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Giacomo Leopardi



The Life and Poetry of Giacomo Leopardi

Brief Introduction: Giacomo Leopardi by William Dean Howells

I Canti — Frederick Townsend translation, 1887

I Canti — Francis Henry Cliffe translation, 1893

I Canti — Original Italian Text, 1835

The Prose

Essays and Dialogues

The Biography

Life of Leopardi by Francis Henry Cliffe

The Delphi Classics Catalogue

© Delphi Classics 2019

Version 1

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Giacomo Leopardi

By Delphi Classics, 2019


Giacomo Leopardi - Delphi Poets Series

First published in the United Kingdom in 2019 by Delphi Classics.

© Delphi Classics, 2019.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form other than that in which it is published.

ISBN: 978 1 78877 957 9

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United Kingdom

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The Life and Poetry of Giacomo Leopardi

Recanati, a town in the Marche region of central Italy — Leopardi’s birthplace

The birthplace in 1889

The birthplace today

Brief Introduction: Giacomo Leopardi by William Dean Howells

From ‘Modern Italian Poets; Essays and Versions’

IN THE YEAR 1798, at Recanati, a little mountain town of Tuscany, was born, noble and miserable, the poet Giacomo Leopardi, who began even in childhood to suffer the malice of that strange conspiracy of ills which consumed him. His constitution was very fragile, and it early felt the effect of the passionate ardor with which the sickly boy dedicated his life to literature. From the first he seems to have had little or no direction;  in his own studies, and hardly any instruction. He literally lived among his books, rarely leaving his own room except to pass into his father’s library; his research and erudition were marvelous, and at the age of sixteen he presented his father a Latin translation and comment on Plotinus, of which Sainte-Beuve said that “one who had studied Plotinus his whole life could find something useful in this work of a boy.” At that age Leopardi already knew all Greek and Latin literature; he knew French, Spanish, and English; he knew Hebrew, and disputed in that tongue with the rabbis of Ancona.

The poet’s father was Count Monaldo Leopardi, who had written little books of a religious and political character; the religion very bigoted, the politics very reactionary. His library was the largest anywhere in that region, but he seems not to have learned wisdom in it; and, though otherwise a blameless man, he used his son, who grew to manhood differing from him in all his opinions, with a rigor that was scarcely less than cruel. He was bitterly opposed to what was called progress, to religious and civil liberty; he was devoted to what was called order, which meant merely the existing order of things, the divinely appointed prince, the infallible priest. He had a mediaeval taste, and he made his palace at Recanati as much like a feudal castle as he could, with all sorts of baronial bric-à-brac. An armed vassal at his gate was out of the question, but at the door of his own chamber stood an effigy in rusty armor, bearing a tarnished halberd. He abhorred the fashions of our century, and wore those of an earlier epoch; his wife, who shared his prejudices and opinions, fantastically appareled herself to look like the portrait of some gentlewoman of as remote a date. Halls hung in damask, vast mirrors in carven frames, and stately furniture of antique form attested throughout the palace “the splendor of a race which, if its fortunes had somewhat declined, still knew how to maintain its ancient state.”

In this home passed the youth and early manhood of a poet who no sooner began to think for himself than he began to think things most discordant with his father’s principles and ideas. He believed in neither the religion nor the politics of his race; he cherished with the desire of literary achievement that vague faith in humanity, in freedom, in the future, against which the Count Monaldo had so sternly set his face; he chafed under the restraints of his father’s authority, and longed for some escape into the world. The Italians sometimes write of Leopardi’s unhappiness with passionate condemnation of his father; but neither was Count Monaldo’s part an enviable one, and it was certainly not at this period that he had all the wrong in his differences with his son. Nevertheless, it is pathetic to read how the heartsick, frail, ambitious boy, when he found some article in a newspaper that greatly pleased him, would write to the author and ask his friendship. When these journalists, who were possibly not always the wisest publicists of their time, so far responded to the young scholar’s advances as to give him their personal acquaintance as well as their friendship, the old count received them with a courteous tolerance, which had no kindness in it for their progressive ideas. He lived in dread of his son’s becoming involved in some of the many plots then hatching against order and religion, and he repressed with all his strength Leopardi’s revolutionary tendencies, which must always have been mere matters of sentiment, and not deserving of great rigor.

He seems not so much to have loved Italy as to have hated Recanati. It is a small village high up in the Apennines, between Loreto and Macerata, and is chiefly accessible in ox-carts. Small towns everywhere are dull, and perhaps are not more deadly so in Italy than they are elsewhere, but there they have a peculiarly obscure, narrow life indoors. Outdoors there is a little lounging about the caffè, a little stir on holidays among the lower classes and the neighboring peasants, a great deal of gossip at all times, and hardly anything more. The local nobleman, perhaps, cultivates literature as Leopardi’s father did; there is always some abbate mousing about in the local archives and writing pamphlets on disputed points of the local history; and there is the parish priest, to help form the polite society of the place. As if this social barrenness were not enough, Recanati was physically hurtful to Leopardi: the climate was very fickle; the harsh, damp air was cruel to his nerves. He says it seems to him a den where no good or beautiful thing ever comes; he bewails the common ignorance; in Recanati there is no love for letters, for the humanizing arts; nobody frequents his father’s great library, nobody buys books, nobody reads the newspapers. Yet this forlorn and detestable little town has one good thing. It has a preëminently good Italian accent, better even, he thinks, than the Roman, — which would be a greater consolation to an Italian than we can well understand. Nevertheless it was not society, and it did not make his fellow-townsmen endurable to him. He recoiled from them more and more, and the solitude in which he lived among his books filled him with a black melancholy, which he describes as a poison, corroding the life of body and soul alike. To a friend who tries to reconcile him to Recanati, he writes: “It is very well to tell me that Plutarch and Alfieri loved Chaeronea and Asti; they loved them, but they left them; and so shall I love my native place when I am away from it. Now I say I hate it because I am in it. To recall the spot where one’s childhood days were passed is dear and sweet; it is a fine saying, ‘Here you were born, and here Providence wills you to stay.’ All very fine! Say to the sick man striving to be well that he is flying in the face of Providence; tell the poor man struggling to advance himself that he is defying heaven; bid the Turk beware of baptism, for God has made him a Turk!” So Leopardi wrote when he was in comparative health and able to continue his studies. But there were long periods when his ailments denied him his sole consolation of work. Then he rose late, and walked listlessly about without opening his lips or looking at a book the whole day. As soon as he might, he returned to his studies; when he must, he abandoned them again. At such a time he once wrote to a friend who understood and loved him: “I have not energy enough to conceive a single desire, not even for death; not because I fear death, but because I cannot see any difference between that and my present life. For the first time ennui not merely oppresses and wearies me, but it also agonizes and lacerates me, like a cruel pain. I am overwhelmed with a sense of the vanity of all things and the condition of men. My passions are dead, my very despair seems nonentity. As to my studies, which you urge me to continue, for the last eight months I have not known what study means; the nerves of my eyes and of my whole head are so weakened and disordered that I cannot read or listen to reading, nor can I fix my mind upon any subject.”

At Recanati Leopardi suffered not merely solitude, but the contact of people whom he despised, and whose vulgarity was all the greater oppression when it showed itself in a sort of stupid compassionate tenderness for him. He had already suffered one of those disappointments which are the rule rather than the exception, and his first love had ended as first love always does when it ends fortunately — in disappointment. He scarcely knew the object of his passion, a young girl of humble lot, whom he used to hear singing at her loom in the house opposite his father’s palace. Count Monaldo promptly interfered, and not long afterward the young girl died. But the sensitive boy, and his biographers after him, made the most of this sorrow; and doubtless it helped to render life under his father’s roof yet heavier and harder to bear. Such as it was, it seems to have been the only love that Leopardi ever really felt, and the young girl’s memory passed into the melancholy of his life and poetry.

But he did not summon courage to abandon Recanati before his twenty-fourth year, and then he did not go with his father’s entire good-will. The count wished him to become a priest, but Leopardi shrank from the idea with horror, and there remained between him and his father not only the difference of their religious and political opinions, but an unkindness which must be remembered against the judgment, if not the heart, of the latter. He gave his son so meager an allowance that it scarcely kept him above want, and obliged him to labors and subjected him to cares which his frail health was not able bear.

From Recanati Leopardi first went to Rome; but he carried Recanati everywhere with him, and he was as solitary and as wretched in the capital of the world as in the little village of the Apennines. He despised the Romans, as they deserved, upon very short acquaintance, and he declared that his dullest fellow-villager had a greater share of good sense than the best of them. Their frivolity was incredible; the men moved him to rage and pity; the women, high and low, to loathing. In one of his letters to his brother Carlo, he says of Rome, as he found it: “I have spoken to you only about the women, because I am at a loss what to say to you about literature. Horrors upon horrors! The most sacred names profaned, the most absurd follies praised to the skies, the greatest spirits of the century trampled under foot as inferior to the smallest literary man in Rome. Philosophy despised; genius, imagination, feeling, names — I do not say things, but even names — unknown and alien to these professional poets and poetesses! Antiquarianism placed at the summit of human learning, and considered invariably and universally as the only true study of man!” This was Rome in 1822. “I do not exaggerate,” he writes, “because it is impossible, and I do not even say enough.” One of the things that moved him to the greatest disgust in the childish and insipid society of a city where he had fondly hoped to find a response to his high thoughts was the sensation caused throughout Rome by the dress and theatrical effectiveness with which a certain prelate said mass. All Rome talked of it, cardinals and noble ladies complimented the performer as if he were a ballet-dancer, and the flattered prelate used to rehearse his part, and expatiate upon his methods of study for it, to private audiences of admirers. In fact, society had then touched almost the lowest depth of degradation where society had always been corrupt and dissolute, and the reader of Massimo d’Azeglio’s memoirs may learn particulars (given with shame and regret, indeed, and yet with perfect Italian frankness) which it is not necessary to repeat here.

