Count Giacomo Leopardi

(29 June 1798 – 14 June 1837 / Rencanati)

Night Song Of A Wandering Shepherd In Asia - Poem by Count Giacomo Leopardi

What doest thou in heaven, O moon?
Say, silent moon, what doest thou?
Thou risest in the evening; thoughtfully
Thou wanderest o'er the plain,
Then sinkest to thy rest again.
And art thou never satisfied
With going o'er and o'er the selfsame ways?
Art never wearied? Dost thou still
Upon these valleys love to gaze?
How much thy life is like
The shepherd's life, forlorn!
He rises in the early dawn,
He moves his flock along the plain;
The selfsame flocks, and streams, and herbs
He sees again;
Then drops to rest, the day's work o'er;
And hopes for nothing more.
Tell me, O moon, what signifies his life
To him, thy life to thee? Say, whither tend
My weary, short-lived pilgrimage,
Thy course, that knows no end?

And old man, gray, infirm,
Half-clad, and barefoot, he,
Beneath his burden bending wearily,
O'er mountain and o'er vale,
Sharp rocks, and briars, and burning sand,
In wind, and storm, alike in sultry heat
And in the winter's cold,
His constant course doth hold;
On, on, he, panting, goes,
Nor pause, nor rest he knows;
Through rushing torrents, over watery wastes;
He falls, gets up again,
And ever more and more he hastes,
Torn, bleeding, and arrives at last
Where ends the path,
Where all his troubles end;
A vast abyss and horrible,
Where plunging headlong, he forgets them all.
Such scene of suffering, and of strife,
O moon, is this our mortal life.
In travail man is born;
His birth too oft the cause of death,
And with his earliest breath
He pain and torment feels: e'en from the first,
His parents fondly strive
To comfort him in his distress;
And if he lives and grows,
They struggle hard, as best they may,
With pleasant words and deeds to cheer him up,
And seek with kindly care,
To strengthen him his cruel lot to bear.
This is the best that they can do
For the poor child, however fond and true.
But wherefore give him life?
Why bring him up at all,
If _this_ be all?
If life is nought but pain and care,
Why, why should we the burden bear?
O spotless moon, such _is_
Our mortal life, indeed;
But thou immortal art,
Nor wilt, perhaps, unto my words give heed.

Yet thou, eternal, lonely wanderer,
Who, thoughtful, lookest on this earthly scene,
Must surely understand
What all our sighs and sufferings mean;
What means this death,
This color from our cheeks that fades,
This passing from the earth, and losing sight
Of every dear, familiar scene.
Well must thou comprehend
The reason of these things; must see
The good the morning and the evening bring:
Thou knowest, thou, what love it is
That brings sweet smiles unto the face of spring;
The meaning of the Summer's glow,
And of the Winter's frost and snow,
And of the silent, endless flight of Time.
A thousand things to thee their secrets yield,
That from the simple shepherd are concealed.
Oft as I gaze at thee,
In silence resting o'er the desert plain,
Which in the distance borders on the sky,
Or following me, as I, by slow degrees,
My flocks before me drive;
And when I gaze upon the stars at night,
In thought I ask myself,
'Why all these torches bright?
What mean these depths of air,
This vast, this silent sky,
This nightly solitude? And what am I?'
Thus to myself I talk; and of this grand,
Magnificent expanse,
And its untold inhabitants,
And all this mighty motion, and this stir
Of things above, and things below,
No rest that ever know,
But as they still revolve, must still return
Unto the place from which they came,--
Of this, alas, I find nor end nor aim!
But thou, immortal, surely knowest all.
_This_ I well know, and feel;
From these eternal rounds,
And from my being frail,
Others, perchance, may pleasure, profit gain;
To _me_ life is but pain.

My flock, now resting there, how happy thou,
That knowest not, I think, thy misery!
O how I envy thee!
Not only that from suffering
Thou seemingly art free;
That every trouble, every loss,
Each sudden fear, thou canst so soon forget;
But more because thou sufferest
No weariness of mind.
When in the shade, upon the grass reclined,
Thou seemest happy and content,
And great part of the year by thee
In sweet release from care is spent.
But when _I_ sit upon the grass
And in the friendly shade, upon my mind
A weight I feel, a sense of weariness,
That, as I sit, doth still increase
And rob me of all rest and peace.
And yet I wish for nought,
And have, till now, no reason to complain.
What joy, how much I cannot say;
But thou _some_ pleasure dost obtain.
My joys are few enough;
But not for that do I lament.
Ah, couldst thou speak, I would inquire:
Tell me, dear flock, the reason why
Each weary breast can rest at ease,
While all things round him seem to please;
And yet, if _I_ lie down to rest,
I am by anxious thoughts oppressed?

Perhaps, if I had wings
Above the clouds to fly,
And could the stars all number, one by one,
Or like the lightning leap from rock to rock,
I might be happier, my dear flock,
I might be happier, gentle moon!
Perhaps my thought still wanders from the truth,
When I at others' fortunes look:
Perhaps in every state beneath the sun,
Or high, or low, in cradle or in stall,
The day of birth is fatal to us all.


Comments about Night Song Of A Wandering Shepherd In Asia by Count Giacomo Leopardi

  • Gold Star - 20,714 Points Fabrizio Frosini (6/15/2015 12:45:00 PM)

    another translation:

    ''Night-Song Of A Wandering Shepherd of Asia''

    Why are you there, Moon, in the sky? Tell me

    why you are there, silent Moon.

    You rise at night, and go

    contemplating deserts: then you set.

    Are you not sated yet

    with riding eternal roads?

