Padre padrone

I've just finished the autobiographical novel written towards the end of the traditional pastoral way of life in the 1970s, Padre padrone by Gavino Ledda. Heart-rending descriptions of the hardships of life as an illiterate five-year-old shepherd (who only learned to read in his twenties) with a ferocious father (the padrone of the title) are suddenly punctuated by recovery from an episode of double pneumonia. 

        Gavino considered himself lucky, since many boys did not survive the first year in the hills. He had passed the test. Moreover, whereas a year before he had to be coerced to live and work on the tanca by paternal beatings, now he couldn’t wait to get back after a month of sickness in the family home. He reflects that ‘the solitude of the forest and the deep silence of the environs, interrupted only by wind, thunder or distant storms in the winter, orchestrated by the singing of birds and nature basking in the spring, was no longer silence for me. By listening to it I had learned to understand it, and it had become a secret language by which everything seemed to me animated, speaking and in movement… It was as if I knew all the dialects of nature, and spoke them well enough to set up with nature the only conversations that were possibile for me.’

Sea, mountains, wind, rain, and every tree, plant and creature were sentient in the young shepherd’s mind. So much so that he thereafter avoided human contact as superfluous.

‘La solitudine del bosco e il silenzio profondo dell’ambiente, interrotto solo del vento, dai tuoni o dallo scoppio del temporale in lontananza d’inverno, orchestrato dal canto degli uccelli e dal crogiolarsi della natura in primavera, ora per me non era più silenzio. A furia di ascoltarlo avevo imparato a capirlo e mi era divenuto un linguaggio segreto per cui tutto mi sembrava animato, parlante e in movimento. E almeno al livello affettivo della mia fantasia potevo comprenderlo e parlaci. Quasi conoscessi tutti i dialetti della natura e li parlassi correttamente al punto di impostare con essa, nel mio silenzio raccolto, le uniche conversazioni che mi erano possibili.’