Posts Tagged ‘Giacomo Leopardi’

Giacomo Taldegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi
(June 29 1798 – June 14 1837)























Reading by Maddalena Balsamo.








Il Sabato del villaggio      

La donzelletta vien dalla campagna
in sul calar del sole,
col suo fascio dell’erba; e reca in mano
un mazzolin di rose e viole,
onde, siccome suole, ornare ella si appresta
dimani, al dí di festa, il petto e il crine.
Siede con le vicine
su la scala a filar la vecchierella,
incontro là dove si perde il giorno;
e novellando vien del suo buon tempo,
quando ai dí della festa ella si ornava,
ed ancor sana e snella
solea danzar la sera intra di quei
ch’ebbe compagni nell’età piú bella.

Già tutta l’aria imbruna,
torna azzurro il sereno, e tornan l’ombre  
giú da’ colli e da’ tetti,
al biancheggiar della recente luna.
Or la squilla dà segno
della festa che viene;
ed a quel suon diresti
che il cor si riconforta.
I fanciulli gridando
su la piazzuola in frotta,
e qua e là saltando,
fanno un lieto romore;
e intanto riede alla sua parca mensa,
fischiando, il zappatore,
e seco pensa al dí del suo riposo.


Poi quando intorno è spenta ogni altra face,
e tutto l’altro tace,
odi il martel picchiare, odi la sega
del legnaiuol, che veglia
nella chiusa bottega alla lucerna,
e s’affretta, e s’adopra
di fornir l’opra anzi al chiarir dell’alba.

Questo di sette è il più gradito giorno,
pien di speme e di gioia:
diman tristezza e noia
recheran l’ore, ed al travaglio usato
ciascuno in suo pensier farà ritorno.



Garzoncello scherzoso,
cotesta età fiorita
è come un giorno d’allegrezza pieno,
giorno chiaro, sereno,
che precorre alla festa di tua vita.          
Godi, fanciullo mio; stato soave,
stagion lieta è cotesta.
Altro dirti non vo’; ma la tua festa
ch’anco tardi a venir non ti sia grave.






 Settembre 28,1829.













Saturday Evening in the Village.                       


The young girl comes from the fields
about the set of sun,
bearing her swath of grass, and in her hand
a bunch of roses and violets,
as is her custom, for,
tomorrow’s holiday
to make more beautiful her breast and hair.

And the old woman sits
upon the steps among her neighbours, spinning 
turning herself to where the day goes down,
and telling tales how she,in better times,
decked herself out for the holiday,
and graceful still,and fresh,
would dance the evening through among the rest,
who were companions of her lovely prime.
Now the air and sky grow dark,
take on a deeper blue,and shadows fall
cast by the roofs and hills
beneath the whiteness of the rising moon.

And now the bell proclaims                                     
The holy day’s approach,
and at the sound,it seems,
each heart is cheered once more.
The small boys shouting in troops
about the village square
go leaping hither and thither
and make a cheerful noise;
meanwhile  the labourer goes whistling home,
back to his frugal meal,
and thinks about the coming day of rest.
When every other light around is out,
all other sound is mute,
hark to the hammer knocking,and the saw –
the carpenter is up,
working by lamplight in his shuttered shop,             
and labours on, in haste
to get all finished before the morning comes.

This is the best-loved day of all the week,
most full of hope and joy;
the morrow will be back
sadness and tedium, and each within his thought
returns once more to find his usual labour.

You little playful boy,
even this your flowering time
is like a day filled up with grace and joy –
a clear, calm day that comes
as a precursor to life’s festival.
Be happy little lad;
a joyful time  is this.
More I’d not tell you; but if your holiday
seems somewhat tardy yet, let not that grieve you.














September 28, 1829.

Translation John Heath Stubbs.




