Poems of Aldo Capitini
A selection of poems by Aldo Capitini - from COLLOQUIO CORALE (Choral Dialogue), 1956, Pacini Mariotti, Pisa, translated into English by Maddalena Rayner, who knew him personally for many years.[specific citation needed]
- And you mother still close to me,
- you know that it is not enough to live an ordered and honest life.
- You have been faithful for years to bring order into our house.
- As soon as the dawn appeared in the night sky,
- you rose towards the tasks awaiting you –
- in the silence of a mental prayer.
- Perhaps it is not enough even the overwhelming love,
- to which you gave the sober expression of concrete acts.
- The sacred wool, the steaming milk and the bed
- composed with inimitable care by your hands.
- Going back in time you recounted to your children their births,
- and the birthdays have slowly vanished.
- The beginning is now found from a thousand beginnings,
- with the ancient, with the unknown, with Christ.
- A present act includes them all,
- opening after the events have passed.
- And there is a severe duty for struggle,
- something in our own life could be wrenched away by it.
- The guards will soon appear,
- and they will take me to my cell with the high window.
- You will still be with me,
- as mother and inexhaustible human presence.
- Giving freely of your love, you still knew that your son is freedom.
- You were a nearness, that always found something to do.
- I have watched you unflinching under hardness and spite,
- always moving, and acting,
- holding back your inner rebellion you had pity on rage.
- Now we are together to work and open all around.
- In the loving gift to the world which ever crucifies us
- is our fulfilment.
- Seeing its limitations, still to treasure everything
- is the gesture of infinite miracle,
- and you were right: order comes from this principle,
- the earthly goods, as our brothers the prophets tell us,
- will be given unto us.
- I wanted to go away, in the midst of something entirely different,
- I had been there, in the house of torture,
- I have seen people being kicked, men’s bodies scorched,
- nails pulled out with pliers.
- Armed with flame and cudgels, grinning men in shirt sleeves.
- Where I could hear my friends being thrown headlong
- down the stairs.
- Night was as day, and long shrieks wounded me.
- In vain I tried to think of wooded lanes and flowers,
- a serene life and human words.
- The thought seized up, it was as if a wound were opened up
- again and again and endlessly searched.
- From the mouth struck, teeth and blood came out,
- and lamenting moans from the deep throat.
- Away, away from that house, from that street and town,
- from anything similar to it.
- I must save myself, keep up my mind,
- that I should not be led to madness by these memories.
- Oh, if we could go back to a void, from which a new order,
- a maternal opening could come forth,
- if I hear a certain tone of voice even in jest, I shudder.
- My unhappiness is that I avoid the sight of suffering,
- hospitals and prisons.
- I have yearned for high solitudes, lands of still sunshine
- and sweet shadows,
- but I would always be pursued by the ghosts of human beings.
- All of a sudden I feel the need of distraction and play,
- to lose myself in the noise of the fairground.
- I remain with you, but forgive me
- if you see me sometimes act like a madman.
- I try to heal myself by myself, as an animal,
- trusting that the wounds will close.
- I stop to listen to the simple conversations of the women
- in the marketplace, with their dialectical lilt.
- I rejoice at the footsteps of running children,
- their overpowering calls.
- Because you do not know the absurdity of my dreams,
- the fixed expressions, the incomprehensible gestures.
- There is turmoil inside me, which seems to ridicule me.
- And I cannot cry out, not to be like them.
- Tomorrow I will go towards some music, now I am getting ready.
- From a high tower I have looked to the four points of the horizon.
- I will go and lift up the dead on the battlefield.
- I will stretch out their contorted arms and legs.
- I will close their cold eyelids on their fixed pupils.
- I cannot bear to see eyes if I do not receive any words.
- Invisible life entrusts us with sad tasks,
- I look back to my years, and the pains I have suffered
- are not enough.
- Soon there will be clashings of men and horrible clanging sounds.
- And people hunted, pushed, wrenched.
- Also I will find myself in the midst of the madness of war.
- I will open pure words, orders of thought, fraternal acts.
- In the meantime they will bring forward the man
- condemned to death and they will tell him to dig his own grave.
- He will look up at the still hills and the sky.
- Some distant sounds of life will still reach him.
- He will not have time to think back to his many days –
- to the voices of his dear people, and the close relationships.
- Not even will he be able to look ahead,
- to come to terms with what is happening now.
