Count Giacomo Leopardi

(29 June 1798 – 14 June 1837 / Rencanati)

On Dante's Monument, 1818


Though all the nations now
Peace gathers under her white wings,
The minds of Italy will ne'er be free
From the restraints of their old lethargy,
Till our ill-fated land cling fast
Unto the glorious memories of the Past.
Oh, lay it to thy heart, my Italy,
Fit honor to thy dead to pay;
For, ah, their like walk not thy streets to-day!
Nor is there one whom thou canst reverence!
Turn, turn, my country, and behold
That noble band of heroes old,
And weep, and on thyself thy anger vent,
For without anger, grief is impotent:
Oh, turn, and rouse thyself for shame,
Blush at the thought of sires so great,
Of children so degenerate!

Alien in mien, in genius, and in speech,
The eager guest from far
Went searching through the Tuscan soil to find
Where he reposed, whose verse sublime
Might fitly rank with Homer's lofty rhyme;
And oh! to our disgrace he heard
Not only that, e'er since his dying day,
In other soil his bones in exile lay,
But not a stone within thy walls was reared
To him, O Florence, whose renown
Caused thee to be by all the world revered.
Thanks to the brave, the generous band,
Whose timely labor from our land
Will this sad, shameful stain remove!
A noble task is yours,
And every breast with kindred zeal hath fired,
That is by love of Italy inspired.

May love of Italy inspire you still,
Poor mother, sad and lone,
To whom no pity now
In any breast is shown,
Now, that to golden days the evil days succeed.
May pity still, ye children dear,
Your hearts unite, your labors crown,
And grief and anger at her cruel pain,
As on her cheeks and veil the hot tears rain!
But how can I, in speech or song,
Your praises fitly sing,
To whose mature and careful thought,
The work superb, in your proud task achieved,
Will fame immortal bring?
What notes of cheer can I now send to you,
That may unto your ardent souls appeal,
And add new fervor to your zeal?

Your lofty theme will inspiration give,
And its sharp thorns within your bosoms lodge.
Who can describe the whirlwind and the storm
Of your deep anger, and your deeper love?
Who can your wonder-stricken looks portray,
The lightning in your eyes that gleams?
What mortal tongue can such celestial themes
In language fit describe?
Away ye souls, profane, away!
What tears will o'er this marble stone be shed!
How can it fall? How fall your fame sublime,
A victim to the envious tooth of Time?
O ye, that can alleviate our woes,
Sole comfort of this wretched land,
Live ever, ye dear Arts divine,
Amid the ruins of our fallen state,
The glories of the past to celebrate!
I, too, who wish to pay
Due honor to our grieving mother, bring
Of song my humble offering,
As here I sit, and listen, where
Your chisel life unto the marble gives.
O thou, illustrious sire of Tuscan song,
If tidings e'er of earthly things,
Of _her_, whom thou hast placed so high,
Could reach your mansions in the sky,
I know, thou for thyself no joy wouldst feel,
For, with thy fame compared,
Renowned in every land,
Our bronze and marble are as wax and sand;
If thee we _have_ forgotten, _can_ forget,
May suffering still follow suffering,
And may thy race to all the world unknown,
In endless sorrows weep and moan.

Thou for thyself no joy wouldst feel,
But for thy native land,
If the example of their sires
Could in the cold and sluggish sons
Renew once more the ancient fires,
That they might lift their heads in pride again.
Alas, with what protracted sufferings
Thou seest her afflicted, that, e'en then
Did seem to know no end,
When thou anew didst unto Paradise ascend!
Reduced so low, that, as thou seest her now,
She then a happy Queen appeared.
Such misery her heart doth grieve,
As, seeing, thou canst not thy eyes believe.
And oh, the last, most bitter blow of all,
When on the ground, as she in anguish lay,
It seemed, indeed, thy country's dying day!

O happy thou, whom Fate did not condemn
To live amid such horrors; who
Italian wives didst not behold
By ruffian troops embraced;
Nor cities plundered, fields laid waste
By hostile spear, and foreign rage;
Nor works divine of genius borne away
In sad captivity, beyond the Alps,
The roads encumbered with the precious prey;
Nor foreign rulers' insolence and pride;
Nor didst insulting voices hear,
Amidst the sound of chains and whips,
The sacred name of Liberty deride.
Who suffers not? Oh! at these wretches' hands,
What have we not endured?
From what unholy deed have they refrained?
What temple, altar, have they not profaned?
Why have we fallen on such evil times?
Why didst thou give us birth, or why
No sooner suffer us to die,
O cruel Fate? We, who have seen
Our wretched country so betrayed,
The handmaid, slave of impious strangers made,
And of her ancient virtues all bereft;
Yet could no aid or comfort give.
Or ray of hope, that might relieve
The anguish of her soul.
Alas, my blood has not been shed for thee,
My country dear! Nor have I died
That thou mightst live!
My heart with anger and with pity bleeds.
Ah, bitter thought! Thy children fought and fell;
But not for dying Italy, ah, no,
But in the service of her cruel foe!

Father, if this enrage thee not,
How changed art thou from what thou wast on earth!
On Russia's plains, so bleak and desolate,
They died, the sons of Italy;
Ah, well deserving of a better fate!
In cruel war with men, with beasts,
The elements! In heaps they strewed the ground;
Half-clad, emaciated, stained with blood,
A bed of ice for their sick frames they found.
Then, when the parting hour drew near,
In fond remembrance of that mother dear,
They cried: 'Oh had we fallen by the foeman's hand,
And not the victims of the clouds and storms,
And for _thy_ good, our native land!
Now, far from thee, and in the bloom of youth,
Unknown to all, we yield our parting breath,
And die for _her_, who caused our country's death!'

The northern desert and the whispering groves,
Sole witnesses of their lament,
As thus they passed away!
And their neglected corpses, as they lay
Upon that horrid sea of snow exposed,
Were by the beasts consumed;
The memories of the brave and good,
And of the coward and the vile,
Unto the same oblivion doomed!
Dear souls, though infinite your wretchedness,
Rest, rest in peace! And yet what peace is yours,
Who can no comfort ever know
While Time endures!
Rest in the depths of your unmeasured woe,
O ye, _her_ children true,
Whose fate alone with hers may vie,
In endless, hopeless misery!

But she rebukes you not,
Ah, no, but these alone,
Who forced you with her to contend;
And still her bitter tears she blends with yours,
In wretchedness that knows no end.
Oh that some pity in the heart were born,
For her, who hath all other glories won,
Of one, who from this dark, profound abyss,
Her weak and weary feet could guide!
Thou glorious shade, oh! say,
Does no one love thy Italy?
Say, is the flame that kindled thee extinct?
And will that myrtle never bloom again,
That hath so long consoled us in our pain?
Must all our garlands wither in the dust?
And shall we a redeemer never see,
Who may, in part, at least, resemble thee?

Are we forever lost?
Is there no limit to our shame?
I, while I live, will never cease to cry:
'Degenerate race, think of thy ancestry!
Behold these ruins vast,
These pictures, statues, temples, poems grand!
Think of the glories of thy native land!
If they thy soul cannot inspire or warn,
Why linger here? Arise! Begone!
This holy ground must not be thus defiled,
And must no shelter give
Unto the coward and the slave!
Far better were the silence of the grave!'

Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

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