Perhaps a long evening spent standing on his balcony, watching the steady rhythms of village life unfold, gave rise to this dreamy inward looking poem, written by Giacomo Leopardi when he was thirty years old. As always, a deep sadness underlies his observations and musings. In the course of an evening the succession of images passing before him, of ordinary people going about their lives, inspires within him a  feeling of participation. He seems to catch the sense of their thoughts and motivations, their hopes, their musings and anticipations, the memories of their pasts, and their dreams. The flowers the young girl is taking home will be placed in cool water to be kept fresh for the morning, when they will be braided into her hair and adorn her dress. The old woman, for whom youth is now only a memory, recalls the joys of her her girlhood, when she was nimble and rejoiced in the gaiety of dance. The labourer returning to his rustic home leaves behind him a week of hard work, and looks forward to the satisfaction of sitting down to a simple meal. All these tender speculations add an extension to the present moment, and at the same time  permit an innocent intrusion into other lives – lives which are invested with clear and uncomplicated purpose.  One feels Leopardi reaching out in an effort to connect himself with a sense of the authentically lived human life which he himself seems to lack.

But nothing about Leopardi is as simple as it seems. The roses and violets the young girl takes home are the stuff of his imagination. Roses may bloom in September – but I can firmly attest to the fact that violets are flowers of spring, for I see them blooming now in my late March garden. Even if he could hear the receding whistle of the labourer, the old lady at her spinning wheel cannot be within earshot – a courtyard and a village square separates her from Leopardi.

I cannot escape the feeling that this poem of Leopardi’s echos the images of at least two others. The workman returning home late after a days work or at the end of the work week has a special significance for Leopardi. He is the relic of a childhood memory: it is the song of a workman Leopardi hears as a boy as he lies sleepless in his bed; and a workman appears again in “The Evening of the Holiday” (La sera del dì di festa), whistling on his way home from a hard day’s work. Spinning and weaving – those quintessentially feminine tasks, heavy with the fateful significance of which Leopardi must have been aware, and his covert observations of “Silvia” have her toiling over her loom, even as the old lady in this poem reminisces over her spinning.  All this suggests to me a persistence of memory and imagery which insists on surfacing through the depths of his imagination when he is in in a relaxed and receptive state –which is to say, when a poem begins to take shape in his mind.

Poems for Leopardi are litanies of loss. Youth and beauty with their terrible burden of ephemeralness, and incipient pain are full of sweetness and longing. One can never, it seems, be experienced without the other. And yet one feels Leopardi’s passionate longing to try to hold on to them – and to cry out in pain as they slip through his grasp. He feels as if his own youth has passed him by, even though (even at a time when life-spans were not as long as they are now) thirty could not be said to be any great age. What Leopardi cannot bring himself to say is that it is not his youth per se which has deserted him, but his soundness of body, for in early adolescence the signs of the disability which was to disfigure and distort his body had made their baneful appearance.

Leopardi went to his grave believing he became a hunchback as a result of his strenuous studies, but we now know it was not studying which left him frail, bent-over and stunted at a height of about four feet six inches  (1.41 metres) tall, but tuberculosis of the bones. He had hoped his brilliant mind would compensate for these disfigurements, and that once the world recognised the extent of his intellect he would win both fame and fortune, but sadly this was not to be. Instead he found that he was barely noticed except by a few, and instead of becoming a man of independent means, he was to remain for the rest of his live humiliatingly dependent on his father for his finances.

The finality of these several disappointments would have been crushing for a much more stalwart soul (and body) but to Leopardi they were almost unbearable. Life seems to have become for him something he could experience only vicariously, hence the longing with which he reaches out to it through the authenticity of other people’s experience, knowing all the while it could never be claimed by him directly. This is the well-spring of Leopardi’s awesome power as a writer, a thinker and a poet, and at the same time the source of his tragic weakness – that he could feel so well what he could never possess.

Leopardi spent his early years longing to escape the odious provinciality and restrictiveness of his home town Recanati, situated as it was in the papal Marches, and under the intractable influence of the church. When he finally escaped to Rome, and later to Bologna, he found them not to his liking either: it was to the scenes of his  childhood that his poetic mind repeatedly returned.  His mind oscillated between love and hate, deploring and romanticising in turn the very place he found both unbearable and inescapable.