- And when the shots will be fired, with the flash a cry will go up
- The human cry which is too late, and it’s lost.
- To free, to free as soon as possible.
- They will ask me: why don’t you come to fight with us?
- They will not understand, they will carry on with the war.
- I loved to be with other people, as the light of the day.
- It is so good to work together, in trust, in mutual help.
- To lose myself in the crowd in modest clothes.
- In a circle of equals to listen and to speak.
- And now nobody wants to listen, and yet they are all people.
- I have become a stranger, the others do not know that I am there.
- The abrupt reply, the friend who looks the other way.
- It would be easy to join them in earnest action.
- Forgetting the deeper unity, beyond the war?
- I remain here, isolated from everybody,
- working for a deeper togetherness.
- Everything was only a trial, reality must yet begin.
- Every being was partaking of another reality yet he did not know.
- But now this reality is becoming clear,
- and it matters only what opens us to it.
- I am reborn when I say a “thou”.
- While I am waiting, my spirit is already open.
- Going towards a thou,
- my being has moved in a universal dimension.
- No feeling of mine equals my thought for people.
- My house is a means of hospitality.
- I love objects as I can offer them.
- In this infinity any suffering matters less.
- I come back from my evenings of solitude to meet living eyes.
- Before you smiled, I smiled.
- I am here to win back from the world the condemned people.
- My burning flame is here to tell that limitations are not everything.
- The waters flooded the land,
- and I carried the drowned babies inside me.
- In the day I sit in meetings, at night I think of individuals,
- one by one.
- And while time cuts and encircles abstract things,
- I always go back to believe in the value of the inner self.
- If they consider me a stranger, music still speaks to me.
- When I open my soul in good faith, my face becomes acceptable.
- Thankful for everybody, I become infinitely closer.
- I try to feel familiar with life, if it fears to be an unwelcome guest.
- The moment that I humble myself, eternity comes.
- My mind, aware of life’s limitations, is surprised by my constancy,
- as of a lover’s.
- I only know that I stand firm, foreseeing the sufferings.
- I come back from the tombs, in November* and I am aware,
- I can only live as an infinite compensation to all:.
- (the 2nd of November in Italy is the day of the dead when people visit the graves of their relatives.)
- Beyond the tragic blows and the brooding over violence,
- beyond the labour over errors and repenting over deeds,
- beyond the evenings without dialogues and the nights
- full of suspicion,
- beyond the days in which the happy ones revel
- in their narrow happiness –
- is it possible that to give blows to one another is the only reality?
- Oh special day, unveil your essence which redeems –
- newness of peace
- you are beyond utility.
- To love from the root,
- all united for ever, beyond the appearance of the transient forms.
- To confess to freedom, the highest habit;
- while so many are courting the powerful and look from below
- to the tyrants slowly crossing through the town,
- longing in envy to be seen in the crowd
- and to narrate their parenthood.
- Better to look on in serenity:
- the noise of triumph is like a polluted river.
- Better to decide and to act, at the service of the ready heart
- and oppose the anonymous world,
- uniting the individuals ever more in the “thou”.
- From here the sure beginning of infinity,
- and to go, as if waiting, to meet the living:
- the “thou”, as a light sure of its being, opens itself,
- rising in delight from the womb of musics
- unperturbed by the menaces of the powerful,
- and sets itself in nearness to listen and to speak,
- leaning in utter peacefulness over the dying brothers:
- it is impossible that he may not see the stupidity
- and cruelty around,
- but overcomes the temptation to declare the nullity of all,
- to discover among the shadows of the weary world
- a gaze which seeks and unfolds itself.
- Happy those, who are ready to leave any heaven of peace happiness and work,
- at the call of the eternally damned:
- they have risen to descend below,
- to bring freedom with the gift of forgiveness beyond hope
- and unity: because what is joy,
- if not togetherness in silence and song?
- Oh the freeing of reality, within each act of ours.
- At its heralding, we must fly and extend it into the trees
- heavy with boughs,
- even the solitude of stones can be redeemed;
- the eyes wanted to see more than just objects,
- in the brotherhood of light, to feel together,
- give ourselves, while the thought is limpid and alive,
- as a clear friend among friends;
- to meet the charm of architectural gardens
- and the lyrical vigour of orchestras,
- the criss-crossed cries of the swallows in June’s sober bloom,
- and the silent paths into the woods.