There were, however, many foreigners living at Rome in whose company Leopardi took great pleasure. They were chiefly Germans, and first among them was Niebuhr, who says of his first meeting with the poet: “Conceive of my astonishment when I saw standing before me in the poor little chamber a mere youth, pale and shy, frail in person, and obviously in ill health, who was by far the first, in fact the only, Greek philologist in Italy, the author of critical comments and observations which would have won honor for the first philologist in Germany, and yet only twenty-two years old! He had become thus profoundly learned without school, without instructor, without help, without encouragement, in his father’s house. I understand, too, that he is one of the first of the rising poets of Italy. What a nobly gifted people!”

Niebuhr offered to procure him a professorship of Greek philosophy in Berlin, but Leopardi would not consent to leave his own country; and then Niebuhr unsuccessfully used his influence to get him some employment from the papal government, — compliments and good wishes it gave him, but no employment and no pay.

From Rome Leopardi went to Milan, where he earned something — very little — as editor of a comment upon Petrarch. A little later he went to Bologna, where a generous and sympathetic nobleman made him tutor in his family; but Leopardi returned not long after to Recanati, where he probably found no greater content than he left there. Presently we find him at Pisa, and then at Florence, eking out the allowance from his father by such literary work as he could find to do. In the latter place it is somewhat dimly established that he again fell in love, though he despised the Florentine women almost as much as the Romans, for their extreme ignorance, folly, and pride. This love also was unhappy. There is no reason to believe that Leopardi, who inspired tender and ardent friendships in men, ever moved any woman to love. The Florentine ladies are darkly accused by one of his biographers of having laughed at the poor young pessimist, and it is very possible; but that need not make us think the worse of him, or of them either, for that matter. He is supposed to have figured the lady of his latest love under the name of Aspasia, in one of his poems, as he did his first love under that of Sylvia, in the poem so called. Doubtless the experience further embittered a life already sufficiently miserable. He left Florence, but after a brief sojourn at Rome he returned thither, where his friend Antonio Ranieri watched with a heavy heart the gradual decay of his forces, and persuaded him finally to seek the milder air of Naples. Ranieri’s father was, like Leopardi’s, of reactionary opinions, and the Neapolitan, dreading the effect of their discord, did not take his friend to his own house, but hired a villa at Capodimonte, where he lived four years in fraternal intimacy with Leopardi, and where the poet died in 1837.

Ranieri has in some sort made himself the champion of Leopardi’s fame. He has edited his poems, and has written a touching and beautiful sketch of his life. Their friendship, which was of the greatest tenderness, began when Leopardi sorely needed it; and Ranieri devoted himself to the hapless poet like a lover, as if to console him for the many years in which he had known neither reverence nor love. He indulged all the eccentricities of his guest, who for a sick man had certain strange habits, often not rising till evening, dining at midnight, and going to bed at dawn. Ranieri’s sister Paolina kept house for the friends, and shared all her brother’s compassion for Leopardi, whose family appears to have willingly left him to the care of these friends. How far the old unkindness between him and his father continued, it is hard to say. His last letter was written to his mother in May, 1837, some two weeks before his death; he thanks her for a present of ten dollars, — one may imagine from the gift and the gratitude that he was still held in a strict and parsimonious tutelage, — and begs her prayers and his father’s, for after he has seen them again, he shall not have long to live.

He did not see them again, but he continued to smile at the anxieties of his friends, who had too great reason to think that the end was much nearer than Leopardi himself supposed. On the night of the 14th of June, while they were waiting for the carriage which was to take them into the country, where they intended to pass the time together and sup at daybreak, Leopardi felt so great a difficulty of breathing — he called it asthma, but it was dropsy of the heart — that he begged them to send for a doctor. The doctor on seeing the sick man took Ranieri apart, and bade him fetch a priest without delay, and while they waited the coming of the friar, Leopardi spoke now and then with them, but sank rapidly. Finally, says Ranieri, “Leopardi opened his eyes, now larger even than their wont, and looked at me more fixedly than before. ‘I can’t see you,’ he said, with a kind of sigh. And he ceased to breathe, and his pulse and heart beat no more; and at the same moment the Friar Felice of the barefoot order of St. Augustine entered the chamber, while I, quite beside myself, called with a loud voice on him who had been my friend, my brother, my father, and who answered me nothing, and yet seemed to gaze upon me.... His death was inconceivable to me; the others were dismayed and mute; there arose between the good friar and myself the most cruel and painful dispute, ... I madly contending that my friend was still alive, and beseeching him with tears to accompany with the offices of religion the passing of that great soul. But he, touching again and again the pulse and the heart, continually answered that the spirit had taken flight. At last, a spontaneous and solemn silence fell upon all in the room; the friar knelt beside the dead, and we all followed his example. Then after long and profound meditation he prayed, and we prayed with him.”

In another place Ranieri says: “The malady of Leopardi was indefinable, for having its spring in the most secret sources of life, it was like life itself, inexplicable. The bones softened and dissolved away, refusing their frail support to the flesh that covered them. The flesh itself grew thinner and more lifeless every day, for the organs of nutrition denied their office of assimilation. The lungs, cramped into a space too narrow, and not sound themselves, expanded with difficulty. With difficulty the heart freed itself from the lymph with which a slow absorption burdened it. The blood, which ill renewed itself in the hard and painful respiration, returned cold, pale, and sluggish to the enfeebled veins. And in fine, the whole mysterious circle of life, moving with such great effort, seemed from moment to moment about to pause forever. Perhaps the great cerebral sponge, beginning and end of that mysterious circle, had prepotently sucked up all the vital forces, and itself consumed in a brief time all that was meant to suffice the whole system for a long period. However it may be, the life of Leopardi was not a course, as in most men, but truly a precipitation toward death.”

Some years before he died, Leopardi had a presentiment of his death, and his end was perhaps hastened by the nervous shock of the terror produced by the cholera, which was then raging in Naples. At that time the body of a Neapolitan minister of state who had died of cholera was cast into the common burial-pit at Naples — such was the fear of contagion, and so rapidly were the dead hurried to the grave. A heavy bribe secured the remains of Leopardi from this fate, and his dust now reposes in a little church on the road to Pozzuoli.

Leopardi as a young man

In 1817 the classicist Pietro Giordani (1774-1848) arrived at the Leopardi estate and he was to become a lifelong friend to the young poet.

Charlotte Napoléone Bonaparte (1802-1839) was the daughter of Joseph Bonaparte, the older brother of Emperor Napoleon I, and Julie Clary. Charlotte was a close friend of Leopardi.

Leopardi in later years

I Canti — Frederick Townsend translation, 1887



TO ITALY. (1818.)





































First edition of ‘I Canti’


M. N. M.






Original manuscript of ‘L’Infinito’


Giacomo Leopardi is a great name in Italy among philosophers and poets, but is quite unknown in this country, and Mr. Townsend has the honor of introducing him, in the most captivating way, to his countrymen. In Germany and France he has excited attention. Translations have been made of his works; essays have been written on his ideas. But in England his name is all but unheard of. Six or seven years ago Mr. Charles Edwards published a translation of the essays and dialogues, but no version of the poems has appeared, so far as I know. Leopardi was substantially a poet, — that is to say, he had imagination, sentiment, passion, an intense love of beauty, a powerful impulse towards things ideal. The sad tone of his speculations about the universe and human destiny gave an impression of mournfulness to his lines, but this rather deepened the pathos of his work. In the same breath he sang of love and the grave, and the love was the more eager for its brevity. He had the poetic temperament — sensitive, ardent, aspiring. He possessed the poetic aspect — the broad white brow, the large blue eyes. Some compared him to Byron, but the resemblance was external merely. In ideas, purpose, feeling, he was entirely unlike the Englishman; in the energy and fire of his style only did he somewhat resemble him. Worshippers have even ventured to class him with Dante, a comparison which shows, at least, in what estimation the poet could be held at home, and how largely the patriotic sentiment entered into the conception of poetical compositions, how necessary it was that the singer should be a bard. His verses ranged over a large field. They were philosophic, patriotic, amorous. There are odes, lyrics, satires, songs; many very beautiful and feeling; all noble and earnest. His three poems, “All’ Italia,” “Sopra il Monumento di Dante,” “A Angelo Mai,” gave him a national reputation. They touch the chords to which he always responded — patriotism, poetry, learning, a national idealism bearing aloft an enormous weight of erudition and thought.

Leopardi was born at Recanati, a small town about fifteen miles from Ancona, in 1798. He was of noble parentage, though not rich. His early disposition was joyous, but with the feverish joy of a highly-strung, nervous organization. He was a great student from boyhood; and severe application undermined a system that was never robust, and that soon became hopelessly diseased. Illness, accompanied with sharp pain, clipped the wings of his ambition, obliged him to forego preferment, and deepened the hopelessness that hung over his expectations. His hunger for love could not be satisfied, for his physical infirmity rendered a union undesirable, even if possible, while a craving ideality soon transcended any visible object of affection. He had warm friends of his own sex, one of whom, Antonio Ranieri, stayed by him in all vicissitudes, took him to Naples, and closed his eyes, June 14, 1837.

To this acute sensibility of frame must be added the torture of the heart arising from a difference with his father, who, as a Catholic, was disturbed by the skeptical tendencies of his son, and the perpetual irritation of a conflict with the large majority of even philosophical minds. An early death might have been anticipated. No amount of hopefulness, of zest for life, of thirst for opportunity, of genius for intellectual productiveness will counteract such predisposition to decay. The death of the body, however, has but ensured a speedier immortality of the soul; for many a thinker has since been busy in gathering up the fragments of his mind and keeping his memory fresh. His immense learning has been forgotten. His archæological knowledge, which fascinated Niebuhr, is of small account to-day. But his speculative and poetical genius is a permanent illumination.