The ending of this poem in a sense encapsulates this contradiction. His poem “Le ricordanze” (“Memories”)  is in equal parts tender and scathing in its recollections. The playful boy to whom he addresses his final remark, in “Il Sabato del villaggio” must have reminded him of the boys who pelted rocks at him and knocked off his hat, screaming ” hunchback” at him all the while. Now as he remembers how he watched the boys at play on a late Saturday evening, he cannot restrain himself from uttering a veiled malediction. He cannot say it outright, but he knows, as they do not, that their joys will soon pass, as did his own.

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Giacomo Leopardi (June 29 1798 – June 14 1837)
















Silvia, do you remember then
That time of your life
When beauty glistened
In your laughing and darting eyes,
And you, joyful and pensive, climbed over
The threshold of your youth?

Ringing through the quiet chamber
Resounding all the way around
Was your perpetual song.
Then when intent at your womanly task
You sat – content enough
With those hazy thoughts of things to come.
It was that scented May, when you
Thus passed the day.

I at my trifling studies
At times left off my sweaty papers
Where the commencement of my first youth
And youthful brilliance of my better days I spent
On the balconies of my paternal home
Lending my ears to the sound of your voice
And to your swift-moving hand
Across the wearying threads.
I gazed at the sky serene
The golden byways, and the courtyard-gardens
And there the far-off sea and here the hills.
No mortal tongue could speak
The feelings in my breast.

What lovely dreams,
What hopes, what hearts O my Silvia.
How they appeared to us
This human life – and fate!
When I recall to myself how grand those hopes
A tenderness takes me
Bitter and disconsolate
And turns me to deplore my baneful fate.
O Nature, O nature,
Why do you not then give
That which you promised then? Why to such a degree
Do you beguile your children?

You, before the grass withered in winter
Were locked in the malady which assailed and overcame you,
You perished, O tender one, and never glimpsed
The very flower of your years.
Nor was your heart to soften
At the praise now of your raven hair
And of your glance, demure, enamoured,
Nor with your girlfriends on a festive day
Were you to speak of love.

It perished too with me,
My sweet hopes of younger years
And too, the Fates negated
My time of youth. Alas, how –
How have you passed away
Dear companion of my early days.
My tear-soaked hopes
Here in this world – and there
The joys of love, of work, and of events
About which we talked so much together?
Is such the destiny of us human beings?
For when the truth appeared
You, poor abject one, succumbed: and with the hand
Of frosty death, to a naked tomb
From afar pointed the way.



Translation Dia Tsung.














Silvia, rimembri ancora
Quel tempo della tua vita mortale,
Quando beltà splendea
Negli occhi tuoi ridenti e fuggitivi,
E tu, lieta e pensosa, il limitare
Di gioventù salivi?

Sonavan le quiete
Stanze, e le vie dintorno,
Al tuo perpetuo canto,
Allor che all’opre femminili intenta
Sedevi, assai contenta
Di quel vago avvenir che in mente avevi.
Era il maggio odoroso: e tu solevi
Così menare il giorno.

Io, gli studi leggiadri
Talor lasciando e le sudate carte,
Ove il tempo mio primo
E di me si spendea la miglior parte,
D’ in su i veroni del paterno ostello
Porgea gli orecchi al suon della tua voce,
Ed alla man veloce
Che percorrea la faticosa tela.
Mirava il ciel sereno,
Le vie dorate e gli orti,
E quinci il mar da lungi, e quindi il monte.
Lingua mortal non dice
Quel ch’io sentiva in seno.

Che pensieri soavi,
Che speranze, che cori, o Silvia mia!
Quale allor ci apparia
La vita umana e il fato!
Quando sovviemmi di cotanta speme,
Un affetto mi preme
Acerbo e sconsolato,
E tornami a doler di mia sventura.
O natura, o natura,
Perché non rendi poi
Quel che prometti allor? perché di tanto
Inganni i figli tuoi?

