Help with singable translation

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Moderator - Translation nitpicker
Joined: 20.09.2015
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Hi all,
I was asked for a singable English translation by Luciano Ravasio, the author of this song:
If it will be satisfactory, it will be recorded professionally.
I have a draft of the translation; you can skip right to it (see below), or you can read on for some background about the song.

It's a song in the dialect of Bergamo (northern Italy), since it tells the story of Costantino Beltrami, a man from Bergamo from the 1800s (1779-1855); he was a patriot, and had to get out of Italy after the Bourbon Restoration (after Napoleon’s defeat); he went away also due to his grief over the death of his friend/lover Giulia Spada de’ Medici. So, he travelled France, Germany, Belgium, and England. He then boarded a ship to the US, and visited Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, St. Louis; there, he joined a military/scientific expedition up the Mississippi river. After a few months, he left the expedition and continued alone (with Indian guides) to reach the springs of the Mississippi.
He (though he had) reached them at Lake Julia (Minnesota) in late August 1823. Today, the actual source of the Mississippi is considered to be Lake Itasca, though maybe he had some reasons for his claim, because the Mississippi basin is extremely complicated (and may have changed over time), and *the* spring depends upon how you define it: the farthest away from the river's mouth, the largest one, etc.; indeed, the source found by Beltrami (which are in lake Julia, named after Giulia Spada de’ Medici) are considered one of the many sources of the Mississippi, just not the "main" one (the farthest from the mouth). Anyway, few people gave him recognition for his expedition, and it was only after his death that he gained some. He got some recognition at first, but then, also due to his temper, he got less and less and grew bitter about that.
Anyway, much more important than the geographical discoveries, was his interest in the native American people and culture, in a time when nobody else cared about them. He lived among them, learned about their culture, described them, brought back a great amount of valuable Indian artifacts (not just war items, as was usual then, but also many objects from everyday life), and he compiled the first dictionary of the Sioux language.
His achievements were recognized and studied both by people in Minnesota - they named "Beltrami County" after him - and in Italy - both in Bergamo where he was born, and in Filottrano (central Italy) where he lived for many years.
After the expedition on the Mississippi, he explored Mexico, Haiti, and Canada, and then got back to England, France, Germany, and finally to central Italy, where he spent his last years.

The author of the song would like to make a singable English version because of the many people in the US who still remember and study Beltrami’s expedition. Both the Smithsonian Institution and some Ojibwe people have shown interest in Beltrami through the years, and have collaborated with the Caffi Museum in Bergamo which exhibits many of the items that Beltrami brought back from his expeditions.

If you'd like to delve into the details of the expedition, the best (though time-consuming) way to do it, is by having a look at Beltrami's own travel diary: "A pilgrimage in Europe and America leading to the discovery of the sources of the Mississippi and Bloody River" []
Other references: [in Italian] [in Italian] [in Italian]

About the language: the song is sung as if Beltrami himself is speaking. Beltrami knew the dialect of Bergamo; he knew Italian, but since he lived in Bergamo way before a standard Italian was widespread among the population, and then he lived in central Italy, and also because he was a cultured man, I have no idea what Italian accent he might have had. He also knew French, Latin, and Greek very well, and studied English. However, when he first set foot in England, he could make no sense whatsoever of what people were saying, because he just knew English from books, and English spelling and pronunciation are - let's say - a bit different.
Anyway, I think he learned English quite well, since he published his books in French and in English, and because he spent probably more than two years between England and the US.
All of this was to say: what should the English language in the song sound like? Well, 1800s American English would be perfect I think, though modern General American is fine too. I have no skills to make the song sound like it's from an 1800s American frontiersman, so right now it's just in General American (that was my intention at least). It could also be more Italian-like (especially in the pronunciation), but I don't know what impression it would make on the listener. Mind this: he was from northern Italy, so he sounded nothing like mafia movie gangsters, or the Sopranos, or practically any of the Italian Americans that the average English speaker may be familiar with. As I said, I don't know what his accent was, but you can picture something between standard Italian and the songs in Lombard (more specifically Bergamasque) that you can find on Lyrics Translate (you can find quite a few by Luciano Ravasio, as well as by other artists).
If you have any suggestion about grammar, vocabulary, slang, idioms or anything else to improve the song, as well as entirely different lines, it will all be very welcome. I'd also like to hear what you think should be the pronunciation: as English-like as the singer can achieve, or very Italian-heavy?


Here's the draft for the song.
You can find it in a document at this link (with variations and comments; you need to download it to read it properly):
It's much better to look at that document; anyway, I'm posting here the "main version":

My name is Beltrami,
I traveled the course
of the Father of Rivers
right up to its source.
I loved my torn country
- and fought for it too -
but thirst for adventure
led me among the Sioux.

I pursued ideals,
I wished I could know
the tree and the land
where liberty grows.
From natives I learned
that it blooms in our heart,
if you dig too deep
you will tear it apart.

At the turn of the century
I cried "liberté!",
the French and Napoleon
would show us the way.
And when he was sentenced,
as a rebel I fought
for our independence,
and almost got caught.

I fled, went abroad
to escape an ill fate;
I had – well past 40 –
to start on clean slate.
Old Europe had settled
on those same old themes;
America, instead,
was a land for new dreams.

In place of Louisiana
– that was my final goal –
I switched to exploring
and set out for a "stroll".
I headed upstream
with nice General Clark
to map the Mississippi
and – yes – to make my mark.

I boarded the first ferry
– St. Louis and steaming on –
to sail fast up those waters
of which I grew so fond.
I joined with the party
of the gruff Major Long,
but then our ways parted
– we could not get along.

With just my canoe
I followed, alone,
the path the rushing water
had carved into stone.
I hunted and paddled,
defied Bloody River,
through forests so gorgeous
they caused me to shiver.

The solitude taught me,
while I was its guest,
what meant to be happy;
then back to my quest.
Towards the Red Lake,
deep through uncharted land;
my red silk umbrella
and rifle at hand.

Five months' worth of labor
to pick its sweet fruits,
but, finally, I got
to the Great River's roots.
They drew from a lake
- a true piece of art -
I named after Julia,
my lovely sweetheart.

Yet, my great endeavor
was deemed a mere scam,
I just got derided
– they called me a sham.
Things changed with my death,
and now they believe;
that's why Beltrami County
was named after me.

Though now I can relish
the sky prairie sun,
I embark on new ventures
and it is so much fun.


Many many thanks to all of you who have kept with me this far, and for all that you will contribute!

Editor and Incorrigable
Joined: 03.06.2016

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