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Count Giacomo Leopardi

(29 June 1798 – 14 June 1837 / Rencanati)

Hymn To The Patriarchs


OR OF THE BEGINNINGS OF THE HUMAN RACE.

Illustrious fathers of the human race,
Of you, the song of your afflicted sons
Will chant the praise; of you, more dear, by far,
Unto the Great Disposer of the stars,
Who were not born to wretchedness, like ours.
Immedicable woes, a life of tears,
The silent tomb, eternal night, to find
More sweet, by far, than the ethereal light,
These things were not by heaven's gracious law
Imposed on you. If ancient legends speak
Of sins of yours, that brought calamity
Upon the human race, and fell disease,
Alas, the sins more terrible, by far,
Committed by your children, and their souls
More restless, and with mad ambition fixed,
Against them roused the wrath of angry gods,
The hand of all-sustaining Nature armed,
By them so long neglected and despised.
Then life became a burden and a curse,
And every new-born babe a thing abhorred,
And hell and chaos reigned upon the earth.

Thou first the day, and thou the shining lights
Of the revolving stars didst see, the fields,
And their new flocks and herds, O leader old
And father of the human family!
The wandering air that o'er the meadows played,
When smote the rocks, and the deserted vales,
The torrent, rustling headlong from the Alps,
With sound, till then, unheard; and o'er the sites
Of future nations, noisy cities, yet unknown
To fame, a peace profound, mysterious reigned;
And o'er the unploughed hills, in silence, rose
The ray of Phoebus, and the golden moon.
O world, how happy in thy loneliness,
Of crimes and of disasters ignorant!
Oh, how much wretchedness Fate had in store
For thy poor race, unhappy father, what
A series vast of terrible events!
Behold, the fields, scarce tilled, with blood are stained,
A brother's blood, in sudden frenzy shed;
And now, alas, first hears the gentle air
The whirring of the fearful wings of Death.
The trembling fratricide, a fugitive,
The lonely shades avoids; in every blast
That sweeps the groves, a voice of wrath he hears.
_He_ the first city builds, abode and realm
Of wasting cares; repentance desperate,
Heart-sick, and groaning, thus unites and binds
Together blind and sinful souls, and first
A refuge offers unto mutual guilt.
The wicked hand now scorns the crooked plough;
The sweat of honest labor is despised;
Now sloth possession of the threshold takes;
The sluggish frames their native vigor lose;
The minds in hopeless indolence are sunk;
And slavery, the crowning curse of all,
Degrades and crushes poor humanity.

And thou from heaven's wrath, and ocean's waves,
That bellowed round the cloud-capped mountain-tops,
The sinful brood didst save; thou, unto whom,
From the dark air and wave-encumbered hills,
The white dove brought the sign of hope renewed,
And sinking in the west, the shipwrecked sun,
His bright rays darting through the angry clouds,
The dark sky painted with the lovely bow.
The race restored, to earth returned, begins anew
The same career of wickedness and lust,
With their attendant ills. Audacious man
Defies the threats of the avenging sea,
And to new shores and to new stars repeats
The same sad tale of infamy and woe.

And now of thee I think, the just and brave,
The Father of the faithful, and the sons
Thy honored name that bore. Of thee I speak,
Whom, sitting, thoughtful, in the noontide shade,
Before thy humble cottage, near the banks,
That gave thy flocks both rest and nourishment,
The minds ethereal of celestial guests
With blessings greeted; and of thee, O son
Of wise Rebecca, how at eventide,
In Aran's valley sweet, and by the well,
Where happy swains in friendly converse met,
Thou didst with Laban's daughter fall in love;
Love, that to exile long, and suffering,
And to the odious yoke of servitude,
Thy patient soul a willing martyr led.

Oh, surely once,--for not with idle tales
And shadows, the Aonian song, and voice
Of Fame, the eager list'ners feed,--once was
This wretched earth more friendly to our race,
Was more beloved and dear, and golden flew
The days, that now so laden are with care.
Not that the milk, in waves of purest white,
Gushed from the rocks, and flowed along the vales;
Or that the tigers mingled with the sheep,
To the same fold were led; or shepherd-boys
With playful wolves would frolic at the spring;
But of its own lot ignorant, and all
The sufferings that were in store, devoid
Of care it lived: a soft, illusive veil
Of error hid the stern realities,
The cruel laws of heaven and of fate.
Life glided on, with cheerful hope content;
And tranquil, sought the haven of its rest.

So lives, in California's forests vast,
A happy race, whose life-blood is not drained
By pallid care, whose limbs are not by fierce
Disease consumed: the woods their food, their homes
The hollow rock, the streamlet of the vale
Its waters furnishes, and, unforeseen,
Dark death upon them steals. Ah, how unarmed,
Wise Nature's happy votaries, are ye,
Against our impious audacity!
Our fierce, indomitable love of gain
Your shores, your caves, your quiet woods invades;
Your minds corrupts, your bodies enervates;
And happiness, a naked fugitive,
Before it drives, to earth's remotest bounds.

Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

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