, the self-centered wretchedness of one who is overwhelmed by something horrible that is both inside and outside, by the loss of propriety that is also identity…I imagine Donna Sabella a noblewoman victim of the 1799 revolution, expropriated of everything she believed was hers(elf). Alienated to the point of speaking about herself in the third person, of finding herself (almost surprisingly) drowned, dead by her hand by also by another’s.
    And sorry to be touchy, but Salerno is not Surriento – yet Mario’s picture compellingly stages Southern Italy as a place of the mind…you Northerners!

  6. As you already know, Luca…although I’ve been slimming down recently, this doesn’t apply to the rest of me! actually the association (Sorrento-Salerno) is quite interesting, in the overlapping of imaginary places one can associate to this song. Whose presence here, if I’m not mistaken, is mainly due to your fascination with these sunny faraway places…

  7. e che dibattito! Io…dalla provincia piu’ estrema dell’estesissimo salernitano, non ho voce in capitolo..:)
    ..si hai ragione Luca, e’ proprio pesante la nostra Serena…
    xxx

  8. Sorry Serena, unless there is some nuance in the language that escapes me, I’m afraid I’m sticking to my translation of line 6. In the English version ‘the consolation of the wretched’ implies her own wretchedness, and also that the beauty of Surriento would console anyone who is wretched. Important though to note that ‘wretchedness’ is not intended to suggest the poor, but someone in a wretched state of mind. So perhaps i should find an alternative to ‘wretched’. It is quite common in folksong for the narrator to suggest that places are capable of being uplifiting or consoling.
    Actually, I have been able to track down some of the history (http://www.ilportaledelsud.org/sabella.htm), though I’m not sure how reliable the information is. I’m not sure if a noblewoman’s self-pity at the loss of her lands to revolutionaries would be preserved in the folk-memory. There is a kind of natural selection involved in folksong that tends to dredge out anything that does not have a kind of rigor and emotional force, at least that is so in the folksong that I know well, though, of course, I can’t speak for Italy. But if Calvino’s folktales are anything to go by, the same is true there.
    What attracted me to this song was its rawness and its great age.

  9. Indeed Bill, you are right.
    The Scuola Medica Salernitana and the infamous Ippocrates…

    on another note, I agree with the translator: ‘the consolation of the wrethced’ does imply her own -Serena, I am unsure why you think otherwise…perhaps I have mis-read the text.

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