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:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today