    Are you not weary, still wishing

    to gaze at these valleys?

    It mirrors your life,

    the life of a shepherd.

    He rises at dawn:

    he drives his flock over the fields, sees

    the flocks, the streams, the grass:

    tired at evening he rests:

    expecting nothing more.

    Tell me, O Moon, what life is

    worth to a shepherd, or

    your life to you? Tell me: where

    does my brief wandering lead,

    or your immortal course?

    Like an old man, white-haired, infirm,

    barefoot and half-naked,

    with a heavy load on his shoulders,

    running onwards, panting,

    over mountains, through the valleys,

    on sharp stones, in sand and thickets,

    wind and storm, when the days burn

    and when they freeze,

    through torrents and marshes,

    falling, rising, running faster,

    faster, without rest or pause,

    torn, bleeding: till he halts

    where all his efforts,

    all the roads, have led:

    a dreadful, vast abyss

    into which he falls, headlong, forgetting all.

    Virgin Moon,

    such is the life of man.

    Man is born in labour:

    and there’s a risk of death in being born.

    The very first things he learns

    are pain and anguish: from the first

    his mother and father

    console him for being born.

    Then as he grows

    they both support him, go on

    trying, with words and actions,

    to give him heart,

    console him merely for being human:

    there’s nothing kinder

    a parent can do for a child.

    Yet why bring one who needs

    such comforting to life,

    and then keep him alive?

    If life is a misfortune,

    why grant us such strength?

    Such is the human condition,

    inviolate Moon.

    But you who are not mortal,

    care little, maybe, for my words.

    Yet you, lovely, eternal wanderer,

    so pensive, perhaps you understand

    this earthly life,

    this suffering, the sighs that exist:

    what this dying is, this last

    fading of our features,

    the vanishing from earth, the losing

    all familiar, loving company.

    And you must understand

    the ‘why’ of things, and view the fruits

    of morning, evening,

    silence, endless passing time.

    You know (you must) at what sweet love

    of hers the springtime smiles,

    the use of heat, and whom the winter

    benefits with frost.

    You know a thousand things, reveal

    a thousand things still hidden from a simple shepherd.

    Often as I gaze at you

    hanging so silently, above the empty plain

    that the sky confines with its far circuit:

    or see you steadily

    follow me and my flock:

    or when I look at the stars blazing in the sky,

    musing I say to myself:

    ‘What are these sparks,

    this infinite air, this deep

    infinite clarity? What does this

    vast solitude mean? And what am I? ’

    So I question. About these

    magnificent, immeasurable mansions,

    and their innumerable family:

    and the steady urge, the endless motion

    of all celestial and earthly things,

    circling without rest,

    always returning to their starting place:

    I can’t imagine

    their use or fruit. But you, deathless maiden,

    I’m sure, know everything.

    This I know, and feel,

    that others, perhaps, may gain

    benefit and comfort from

    the eternal spheres, from

    my fragile being: but to me life is evil.

    O flock at peace, O happy creatures,

    I think you have no knowledge of your misery!

    How I envy you!

    Not only because

    you’re almost free of worries:

    quickly forgetting all hardship,

    every hurt, each deep fear:

    but because you never know tedium.

    When you lie in the shade, on the grass,

    you’re peaceful and content:

    and you spend most of the year

    untroubled, in that state.

    If I sit on the grass, in the shade,

    weariness clouds my mind,

    and, as if a thorn pricked me,

    sitting there I’m still further

    from finding peace and rest.

    Yet there’s nothing I need,

    and I’ve known no reason for tears.

    I can’t say what you enjoy

    or why: but you’re fortunate.

    O my flock: there’s little still

    I enjoy, and that’s not all I regret.

    If you could speak, I’d ask you:

    ‘Tell me, why are all creatures

    at peace, idle, lying

    in sweet ease: why, if I lie down

    to rest, does boredom seize me? ’

    If I had wings, perhaps,

    to fly above the clouds,

    and count the stars, one by one,

    or roam like thunder from crest to crest,

    I’d be happier, my sweet flock,

    I’d be happier, bright moon.

    Or perhaps my thought

    strays from truth, gazing at others’ fate:

    perhaps whatever form, whatever state

    it’s in, its cradle or its fold,

    the day of birth is dark to one that’s born. (Report) Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Silver Star - 3,177 Points Godfrey Morris (2/26/2015 7:22:00 PM)

    Beautiful this poem explored truth. Great write (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 6,911 Points Savita Tyagi (2/26/2015 4:24:00 PM)

    A long poem indeed but beautiful. So many lines worth remembering. Enjoyed it very much. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 382 Points Jafta Maduna (2/26/2015 12:38:00 PM)

    i usually recall big and old poems as boring, but diz one is the best (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 1,601 Points Paul Reed (2/26/2015 5:42:00 AM)

    I recoil from long poems but read this one as I loved 'Calm After Storm'; by the same poet. Well worth it, as there are some lovely lines including:

    e'en from the first,
    His parents fondly strive
    To comfort him in his distress;
    And if he lives and grows,
    They struggle hard, as best they may,
    With pleasant words and deeds to cheer him up,
    And seek with kindly care,
    To strengthen him his cruel lot to bear.

    What a wonderful summary of parenthood, still so true (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 17,485 Points Kim Barney (2/26/2015 2:53:00 AM)

    For a poem as old as this one is, I was surprisingly drawn in to it and really enjoyed it... until about the end of the third long verse. Then I just got tired of reading. I guess in my old age I just don't have the patience I used to have.
    I don't even buy green bananas anymore... (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010



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