Giacomo Leopardi on His Lost Love


La Sera del dì di festa (The Evening of the Holiday)

Translated by Steven Willett


La_sera_del_dì_di_festa _manoscritto_leopardiano-1

Leopardi's manuscript showing the opening of La Sera del dì di festa with corrections. First edition original 1820.


Note: This is the last poem I shall post on Sic Semper Tyrannis in original or translation. 我々は再び会うまで


The Evening of the Holiday

Sweet and clear is the night and without a breeze,
And silent over roofs and among gardens
Pauses the moon, and from a distance reveals
Every mountain cloudless. O my dear lady,
Silent now is every path, and across balconies
Only the rare nightlight still casts a glimmer;
You sleep, for an easy slumber received you
In your tranquil rooms; and not the slightest care
Gnaws you; and you surely don’t know or think
What a lesion you’ve opened into my breast.
You sleep: I show myself alone to salute
This sky, which appears so benign in aspect,
And that ancient all-overpowering Nature,
Who fashioned me for anguish. “To you I deny
Hope,” she said, “yes even hope; and nothing else
Will ever brighten your eyes except weeping.”
This day was holy; now from its amusements
You take repose; and perhaps you’ll remember
In dreams how many you pleased today, how many
Pleased you: not I, not once, could I ever hope,
I might appear in your thoughts. Meanwhile I ask
How much remains to live, and here on the earth
Cast myself, and cry, and shudder. O awful days
In such a green youth! Alas, along the road
I hear, not far away, the solitary song
Of a craftsman returning home late at night,
After some diversions, to his poor dwelling;
And it wrings my heart with such ferocity
To think how all in this world passes away,
And barely leaves a trace. See, the festive day
Is flown, and to the festive one another
Common one succeeds, and time carries away
Every human accidence. Where now is the sound
Of those ancient peoples? Where now is the clamor
Of those famous ancestors, and the great empire
Of that Rome, and the arms, and the ceaseless clash
That went resistlessly through earth and oceans?
All is peace and silence, and all the world lies
Deep in rest, and no one talks of them at all.
In my earliest years, when the festive day was
Greedily awaited, finding afterwards that
It had expired, I grieving, in sleepless vigil,
I lay on the down bed; and in the late night
A song heard somewhere down along the alleys,
Dwindling far off to die little by little,
Already, even as this one now, wrung my heart.


La sera del dì di festa

Dolce e chiara è la notte e senza vento,
E queta sovra i tetti e in mezzo agli orti
Posa la luna, e di lontan rivela
Serena ogni montagna. O donna mia,
Già tace ogni sentiero, e pei balconi 5
Rara traluce la notturna lampa:
Tu dormi, che t’accolse agevol sonno
Nelle tue chete stanze; e non ti morde
Cura nessuna; e già non sai né pensi
Quanta piaga m’apristi in mezzo al petto. 10
Tu dormi: io questo ciel, che sì benigno
Appare in vista, a salutar m’affaccio,
E l’antica natura onnipossente,
Che mi fece all’affanno. A te la speme
Nego, mi disse, anche la speme; e d’altro 15
Non brillin gli occhi tuoi se non di pianto.
Questo dì fu solenne: or dà trastulli
Prendi riposo; e forse ti rimembra
In sogno a quanti oggi piacesti, e quanti
Piacquero a te: non io, non già ch’io speri, 20
Al pensier ti ricorro. Intanto io chieggo
Quanto a viver mi resti, e qui per terra
Mi getto, e grido, e fremo. Oh giorni orrendi
In così verde etate! Ahi, per la via
Odo non lunge il solitario canto 25
Dell’artigian, che riede a tarda notte,
Dopo i sollazzi, al suo povero ostello;
E fieramente mi si stringe il core,
A pensar come tutto al mondo passa,
E quasi orma non lascia. Ecco è fuggito 30
Il dì festivo, ed al festivo il giorno
Volgar succede, e se ne porta il tempo
Ogni umano accidente. Or dov’è il suono
Di que’ popoli antichi? or dov’è il grido
De’ nostri avi famosi, e il grande impero 35
Di quella Roma, e l’armi, e il fragorio
Che n’andò per la terra e l’oceano?
Tutto è pace e silenzio, e tutto posa
Il mondo, e più di lor non si ragiona.
Nella mia prima età, quando s’aspetta 40
Bramosamente il dì festivo, or poscia
Ch’egli era spento, io doloroso, in veglia,
Premea le piume; ed alla tarda notte
Un canto che s’udia per li sentieri
Lontanando morire a poco a poco, 45
Già similmente mi stringeva il core.