Mr. Townsend, the translator, well known in New York, where he was born, lived ten years in Italy, and seven in Rome. He was a studious, thoughtful man; quiet, secluded, scholarly; an eminent student of Italian literature; a real sympathizer with Italian progress. By the cast of his mind and the course of his inward experience he was drawn towards Leopardi. His version adheres as closely to the original as is compatible with elegance and the preservation of metrical grace. He has not rendered into English all Leopardi’s poems, but he has presented the best of them, enough to give an idea of his author’s style of feeling and expression. What he has done, has been performed faithfully. It is worth remarking that he was attracted by the intense longing of the poet for love and appreciation, and by keen sympathy with his unhappy condition. It is needless to say that he did not share the pessimism that imparts a melancholy hue to the philosopher’s own doctrine, and that might have been modified if not dispelled by a different experience. The translation was finished at Siena, the summer of the earthquake, and was the last work Mr. Townsend ever did, the commotion outside not interrupting him, or causing him to suspend his application.

O. B. Frothingham.


[From the first Florentine Edition of the Poems, in the year 1831.]

To my Friends in Tuscany:

My dear Friends, I dedicate this book to you, in which, as is oft the case with Poets, I have sought to illustrate my sorrow, and with which I now — I cannot say it without tears — take leave of Literature and of my studies. I hoped these dear studies would have been the consolation of my old age, and thought, after having lost all the other joys and blessings of childhood and of youth, I had secured one, of which no power, no unhappiness could rob me. But I was scarcely twenty years old, when that weakness of nerves and of stomach, which has destroyed my life, and yet gives me no hope of death, robbed that only blessing of more than half its value, and, in my twenty-eighth year, has utterly deprived me of it, and, as I must think, forever. I have not been able to read these pages, and have been compelled to entrust their revision to other eyes and other hands. I will utter no more complaints, my dear friends; the consciousness of the depth of my affliction admits not of complaints and lamentations. I have lost all; I am a withered branch, that feels and suffers still. You only have I won! Your society, which must compensate me for all my studies, joys, and hopes, would almost outweigh my sorrows, did not my very sickness prevent me from enjoying it as I could wish, and did I not know that Fate will soon deprive me of this benefit, also, and will compel me to spend the remainder of my days, far from all the delights of civilized life, in a spot, far better suited to the dead than to the living. Your love, meanwhile, will ever follow me, and will yet cling to me, perhaps, when this body, which, indeed, no longer lives, shall be turned to ashes. Farewell! Your


TO ITALY. (1818.)

My country, I the walls, the arches see,

The columns, statues, and the towers

Deserted, of our ancestors;

But, ah, the glory I do not behold,

The laurel and the sword, that graced

Our sires of old.

Now, all unarmed, a naked brow,

A naked breast dost thou display.

Ah, me, how many wounds, what stains of blood!

Oh, what a sight art thou,

Most beautiful of women! I

To heaven cry aloud, and to the world:

“Who hath reduced her to this pass?

Say, say!” And worst of all, alas,

See, both her arms in chains are bound!

With hair dishevelled, and without a veil

She sits, disconsolate, upon the ground,

And hides her face between her knees,

As she bewails her miseries.

Oh, weep, my Italy, for thou hast cause;

Thou, who wast born the nations to subdue,

As victor, and as victim, too!

Oh, if thy eyes two living fountains were,

The volume of their tears could ne’er express

Thy utter helplessness, thy shame;

Thou, who wast once the haughty dame,

And, now, the wretched slave.

Who speaks, or writes of thee,

That must not bitterly exclaim:

“She once was great, but, oh, behold her now”?

Why hast thou fallen thus, oh, why?

Where is the ancient force?

Where are the arms, the valor, constancy?

Who hath deprived thee of thy sword?

What treachery, what skill, what labor vast,

Or what o’erwhelming horde

Whose fierce, invading tide, thou could’st not stem,

Hath robbed thee of thy robe and diadem?

From such a height how couldst thou fall so low?

Will none defend thee? No?

No son of thine? For arms, for arms, I call;

Alone I’ll fight for thee, alone will fall.

And from my blood, a votive offering,

May flames of fire in every bosom spring!

Where are thy sons? The sound of arms I hear,

Of chariots, of voices, and of drums;

From foreign lands it comes,

For which thy children fight.

Oh, hearken, hearken, Italy! I see, —

Or is it but a dream? —

A wavering of horse and foot,

And smoke, and dust, and flashing swords,

That like the lightning gleam.

Art thou not comforted? Dost turn away

Thy eyes, in horror, from the doubtful fray?

Ye gods, ye gods. Oh, can it be?

The youth of Italy

Their hireling swords for other lands have bared!

Oh, wretched he in war who falls,

Not for his native shores,

His loving wife and children dear,

But, fighting for another’s gain,

And by another’s foe is slain!

Nor can he say, as his last breath he draws,

“My mother-land, beloved, ah see,

The life thou gav’st, I render back to thee!”

Oh fortunate and dear and blessed,

The ancient days, when rushed to death the brave,

In crowds, their country’s life to save!

And you, forever glorious,

Thessalian straits,

Where Persia, Fate itself, could not withstand

The fiery zeal of that devoted band!

Do not the trees, the rocks, the waves,

The mountains, to each passer-by,

With low and plaintive voice tell

The wondrous tale of those who fell,

Heroes invincible who gave

Their lives, their Greece to save?

Then cowardly as fierce,

Xerxes across the Hellespont retired,

A laughing-stock to all succeeding time;

And up Anthela’s hill, where, e’en in death

The sacred Band immortal life obtained,

Simonides slow-climbing, thoughtfully,

Looked forth on sea and shore and sky.

And then, his cheeks with tears bedewed,

And heaving breast, and trembling foot, he stood,

His lyre in hand and sang:

“O ye, forever blessed,

Who bared your breasts unto the foeman’s lance,

For love of her, who gave you birth;

By Greece revered, and by the world admired,

What ardent love your youthful minds inspired,

To rush to arms, such perils dire to meet,

A fate so hard, with loving smiles to greet?

Her children, why so joyously,

Ran ye, that stern and rugged pass to guard?

As if unto a dance,

Or to some splendid feast,

Each one appeared to haste,

And not grim death Death to brave;

But Tartarus awaited ye,

And the cold Stygian wave;

Nor were your wives or children at your side,

When, on that rugged shore,

Without a kiss, without a tear, ye died.

But not without a fearful blow

To Persians dealt, and their undying shame.

As at a herd of bulls a lion glares,

Then, plunging in, upon the back

Of this one leaps, and with his claws

A passage all along his chine he tears,

And fiercely drives his teeth into his sides,

Such havoc Grecian wrath and valor made

Amongst the Persian ranks, dismayed.

Behold each prostrate rider and his steed;

Behold the chariots, and the fallen tents,

A tangled mass their flight impede;

And see, among the first to fly,

The tyrant, pale, and in disorder wild!

See, how the Grecian youths,

With blood barbaric dyed,

And dealing death on every side,

By slow degrees by their own wounds subdued,

The one upon the other fall. Farewell,

Ye heroes blessed, whose names shall live,

While tongue can speak, or pen your story tell!

Sooner the stars, torn from their spheres, shall hiss,

Extinguished in the bottom of the sea,

Than the dear memory, and love of you,

Shall suffer loss, or injury.

Your tomb an altar is; the mothers here

Shall come, unto their little ones to show

The lovely traces of your blood. Behold,

Ye blessed, myself upon the ground I throw,

And kiss these stones, these clods

Whose fame, unto the end of time,

Shall sacred be in every clime.

Oh, had I, too, been here with you,

And this dear earth had moistened with my blood!

But since stern Fate would not consent

That I for Greece my dying eyes should close,

In conflict with her foes,

Still may the gracious gods accept

The offering I bring,

And grant to me the precious boon,

Your Hymn of Praise to sing!”


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!”


Italian bold, why wilt thou never cease

The fathers from their tombs to summon forth?

Why bring them, with this dead age to converse,

That stifled is by enemies and by sloth?

And why dost thou, voice of our ancestors,

That hast so long been mute,

Resound so loud and frequent in our ears?

Why all these grand discoveries?

As in a flash the fruitful pages come,

What hath this wretched age deserved,

That dusty cloisters have for it reserved

These hidden treasures of the wise and brave?

Illustrious man, with what strange power

Does Fate thy ardent zeal befriend?

Or does Fate vainly with man’s will contend?

Without the lofty counsel of the gods,

It surely could not be, that now,

When we were never sunk so low,

In desperate oblivion of the Past,

Each moment, comes a cry renewed,

From our great sires, to shake our souls, at last!

Heaven still some pity shows for Italy;

Some god hath still our happiness at heart:

Since this, or else no other, is the hour,

Italian virtue to redeem,

And its old lustre once more to impart,

These pleading voices from the grave we hear;

Forgotten heroes rise from earth again,

To see, my country, if at this late day,

Thou still art pleased the coward’s part to play.

And do ye cherish still,

Illustrious shades, some hope of us?

Have we not perished utterly?

To you, perhaps, it is allowed, to read

The book of destiny. I am dismayed,

And have no refuge from my grief;

For dark to me the future is, and all

That I discern is such, as makes hope seem

A fable and a dream. To your old homes

A wretched crew succeed; to noble act or word,

They pay no heed; for your eternal fame

They know no envy, feel no blush of shame.

A filthy mob your monuments defile:

To ages yet unborn,

We have become a by-word and a scorn.

Thou noble spirit, if no others care

For our great Fathers’ fame, oh, care thou still,

Thou, to whom Fate hath so benignant been,

That those old days appear again,

When, roused from dire oblivion’s tomb,

Came forth, with all the treasures of their lore,

Those ancient bards, divine, with whom

Great Nature spake, but still behind her veil,

And with her mysteries graced

The holidays of Athens and of Rome.

O times, now buried in eternal sleep!

Our country’s ruin was not then complete;

We then a life of wretched sloth disdained;

Still from our native soil were borne afar,

Some sparks of genius by the passing air.