- There was much more than sensations and memories,
- the restless body seeking another dimension,
- and the heart tried to address faithful “thou”s,
- unshaken by rejection and absence,
- and by death’s immobility.
- Children know that setting up a game is to transcend
- the usual objects.
- The true synthesis is only with the unforeseen.
- Detach yourself from a pledge left behind and open yourself
- to a command which supremely calls,
- without trembling at the freedom suddenly infinite.
- Do not pay your extreme homage to the dead,
- there is something beyond.
- Even the sound of bells is only a preparation,
- and beyond the voice of orchestras, a new sublimity.
- Who has been more worn by life, knows it.
- To love, to be reborn together, open sky.
An extract from “Elementi di un’Esperienza Religiosa” (Elements of a Religious Experience) Laterza, Bari, 1937
Vicinanza di Dio (The Nearness of God)
“I conceive the essential relationship between God and the world to be not one of power and violence, as might think the primitive man, who worships physical strength and imagines that it is a superior power shaking the earth with earthquakes or hurling a thunderbolt through space; it is nearness, something which might seem insignificant but which brings spiritual awareness.”
“We approach one another as if we were separate entities and see the other only from a limited point of view – not as part of us; we do not open ourselves to others with complete faith. When we first encounter objects or persons we think, because of this feeling of separateness, that they are just as we find them and nothing else. But if my attitude towards this person is of love, interest, oneness, then I will lose that first impression of having accidentally found them and will grow beyond my limitations towards something at once more intimate and more vast.”
“This spiritual freedom, the opposite of insensitivity or laziness, freedom to suffer and to know error, is the nearness and very redemption of God.”
“Every act involves a discovery of finite beings and seeing them as such, one understands ever better the reality of God’s presence, since finiteness by itself would be insufficient. God is the continuous miracle. It may be said that if it is continuous it is no longer a miracle. But miracle there is, although it does not consist in any outstanding or exceptional event. The miracle is that without God all finite things and their mutual relationships fade away into abstractions – whereas with God, they live in our spirit, in a conscious relationship. The essential construction of reality lies in this and not in the activism of the materialists who have little awareness of the intimate religious relationship.”
“The fundamental importance of the inner self frees us from the conception of evolution as a purely natural process. The Spirit is not something, which evolves before our eyes, flowing as if it were a river. This is a naturalistic conception of the Spirit, which ignores the inner self as that centre through which everything passes, in whose moral conscience all reality is idealised. If reality evolved by itself there would be no place to speak of duty and conscience. But God does not consist in being, but in choosing. We cannot define God because we can experience him only in the present and in the act which comes from our inner self.”
“God involves continuous awareness of finiteness, supreme capacity to feel grief, the renouncing of divine attributes in order to become pure giving, infinite love, redemption and consolation.”
“Thus God is not to be lived in contemplation but in acts, in actual practice. In giving of our best, in the intrinsic value of every act, God descends as person and strengthens us.”
“Grief like anything else – like a stone – is content only; God gives us the form, that serenity, purity and self-possession with which to surround and live grief.”
“Even the death we feel approaching is not absolute but only incidental. At that moment we perform yet another act. The act is the form, the way in which death is faced.”
“If in our life and spiritual experience we have become accustomed to transcending our particular individuality, thus realising more clearly in our faith the universal and liberating value of this act, free from any objectivistic idolatry and if we centre down in our soul, in the reality of all things and all persons, then our meeting with death will be more serene, because already in our life we will have overcome the feeling of our limits as something terrible, insuperable and absolute. Absolute instead will be the act performed in the self, the celebration of God’s presence.”
“Always implicit in religion is thus a confession of finiteness and limitation. We experience this limitation when we weep, our lament arising from our inability to love fully.”
“Thus the more readily we accept grief, the deeper in us the awakening of the love which is not attachment but a positive serenity, pure and full of faith, the infinite in a loving act, even though in bitterness and tears.”
“In my inner self, where is duality, I am heard.”
“If I conceive God as existing separately from the world my ideal will be likewise; but if God is nearness to the world I will stay at my post. My spiritual life will then consist in continually relating my particular personality to the centre of all personalities. The world is not everything, but neither is it nothing, it is a multiplicity of finite beings for whom God is absolute nearness.”