Tu, pria che l’erbe inaridisse il verno,
Da chiuso morbo combattuta e vinta,
Perivi, o tenerella. E non vedevi
Il fior degli anni tuoi;
Non ti molceva il core
La dolce lode or delle negre chiome,
Or degli sguardi innamorati e schivi;
Né teco le compagne ai dì festivi
Ragionavan d’amore.

Anche peria fra poco
La speranze mia dolce: agli anni miei
Anche negaro i fati
La giovanezza. Ahi, come,
Come passata sei,
Cara compagna dell’età mia nova,
Mia lacrimata speme!
Questo è quel mondo? questi
I diletti, l’amor, l’opre, gli eventi,
Onde cotanto ragionammo insieme?
Questa la sorte dell’ umane genti?
All’apparir del vero
Tu, misera, cadesti; e con la mano
La fredda morte ed una tomba ignuda
Mostravi di lontano.














I have quailed mightily and hesitated long before daring to publish a post – let alone a translation –  of this poem, which is probably the most famous of all Italian poems, Giacomo Leopardi’s  “To Sylvia”. There is no translation in existence which can do it justice, nor will there ever be,  and for that reason I had not even thought to attempt one of my own. But then I looked at the version done by John Heath Stubbs, by far the ablest translator of Leopardi’s work, (since he alone above all the better known and lauded contemporary translators of Leopardi,  comes the closest in tone and sense and evocation to the thoughts and feelings the original evokes) and it occurred to me to have some different thoughts….

One of the greatest problems in translating Leopardi, is the choice one has to make, between creating something which is an English poem, or an Italian one. The temptation to make it ‘English’ is very great indeed, because the thoughts and sentiments lend themselves to such a rich expression, but Leopardi is not a rich or a  lush writer. He is thrifty and abstemious, and any translator who respects and admires the original must needs exercise  enormous restraint at every step, even at the expense of beauty, and this I have tried to do.

As I proceeded  phrase by phrase and word by word, I began to wonder particularly about the cosmic images Leopardi could not have known about or imagined, but which I suspect would have afforded him the greatest pleasure to contemplate – the black holes in galactic centres, swirling the stars around the space beyond their event horizons. Black holes with their infinite mass and invulnerability to time, the eternal dark divinities which create immeasurable amounts of heat and light from the swirling dust and clouds of stars entrapped around them,  and feed for eons on that which they excite – until they too fall into the endless quiescence which is the most potent simulacrum of living death the universe contains.

In a sense, I feel that Leopardi’s mind too was a kind of black hole, but one from which thoughts were emitted in a steady stream. His thoughts, poems, disputations, pedagogical work, translations and letters escaped the fearful gravity of his heavy heart, and found their expression in his writing.

For Leopardi truth is an apparition of death, but such an image need not daunt us, for the voracity of death, like the voracity of black holes, is at the heart of every conception of  life, and of mortality – and the awareness of our mortality serves us  as an aid to live with an awareness of the fleeting nature of time.





The villa in Torre del Greco where Leopardi spend his summers, and where he died.

“there are two truths which most men will never believe: one, that they know nothing, and the other, that they are nothing. And there is a third which proceeds from the second—that there is nothing to hope for after death…. all the vain hopes with which men comfort children and themselves, all foolish consolations,”

“Works of genius, have this intrinsic quality, that even when they capture exactly the nothingness of things, or vividly reveal and make us feel life’s inevitable unhappiness, or express the most acute hopelessness…they are always a source of consolation and renewed enthusiasm.”

Leopardi – from his notebook of 3000 odd pages, Zibaldone.

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Giacomo Leopardi (June 29th 1798 - June 14th 1837)
















The Evening After the Holy Day.












