No Comment, Quotation — November 18, 2011, 4:43 pm

Leopardi: The Eve of the Feast Day

alma_tadema_spring

Ecco è fuggito
Il dì festivo, ed al festivo il giorno
Volgar succede, e si travolge il tempo
Ogni umano accidente. Or dov’è ’l suono
Di que’ popoli antichi? or dov’è ’l grido
De’ nostri avi famosi, e ’l grande impero
Di quella Roma, e l’armi, e ’l fragorio
Che n’andò per la terra e l’oceano?
Tutto è silenzio e pace, e tutto cheto
È ’l mondo, e più di lor non si favella.
Ne la mia prima età, quando s’aspetta
Bramosamente il dì festivo, or poscia
Ch’egli era spento, io doloroso e desto
Premea le piume; e per la muta notte
Questo canto ch’udia per lo sentiero
Lontanando morire a poco a poco,
Al modo istesso mi stringeva il core.

Behold, the feast day
Has passed, an ordinary day comes in its wake,
While all trace of humanity is disposed by time. Where now
The clamor of ancient peoples? Where the renown
Of celebrated ancestors, the great imperium of
Rome, and her armies, and the ruckus
She made both on land and at sea?
Now all is peace and silence,
The world is at rest, speaking no more of them.
In my youth, in the days when
We awaited the feast day with impatience, afterwards
I would lie awake filled with sorrow,
And late at night I’d hear singing on the road,
Decaying in the distance, bit by bit,
But penetrating my heart just the same.

Giacomo Leopardi, the conclusion from La sera del giorno festivo (1818) first published in Versi: Idillio II (1826)(S.H. transl.)


In his Anatomy of Influence, Harold Bloom places Leopardi firmly in the tradition of Lucretius, an observation that many have made before, and that anyone familiar with Leopardi’s life would expect. He was so partial to Lucretius that he even contemplated writing a continuation of De rerum natura.

The quoted passage, from one of Leopardi’s more important poems, shows the Lucretian influence in full force: we see the poet dazzled by the pageant of life seen on a near-cosmic scale, stretching over ages and great masses of land and water. It is fathomless, beautiful after a manner, but also difficult to embrace and rationalize intellectually. The poem contains the essential element of “conservatism of loss”: the recollection of what is worthy and great from the past, and sorrow over its disappearance. But it reaffirms the power of this historical past and its ability to reverberate (quite literally) into the present and the future. The poem is beautiful and evocative, universal yet intensely Italian and classical.


Listen to Ottorino Respighi’s Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome)(1924), the movement entitled the “Pines of the Janiculum,” in a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lamberto Gardelli:

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2016

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Memoir
I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A paean 2 Prince
"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world."
Photo ©© PeterTea
Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As wacky as it sometimes appears on the surface, American politics has an amazing stability and continuity about it."
Article
Plexiglass·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Photograph (detail) by Karine Laval

Amount of cash inmates compete to grab from between a bull’s horns each year at the Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo:

$100

There were new reports of cannibalism in North Korea.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today