Thy holy ashes still were warm,

Whom hostile fortune ne’er unmanned;

Unto whose anger and whose grief,

Hell was more grateful than thy native land.

Ah, what, but hell, has Italy become?

And thy sweet cords

Still trembled at the touch of thy right hand,

Unhappy bard of love.

Alas, Italian song is still the child

Of sorrow born.

And yet, less hard to bear,

Consuming grief than dull vacuity!

O blessed thou, whose life was one lament!

Disgust and nothingness are still our doom,

And by our cradle sit, and on our tomb.

But thy life, then, was with the stars and sea,

Liguria’s hardy son,

When thou, beyond the columns and the shores,

Where oft, at set of sun,

The waves are heard to hiss,

As he into their depths has plunged,

Committed to the boundless deep,

Didst find again the sun’s declining ray,

The new-born day didst find,

When it from us had passed away;

Defying Nature’s every obstacle,

A land unknown didst win, the glorious spoils

Of all thy perils, all thy toils.

And yet, when known, the world seems smaller still;

And earth and ocean, and the heavenly sphere

More vast unto the child, than to the sage appear.

Where now are all the charming dreams

Of the mysterious retreats

Of dwellers unto us unknown,

Or where, by day, the stars to rest have gone,

Or of the couch remote of Eos bright,

Or of the sun’s mysterious sleep at night?

They, in an instant, vanished all;

A little chart portrays this earthly ball.

Lo, all things are alike; discovery

But proves the way for dull vacuity.

Farewell to thee, O Fancy, dear,

If plain, unvarnished truth appear!

Thought more and more is still estranged from thee;

Thy power so mighty once, will soon be gone,

And our poor, wounded hearts be left forlorn.

But thou for these sweet dreams wast born,

And the old sun upon thee shone,

Delightful singer of the arms, and loves,

That in an age far happier than our own,

Men’s lives with pleasing errors filled.

New hope of Italy! O towers, O caves,

O ladies, cavaliers,

O gardens, palaces! Amenites,

At thought of which, the mind

Is lost in thousand splendid reveries!

Ye lovely fables, and ye thoughts grotesque,

Now banished! And what to us remains?

Now that the bloom from all things is removed?

Alas, the sole, the certain thought,

That all except our wretchedness, is nought.

Torquato, O Torquato, heaven to us

The rich gift of thy genius gave, to thee

Nought else but misery.

Ill-starred Torquato, whom thy song,

So sweet, could not console,

Nor melt the ice, to which

The genial current of thy soul

Was turned, by private envy, princely hate;

And then, by Love abandoned, life’s last dream!

To thee, nought real seemed but nothingness,

The world a dreary wilderness.

Too late the honors came, so long deferred;

And yet, to die was unto thee a gain.

Who knows the evils of our mortal state,

Demands but death, no garland asks, of Fate.

Return, return to us,

Rise from thy silent, dreary tomb,

And feast thine eyes on our distress,

O thou, whose life was crowned with wretchedness!

Far worse than what appeared to thee so sad

And infamous, have all our lives become.

Dear friend, who now would pity thee,

When none save for himself hath thought or care?

Who would not thy keen anguish folly call,

When all things great and rare the name of folly bear?

When envy, no, but worse than envy, far,

Indifference pervades our rulers all?

Ah, who would now, when we all think

Of song so little, and so much of gain,

A laurel for thy brow prepare again?

Ah, since thy day, there has appeared but one,

Who has the fame of Italy redeemed:

Too good for his vile age, he stands alone;

One of the fierce Allobroges,

Whose manly virtue was derived

Direct from heavenly powers,

Not from this dry, unfruitful earth of ours;

Whence he alone, unarmed, —

O matchless courage! — from the stage,

Did war upon the ruthless tyrants wage;

The only war, the only weapon left,

Against the crimes and follies of the age.

First, and alone, he took the field:

None followed him; all else were cowards tame,

Lost to all sense of honor, or of shame.

Devoured by anger and by grief,

His spotless life he passed,

Till from worse scenes released by death, at last.

O my Victorio, this was not for thee

The fitting age, or land.

Great souls congenial times and climes demand.

In mere repose we live content,

And vulgar mediocrity;

The wise man sinks, the mob ascends,

Till all at last in one dread level ends.

Go on, thou great discoverer!

Revive the dead, since all the living sleep!

Dead tongues of ancient heroes arm anew;

Till this vile age a new life strive to win

By noble deeds, or perish in its sin!


Since now thou art about to leave

Thy father’s quiet house,

And all the phantoms and illusions dear,

That heaven-born fancies round it weave,

And to this lonely region lend their charm,

Unto the dust and noise of life condemned,

By destiny, soon wilt thou learn to see

Our wretchedness and infamy,

My sister dear, who, in these mournful times,

Alas, wilt more unhappy souls bestow

On our unhappy Italy!

With strong examples strengthen thou their minds;

For cruel fate propitious gales

Hath e’er to virtue’s course denied,

Nor in weak souls can purity reside.

Thy sons must either poor, or cowards be.

Prefer them poor. It is the custom still.

Desert and fortune never yet were friends;

The strife between them never ends.

Unhappy they, who in these evil days

Are born when all things totter to their fall!

But that we must to heaven leave.

Be this, above all things, thy care,

Thy children still to rear,

As those who court not Fortune’s smiles,

Nor playthings are of idle hope, or fear:

And so the future age will call them blessed;

For, in this slothful and deceitful world,

The living virtue ever we despise,

The dead we load with eulogies.

Women, to you our country looks,

For the redemption of her fame:

Ah, not unto our injury and shame,

On the soft lustre of your eyes

A power far mightier was conferred

Than that of fire or sword!

The wise and strong, in thought and act, are by

Your judgment led; nay all who live

Beneath the sun, to you still bend the knee.

On you I call, then; answer me!

Have you youth’s holy aspirations quenched?

And are our natures broken, crushed by you?

These sluggish minds, these low desires,

These nerveless arms, these feeble knees.

Say, say, are you to blame for these?

Love is the spur to noble deeds,

To him its worth who knows;

And beauty still to lofty love inspires.

Love never in his spirit glows,

Whose heart exults not in his breast,

When angry winds in fight descend,

And heaven gathers all its clouds,

And mountain crests the lightnings rend.

O wives, O maidens, he

Who shrinks from danger, turns his back upon

His country in her need, and only seeks

His base desires and appetites to feed,

Excites your hatred and your scorn;

If ye for men, and not for milk-sops, feel

The glow of love o’er your soft bosoms steal.

The mothers of unwarlike sons

O may ye ne’er be called!

Your children still inure

For virtue’s sake all trials to endure;

To scorn the vices of this wretched age;

To cherish loyal thoughts, and high desires;

And learn how much they owe unto their sires.

The sons of Sparta thus became,

Amid the memories of heroes old,

Deserving of the Grecian name;

While the young spouse the trusty sword

Upon the loved one’s side would gird,

And, afterwards, with her black locks,

The bloodless, naked corpse concealed,

When homeward borne upon the faithful shield.

Virginia, thy soft cheek

In Beauty’s finest mould was framed;

But thy disdain Rome’s haughty lord inflamed.

How lovely wast thou, in thy youth’s sweet prime,

When the rough dagger of thy sire

Thy snowy breast did smite,

And thou, a willing victim, didst descend

Into realms of night!

“May old age wither and consume my frame,

O father,” — thus she said;

“And may they now for me the tomb prepare,

E’er I the impious bed

Of that foul tyrant share:

And if my blood new life and liberty

May give to Rome, by thy hand let me die!”

Ah, in those better days

When more propitious shone the sun than now,

Thy tomb, dear child, was not left comfortless,

But honored with the tears of all.

Behold, around thy lovely corpse, the sons

Of Romulus with holy wrath inflamed;

Behold the tyrants locks with dust besmeared;

In sluggish breasts once more

The sacred name of Liberty revered;

Behold o’er all the subjugated earth,

The troops of Latium march triumphant forth,

From torrid desert to the gloomy pole.

And thus eternal Rome,

That had so long in sloth oblivious lain,

A daughter’s sacrifice revives again.


The face of glory and her pleasant voice,

O fortunate youth, now recognize,

And how much nobler than effeminate sloth

Are manhood’s tested energies.

Take heed, O generous champion, take heed,

If thou thy name by worthy thought or deed,

From Time’s all-sweeping current couldst redeem;

Take heed, and lift thy heart to high desires!

The amphitheatre’s applause, the public voice,

Now summon thee to deeds illustrious;

Exulting in thy lusty youth.

In thee, to-day, thy country dear

Beholds her heroes old again appear.

His hand was ne’er with blood barbaric stained,

At Marathon,

Who on the plain of Elis could behold

The naked athletes, and the wrestlers bold,

And feel no glow of emulous zeal within,

The laurel wreath of victory to win.

And he, who in Alphēus stream did wash

The dusty manes and foaming flanks

Of his victorious mares, he best could lead

The Grecian banners and the Grecian swords

Against the flying, panic-stricken ranks

Of Medes, who, dying, Asia’s shore

And great Euphrates will behold no more.

And will you call that vain, which seeks

The latent sparks of virtue to evolve,

Or animate anew to high resolve,

The drooping fervor of our weary souls?

What but a game have mortal works e’er been,

Since Phœbus first his weary wheels did urge?

And is not truth, no less than falsehood, vain?

And yet, with pleasing phantoms, fleeting shows,

Nature herself to our relief has come;

And custom, aiding nature, still must strive

These strong illusions to revive;

Or else all thirst for noble deeds is gone,

Is lost in sloth, and blind oblivion.

The time may come, perchance, when midst

The ruins of Italian palaces,

Will herds of cattle graze,

And all the seven hills the plough will feel;

Not many years will have elapsed, perchance,

E’er all the towns of Italy

Will the abode of foxes be,

And dark groves murmur ‘mid the lofty walls;

Unless the Fates from our perverted minds

Remove this sad oblivion of the Past;

And heaven by grateful memories appeased,

Relenting, in the hour of our despair,

The abject nations, ripe for slaughter, spare.