The night is soft and clear, and no wind blows;
The quiet moon stands over roofs and orchards
Revealing from afar each peaceful hill.
Beloved, now every alleyway is silent;
At intervals along the balconies
The night-long lantern gleams; you are asleep,
And gentle slumber now gathers about
Your quiet chamber, and no single care
Gnaws at your heart; you do not know at all,
Nor think that you have opened in my breast
A very grievous wound. You are asleep:
And I have come abroad now to salute
This sky whose aspect seems to be so gentle,
And ancient Nature powerful over all,
Who has fashioned me for trouble. “I deny
All hope to you,” she has said, “Yes, even hope;
Your eyes shall not be bright for any cause,
Except for weeping.” This was a festal day:
And you are resting after its delights;
And maybe in your dreams you still remember
How many eyes took pleasure in your beauty,
How many, too, pleased you:  I find no place–
Not that I hoped it now–among your thoughts.
Meantime, I ask how many years of life
Remain to me, and therefore here I cast
Myself upon the ground, and cry, and rage.
Oh, terrible days, even off our green youth!
Alas, I hear not far along the road,
The lonely singing of a workman, coming
Back to his poor home so late at night,
After the sports; and fiercely my heart aches,
Thinking how all this world passes away
And leaves no trace. For look, the festival
Is over now, and ordinary day
Succeeds tomorrow; all things our race has known
Time likewise bears away. Where now is the voice
Of the ancient peoples,  the clamor of our ancestors
Who were renowned, and that great Empire of Rome,
The arms, and the clash they made by land and sea?
All is silence and peace; the world is still;
There are no tidings now remained of them.
Once in my boyhood, when so eagerly
We would look forward to the holiday,
Finding it over, I lay upon my bed,
Wakeful and very unhappy; late at night
A singing heard along the alleyways,
Little by little dying into the distance,
Even as this does now, gripped at my heart.







Translation by John Heath Stubbs









































La sera del dì di festa


Dolce e chiara è la notte e senza vento,
E queta sovra i tetti e in mezzo agli orti
Posa la luna, e di lontan rivela
Serena ogni montagna. O donna mia,
Già tace ogni sentiero, e pei balconi
Rara traluce la notturna lampa:
Tu dormi, che t’accolse agevol sonno
Nelle tue chete stanze; e non ti morde
Cura nessuna; e già non sai nè pensi
Quanta piaga m’apristi in mezzo al petto.
Tu dormi: io questo ciel, che sì benigno
Appare in vista, a salutar m’affaccio,
E l’antica natura onnipossente,
Che mi fece all’affanno. A te la speme
Nego, mi disse, anche la speme; e d’altro
Non brillin gli occhi tuoi se non di pianto.
Questo dì fu solenne: or da’ trastulli
Prendi riposo; e forse ti rimembra
In sogno a quanti oggi piacesti, e quanti
Piacquero a te: non io, non già, ch’io speri,
Al pensier ti ricorro. Intanto io chieggo
Quanto a viver mi resti, e qui per terra
Mi getto, e grido, e fremo. Oh giorni orrendi
In così verde etate! Ahi, per la via
Odo non lunge il solitario canto
Dell’artigian, che riede a tarda notte,
Dopo i sollazzi, al suo povero ostello;
E fieramente mi si stringe il core,
A pensar come tutto al mondo passa,
E quasi orma non lascia. Ecco è fuggito
Il dì festivo, ed al festivo il giorno
Volgar succede, e se ne porta il tempo
Ogni umano accidente. Or dov’è il suono
Di que’ popoli antichi? or dov’è il grido
De’ nostri avi famosi, e il grande impero
Di quella Roma, e l’armi, e il fragorio
Che n’andò per la terra e l’oceano?
Tutto è pace e silenzio, e tutto posa
Il mondo, e più di lor non si ragiona.
Nella mia prima età, quando s’aspetta
Bramosamente il dì festivo, or poscia
Ch’egli era spento, io doloroso, in veglia,
Premea le piume; ed alla tarda notte
Un canto che s’udia per li sentieri
Lontanando morire a poco a poco,
Già similmente mi stringeva il core.




























