Bella Ciao: Strike diary 13

This extraordinary month of strikes has come to an end. We had a great rally at Cardiff University today, with rousing speeches and rallying songs. Then many of us who are involved with the union retired to the pub.

In British universities, strike songs tend to be pastiches of well-known pop songs. Super-talented colleagues treated us to new versions of, among others, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”; Oasis’ “Wonderwall”; and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”. But best of all, was Steven Stanley’s original rap “Get your paws off our pensions” (which you can watch here).

Busy gathering this morning in Alexandra gardens

I am sure Britain must have a tradition of workers’ songs, but I do not know them, which is rather sad. For I do like good workers’, partisans’ and revolutionary songs (see also here). This I have learnt from my father. I remember watching Dr Zhivago with him, and he would put the sound to full when the Internationale came on. As a teenager, I expressed my complete embarrassment, but secretly found this quite cool.

But there is no better workers’ song than the traditional Italian Bella Ciao, which is now best known in its anti-fascist version (see the Wikipedia page for the Italian text and English translation), but started its life as a song of the female rice-weeders in the Po valley, who were hoping for decent working conditions (see here for the Italian text).

Where the original version stresses the hardship of toiling in the rice fields of the Po Valley, among the mosquitoes and other insects, the anti-fascist version paints nature in a rather more bucolic fashion. The partisan asks to be buried on the mountain under the shade of a beautiful flower, by which s/he will be remembered.

I wanted to close this strike diary (for now – we may be back) with flowers: the flowers of Bella Ciao; the flowers that have started to spring everywhere in the last few days after a spell of very cold weather; and the roses in this epigram by Meleager (first century BCE) which celebrates hard work and the beginning of Spring:

A Cardiff crocus

Windy winter has left the skies,
The purple season of flower-bearing spring smiles.
The dark earth crowns herself with green grass,
And the blooming plants wave their new leaves.
The meadows, drinking the delicate dew of plant-feeding Dawn,
Laugh as the rose opens.
The shepherd on the hills rejoices in playing the pipes,
And the goatherd delights in his white kids.
Already the sailors travel on the wide sea,
Their sails swollen by the gentle breath of Zephyrus.
Already, covering their hair with the bloom of berried ivy,
people shout in honour of Dionysus, bearer of grapes.
The bees that are generated from the ox’s carcass
Consider their artful labours, and seated on the hive they build
The fresh white beauty of their porous comb.

A beautiful flower-shaped incense burner from Roman Belgium, Royal Museums of Art and History

The races of birds sing sweetly everywhere:
The kingfisher by the waves, the swallow on the roof,
The swan on the bank of the river, and the nightingale in the grove.
If the tresses of plants rejoice, and the earth blooms,
And the shepherd plays the pipes, and the fleecy sheep cheer,
And the sailors sail, and Dionysus dances,
And the birds chirp, and the bees labour,
How should a singer not sing beautifully in the spring?
Greek Anthology 9.363

Ciao for now!




This entry was posted in botany, Plants, Poetry, Wales and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bella Ciao: Strike diary 13

  1. Another wonderful piece – I will really miss your strike day postings! As for the anglophone tradition of workers’ songs, I got very fond of Solidarity Forever those last few days.

    Liked by 2 people

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