Guiseppe Gioachino Belli: Tower of Babel

“‘We’d like to touch the stars,’ they cried, and, after,

‘We’ve got to touch the stars. But how?’ An able-brained ******* told them: ‘Build the Tower of Babel.

Start now, get moving. Dig holes, sink a shaft.

A-rise, arouse raise rafter after rafter,

Get bricks, sand, limestone,scaffolding and cable;

I’m clerk of works, fetch me a chair and table.’

God meanwhile well-nigh pissed himself with laughter.

They’d just got level with the Pope’s top floor

When something in their mouths began to give.

They couldn’t talk Italian any more.

The project died in this linguistic slaughter.

Thus, if a man said: ‘Pass us that there sieve,’

His mate would hand him up a pail of water.”

Translation by Anthony Burgess (A Mouthful of Air) of a poem by the Roman poet Guiseppe Gioacchino Belli (1791 – 1863).