Poetry from the European Languages

Leopardi (1798–1837)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Giacomo Leopardi was born of an aristocratic family in Recanati. Plagued, like Heine, by crippling illness he nevertheless made himself a life as a literary man. He lived in Florence, Bologna and Milan before finally settling in Naples where he died. The greatest Italian poet since Petrarch, Petrarch was equally an enormous influence on his clear, lucid Italian.

Leopardi (1798–1837)

The Infinite

It was always dear to me, this solitary hill,

and this hedgerow here, that closes out my view,

from so much of the ultimate horizon.

But sitting here, and watching here, in thought,

I create interminable spaces,

greater than human silences, and deepest

quiet, where the heart barely fails to terrify.

When I hear the wind, blowing among these leaves,

I go on to compare that infinite silence

with this voice, and I remember the eternal

and the dead seasons, and the living present,

and its sound, so that in this immensity

my thoughts are drowned, and shipwreck seems sweet

to me in this sea.

To Silvia

Silvia, do you remember

the moments, in your mortal life,

when beauty still shone

in your sidelong, laughing eyes,

and you, light and thoughtful,


beyond girlhood’s limits?

The quiet rooms and the streets

around you, sounded

to your endless singing,

when you sat, happily content,

intent, on that woman’s work,

the vague future, arriving alive in your mind.

It was the scented May, and that’s how

you spent your day.

I would leave my intoxicating studies,

and the turned-down pages,

where my young life,

the best of me, was left,

and from the balcony of my father’s house

strain to catch the sound of your voice,

and your hand, quick,

running over the loom.

I would look at the serene sky,

the gold lit gardens and paths,

that side the mountains, this side the far-off sea.

And human tongue cannot say

what I felt then.

What sweet thoughts,

what hopes, what hearts, O Silvia mia!

How it appeared to us then,

all human life and fate!

When I recall that hope

such feelings pain me,

harsh, disconsolate,

I brood on my own destiny.

Oh Nature, Nature

why do you not give now

what you promised then? Why

do you so deceive your children?

Attacked, and conquered, by secret disease,

you died, my tenderest one, and did not see

your years flower, or feel your heart moved,

by sweet praise of your black hair

your shy, loving looks.

No friends talked with you,

on holidays, about love.

My sweet hopes died also

little by little: to me too

Fate has denied those years. Oh,

how you have passed me by,

dear friend of my new life,

my saddened hope!

Is this the world, the dreams,

the loves, events, delights,

we spoke about so much together?

Is this our human life?

At the advance of Truth

you fell, unhappy one,

and from the distance,

with your hand, you pointed

towards death’s coldness and the silent grave.

To the Moon

O lovely moon, now I’m reminded

how almost a year since, full of anguish,

I climbed this hill to gaze at you again,

and you hung there, over that wood, as now,

clarifying all things. Filled with mistiness,

trembling, that’s how your face seemed to me,

from all those tears that welled in my eyes, so

troubled was my life, and is, and does not change,

O moon, my delight. And yet it does help me,

to record my grief and tell it, year by year.

Oh how sweetly, when we are young, it hurts,

when hope has such a long journey to run,

and memory is so short,

this remembrance of things past, even if it

is sad, and the pain lasts!