Friday, August 16, 2013


Stroke his brow.
There's no need to hold him down.
Just tell him how he will sing
high and pure
for Pope and King -
a man made angel.

Don't mangle, battle, or bruise him.
Soothe him
until the poppy loosens
his thin, clenched legs.
Then, dredge deep
and cut quick.
Pit the boy like a cherry.

If he dies,
we'll sing him dirges
in falsetto.

A castrato (Italian, plural: castrati) is a type of classical male singing voice equivalent to that of a female.  The voice is produced by castration of the singer before puberty. Demand for castrati voices peaked in the 1720s and 1730s; at that time, upwards of 4,000 boys were castrated annually.  Italy made the practice illegal in 1861.  The Catholic church banned the use of castrati in 1903 (from Wikipedia).

For Marian's prompt at Real Toads.


Helen said...

Impossible to wrap my arms around the concept of this butchery ... exquisite poetry, MZ.

Marian said...

love this, MZ. interestingly, i was playing the Vivaldi piece this morning for my kids and found myself talking about voice types with my kids, including a long discussion about castratos. now that's a weird one to try explaining. :)

Kerry O'Connor said...

So many inhumane acts of man's cruelty to man lie at our feet. Isn't it shameful that a love of the beauty of music created a culture of mutilation?

Mary said...

Oh, this is so sad, MZ. I cannot imagine the life these poor young men lived. And to think that the church condoned / did this.

Michael said...

sheesh. my knees hurt now from slapping together. ouch

Susan said...

David Daniels' voice made me think of the Castrati too, but I dropped them as fast as hot potatos. I'm glad you picked one up and exposed it, including the proper dirges. Wow.

Kay L. Davies said...

So the Italian government proved more humane than the Catholic Church in the matter of castrati? Negating the word "church" entirely, I'd say.
Brilliant poetry, as always, Kelli, but your description of the "surgery" has left me feeling distinctly bilious.

Fireblossom said...

You've taken an extraordinary and very disturbing chapter in musical history and made it immediate in all its repugnant hypocrisy.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oy. Utterly horrifying.

Hannah said...

Ugh....that's awful told brilliantly. I remember this tid-bit, (poor choice of word) ;) from history...truly though, that's horrible.

Susie Clevenger said...

How horrendous! You have summed up this travesty with a powerful poetic voice.

clarior e tenebris said...

I know too many poems that have had their voices castrated in exactly the same spirit. Yours clearly not among those victims. Good work.

Lorraine said...

amputation for a beautiful singing voice...\I love silence...the beauty of your writing always clashes with the atrocity of your subject...quite the read though...

grapeling said...

You've lodged a cannonball in my throat and loosed the rumbling nausea reserved for that particular discomfort associated with - well... Visceral and cerebral (which, given many men's penchant for confusing the brain with the, er, cherry pits) causes extreme discomfort. And awe - a horrifically splendid pen, MZ.

Sharp Little Pencil said...

I have read about Farnielli, arguably the greatest castrato of the ages... and saw the movie. They used a soprano and a countertenor, digitally combining their voices to simulate the silky tones of the great Farnielli.

OF course, he was one of a handful of boys whose manhood was ripped from them; boys whose promising boy-tenor voices caused their parents to SELL them to music professionals, who emptied their ball sacs and then, if the result was not a good voice, cast them out onto the streets.

It's worth nothing that in the years before the 1880s, women were banned from the stage, and so not only castrati but effeminate men had careers playing women.

Abominable practice, with many young lives literally thrown away. GREAT poem. Amy

Audrey Howitt aka Divalounger said...

Beautiful write--do you know the film Farinelli? About one of the most famous castrati---