Count Giacomo Leopardi

(29 June 1798 – 14 June 1837 / Rencanati)

The Last Song of Sappho


Thou tranquil night, and thou, O gentle ray
Of the declining moon; and thou, that o'er
The rock appearest, 'mid the silent grove,
The messenger of day; how dear ye were,
And how delightful to these eyes, while yet
Unknown the furies, and grim Fate! But now,
No gentle sight can soothe this wounded soul.
Then, only, can forgotten joy revive,
When through the air, and o'er the trembling fields
The raging south wind whirls its clouds of dust;
And when the car, the pondrous car of Jove,
Omnipotent, high-thundering o'er our heads,
A pathway cleaves athwart the dusky sky.
Then would I love with storm-charged clouds to fly
Along the cliffs, along the valleys deep,
The headlong flight of frightened flocks to watch,
Or hear, upon some swollen river's shore
The angry billows' loud, triumphant roar.

How beautiful thou art, O heaven divine,
And thou, O dewy earth! Alas no part
Of all this beauty infinite, the gods
And cruel fate to wretched Sappho gave!
To thy proud realms, O Nature, I, a poor,
Unwelcome guest, rejected lover, come;
To all thy varied forms of loveliness,
My heart and eyes, a suppliant, lift in vain.
The sun-lit shore hath smiles no more for me,
Nor radiant morning light at heaven's gate;
The birds no longer greet me with their songs,
Nor whispering trees with gracious messages;
And where, beneath the bending willows' shade,
The limpid stream its bosom pure displays,
As I, with trembling and uncertain foot,
Oppressed with grief, upon its margin pause,
The dimpled waves recoil, as in disdain,
And urge their flight along the flowery plain.

What fearful crime, what hideous excess
Have so defiled me, e'en before my birth,
That heaven and fortune frown upon me thus?
Wherein have I offended, as a child,
When we of evil deeds are ignorant,
That thus disfigured, of the bloom of youth
Bereft, my little thread of life has from
The spindle of the unrelenting Fate
Been drawn? Alas, incautious are thy words!
Mysterious counsels all events control,
And all, except our grief, is mystery.
Deserted children, we were born to weep;
But why, is known to those above, alone.
O vain the cares, the hopes of earlier years!
To idle shows Jove gives eternal sway
O'er human hearts. Unless in shining robes arrayed,
All manly deeds in arms, or art, or song,
Appeal in vain unto the vulgar throng.

I die! This wretched veil to earth I cast,
And for my naked soul a refuge seek
Below, and for the cruel faults atone
Of gods, the blind dispensers of events.
And thou, to whom I have been bound so long,
By hopeless love, and lasting faith, and by
The frenzy vain of unappeased desire,
Live, live, and if thou canst, be happy here!
My cup o'erflows with bitterness, and Jove
Has from his vase no drop of sweetness shed,
For all my childhood's hopes and dreams have fled.
The happiest day the soonest fades away;
And then succeed disease, old age, the shade
Of icy death. Behold, alas! Of all
My longed-for laurels, my illusions dear,
The end,--the gulf of hell! My spirit proud
Must to the realm of Proserpine descend,
The Stygian shore, the night that knows no end.

Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

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