A poem written by Dario Fo, "The legend of the oyster and the pearl", text here (included in the play Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe) ends with the lines

di morte nel pallore
lei perla diventò.

(Of death in pallor / she became pearl.)

It seems to me that the meaning here is that the woman finally becomes immortal, i.e., she is the mother-of-pearl (with the pallor of death) that is transformed into an immortal pearl inside the oyster.

I like this interpretation, but is it the one intended by the author? Viewing the whole play in English is too much for me right now. So, are there any scholarly references that help clarify the matter?

1 Answer 1


I think there is an alternative and perhaps more compelling reading of the lines, but before I get to that I'd like to include more of the verse (translated to English) from which your extract is taken:

He plummeted with her, his arms around her,
He, black as an oyster,
and with her he sank,
She, pale as mother of pearl.
The black man, on the sea bed
closed like an oyster,
And in the pallor of death,
she became a pearl.

So, about pearl and oyster metaphors for interpreting this verse:

First, pearls are rare commodities; most oysters never form pearls. True love likewise is a rare event.

Second, there is a close intimate relationship between the oyster and the pearl hidden away in its interior in the way of a close loving and inseparable bond.

Thus, as the young Tunisian ("black as an oyster") and the white Leonora ("fairer than the fair") in their mutual dying embrace sink into the sea, they become the oyster and pearl.

Third metaphor: The external appearance of the oyster gives no clue as to the "magnolia" white pearl within its interior: so perhaps this is making the point to look deeper beyond external appearances to appreciate the true reality.

  • Nice reading. So through their death they transform their temporality into an immortal non-temporal bond, perhaps.
    – exp8j
    Sep 29, 2023 at 6:52
  • 1
    Yes @exp8j a bond of eternal love : you would after all need an oyster knife to prise open the oyster to gain its pearl !
    – schweppz
    Sep 29, 2023 at 7:58

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