A poem by Giacomo Leopardi

At times thy image to my mind returns,
Aspasia. In the crowded streets it gleams
Upon me, for an instant, as I pass,
In other faces; or in lonely fields,
At noon-tide bright, beneath the silent stars,
With sudden and with startling vividness,
As if awakened by sweet harmony,
The splendid vision rises in my soul.
How worshipped once, ye gods, what a delight
To me, what torture, too! Nor do I e'er
The odor of the flowery fields inhale,
Or perfume of the gardens of the town,
That I recall thee not, as on that day,
When in thy sumptuous rooms, so redolent
Of all the fragrant flowers of the spring,
Arrayed in robe of violet hue, thy form
Angelic I beheld, as it reclined
On dainty cushions languidly, and by
An atmosphere voluptuous surrounded;
When thou, a skilful Syren, didst imprint
Upon thy children's round and rosy lips
Resounding, fervent kisses, stretching forth
Thy neck of snow, and with thy lovely hand,
The little, unsuspecting innocents
Didst to thy hidden, tempting bosom press.
The earth, the heavens transfigured seemed to me,
A ray divine to penetrate my soul.
Then in my side, not unprotected quite,
Deep driven by thy hand, the shaft I bore,
Lamenting sore; and not to be removed,
Till twice the sun his annual round had made.

A ray divine, O lady! to my thought
Thy beauty seemed. A like effect is oft
By beauty caused, and harmony, that seem
The mystery of Elysium to reveal.
The stricken mortal fondly worships, then,
His own ideal, creature of his mind,
Which of his heaven the greater part contains.
Alike in looks, in manners, and in speech,
The real and ideal seem to him,
In his confused and passion-guided soul.
But not the woman, but the dream it is,
That in his fond caresses, he adores.
At last his error finding, and the sad exchange,
He is enraged, and most unjustly, oft,
The woman chides. For rarely does the mind
Of woman to that high ideal rise;
And that which her own beauty oft inspires
In generous lovers, she imagines not,
Nor could she comprehend. Those narrow brows,
Cannot such great conceptions hold. The man,
Deceived, builds false hopes on those lustrous eyes,
And feelings deep, ineffable, nay, more
Than manly, vainly seeks in her, who is
By nature so inferior to man.
For as her limbs more soft and slender are,
So is her mind less capable and strong.

Nor hast thou ever known, Aspasia,
Or couldst thou comprehend the thoughts that once
Thou didst inspire in me. Thou knowest not
What boundless love, what sufferings intense,
What ravings wild, what savage impulses,
Thou didst arouse in me; nor will the time
E'er come when thou could'st understand them. So,
Musicians, too, are often ignorant
Of the effects they with the hand and voice
Produce on him that listens. Dead is that
Aspasia, that I so loved, aye, dead
Forever, who was once sole object of
My life; save as a phantom, ever dear,
That comes from time to time, and disappears.
Thou livest still, not only beautiful,
But in thy beauty still surpassing all;
But oh, the flame thou didst enkindle once,
Long since has been extinguished; thee, indeed,
I never loved, but that Divinity,
Once living, buried now within my heart.
Her, long time, I adored; and was so pleased
With her celestial beauty, that, although
I from the first thy nature knew full well,
And all thy artful and coquettish ways,
Yet her fair eyes beholding still in thine,
I followed thee, delighted, while she lived;
Deceived? Ah, no! But by the pleasure led,
Of that sweet likeness, that allured me so,
A long and heavy servitude to bear.

Now boast; thou can'st! Say, that to thee alone
Of all thy sex, my haughty head I bowed,
To thee alone, of my unconquered heart
An offering made. Say, that thou wast the first -
And surely wast the last - that in my eye
A suppliant look beheld, and me before
Thee stand, timid and trembling (how I blush,
In saying it, with anger and with shame),
Of my own self deprived, thy every wish,
Thy every word submissively observing,
At every proud caprice becoming pale,
At every sign of favor brightening,
And changing color at each look of thine.
The charm is over, and, with it, the yoke
Lies broken, scattered on the ground; and I
Rejoice. 'Tis true my days are laden with
Ennui; yet after such long servitude,
And such infatuation, I am glad
My judgment, freedom to resume. For though
A life bereft of love's illusions sweet,
Is like a starless night, in winter's midst,
Yet some revenge, some comfort can I find
For my hard fate, that here upon the grass,
Outstretched in indolence I lie, and gaze
Upon the earth and sea and sky, and smile.

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