Gazing at the moon is always a hazardous business, because moonlight has the power to sweep the mind away. We are all creatures of the moon,  for without her, life here on earth would be wildly impossible.

But it is only in recent times that scientists have revealed to us that the moon is a regulator – not only of tides and lunar cycles, but of the vast meteorological irregularities, inimical and  potentially fatal to life on earth, that would occur without the irresistible pull of its steady predictable gravitational magic.

For poets, the moon is the Muse herself – and her power over the human mind is uncanny and unsettling.

Our forebears supposed that the full moon, and its light, could turn a man into a wolf, or summon the vampires out from their shadowy crypts  in order to feed on the blood of the unwary or unfortunate – and we in turn believe the emergency room medics and the ambulance drivers and the night patrols of police departments when they tell us that the full moon brings with it a predictable increase in human lunacy.  My grandmother (who was born a hundred and twenty one years ago this November 6th)  would discourage my gazing at the moon through the skylight over her bed, because she felt that such an activity could make me a lunatic, and I sometimes think that she might have been on to something….

This belief is echoed in an unforgettable story by Luigi Pirandello called ‘Moon Sickness’, and forms a segment in a cycle of his Sicilian stories in the film Kaos so named in homage to Sicily’s Greek origins – since Kaos is Greek for ‘chaos’.

In ‘La sera del dì di festa’ we find once again that the Muse has caused Leopardi to succumb to her entrancement, as he gazes out, perhaps on a fine Summer night, at the still and almost unearthly sense that moonlight inspires when it  has shed its equivocal luminosity over the  world of rooftops and orchards.

This is Recanati in 1819. Leopardi is 21 years old, and the feast day of some saint is over – and along with it all the festivities of the day. In the still windless night, Leopardi decides to take a walk, and as he looks up at the balconies and windows he passes, in his mind’s eye penetrates the shutters and curtains to see into the room, where he imagines his beloved lying asleep.

As he gazes at her sleeping form – his mind replays the events of the day – and he ponders, no doubt with some considerable anxiety,   how many admirers might have gazed with pleasure at this lovely woman –  and much more disturbingly –  on how many of them she herself might have been pleased to gaze.

He knows, with a bitter conviction, that her gaze would never have been pleased to fall on him. And here she is, sleeping sweetly and innocently with not  the trace of a disturbing thought or dream to ruffle her slumber,  while he, sleepless and troubled, confronts the lonely secrets of the night.

But then Leopardi’s thoughts begin to turn away from his beloved and instead to focus on his own unhappy fate, as a lover whose feelings are not only unrequited, but are unknown and perhaps not even guessed at by the girl who has so completely captured his heart. He thinks of his own mortality (death was never far off from Leopardi’s thoughts, and indeed he would not live to be 40) and in the grip of a  terrible anguish he bemoans his lot of hopelessness and tears. The clear peacefulness of the night is shattered, the rapturous beauty of his sleeping love is forgotten, and  an inner torment replaces both.

Then suddenly, in an extravagantly melodramatic gesture he flings himself on the ground (no easy task for the little hunchback that he is) and surrenders to crying and rage.

But then he hears the voice of a workman singing a song as he returns, late at night, after a day of merriment, and perhaps the better for a few glasses of wine, back to his humble home.

By the time this intrusion has occurred, Leopardi’s trance has long since faded.  The first serious disruption occurred when his transcending gaze veered abruptly away from its deeply engaged immersion at the sight of his beautiful sleeping Muse, to contemplating instead his own foredoomed wretchedness.

As the voice draws nearer he finds he must hastily scramble up from the dirt, lest he humiliate himself by being spotted lying prone, and weeping and thrashing about, on a country road, by one of the local peasants. Now the last filmy threads connecting Leopardi to his magical poetic inspiration are irrevocably snapped.