“I long to live in a manifold of duty and individuals, to grasp things at their source, not taking them for granted as coming from an unknown and unchangeable origin. I long to experience things in depth and nearness, because through depth and nearness I realize the centre of reality. The whole of history shows me that this is possible. Formerly it would have been said that it was not possible, that we had to await death. Today I will die at every moment to rise again with God, at the centre of reality.”
(Translated by Maddalena Rayner)
Extracts From ‘Open Revolution’, ‘Rivoluzione Aperta’, Parenti Editore, 1956
“By now the idea is spreading that revolutions so far are not enough and we must develop a revolution which will remedy their faults and go a step forward. This new revolution is the open revolution”.
“The open revolution changes also the spirit of man, the relationship between man and man, because it changes the method of struggle. Therefore it brings a total transformation of power economy and nature”.
“The important thing is to understand that in the struggle for freedom and Socialism the uniting revolutionary element was violence (which then was impairing the freedom and Socialism); now instead we add as the revolutionary uniting element this passion for nonviolent activity open to total liberation”.
“The person who is dedicated to nonviolence is more active than anyone, because he does not only want to overcome indifference and hatred, weariness and egoism within himself, but he wants to overcome anything which divides and hurts all people and therefore the person dedicated to nonviolence does not accept society as it is”.
“Nonviolence does good to those who practice it and receive it: it makes each other better, lifts them up, unites them.”
“We can say to the other revolutionaries: you are right to be dissatisfied with this society with its erroneous and unjust ways, but how can you change everything straightaway with your own hands? Do you want to destroy the persons whom you see as adversaries, and even those who you suspect of not being revolutionary? Do you want the revolution to go forward with massacres, torture, the absolute power of a group, which prevents other people from speaking, informing themselves or criticizing or even living? We want a society founded on love and shall we start with cultivating and stimulating hatred? We want a free society and should we increase tyranny and absolutism? We want a good and clean end and should we use dirty and terrible means?”
“History must change and today we see our problems in a different light, we say that our revolution today here and straightaway has something different, because it is made together with everybody, with our spirit united to everyone, even those not here, it is revolution for everybody and with everybody, not excluding and not destroying for ever, and not eternally damning anyone. It is a choral revolution.”
“This is the reason why we are not satisfied with a small or a big partial reform, because we want a total change. And if we do our utmost to use pure means and to maintain an honest and loving conscience, this will be the offer we can make and the guarantee that we can have that a total liberation will take place.”
“If we cannot take away all the grief, all the evil, all the death, we will start with loving everyone, trying ourselves not to give the grief, the evil, the death, with the faith that the rest of the grief, evil and death will disappear.”
“We try to transform our spirits using nonviolent means towards everybody; and this love and sacrifice gives us the guarantee that what we cannot change with our own human strength will be changed by the future, by the infinite, by nature, by God (according to the various faiths, it doesn’t matter; what matters is this opening beyond our actual forces, in the name of love for everybody, of the honesty, of the purity of the values on which conscience feeds).”
“The free addition of a religious nature is to move from a starting point of a unity and common destiny, not saying: “I will be saved but not you – I am inspired, the agent of a special mission but not you”. Instead saying: “We are part of a unity and a common destiny, and if you are not aware of it, I will add to what you feel my feeling and my action in this way. And it might be that your lack of awareness in this might benefit me by deepening my awareness and religious consciousness. Therefore my religious life will have two essential aspects: 1) It will add itself to the world around as a contribution which wants to enrich and not oppress; 2) It will keep itself well open to anything which it encounters in order to bring more depth, improving, revising, listening and communicating, and not purporting to be only speaking and revealing”.
‘Religione Aperta’ (Open Religion), 1955
“We must become better and make ourselves present accumulating merits, feelings, works, so that history will give way. Operating in this way we do not wait for the time, we prepare the time. The changes, the new orders do not come until the ideal is ready, not until there has been somebody who has given himself to those new orders as if they were already there, making them present with his inner impetus”.
‘Vita Religiosa’ (The Religious Life), 1942
“Nonviolence is opening to the existence, freedom and development of every being”
‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’, 1972
“The two main directions of modern ethics with their affirmation of the importance of individual conscience and the extension of moral concern for all rational beings, as worthy of equal rights, imply a hard struggle to deny absolute value to ecclesiastical or state institutions. The outcome of this hard struggle has had also the result to value more society than the state, and on the other hand, to live the co-presence of all beings in the action and method of nonviolence”.
‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’, 1975
“The only law to which we can give our obedience is the one of which we are convinced. And this way to act cannot be alleged to be egocentric or disorderly. First of all it is easy to realize that everybody really acts like this, that is, he does not obey laws to which the doors of his conscience have not been willingly opened. But the difference lies in that some choose an authority, and from then onwards are prepared to obey all its commands. Others instead prefer to often re-examine the reasons for these prescriptions, and do not entrust anybody with the keys of their own conscience. This does not mean that they will want to undertake a deep study of every law, every regulation, but the fact is that they do not recognize even their country’s government or their society’s president as an absolute authority. This second way will certainly be more tiring, but it is certain that the first will be more dangerous, because it diseducates people and harms those who exercise power and those who are governed”.
‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’, 1962
“Even using self determination we should establish a rule to help us gain validity. It is true that it is us who examine our conscience, but a prolonged education in the perception of values makes our conscience a better tool for decision. It is also very important to think of our action as being valid for all, as if everyone in our place should act this way.” “Continuous attention must be directed to the behaviour of others and ourselves, trying to pinpoint the creative aspect, the contribution towards the good, the opening towards a greater value, the courage of having decided against the majority. It will seem to us that the moral contribution of the ones who have made themselves the instruments of prejudice and privileges is small, and instead it is great the contribution of those who try to awaken the conscience of everyone, even with their own personal sacrifice. Because of this even in the upbringing of children it is good to educate to open dialogue, to listen and to speak, to the honesty of truth, to readiness to oppose, because many things in society are still wrong, to be fought against and to be corrected”.
‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’, 1962
“Citizens must feel that their obedience or disobedience is not a private but a public fact in the interest of everyone and that it must be made widely known. The freedom of association and expression is the first duty/right of every citizen, because it is the way to learn and to teach. Through the exercise of the freedom of association and expression we have instruments for power, because power does not only belong to the government. As it is difficult to find a government which makes the possibility of association and expression available to everyone in a concrete way, there are always reasons to be on one’s guard and not grant one’s obedience unconditionally”.
‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’
“We must foster in us the awareness that the actual laws are, on the whole, something limited and that there is always need of integration and correction, and this attention to possible changes must be kept especially in regard to more important things. Citizens often use the opposite method: they disobey the small laws, and they obey the important ones. They have not widened their spirit to look above all at these last ones, which at times are unjust impositions. Then disobedience to these becomes a witness.” ‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’
“The fact is that we have realized that in labour disputes the use of violence plays into the hands of the ruling classes justifying the reaction of the military and discrediting the forces from below. Besides the refusal to use violence achieves the possibility of establishing even international solidarities of a very wide range”.
‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’, 1967
“Today we have a very important case for the choice between obedience and disobedience because the nuclear arms race could lead to the most terrible war there has ever been, reducing Europe to complete destruction. Perhaps never as today to ‘disobey’ is to obey the universal conscience; to disobey the written laws is to obey the unwritten law, which tells us to be united with all being; to disobey the cult of the present empires in the name of the community, which will tomorrow be really of everybody. Conscientious objection is today evolving from being a personal stand in front of the terrible law to have to “kill” human beings, to becoming a warning to everybody of the terrible danger of atomic destruction. This is a precise example of a disobedience, which would seem individual, and instead becomes a precious good for everyone. Perhaps never as in our time the world needs “additions” of individuals or groups, which would affirm principles more valid than the written laws. And in front of many empires and political/military blocks, directed by very few people who have in their hands the destiny of hundreds of millions of people, it is good that the nonviolent principle should be affirmed by centres of energy in all corners of the world, innumerable as the stars in the sky, to unite more deeply everybody, never before as now”.
‘In Remembrance of Aldo Capitini’ Translated from the Italian by Maddalena Rayner
“Violence and materialism will become so widespread that from them will come weariness and disgust: and from the execution block a passionate yearning will rise to withdraw one’s spirit from any collaboration with that error, and to at once initiate, starting with ourselves (which is the first progress), a new way to relate to life: the feeling that the world is alien to us if we have to stay in it without love, without an infinite opening of one towards the other, without a unity above so many differences and so much suffering…This is the present threshold of history.
”An extract from “Elementi di un’Esperienza Religiosa” (Elements of a Religious Experience) Laterza, Bari, 1937'