Friends, few months ago I shared a Spotify playlist composed by 30 songs I considered to be the ones that Italians see as “great classics”. Some of you have already listened to this playlist, but I thought it was about time to give some sort of context and explain what’s behind these songs and their lyrics.
Given the current historical moment, today I will delve into “La Guerra di Piero” (literally “Piero’s war”) by Fabrizio De Andrè, which you might have heard in these days as TV programmes’s “jingle” if you happened to watch the Italian TV. “La Guerra di Piero” is indeed considered some sort of Italian “Blowin’ in the wind” for its pacifist themes.
Personally, I like De Andrè’s song better as there’s a powerful work of storytelling behind it and for the effective images and metaphors he was able to use.
Get to know Fabrizio De Andrè, the author
Fabrizio De Andrè (1940-1999) is the Italian cantautore par excellence. The term “cantautore” is a blend of the words “cantante” (singer) and “autore” (author) and it is used for all the artists who sing and write their own songs.
The phenomenon of the Italian cantautori, called “cantautorato”, spread starting from the 60s and was influenced first by the French chansonniers and then by all those American authors, like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, who were focused on political themes.
Fabrizio De Andrè can be identified in this artistic movement, as his whole musical career can be defined as a life-long battle against the Power, characterized by a strong social and political commitment, which he manifested without any form of demagogism.
La Guerra di Piero: lyrics and meaning
La Guerra di Piero is the Italian pacifist song par excellence. It was published in 1964 and became successful only 5 years later, in conjunction with the 1968 Protest Movement. It was inspired by the story of Francesco, Fabrizio’s uncle, who was a concentration camp’s survivor.
The song is about Piero, a soldier at the front that, when finding himself facing the enemy, hesitates to shoot because he sees himself in the other soldier. The song underlines the fact that, most of the times, soldiers don’t kill each other due to hate or cruelty, but only in order to survive. They don’t want the war, they are sent to war.
Has Piero survived the conflict? Has he shot the enemy in the end? Let’s analyze the lyrics together.
Dormi sepolto in un campo di grano, non è la rosa non è il tulipano che ti fan veglia nell’ombra dei fossi, ma son mille papaveri rossi…
Sleep, buried in a wheat field, it’s not the rose, nor the tulip, that keeps watching you from the ditches, but it’s a thousand red poppies
The song starts from the conclusion: the soldier is dead and his remains are not returned home. There’s not a tomb where the family can bring flowers (rose, tulip). The only blooms guarding his unmarked grave in a wheat field are the red poppies that grow in the ditches.
The poppies have always been used in a metaphorical way and as a symbol to pay homage to the soldiers who have died in battle: in the US and UK the paper red poppies are used to remind those who died during WWI, adopted after the great success of the poem “In Flanders Fields” by J. McCrae; it is also said that Gengis Khan used to throw poppy seed on the fields where his army won to pay homage to the enemies who died with honour.
The expression “mille papaveri rossi” (one thousand red poppies) is in the Italian collective imagination as a metaphor for dead soldiers, thanks to this song.
“lungo le sponde del mio torrente voglio che scendano i lucci argentati, non più i cadaveri dei soldati portati in braccio dalla corrente”
“along the riverbanks I want to see the silver pikes, not the soldier’s s corpses carried by the current”
Così dicevi ed era inverno e come gli altri verso l’inferno te ne vai triste come chi deve, il vento ti sputa 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.
You used to say so, and it was winter and, as the others, sad you go toward the hell like someone who must. The wind spits the snow in your face.
Stop Piero, stop now, allow the wind to sweep you off, let it carry the voice of those who died in the battle. Those who gave life, had a cross in return.
Piero used to have pacifist views, he prayed for the conflict to end, yet he was forced to go to war. A voice-over tells him not to do it, as the war deprives mothers of their sons. Mothers give life and have a tomb (cross) in return.
The following verses do not need further notes, they are quite self-explanatory.
Ma tu non lo udisti e il tempo passava con le stagioni a passo di giava 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 non lo vedrai esangue cadere in terra a coprire il suo sangue
E se gli sparo 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 e ha paura ed imbraccia l’artiglieria, non ti ricambia la cortesia
Cadesti in 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 in terra senza un lamento e ti accorgesti in un solo momento che la tua vita finiva quel giorno e non ci sarebbe stato un ritorno
Ninetta mia crepare di maggio ci vuole tanto troppo coraggio, Ninetta bella dritto all’inferno, avrei preferito andarci in inverno
E mentre il grano ti stava a sentire dentro alle mani stringevi un fucile, dentro alla bocca stringevi parole, troppo gelate per sciogliersi al sole.
But you didn’t hear it and time went on with the seasons at a Java’s beat and you crossed the border in a beautiful spring day
While you’re marching with a heavy heart you saw a man at the valley’s end, who had your same mood, but the uniform of another colour.
Shoot him Piero, shoot him now and after a gunshot, shoot him again until you can see him falling down to cover his own blood
And if I shoot him in the forehead or in the heart, he’ll only have time to die, but I will have time to see, to see the eyes of a dying man
And while you do him this favour, he turns, he sees you, he’s scared, he takes the gun and he doen’t return the courtesy
You fell down without a complain and you suddenly realized you didn’t have enough time to ask forgiveness for all of your sins
You fell down without a complain and you suddenly realized that your life was about to end that day and there was no coming back
Little Nina, it takes so much courage to die in May, little Nina, I’m heading to hell, I would have preferred to go there in winter.
And while the wheat was listening to you, you held a rifle in your hands. In your mouth you held words, too icy to melt in the sun.
Find “La Guerra di Piero” in my Spotify playlist “Songs Italians Consider Great Classics”, track nr. 28.
3 thoughts on “Classic Italian Songs: “La Guerra di Piero”, the Italian “Blowin’ in the Wind””
Hi, Sara! This is a good message and a great song. I remember listening to your playlist then and I’m listening to it now again. 🙂 In the meantime I posted ten Italian songs that I love on my blog and about half are on your list too. Have a look:
How about the third season of L’amica geniale? That season’s finale had me in tears. I wonder if Season 4 will continue to please me. Overall, this is one of the rare series or films that gives me the same vibes as the books did.
Sending you hugs and good wishes.
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Ciao carissima Manja! Hehe, it looks like you have a wide knowledge about Italian classics ( but also about contemporary songs!)
Sadly, I wasn’t able to watch season 3: I’m just back from an AWFUL working experience in a famous valley in South Tyrol…I was overworked, undernourished and I couldn’t sleep, so I didn’t have the energy nor the time to watch TV 😅 But from the previous seasons, I can say that you’re right: great transposition book – tv series!
Un abbraccio, I hope you are well 😘
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Yes, all good here, except no company other than grumpy amore. 😀 My Italian friend Flavia went to work in Iraq! Sorry to hear of your bad experience. It sounds horrible. I hope you can rest now!