As he hurriedly stands up and brushes the leaves and twigs and cold dribbles of humus from his old coat, Leopardi’s mind probably begins to preoccupy itself with thoughts of his own social standing and the dignity required of him as the son of a count.

From there it is is no more than a single mincing step to begin cobbling together some respectably lofty concepts about Rome’s former greatness, and how it has faded and passed away even as the peasant’s brief day of leisure.

The fleeting and ephemeral nature of time is always a safe bet for the kinds of pronouncements that are most likely to be taken seriously at face-value.  Observations such as this can after all be so easily be spun into seeming both sentimental and profound, even though they are quite empty of any real insight, and are in fact merely rhetorical.

This inability to trust in the validity and sufficiency of the personal, and instead choose to buttress it with themes that aspire to abstract formulations, is something that surfaces repeatedly in Leopardi’s poems. When he chooses – or succumbs –  to an impulse  (it is difficult to determine which) and permits the intrusion of rhetoric and reason  into a sphere where intuition has been holding beautiful sway, he himself introduces the wolf-note into tuning,

But the spell of the moon lingers in Leopardi’s mind – and perhaps the song that he hears fading away into the night is one that he knew himself and heard sung in his childhood.  Maybe the words of that song were genuinely poetic – as folk songs frequently tend to be –  and so there is found an unexpected little redemption.

So Leopardi gently eases himself  away from the unmanageable emotional vicissitudes of adult passion to the dreamy diffusions of childhood – when while lying in his upstairs bedroom, wakeful and enveloped in childish sorrow, he heard the fading notes of a song sung by someone walking along the alley expire into the silence of the night – and so recognizes the  same feeling of utter and immeasurable sadness shooting out its unswerving tentacle of pain from past to present, to clutch convulsively at his heart.











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Le Ricordanze / Memories (excerpt)

Le Ricordanze.

Né mi diceva il cor che l’età verde
Sarei dannato a consumare in questo
30Natio borgo selvaggio, intra una gente
Zotica, vil; cui nomi strani, e spesso
Argomento di riso e di trastullo,
Son dottrina e saper; che m’odia e fugge,
Per invidia non già, che non mi tiene
35Maggior di sé, ma perché tale estima
Ch’io mi tenga in cor mio, sebben di fuori
A persona giammai non ne fo segno.
Qui passo gli anni, abbandonato, occulto,
Senz’amor, senza vita; ed aspro a forza
40Tra lo stuol de’ malevoli divengo:
Qui di pietà mi spoglio e di virtudi,
E sprezzator degli uomini mi rendo,
Per la greggia ch’ho appresso: e intanto vola
Il caro tempo giovanil; più caro
45Che la fama e l’allor, più che la pura
Luce del giorno, e lo spirar: ti perdo
Senza un diletto, inutilmente, in questo
Soggiorno disumano, intra gli affanni,
O dell’arida vita unico fiore.


For my heart never told me my green age
Was doomed to waste here, in this barbarous town
Where I was born, with cheap, boorish people,
Who hold in no repute learning or knowledge,
(Often indeed their jest, a thing to laugh at.)
They do not judge me better than themselves  –
But they suppose that in my heart I think so,
Although I never showed it any man.
And so I pass the years,  alone, obscure,
Loveless and lifeless; and I am forced to grow
Bitter myself, with this malignant crowd
And putting off my pity and my manhood
I make myself despise the human race,
Even as this herd has taught me; and meanwhile,
The dear season of youth is passing – dearer
Than laureled fame, as the clear light of day,
Than breath itself – and so it is I lose you,
Having reaped not one delight, and all things wasted,
In this inhuman spot, among afflictions,
O solitary flower of barren life!

Translation John Heath Stubbs

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Formerly in the Salt collection

Portrait of a woman in encaustic on limewood.

















