Giacomo Leopardi’s Canti called out to me the other day and I took him home. I took the Canti home in a tearful state. A friend of mine has just lost a good friend of his and so the subject of death and loss has been pervasive in my mind. As I read through it I found the universal sadness and melancholy that lies within and beyond Leopardi’s words. He is touted as Italy’s greatest modern poet, but born into a family from a small town, in bad health most of his life and never lucky in love. He traveled around Italy but always ended up returning home, until he moved to Naples with a friend, but died soon after. As I sat there with my soup reading aloud these melodious and somewhat depressing words I wondered if this was really what I wanted to be delving into. But in all his sadness there is hope and appreciation. He writes a poem about Silvia, the daughter of a coachman in his family’s house, who dies young of consumption. Here is the intro to A Silvia,
Silvia, do you remember still
That moment in your mortal life
When beauty shimmered
In your smiling, startled eyes
As, bright and pensive, you arrived
At the threshold of youth?
Jonathan Galassi, translator of this beautiful tome includes notes on each poem in the appendix. About A Silvia he says,
Works of genius have this property, that even when they bring to life the nullity of things, even when they show clearly and make felt the inevitable unhappiness of life, even when they express the most terrible desperation, nevertheless to a great soul who finds himself in a state of extreme despondency, disenchantment, nothingness, anomie and discouragement with life or in the most bitter and deadly misfortune . . . they always offer consolation, reignite enthusiasm, and, through discussing and representing only death, restore, at least momentarily, the life he had lost.