But thou, O worthy youth, wouldst grieve,

Thy wretched country to survive.

Thou once through her mightst have acquired renown,

When on her brow she wore the glittering crown,

Now lost! Our fault, and Fate’s! That time is o’er;

Ah, such a mother who could honor, more?

But for thyself, O lift thy thoughts on high!

What is our life? A thing to be despised:

Least wretched, when with perils so beset,

It must, perforce, its wretched self forget,

Nor heed the flight of slow-paced, worthless hours;

Or, when, to Lethe’s dismal shore impelled,

It hath once more the light of day beheld.


When in the Thracian dust uprooted lay,

In ruin vast, the strength of Italy,

And Fate had doomed Hesperia’s valleys green,

And Tiber’s shores,

The trampling of barbarian steeds to feel,

And from the leafless groves,

On which the Northern Bear looks down,

Had called the Gothic hordes,

That Rome’s proud walls might fall before their swords;

Exhausted, wet with brothers’ blood,

Alone sat Brutus, in the dismal night;

Resolved on death, the gods implacable

Of heaven and hell he chides,

And smites the listless, drowsy air

With his fierce cries of anger and despair.

“O foolish virtue, empty mists,

The realms of shadows, are thy schools,

And at thy heels repentance follows fast.

To you, ye marble gods

(If ye in Phlegethon reside, or dwell

Above the clouds), a mockery and scorn

Is the unhappy race,

Of whom you temples ask,

And fraudulent the law that you impose.

Say, then, does earthly piety provoke

The anger of the gods?

O Jove, dost thou protect the impious?

And when the storm-cloud rushes through the air,

And thou thy thunderbolts dost aim,

Against the just dost thou impel the sacred flame?

Unconquered Fate and stern necessity

Oppress the feeble slaves of Death:

Unable to avert their injuries,

The common herd endure them patiently.

But is the ill less hard to bear,

Because it has no remedy?

Does he who knows no hope no sorrow feel?

The hero wages war with thee,

Eternal deadly war, ungracious Fate,

And knows not how to yield; and thy right hand,

Imperious, proudly shaking off,

E’en when it weighs upon him most,

Though conquered, is triumphant still,

When his sharp sword inflicts the fatal blow;

And seeks with haughty smile the shades below.

“Who storms the gates of Tartarus,

Offends the gods.

Such valor does not suit, forsooth,

Their soft, eternal bosoms; no?

Or are our toils and miseries,

And all the anguish of our hearts,

A pleasant sport, their leisure to beguile?

Yet no such life of crime and wretchedness,

But pure and free as her own woods and fields,

Nature to us prescribed; a queen

And goddess once. Since impious custom, now,

Her happy realm hath scattered to the winds,

And other laws on this poor life imposed,

Will Nature of fool-hardiness accuse

The manly souls, who such a life refuse?

“Of crime, and their own sufferings ignorant,

Serene old age the beasts conducts

Unto the death they ne’er foresee.

But if, by misery impelled, they sought

To dash their heads against the rugged tree,

Or, plunging headlong from the lofty rock,

Their limbs to scatter to the winds.

No law mysterious, misconception dark,

Would the sad wish refuse to grant.

Of all that breathe the breath of life,

You, only, children of Prometheus, feel

That life a burden hard to bear;

Yet, would you seek the silent shores of death,

If sluggish fate the boon delay,

To you, alone, stern Jove forbids the way.

“And thou, white moon, art rising from the sea,

That with our blood is stained;

The troubled night dost thou survey,

And field, so fatal unto Italy.

On brothers’ breasts the conqueror treads;

The hills with fear are thrilled;

From her proud heights Rome totters to her fall.

And smilest thou upon the dismal scene?

Lavinia’s children from their birth,

And all their prosperous years,

And well-earned laurels, hast thou seen;

And thou wilt smile, with ray unchanged,

Upon the Alps, when, bowed with grief and shame,

The haughty city, desolate and lone,

Beneath the tread of Gothic hordes shall groan.

“Behold, amid the naked rocks,

Or on the verdant bough, the beast and bird,

Whose breasts are ne’er by thought or memory stirred,

Of the vast ruin take no heed,

Or of the altered fortunes of the world;

And when the humble herdsman’s cot

Is tinted with the earliest rays of dawn,

The one will wake the valleys with his song,

The other, o’er the cliffs, the frightened throng

Of smaller beasts before him drive.

O foolish race! Most wretched we, of all!

Nor are these blood-stained fields,

These caverns, that our groans have heard,

Regardful of our misery;

Nor shines one star less brightly in the sky.

Not the deaf kings of heaven or hell,

Or the unworthy earth,

Or night, do I in death invoke,

Or thee, last gleam the dying hour that cheers,

The voice of coming ages. I no tomb

Desire, to be with sobs disturbed, or with

The words and gifts of wretched fools adorned.

The times grow worse and worse;

And who, unto a vile posterity,

The honor of great souls would trust,

Or fit atonement for their wrongs?

Then let the birds of prey around me wheel:

And let my wretched corpse

The lightning blast, the wild beast tear;

And let my name and memory melt in air!”


Now that the sun the faded charms

Of heaven again restores,

And gentle zephyr the sick air revives,

And the dark shadows of the clouds

Are put to flight,

And birds their naked breasts confide

Unto the wind, and the soft light,

With new desire of love, and with new hope,

The conscious beasts, in the deep woods,

Amid the melting frosts, inspires;

May not to you, poor human souls,

Weary, and overborne with grief,

The happy age return, which misery,

And truth’s dark torch, before its time, consumed?

Have not the golden rays

Of Phœbus vanished from your gaze

Forever? Say, O gentle Spring,

Canst thou this icy heart inspire, and melt,

That in the bloom of youth, the frost of age hath felt?

O holy Nature, art thou still alive?

Alive? And does the unaccustomed ear

Of thy maternal voice the accents hear?

Of white nymphs once, the streams were the abode.

And in the clear founts mirrored were their forms.

Mysterious dances of immortal feet

The mountain tops and lofty forests shook, —

To-day the lonely mansions of the winds; —

And when the shepherd-boy the noontide shade

Would seek, or bring his thirsty lambs

Unto the flowery margin of the stream,

Along the banks the clear song would he hear,

And pipe of rustic Fauns;

Would see the waters move,

And stand amazed, when, hidden from the view,

The quiver-bearing goddess would descend

Into the genial waves,

And from her snow-white arms efface

The dust and blood of the exciting chase.

The flowers, the herbs once lived,

The groves with life were filled:

Soft airs, and clouds, and every shining light

Were with the human race in sympathy,

When thee, fair star of Venus, o’er

The hills and dales,

The traveller, in the lonely night,

Pursuing with his earnest gaze,

The sweet companion of his path,

The loving friend of mortals deemed:

When he, who, fleeing from the impious strife

Of cities filled with mutiny and shame,

In depths of woods remote,

The rough trees clasping to his breast,

The vital flame seemed in their veins to feel,

The breathing leaves of Daphne, or of Phyllis sad;

And seemed the sisters’ tears to see, still shed

For him who, smitten by the lightning’s blast,

Into the swift Eridanus was cast.

Nor were ye deaf, ye rigid rocks,

To human sorrow’s plaintive tones,

While in your dark recesses Echo dwelt,

No idle plaything of the winds,

But spirit sad of hapless nymph,

Whom unrequited love, and cruel fate,

Of her soft limbs deprived. She o’er the grots,

The naked rocks, and mansions desolate,

Unto the depths of all-embracing air,

Our sorrows, not to her unknown,

Our broken, loud laments conveyed.

And thou, if fame belie thee not,

Didst sound the depths of human woe,

Sweet bird, that comest to the leafy grove,

The new-born Spring to greet,

And when the fields are hushed in sleep,

To chant into the dark and silent air,

The ancient wrongs, and cruel treachery,

That stirred the pity of the gods, to see.

But, no, thy race is not akin to ours;

No sorrow framed thy melodies;

Thy voice of crime unconscious, pleases less,

Along the dusky valley heard.

Ah, since the mansions of Olympus all

Are desolate, and without guide, the bolt,

That, wandering o’er the cloud-capped mountain-tops,

In horror cold dissolves alike

The guilty and the innocent;

Since this, our earthly home,

A stranger to her children has become,

And brings them up, to misery;

Lend thou an ear, dear Nature, to the woes

And wretched fate of mortals, and revive

The ancient spark within my breast;

If thou, indeed, dost live, if aught there is,

In heaven, or on the sun-lit earth,

Or in the bosom of the sea,

That pities? No; but sees our misery.


Illustrious fathers of the human race,

Of you, the song of your afflicted sons

Will chant the praise; of you, more dear, by far,

Unto the Great Disposer of the stars,

Who were not born to wretchedness, like ours.

Immedicable woes, a life of tears,

The silent tomb, eternal night, to find

More sweet, by far, than the ethereal light,

These things were not by heaven’s gracious law

Imposed on you. If ancient legends speak

Of sins of yours, that brought calamity

Upon the human race, and fell disease,

Alas, the sins more terrible, by far,

Committed by your children, and their souls

More restless, and with mad ambition fixed,

Against them roused the wrath of angry gods,

The hand of all-sustaining Nature armed,

By them so long neglected and despised.

Then life became a burden and a curse,

And every new-born babe a thing abhorred,

And hell and chaos reigned upon the earth.

Thou first the day, and thou the shining lights

Of the revolving stars didst see, the fields,

And their new flocks and herds, O leader old

And father of the human family!

The wandering air that o’er the meadows played,

When smote the rocks, and the deserted vales,

The torrent, rustling headlong from the Alps,

With sound, till then, unheard; and o’er the sites

Of future nations, noisy cities, yet unknown

To fame, a peace profound, mysterious reigned;

And o’er the unploughed hills, in silence, rose

The ray of Phœbus, and the golden moon.

