Giacomo Leopardi: Love and Death
Children of Fate, in the same breath
Created were they, Love and Death.
Such fair creations ne’er were seen,
Or here below, or in the heaven serene.
The first, the source of happiness,
The fount whence flows the greatest bliss
That in the sea of being e’er is found;
The last each sorrow gently lulls,
Each harsh decree of Fate annuls.
Fair child with beauty crowned,
Sweet to behold, not such
As cowards paint her in their fright,
She in young Love’s companionship
Doth often take delight,
As they o’er mortal paths together fly,
Chief comforters of every loyal heart.
Nor ever is the heart more wise
Than when Love smites it, nor defies
More scornfully life’s misery,
And for no other lord
Will it all dangers face so readily.
When thou thy aid dost lend,
O Love, is courage born, or it revives;
And wise in deeds the race of man becomes,
And not, as it is prone,
In fruitless thought alone.
And when first in our being’s depth
This passion deep is born,
Though happy, we are still forlorn;
A languor strange doth o’er us steal;
A strange desire of death we feel.
I know not why, but such we ever prove
The first effect of true and potent love.
It may be, that this wilderness
Then first appals our sight;
And earth henceforth to us a dreary waste
Appears, without that new, supreme delight,
That in our thought is fondly traced;
And yet our hearts, foreboding, feel the storm
Within, that it may cause, the misery.
We long for rest, we long to flee,
Hoping some friendly haven may be found
Of refuge from the fierce desire,
That raging, roaring, darkens all around.
And when this formidable power
Hath his whole soul possessed,
And raging care will give his heart no rest,
How many times implored
With most intense desire,
Art thou, O Death, by the poor wretch, forlorn!
How oft at eve, how oft at dawn,
His weary frame upon the couch he throws,
Too happy, if he never rose,
In hopeless conflict with his pain,
Nor e’er beheld the bitter light again!
And oft, at sound of funeral bell,
And solemn chant, that guides
Departed souls unto eternal rest,
With sighs most ardent from his inmost breast,
How hath he envied him,
Who with the dead has gone to dwell!
The very humblest of his kind,
The simple, rustic hind, who knows
No charm that knowledge gives;
The lowliest country lass that lives,
Who, at the very thought of death,
Doth feel her hair in horror rise,
Will calmly face its agonies,
Upon the terrors of the tomb will gaze
With fixed, undaunted look,
Will o’er the steel and poison brood,
In meditative mood,
And in her narrow mind,
The kindly charm of dying comprehend:
So much the discipline of Love
Hath unto Death all hearts inclined!
Full often when this inward woe
Such pass has reached as mortal strength
No longer can endure,
The feeble body yields at length,
To its fierce blows, and timely, then,
Benignant Death her friendly power doth show:
Or else Love drives her hapless victims so,
Alike the simple clown,
And tender country lass,
That on themselves their desperate hands they lay,
And so are borne unto the shades below.
The world but laughs at their distress,
Whom heaven with peace and length of days doth bless.
To fervid, happy, restless souls
May fate the one or other still concede,
Sweet sovereigns, friendly to our race,
Whose power, throughout the universe,
Such miracles hath wrought,
As naught resembles, nor can aught,
Save that of Fate itself, exceed.
And thou, whom from my earliest years,
Still honored I invoke,
O lovely Death! the only friend
Of sufferers in this vale of tears,
If I have ever sought
Thy princely state to vindicate
From the affronts of the ungrateful crowd,
Do not delay, incline thy ear
Unto thy weary suppliant here!
These sad eyes close forever to the light,
And let me rest in peace serene,
O thou, of all the ages Queen!
Me surely wilt thou find, whate’er the hour,
When thou thy wings unfoldest to my prayer,
With front erect, the cruel power
Defying still, of Fate;
Nor will I praise, in fulsome mood,
The scourging hand, that with my blood,
The blood of innocence, is stained.
Nor bless it, as the human race
Is wont, through custom old and base:
Each empty hope, with which the world
Itself and children would beguile,
I’ll cast aside, each comfort false and vile;
In thee alone my hope I’ll place,
Thou welcome minister of grace!
In that sole thought supremely blest,
That day, when my unconscious head
May on thy virgin bosom rest.
Giacomo Leopardi (June 29, 1798 – June 14, 1837)