To Angelo Mai, On His Discovery Of The Lost Books Of Cicero, "De Republica."

A poem by Giacomo Leopardi

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!

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