O world, how happy in thy loneliness,

Of crimes and of disasters ignorant!

Oh, how much wretchedness Fate had in store

For thy poor race, unhappy father, what

A series vast of terrible events!

Behold, the fields, scarce tilled, with blood are stained,

A brother’s blood, in sudden frenzy shed;

And now, alas, first hears the gentle air

The whirring of the fearful wings of Death.

The trembling fratricide, a fugitive,

The lonely shades avoids; in every blast

That sweeps the groves, a voice of wrath he hears.

He the first city builds, abode and realm

Of wasting cares; repentance desperate,

Heart-sick, and groaning, thus unites and binds

Together blind and sinful souls, and first

A refuge offers unto mutual guilt.

The wicked hand now scorns the crooked plough;

The sweat of honest labor is despised;

Now sloth possession of the threshold takes;

The sluggish frames their native vigor lose;

The minds in hopeless indolence are sunk;

And slavery, the crowning curse of all,

Degrades and crushes poor humanity.

And thou from heaven’s wrath, and ocean’s waves,

That bellowed round the cloud-capped mountain-tops,

The sinful brood didst save; thou, unto whom,

From the dark air and wave-encumbered hills,

The white dove brought the sign of hope renewed,

And sinking in the west, the shipwrecked sun,

His bright rays darting through the angry clouds,

The dark sky painted with the lovely bow.

The race restored, to earth returned, begins anew

The same career of wickedness and lust,

With their attendant ills. Audacious man

Defies the threats of the avenging sea,

And to new shores and to new stars repeats

The same sad tale of infamy and woe.

And now of thee I think, the just and brave,

The Father of the faithful, and the sons

Thy honored name that bore. Of thee I speak,

Whom, sitting, thoughtful, in the noontide shade,

Before thy humble cottage, near the banks,

That gave thy flocks both rest and nourishment,

The minds ethereal of celestial guests

With blessings greeted; and of thee, O son

Of wise Rebecca, how at eventide,

In Aran’s valley sweet, and by the well,

Where happy swains in friendly converse met,

Thou didst with Laban’s daughter fall in love;

Love, that to exile long, and suffering,

And to the odious yoke of servitude,

Thy patient soul a willing martyr led.

Oh, surely once, — for not with idle tales

And shadows, the Aonian song, and voice

Of Fame, the eager list’ners feed, — once was

This wretched earth more friendly to our race,

Was more beloved and dear, and golden flew

The days, that now so laden are with care.

Not that the milk, in waves of purest white,

Gushed from the rocks, and flowed along the vales;

Or that the tigers mingled with the sheep,

To the same fold were led; or shepherd-boys

With playful wolves would frolic at the spring;

But of its own lot ignorant, and all

The sufferings that were in store, devoid

Of care it lived: a soft, illusive veil

Of error hid the stern realities,

The cruel laws of heaven and of fate.

Life glided on, with cheerful hope content;

And tranquil, sought the haven of its rest.

So lives, in California’s forests vast,

A happy race, whose life-blood is not drained

By pallid care, whose limbs are not by fierce

Disease consumed: the woods their food, their homes

The hollow rock, the streamlet of the vale

Its waters furnishes, and, unforeseen,

Dark death upon them steals. Ah, how unarmed,

Wise Nature’s happy votaries, are ye,

Against our impious audacity!

Our fierce, indomitable love of gain

Your shores, your caves, your quiet woods invades;

Your minds corrupts, your bodies enervates;

And happiness, a naked fugitive,

Before it drives, to earth’s remotest bounds.


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.


Ah, well can I the day recall, when first

The conflict fierce of love I felt, and said:

If this be love, how hard it is to bear!

With eyes still fixed intent upon the ground,

I saw but her, whose artless innocence,

Triumphant took possession of this heart.

Ah, Love, how badly hast thou governed me!

Why should affection so sincere and pure,

Bring with it such desire, such suffering?

Why not serene, and full, and free from guile

But sorrow-laden, and lamenting sore,

Should joy so great into my heart descend?

O tell me, tender heart, that sufferest so,

Why with that thought such anguish should be blent,

Compared with which, all other thoughts were naught?

That thought, that ever present in the day,

That in the night more vivid still appeared,

When all things round in sweet sleep seemed to rest:

Thou, restless, both with joy and misery

Didst with thy constant throbbings weary so

My breast, as panting in my bed I lay.

And when worn out with grief and weariness,

In sleep my eyes I closed, ah, no relief

It gave, so broken and so feverish!

How brightly from the depths of darkness, then,

The lovely image rose, and my closed eyes,

Beneath their lids, their gaze upon it fed!

O what delicious impulses, diffused,

My weary frame with sweet emotion filled!

What myriad thoughts, unstable and confused,

Were floating in my mind! As through the leaves

Of some old grove, the west wind, wandering,

A long, mysterious murmur leaves behind.

And as I, silent, to their influence yield,

What saidst thou, heart, when she departed, who

Had caused thee all thy throbs, and suffering?

No sooner had I felt within, the heat

Of love’s first flame, than with it flew away

The gentle breeze, that fanned it into life.

Sleepless I lay, until the dawn of day;

The steeds, that were to leave me desolate,

Their hoofs were beating at my father’s gate.

And I, in mute suspense, poor timid fool,

With eye that vainly would the darkness pierce,

And eager ear intent, lay, listening,

That voice to hear, if, for the last time, I

Might catch the accents from those lovely lips;

The voice alone; all else forever lost!

How many vulgar tones my doubtful ear

Would smite, with deep disgust inspiring me,

With doubt tormented, holding hard my breath!

And when, at last, that voice into my heart

Descended, passing sweet, and when the sound

Of horses and of wheels had died away;

In utter desolation, then, my head

I in my pillow buried, closed my eyes,

And pressed my hand against my heart, and sighed.

Then, listlessly, my trembling knees across

The silent chamber dragging, I exclaimed,

“Nothing on earth can interest me more!”

The bitter recollection cherishing

Within my breast, to every voice my heart,

To every face, insensible remained.

Long I remained in hopeless sorrow drowned;

As when the heavens far and wide their showers

Incessant pour upon the fields around.

Nor had I, Love, thy cruel power known,

A boy of eighteen summers flown, until

That day, when I thy bitter lesson learned;

When I each pleasure held in scorn, nor cared

The shining stars to see, or meadows green,

Or felt the charm of holy morning light;

The love of glory, too, no longer found

An echo in my irresponsive breast,

That, once, the love of beauty with it shared.

My favorite studies I neglected quite;

And those things vain appeared, compared with which,

I used to think all other pleasures vain.

Ah! how could I have changed so utterly?

How could one passion all the rest destroy?

Indeed, what helpless mortals are we all!

My heart my only comfort was, and with

That heart, in conference perpetual,

A constant watch upon my grief to keep.

My eye still sought the ground, or in itself

Absorbed, shrank from encountering the glance

Of lovely or unlovely countenance;

The stainless image fearing to disturb,

So faithfully reflected in my breast;

As winds disturb the mirror of the lake.

And that regret, that I could not enjoy

Such happiness, which weighs upon the mind,

And turns to poison pleasure that has passed,

Did still its thorn within my bosom lodge,

As I the past recalled; but shame, indeed,

Left not its cruel sting within this heart.

To heaven, to you, ye gentle souls, I swear,

No base desire intruded on my thought;

But with a pure and sacred flame I burned.

That flame still lives, and that affection pure;

Still in my thought that lovely image breathes,

From which, save heavenly, I no other joy,

Have ever known; my only comfort, now!


Thou from the top of yonder antique tower,

O lonely sparrow, wandering, hast gone,

Thy song repeating till the day is done,

And through this valley strays the harmony.

How Spring rejoices in the fields around,

And fills the air with light,

So that the heart is melted at the sight!

Hark to the bleating flocks, the lowing herds!

In sweet content, the other birds

Through the free sky in emulous circles wheel,

In pure enjoyment of their happy time:

Thou, pensive, gazest on the scene apart,

Nor wilt thou join them in the merry round;

Shy playmate, thou for mirth hast little heart;

And with thy plaintive music, dost consume

Both of the year, and of thy life, the bloom.

Alas, how much my ways

Resemble thine! The laughter and the sport,

That fill with glee our youthful days,

And thee, O love, who art youth’s brother still,

Too oft the bitter sigh of later years,

I care not for; I know not why,

But from them ever distant fly:

Here in my native place,

As if of alien race,

My spring of life I like a hermit pass.

This day, that to the evening now gives way,

Is in our town an ancient holiday.

Hark, through the air, that voice of festal bell,

While rustic guns in frequent thunders sound,

Reverberated from the hills around.

In festal robes arrayed,

The neighboring youth,

Their houses leaving, o’er the roads are spread;

They pleasant looks exchange, and in their hearts

Rejoice. I, lonely, in this distant spot,

Along the country wandering,

Postpone all pleasure and delight

To some more genial time: meanwhile,

As through the sunny air around I gaze,

My brow is smitten by his rays,

As after such a day serene,

Dropping behind yon distant hills,

He vanishes, and seems to say,

That thus all happy youth must pass away.

Thou, lonely little bird, when thou

Hast reached the evening of the days

Thy stars assign to thee,

Wilt surely not regret thy ways;

For all thy wishes are

Obedient to Nature’s law. But ah!

If I, in spite of all my prayers,

Am doomed the hateful threshold of old age

To cross, when these dull eyes will give

No response to another’s heart,

The world to them a void will be,

Each day become more full of misery,

How then, will this, my wish appear

In those dark hours, that dungeon drear?

My blighted youth, my sore distress,

Alas, will then seem happiness!


