Il lonfo.

Many Italian native speakers are familiar with this playful poem (a sonnet) by Fosco Maraini, but it may be new to most learners.
Maraini (1912-2004) was an all-round intellectual. Besides being a writer and a poet, he was also an academic teacher, an ethnologist, an anthropologist, an orientalist, a mountaneer, a photographer. His daughter Dacia is one of the most renowned Italian contemporary writers.
Maraini enjoyed exploring language as much as he enjoyed exploring mountains, and in 1966 he published a collection of short poems based on what he called 'metasemantics', i.e. beyond the meaning of words, the most famous of which is Il lonfo.
In philosophy of language, metasemantics is the field concerned with why, or in virtue of what, a given term takes its semantic value.
What Maraini did was to use a language based on words (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) most of which are invented (non-existent), and whose meaning each reader is free to imagine, on the basis of their position within the sentence, their sound (onomatopoeia plays an important role), their similarity to other extant words, even the reader's intonation.
The subject of the poem is an imaginary wild animal (the definite article suggests that lonfo is a masculine noun), likely a quadruped because the word is reminiscent of lupo ('wolf'), or maybe of Dante's lonza (a leopard), whose ending -onfo suggests being somewhat sluggish (ronfo is an onomatopoeic snoring sound).
Also the two verbs in the first verse suggest onomatopoeic animal sounds, e.g. gluisce is the 3rd person singular of gluire, which should be conjugated in the same way as muggire ('to moo') or nitrire ('to neigh').
It is not gibberish, as each word is clearly spelt, and fully inflectable or conjugable, according to the standard grammar rules. It is also different from nonsense poetry such as limericks, in which extant words are used for creating sentences that lack a common sense. But it has been likened to Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky  (included in the novel Through the Looking-Glass ).
You can find several interpretations of this poem in YouTube, with different intonations.
Advanced learners can appreciate best the poem, but it may be a useful reading exercise for early learners, as well, especially if read aloud.
The verses are hendecasyllables (eleven syllables in each line); in particular, the 6th and 10th syllable of each verse are always stressed. So by following the fixed rhythm of each line it is easy to guess where the stress falls, even without having heard the words before.

Il lonfo

Il lonfo non vaterca né gluisce
e molto raramente barigatta,
ma quando soffia il bego a bisce bisce
sdilenca un poco, e gnagio s'archipatta.

È frusco il lonfo! È pieno di lupigna
arrafferìa malversa e sofolenta!
Se cionfi ti sbiduglia e t'arrupigna
se lugri ti botalla e ti criventa.

Eppure il vecchio lonfo ammargelluto
che bete e zugghia e fonca nei trombazzi
fa lègica busìa, fa gisbuto;

e quasi quasi, in segno di sberdazzi
gli affarfaresti un gniffo. Ma lui zuto
t'alloppa, ti sbernecchia; e tu l'accazzi.

December 27, 2017


I see, you are trying to break my spirit. But you will not succeed.
At this point, all poems in Italian are like this one for me. I don't get them. But, in ten years ........ :-D
Thank you. You make learning Italian interesting and great.

Vesna2691-----this is what happens when you tell CivisRomanus to eat cake. I am home from my Christmas life playing trains with a two year old and tomorrow I shall tackle the poem. That probably means printing it so that like you, I succeed in ten years time. I am determined to succeed!

You are right. It's too much sugar for him. (Some is probably from wine). ;-)

There must have been something strange in that cake...

I have had a good morning. I found the YouTube versions, but have not yet tried reciting along with them. Then, with the help of Google, I found a paper by Daniela Rossella on the translation of invented languages. She ended with a translation, by her friends, of Il Lonfo. CivisRomanus, please may we have your translation, or is it your opinion that such verse should only ever remain in its original language?

The point is that I should provide several translations, because whenever I read this poem some words keep changing meaning to me. :-D
It is like a kaleidoscope, each time you look through it you see new shapes and colours.
The toughest hurdle in attempting a translation is that although I may get a glimpse of what kind of animal a lonfo is, and what the poem says he does, I would have to turn my suggestions into English using invented words, as well.
I found Rossella's paper and the corageous attempt to translate the sonnet, in which the lonfo turns into a lumph. But the '-umph' ending in English may not suggest a lazy or sluggerish disposition, as the '-onfo' ending does in Italian. So in my opinion something like slomph could be another way or rendering the beast's name, as it recalls a sloth. This would obviously alter the type of animal that the reader pictures to him/herself (i.e. no longer a wolf-looking quadruped). But then also all the other imaginary words would change meaning consistently.

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Being an 'early learner' the translation gave me some idea of what is going on, and your reply has given extra insights. I can put the translation away, enjoy the words and the sounds of the 'Italian', and let my imagination fly. Grazie CivisRomanus, tanti auguri di buon anno.

Grazie mille HelenDaisy, anche da parte mia tanti auguri di buon anno!

Did you know you can google "CivisRomanus,comments,duolingo" and find all your (his) wonderful comments :)

I didn't know, thanks for the information! :-)
Sorry for the late reply, I don't get notifications (I came back here by chance).
Happy new year!

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