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6 Responses to Giacomo Leopardi on His Lost Love

  1. David Habakkuk says:

    Steven Willett,
    I am sorry to hear that this is the last poem you intend to post here.
    Having been very much taken up with trying to make sense of the way that events are now ‘escalating’, it seems to me with catastrophic possibilities which very many involved seem incapable of even beginning to attempt to comprehend, I have been unable to take time to ‘digest’ your translations of Hölderlin.
    I do not think – correct me if I am wrong – you have posted a translation of ‘Der Rhein’.
    It includes lines of which I have read various translations, and which seem to me of very great interest, not simply in their anticipations of catastrophes that did occur, but also of ones whose recurrence people seem to assume, for reasons that escape me, they have found ‘reliable’ means to prevent:
    ‘… jedoch ihr Gericht/ Ist, daß sein eigenes Haus / Zerbreche der und das Liebste/ Wie den Feind schelt und sich Vater und Kind/ Begrabe unter den Trümmern,/ Wenn einer, wie sie, sein will und nicht / Ungleiches dulden, der Schwärmer.’
    These need to be read in the context of the full poem. For the German text. and a readily available attempt at ‘rendering’ it into English, see
    This translation is clearly a lot less than perfect, but then it is in the nature of this poem that it is even more difficult than it usually is with poetry to give a sense of the ‘music’ in a language different from the one in which it was written.
    I have been struck by parallels between this ‘vision of apocalypse’ and others: including the dream Raskolnikov dreams in the ‘penal colony’, in Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, and the speech of Ulysses on ‘degree’ in Shakespeare’s ‘Troilus and Cressida.’
    Of these, the most unambiguously secular is the last, which clearly reflects its author’s bitterness, and disgust – including self–disgust – following the ‘shipwreck’ of the hopes he. and so many others, had put in the ‘republican’ project of his patron, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
    How far these arguments can, and should, be ‘translated’ into purely secular terms is I think an interesting question.

  2. mcohen says:

    pity I enjoyed this last one.inspires to try something in the same vein.
    I will give it a send off with this one.
    Journey’s end
    Fair sailing my friend the wind at your back
    The southern stars to guide as you tack
    May your journey take you far and wide
    Think of me by your side
    The time has come to go our separate ways
    A new path lies ahead for us this day
    Fond memories of laughter and wonder
    Of roaring rivers and rolling thunder
    For friendships born on the road
    Those that lighten a heavy load
    Are precious strands in the tapestry of life
    That cannot be cut by the sharpest knife.

  3. English Outsider says:

    I hope “until we meet again” means just that. I liked the posts so much.

  4. jerseycityjoan says:

    I am also sorry to see the end of the poetry. Every one of these selections took us to other times and worlds. Mr. Willett spent many hours learning multiple languages and about translation and poetry to bring these poems to us. When I think of the talent required to produce them — from both the original authors and Mr. Willett — I feel overwhelmed with admiration. I just wish I knew more about history and poetry myself, so I would have been better able to truly appreciate them. Thank you.

  5. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    I am also sorry to hear that you are leaving. Your posts were nice reminders of the beauty and relevance of classics.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  6. Shako says:

    Thank you for posting. Always good to read interesting , thought provoking work like this.

Comments are closed.