Count Giacomo Leopardi (29 June 1798 – 14 June 1837 / Rencanati)
On An Old Sepuchral Bas-Relief
WHERE IS SEEN A YOUNG MAIDEN, DEAD, IN THE ACT OF DEPARTING,
TAKING LEAVE OF HER FAMILY.
Where goest thou? Who calls
Thee from my dear ones far away?
Most lovely maiden, say!
Alone, a wanderer, dost thou leave
Thy father's roof so soon?
Wilt thou unto its threshold e'er return?
Wilt thou make glad one day,
Those, who now round thee, weeping, mourn?
Fearless thine eye, and spirited thy act;
And yet thou, too, art sad.
If pleasant or unpleasant be the road,
If gay or gloomy be the new abode,
To which thou journeyest, indeed,
In that grave face, how difficult to read!
Ah, hard to me the problem still hath seemed;
Not hath the world, perhaps, yet understood,
If thou beloved, or hated by the gods,
If happy, or unhappy shouldst be deemed.
Death calls thee; in thy morn of life,
Its latest breath. Unto the nest
Thou leavest, thou wilt ne'er return; wilt ne'er
The faces of thy kindred more behold;
And under ground,
The place to which thou goest will be found;
And for all time will be thy sojourn there.
Happy, perhaps, thou art: but he must sigh
Who, thoughtful, contemplates thy destiny.
Ne'er to have seen the light, e'en at the time,
I think; but, born, e'en at the time,
When regal beauty all her charms displays,
Alike in form and face,
And at her feet the admiring world
Its distant homage pays;
When every hope is in its flower,
Long, long ere dreary winter flash
His baleful gleams against the joyous brow;
Like vapor gathered in the summer cloud,
That melting in the evening sky is seen
To disappear, as if one ne'er had been;
And to exchange the brilliant days to come,
For the dark silence of the tomb;
The intellect, indeed,
May call this, happiness; but still
It may the stoutest breasts with pity fill.
Thou mother, dreaded and deplored
From birth, by all the world that lives,
Nature, ungracious miracle,
That bringest forth and nourishest, to kill,
If death untimely be an evil thing,
Why on these innocent heads
Wilt thou that evil bring?
If good, why, why,
Beyond all other misery,
To him who goes, to him who must remain,
Hast thou such parting crowned with hopeless pain?
Wretched, where'er we look,
Whichever way we turn,
Thy suffering children are!
Thee it hath pleased, that youthful hope
Should ever be by life beguiled;
The current of our years with woes be filled,
And death against all ills the only shield:
And this inevitable seal,
And this immutable decree,
Hast thou assigned to human destiny,
Why, after such a painful race,
Should not the goal, at least,
Present to us a cheerful face?
Why that, which we in constant view,
Must, while we live, forever bear,
Sole comfort in our hour of need,
Thus dress in weeds of woe,
And gird with shadows so,
And make the friendly port to us appear
More frightful than the tempest drear?
If death, indeed, be a calamity,
Which thou intendest for us all,
Whom thou, against our knowledge and our will,
Hast forced to draw this mortal breath,
Then, surely, he who dies,
A lot more enviable hath
Then he who feels his loved one's death.
But, if the truth it be,
As I most firmly think,
That life is the calamity,
And death the boon, alas! who ever _could_,
What yet he _should_,
Desire the dying day of those so dear,
That he may linger here,
Of his best self deprived,
May see across his threshold borne,
The form beloved of her,
With whom so many years he lived,
And say to her farewell,
Without the hope of meeting here again;
And then alone on earth to dwell,
And, looking round, the hours and places all,
Of lost companionship recall?
Ah, Nature! how, how _couldst_ thou have the heart,
From the friend's arms the friend to tear,
The brother from the brother part,
The father from the child,
The lover from his love,
And, killing one, the other keep alive?
What dire necessity
Compels such misery
That lover should the loved one e'er survive?
But Nature in her cruel dealings still,
Pays little heed unto our good or ill.
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