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Giovanni Verga: The Mother of Sorrows

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Italian writers on war and militarism

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Giovanni Verga:
From The House by the Medlar-Tree (1890)
Translated by Mary A. Craig

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In the group…there were two soldiers of the marine corps, with sacks on their shoulders and their heads bound up, going home on leave…They were telling how there had been a great battle at sea, and how ships as big as Aci Trezza, full as they could hold of soldiers, had gone down just as they were…

“It seems to me that those fellows are all mad,” said Padron Cipolla, blowing his nose with great deliberation. “Would you go and get yourself killed just because the King said to you, ‘Go and be killed for my sake’?”

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The day after the rumor began to spread that there had been a great battle at sea, over towards Trieste, between our ships and those of the enemy. Nobody knew how many there were, and and many people had been killed…The neighbors came with hands under their aprons to ask cousin Maruzza whether that were not where Luca was, and looked sadly at her as they did so. The poor woman began to stand at the door as they do when a misfortune happens, turning her head this way and that, or looking down the road towards the turn…

At last someone was charitable enough to tell him to go to the captain of the port, who would be certain to know all about it. There, after sending him from Pilate to Herod and back again, he began to turn over big books and run down the lists of the dead with his finger. When he came to one name, La Longa, who had scarcely heard what went on, so loudly did her ears ring, and was listening as white as the sheet of paper, slipped silently down on the floor as if she had been dead.

“It was more than forty days ago,” said the clerk, shutting up the list. “It was at Lissa. Had not you heard of it yet?”

They brought La Longa home in a cart, and she was ill for several days. Henceforward she was given to a great devotion to the Mother of Sorrows, who is on the altar of the little chapel; and it seemed to her as if the long corpse stretched on the mother’s knees, with blue ribs and bleeding sides, was her Luca’s own portrait, and in her own heart she felt the points of the Madonna’s seven sharp swords. Every evening the devotees, when they came to church for the benediction, and Don Cirino, when he went about shaking the keys before shutting up for the night, found her there in the same place, with her face bent down upon her knees, and they called her, too, the Mother of Sorrows.

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