Thus you were once, who now lie buried:
Dust and skeleton become. Now earth and clay upon your bones are heaped.
Motionless, positioned here in vain,
mute, gazing at the fleeting ages,
endures alone a solitary memory;
a grieving likeness, the sentinel
of beauty now stripped away. Those honeyed looks –
as even now your gaze suggests
which  set at once to trembling
the one they did transfix; Those lips
replete and filled with pleasure to brimming,
the steep waves spilling as from an urn which overflows.
The throat, in former times encircled by desire,
that most beloved hand, which cooled to clasp
the icy-cold and trembling hand it thrilled;
the breast to glance at which it seemed
the gazer with a visible pallor tinged….
That was a time that was. Now you are clay
and bones; a sight
reviled and piteous a stone conceals.

Thus does Fate reduce
what once appeared amongst us to be most vibrant and living….
A celestial image, and the eternal mystery
of our very beings. Today the unstoppable font
of immense exalted thoughts and senses,
and puissant beauty which towers over us,
seeming to thrill with splendour.
The steadfast token and the hope secure
of the immortal nature of our estate
and surpassing  fate,
of fortunes that would reign, and gilded worlds
bestowed upon our mortal nature,
tomorrow, by some slight, contrived pretext
makes defiling to the sight,
transforms what hitherto
had almost an angel seemed,
and from our minds together
that which so moving was:
The admirable conceits which delighted, suddenly vanish.

The infinite desires and lofty visions
created by pervading thoughts
and erudite concepts of intrinsic virtue,
seem as the swells of a delicious arcane sea
amidst which the human spirit drifts and wanders,
almost as an intrepid swimmer
disports himself among the billows.
But should one false note
assail the ear, it vitiates all –
turns paradise to naught within an instant.
How could this be so of human nature?
If it is found in all things to be weak and vile
and merely dust and shadows,
whence such lofty feelings?
But if it is born of something noble and gracious
as our most worthy thoughts and motives,
how could they, by such slight and insubstantial causes,
be by such means as this enkindled and snuffed out?


Translation Dia Tsung

Giacomo Leopardi

















Tal fosti: or qui sotterra
Polve e scheletro sei. Su l’ossa e il fango
Immobilmente collocato invano,
Muto, mirando dell’etadi il volo,
Sta, di memoria solo
E di dolor custode, il simulacro
Della scorsa beltà. Quel dolce sguardo,
Che tremar fe’, se, come or sembra, immoto
In altrui s’affisò; quel labbro, ond’alto
Par, come d’urna piena,
Traboccare il piacer; quel collo, cinto
Già di desio; quell’amorosa mano,
Che spesso, ove fu porta,
Sentì gelida far la man che strinse;
E il seno, onde la gente
Visibilmente di pallor si tinse,
Furo alcun tempo: or fango
Ed ossa sei: la vista
Vituperosa e trista un sasso asconde.

Così riduce il fato
Qual sembianza fra noi parve più viva
Immagine del ciel. Misterio eterno
Dell’esser nostro. Oggi d’eccelsi, immensi
Pensieri e sensi inenarrabil fonte,
Beltà grandeggia, e pare,
Quale splendor vibrato
Da natura immortal su queste arene,
Di sovrumani fati,
Di fortunati regni e d’aurei mondi
Segno e sicura spene
Dare al mortale stato:
Diman, per lieve forza,
Sozzo a vedere, abominoso, abbietto
Divien quel che fu dianzi
Quasi angelico aspetto,
E dalle menti insieme
Quel che da lui moveva
Ammirabil concetto, si dilegua.

Desiderii infiniti
E visioni altere
Crea nel vago pensiere,
Per natural virtù, dotto concento;
Onde per mar delizioso, arcano
Erra lo spirto umano,
Quasi come a diporto
Ardito notator per l’Oceano:
Ma se un discorde accento
Fere l’orecchio, in nulla
Torna quel paradiso in un momento.

Natura umana, or come,
Se frale in tutto e vile,
Se polve ed ombra sei, tant’alto senti?
Se in parte anco gentile,
Come i più degni tuoi moti e pensieri
Son così di leggeri
Da sì basse cagioni e desti e spenti?

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