This lonely hill to me was ever dear,

This hedge, which shuts from view so large a part

Of the remote horizon. As I sit

And gaze, absorbed, I in my thought conceive

The boundless spaces that beyond it range,

The silence supernatural, and rest

Profound; and for a moment I am calm.

And as I listen to the wind, that through

These trees is murmuring, its plaintive voice

I with that infinite compare;

And things eternal I recall, and all

The seasons dead, and this, that round me lives,

And utters its complaint. Thus wandering

My thought in this immensity is drowned;

And sweet to me is shipwreck on this sea.


The night is mild and clear, and without wind,

And o’er the roofs, and o’er the gardens round

The moon shines soft, and from afar reveals

Each mountain-peak serene. O lady, mine,

Hushed now is every path, and few and dim

The lamps that glimmer through the balconies.

Thou sleepest! in thy quiet rooms, how light

And easy is thy sleep! No care thy heart

Consumes; and little dost thou know or think,

How deep a wound thou in my heart hast made.

Thou sleepest; I to yonder heaven turn,

That seems to greet me with a loving smile,

And to that Nature old, omnipotent,

That doomed me still to suffer. “I to thee

All hope deny,” she said, “e’en hope; nor may

Those eyes of thine e’er shine, save through their tears.”

This was a holiday; its pleasures o’er,

Thou seek’st repose; and happy in thy dreams

Recallest those whom thou hast pleased to-day,

And those who have pleased thee: not I, indeed, —

I hoped it not, — unto thy thoughts occur.

Meanwhile, I ask, how much of life remains

To me; and on the earth I cast myself,

And cry, and groan. How wretched are my days,

And still so young! Hark, on the road I hear,

Not far away, the solitary song

Of workman, who returns at this late hour,

In merry mood, unto his humble home;

And in my heart a cruel pang I feel,

At thought, how all things earthly pass away,

And leave no trace behind. This festal day

Hath fled; a working-day now follows it,

And all, alike, are swept away by Time.

Where is the glory of the antique nations now?

Where now the fame of our great ancestors?

The empire vast of Rome, the clash of arms?

Now all is peace and silence, all the world

At rest; their very names are heard no more.

E’en from my earliest years, when we

Expect so eagerly a holiday,

The moment it was past, I sought my couch,

Wakeful and sad; and at the midnight hour,

When I the song heard of some passer-by,

That slowly in the distance died away,

The same deep anguish felt I in my heart.


O lovely moon, how well do I recall

The time,— ’tis just a year — when up this hill

I came, in my distress, to gaze at thee:

And thou suspended wast o’er yonder grove,

As now thou art, which thou with light dost fill.

But stained with mist, and tremulous, appeared

Thy countenance to me, because my eyes

Were filled with tears, that could not be suppressed;

For, oh, my life was wretched, wearisome,

And is so still, unchanged, belovèd moon!

And yet this recollection pleases me,

This computation of my sorrow’s age.

How pleasant is it, in the days of youth,

When hope a long career before it hath,

And memories are few, upon the past

To dwell, though sad, and though the sadness last!


It was the morning; through the shutters closed,

Along the balcony, the earliest rays

Of sunlight my dark room were entering;

When, at the time that sleep upon our eyes

Its softest and most grateful shadows casts,

There stood beside me, looking in my face,

The image dear of her, who taught me first

To love, then left me to lament her loss.

To me she seemed not dead, but sad, with such

A countenance as the unhappy wear.

Her right hand near my head she sighing placed;

“Dost thou still live,” she said to me, “and dost

Thou still remember what we were and are?”

And I replied: “Whence comest thou, and how,

Beloved and beautiful? Oh how, how I

Have grieved, still grieve for thee! Nor did I think

Thou e’er couldst know it more; and oh, that thought

My sorrow rendered more disconsolate!

But art thou now again to leave me?

I fear so. Say, what hath befallen thee?

Art thou the same? What preys upon thee thus?”

“Oblivion weighs upon thy thoughts, and sleep

Envelops them,” she answered; “I am dead,

And many months have passed, since last we met.”

What grief oppressed me, as these words I heard!

And she continued: “In the flower of youth

Cut off, when life is sweetest, and before

The heart that lesson sad and sure hath learnt,

The utter vanity of human hope!

The sick man may e’en covet, as a boon,

That which withdraws him from all suffering;

But to the young, Death comes, disconsolate;

And hard the fate of hope, that in the grave

Is quenched! And yet, how vain that knowledge is,

That Nature from the inexperienced hides!

And a blind sorrow is to be preferred

To wisdom premature!”— “Hush, hush!” I cried,

“Unhappy one, and dear! My heart is crushed

With these thy words! And art thou dead, indeed,

O my beloved? and am I still alive?

And was it, then, in heaven decreed, that this,

Thy tender body the last damps of death

Should feel, and my poor, wretched frame remain

Unharmed? Oh, often, often as I think

That thou no longer livest, and that I

Shall never see thee on the earth again,

Incredible it seems! Alas, alas!

What is this thing, that they call death? Oh, would

That I, this day, the mystery could solve,

And my defenceless head withdraw from Fate’s

Relentless hate! I still am young, and still

Feel all the blight and misery of age,

Which I so dread; and distant far it seems;

But, ah, how little different from age,

The flower of my years!”— “We both were born,”

She said, “to weep; unhappy were our lives,

And heaven took pleasure in our sufferings.”

“Oh if my eyes with tears,” I added, “then,

My face with pallor veiled thou seest, for loss

Of thee, and anguish weighing on my heart;

Tell me, was any spark of pity or of love

For the poor lover kindled in thy heart,

While thou didst live? I, then, between my hope

And my despair, passed weary nights and days;

And now, my mind is with vain doubts oppressed.

Oh if but once compassion smote thee for

My darkened life, conceal it not from me,

I pray thee; let the memory console me,

Since of their future our young days were robbed!”

And she: “Be comforted, unhappy one!

I was not churlish of my pity whilst

I lived, and am not now, myself so wretched!

Oh, do not chide this most unhappy child!”

“By all our sufferings, and by the love

Which preys upon me,” I exclaimed, “and by

Our youth, and by the hope that faded from

Our lives, O let me, dearest, touch thy hand!”

And sweetly, sadly, she extended it.

And while I covered it with kisses, while

With sorrow and with rapture quivering,

I to my panting bosom fondly pressed it,

With fervent passion glowed my face and breast,

My trembling voice refused its utterance,

And all things swam before my sight; when she,

Her eyes fixed tenderly on mine, replied:

“And dost thou, then, forget, dear friend, that I

Am of my beauty utterly deprived?

And vainly thou, unhappy one, dost yield

To passion’s transports. Now, a last farewell!

Our wretched minds, our feeble bodies, too,

Eternally are parted. Thou to me

No longer livest, nevermore shall live.

Fate hath annulled the faith that thou hast sworn.”

Then, in my anguish as I seemed to cry

Aloud, convulsed, my eyes o’erflowing with

The tears of utter, helpless misery,

I started from my sleep. The image still

Was seen, and in the sun’s uncertain light

Above my couch she seemed to linger still.


The morning rain, when, from her coop released,

The hen, exulting, flaps her wings, when from

The balcony the husbandman looks forth,

And when the rising sun his trembling rays

Darts through the falling drops, against my roof

And windows gently beating, wakens me.

I rise, and grateful, bless the flying clouds,

The cheerful twitter of the early birds,

The smiling fields, and the refreshing air.

For I of you, unhappy city walls,

Enough have seen and known; where hatred still

Companion is to grief; and grieving still

I live, and so shall die, and that, how soon!

But here some pity Nature shows, though small,

Once in this spot to me so courteous!

Thou, too, O Nature, turn’st away thy gaze

From misery; thou, too, thy sympathy

Withholding from the suffering and the sad,

Dost homage pay to royal happiness.

No friend in heaven, on earth, the wretched hath,

No refuge, save his trusty dagger’s edge.

Sometimes I sit in perfect solitude,

Upon a hill, that overlooks a lake,

That is encircled quite with silent trees.

There, when the sun his mid-day course hath reached,

His tranquil face he in a mirror sees:

Nor grass nor leaf is shaken by the wind;

There is no ripple on the wave, no chirp

Of cricket, rustling wing of bird in bush,

Nor hum of butterfly; no motion, voice,

Or far or near, is either seen or heard.

Its shores are locked in quiet most profound;

So that myself, the world I quite forget,

As motionless I sit; my limbs appear

To lie dissolved, of breath and sense deprived;

As if, in immemorial rest, they seemed

Confounded with the silent scene around.

O love, O love, long since, thou from this breast

Hast flown, that was so warm, so ardent, once.

Misfortune in her cold and cruel grasp

Has held it fast, and it to ice has turned,

E’en in the flower of my youth. The time

I well recall, when thou this heart didst fill;

That sweet, irrevocable time it was,

When this unhappy scene of life unto

The ardent gaze of youth reveals itself,

Expands, and wears the smile of Paradise.

How throbs the heart within the boyish breast,

By virgin hope and fond desire impelled!

The wretched dupe for life’s hard work prepares,

As if it were a dance, or merry game.

But when I first, O love, thy presence felt,

Misfortune had already crushed my life,

And these poor eyes with constant tears were filled.

Yet if, at times, upon the sun-lit slopes,

At silent dawn, or when, in broad noonday,

The roofs and hills and fields are shining bright,

I of some lonely maiden meet the gaze;

Or when, in silence of the summer night,

My wandering steps arresting, I before

The houses of the village pause, to gaze

Upon the lonely scene, and hear the voice,

So clear and cheerful, of the maiden, who,

Her ditty chanting, in her quiet room,

Her daily task protracts into the night,

Ah, then this stony heart will throb once more;

But soon, alas, its lethargy returns,

For all things sweet are strangers to this breast!

