Giovanni Pascoli was born in 1855 in the village of San Mauro di Romagna (later renamed San Mauro Pascoli) in what was then the papal state of Romagna, the fourth of ten children born to Ruggero and Caterina Vincenzi Alloccatelli Pascoli. He was a sensitive child, and he thrived in an idyllic family situation until the age of twelve, when his father was murdered. Ruggero Pascoli, the bailiff of the La Torre estate of the princely Torlonia family, was driving his carriage home on August 10, 1867, when someone fired a shot from behind a hedge; his dapple-gray mare (“La cavalla storna” of Pascoli’s poem of that title) brought him home a corpse. The unexplained and unpunished crime marked Pascoli for life. His first volume of verse, Myricae, was dedicated to his father and includes a poem that describes the incident, “X agosto” (“The Tenth of August”). He wrote, “Reader, there were men who opened that tomb. And in it a whole flourishing family came to an end.” Later, in the preface to Canti di Castelvecchio (songs of Castelvecchio), he added, “Other men, who remain unpunished and unknown, willed the death of a man not only innocent, but virtuous, sublime in his loyalty and goodness, and the death of his family. And I refuse. I refuse to let them be dead.”
In 1868, the oldest Pascoli child, Margherita, died of typhoid at sixteen, and within a month, Pascoli’s mother followed. Three years later, Luigi, Pascoli’s next older brother, died of meningitis, and shortly after that Pascoli’s fiancé died of tuberculosis. Five years later, his oldest brother, Giacomo, died and then Giacomo’s two small children. At the age of twenty-one, Pascoli became the head of a family consisting of his two younger brothers and two younger...
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