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

Leopardi: The Eve of the Feast Day


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:

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