Belovèd moon, beneath whose tranquil rays

The hares dance in the groves, and at the dawn

The huntsman, vexed at heart, beholds the tracks

Confused and intricate, that from their forms

His steps mislead; hail, thou benignant Queen

Of Night! How unpropitious fall thy rays,

Among the cliffs and thickets, or within

Deserted buildings, on the gleaming steel

Of robber pale, who with attentive ear

Unto the distant noise of horses and

Of wheels, is listening, or the tramp of feet

Upon the silent road; then, suddenly,

With sound of arms, and hoarse, harsh voice, and look

Of death, the traveller’s heart doth chill,

Whom he half-dead, and naked, shortly leaves

Among the rocks. How unpropitious, too,

Is thy bright light along the city streets,

Unto the worthless paramour, who picks

His way, close to the walls, in anxious search

Of friendly shade, and halts, and dreads the sight

Of blazing lamps, and open balconies.

To evil spirits unpropitious still,

To me thy face will ever seem benign,

Along these heights, where nought save smiling hills,

And spacious fields, thou offer’st to my view.

And yet it was my wayward custom once,

Though I was innocent, thy gracious ray

To chide, amid the haunts of men, whene’er

It would my face to them betray, and when

It would their faces unto me reveal.

Now will I, grateful, sing its constant praise,

When I behold thee, sailing through the clouds,

Or when, mild sovereign of the realms of air,

Thou lookest down on this, our vale of tears.

Me wilt thou oft behold, mute wanderer

Among the groves, along the verdant banks,

Or seated on the grass, content enough,

If heart and breath are left me, for a sigh!


Approaching now the end of his abode

On earth, Consalvo lay; complaining once,

Of his hard fate, but now quite reconciled,

When, in the midst of his fifth lustre, o’er

His head oblivion, so longed-for, hung.

As for some time, so, on his dying day,

He lay, abandoned by his dearest friends:

For in the world, few friends to him will cling,

Who shows that he is weary of the world.

Yet she was at his side, by pity led,

In his lone wretchedness to comfort him,

Who was alone and ever in his thought;

Elvira, for her loveliness renowned;

And knowing well her power; that a look,

A single sweet and gracious word from her,

A thousand-fold repeated in the heart,

Devoted, of her hapless lover, still

His consolation and support had been,

Although no word of love had she from him

E’er heard. For ever in his soul the power

Of great desire had been rebuked and crushed

By sovereign fear. So great a child and slave

Had he become, through his excess of love!

But death at last the cruel silence broke;

For being by sure signs convinced, that now

The day of his deliverance had come,

Her white hand taking, as she was about

To leave, and gently pressing it, he said:

“Thou goest; it is time for thee to go;

Farewell, Elvira! I shall never see

Thee more; too well I know it; so, farewell!

I thank thee for thy gentle sympathy,

So far as my poor lips my thanks can speak.

He will reward thee, who alone has power,

If heaven e’er rewards the merciful.”

Pale turned the fair one at these words; a sigh

Her bosom heaved; for e’en a stranger’s heart

A throb responsive feels, when she departs,

And says farewell forever. Fain would she

Have contradicted him, the near approach

Of fate concealing from the dying man.

But he, her thought anticipating, said:

“Ah, much desired, as well thou knowest, death,

Much prayed for, and not dreaded, comes to me;

Nay, joyful seems to me this fatal day,

Save for the thought of losing thee forever;

Alas, forever do I part from thee!

In saying this my heart is rent in twain.

Those eyes I shall no more behold, nor hear

Thy voice. But, O Elvira, say, before

Thou leavest me forever, wilt thou not

One kiss bestow? A single kiss, in all

My life? A favor asked, who can deny

Unto a dying man? Of the sweet gift

I ne’er can boast, so near my end, whose lips

To-day will by a stranger’s hand be closed

Forever.” Saying this, with a deep sigh,

Her hand beloved he with his cold lips pressed.

The lovely woman stood irresolute,

And thoughtful, for a moment, with her look,

In which a thousand charms were radiant,

Intent on that of the unhappy man,

Where the last tear was glittering. Nor would

Her heart permit her to refuse with scorn

His wish, and by refusal, make more sad

The sad farewell; but she compassion took

Upon his love, which she had known so long;

And that celestial face, that mouth, which he

So long had coveted, which had, for years,

The burden been of all his dreams and sighs,

Close bringing unto his, so sad and wan,

Discolored by his mortal agony,

Kiss after kiss, all goodness, with a look

Of deep compassion, on the trembling lips

Of the enraptured lover she impressed.

What didst thou then become? How in thy eyes

Appeared life, death, and all thy suffering,

Consalvo, in thy flight now pausing? He

The hand, which still he held, of his beloved

Elvira, placing on his heart, whose last

Pulsations love with death was sharing, said:

“Elvira, my Elvira, am I still

On earth? Those lips, were they thy lips? O, say!

And do I press thy hand? Alas, it seems

A dead man’s vision, or a dream, or thing

Incredible! How much, Elvira, O,

How much I owe to death! Long has my love

Been known to thee, and unto others, for

True love cannot be hidden on the earth.

Too manifest it was to thee, in looks,

In acts, in my unhappy countenance,

But never in my words. For then, and now,

Forever would the passion infinite,

That rules my heart, be silent, had not death

With courage filled it. I shall die content;

Henceforth, with destiny, no more regret

That I e’er saw the light. I have not lived

In vain, now that my lips have been allowed

Thy lips to press. Nay, happy I esteem

My lot. Two precious things the world still gives

To mortals, Love and Death. To one, heaven guides

Me now, in youth; and in the other, I

Am fortunate. Ah, hadst thou once, but once,

Responded to my long-enduring love,

To my changed eyes this earth for evermore

Had been transformed into a Paradise.

E’en to old age, detestable old age,

Could I have been resigned and reconciled.

To bear its heavy load, the memory

Of one transcendent moment had sufficed,

When I was happier than the happiest,

But, ah, such bliss supreme the envious gods

To earthly natures ne’er have given! Love

In such excess ne’er leads to happiness.

And yet, thy love to win, I would have borne

The tortures of the executioner;

Have faced the rack and fagot, dauntlessly;

Would from thy loving arms have rushed into

The fearful flames of hell, with cheerfulness.

“Elvira, O Elvira, happy he,

Beyond all mortal happiness, on whom

Thou dost the smile of love bestow! And next

Is he, who can lay down his life for thee!

It is permitted, it is not a dream,

As I, alas, have always fancied it,

To man, on earth true happiness to find.

I knew it well, the day I looked on thee.

That look to me, indeed, has fatal been:

And yet, I could not bring myself, midst all

My sufferings, that cruel day to blame.

“Now live, Elvira, happy, and adorn

The world with thy fair countenance. None e’er

Will love thee as I loved thee. Such a love

Will ne’er be seen on earth. How much, alas,

How long a time by poor Consalvo hast

Thou been with sighs and bitter tears invoked!

How, when I heard thy name, have I turned pale!

How have I trembled, and been sick at heart,

As timidly thy threshold I approached,

At that angelic voice, at sight of that

Fair brow, I, who now tremble not at death!

But breath and life no longer will respond

Unto the voice of love. The time has passed;

Nor can I e’er this happy day recall.

Farewell, Elvira! With its vital spark

Thy image so beloved is from my heart

Forever fading. Oh, farewell! If this,

My love offend thee not, to-morrow eve

One sigh wilt thou bestow upon my bier.”

He ceased; and soon he lost his consciousness:

Ere evening came, his first, his only day

Of happiness had faded from his sight.


Beauty beloved, who hast my heart inspired,

Seen from afar, or with thy face concealed,

Save, when in visions of the night revealed,

Or seen in daydreams bright,

When all the fields are filled with light,

And Nature’s smile is sweet,

Say, hast thou blessed

Some golden age of innocence,

And floatest, now, a shadow, o’er the earth?

Or hath Fate’s envious doom

Reserved thee for some happier day to come?

To see thee e’er alive,

No hope remains to me;

Unless perchance, when from this body free,

My wandering spirit, lone,

O’er some new path, to some new world hath flown.

E’en here, at first, I, at the dawn

Of this, my day, so dreary and forlorn,

Sought thee, to guide me on my weary way:

But none on earth resembles thee. E’en if

One were in looks and acts and words thy peer,

Though like thee, she less lovely would appear.

Amidst the deepest grief

That fate hath e’er to human lot assigned,

Could one but love thee on this earth,

Alive, and such as my thought painteth thee,

He would be happy in his misery:

And I most clearly see, how, still,

As in my earliest days,

Thy love would make me cling to virtue’s ways.

Unto my grief heaven hath no comfort brought;

And yet with thee, this mortal life would seem

Like that in heaven, of which we fondly dream.

Along the valleys where is heard

The song of the laborious husbandman,

And where I sit and moan

O’er youth’s illusions gone;

Along the hills, where I recall with tears,

The vanished joys and hopes of earlier years,

At thought of thee, my heart revives again.

O could I still thy image dear retain,

In this dark age, and in this baleful air!

To loss of thee, O let me be resigned,

And in thy image still some comfort find!

If thou art one of those

Ideas eternal, which the Eternal Mind

Refused in earthly form to clothe,

Nor would subject unto the pain and strife

Of this, our frail and dreary life;

Or if thou hast a mansion fair,

Amid the boundless realms of space,

That lighted is by a more genial sun,

And breathest there a more benignant air;

From here, where brief and wretched are our days,

Receive thy humble lover’s hymn of praise!


This wearisome and this distressing sleep

That we call life, O how dost thou support,

My Pepoli? With what hopes feedest thou

Thy heart? Say in what thoughts, and in what deeds,

Agreeable or sad, dost thou invest

The idleness thy ancestors bequeathed

To thee, a dull and heavy heritage?

All life, indeed, in every walk of life,

Is idleness, if we may give that name

To every work achieved, or effort made,

That has no worthy aim in view, or fails

That aim to reach. And if you idle call

The busy crew, that daily we behold,

From tranquil morn unto the dewy eve,

Behind the plough, or tending plants and flocks,

Because they live simply to keep alive,

And life is worthles