To Count Carlo Pepoli.

A poem by Giacomo Leopardi

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 worthless for itself alone,
The honest truth you speak. His nights and days
The pilot spends in idleness; the toil
And sweat in workshops are but idleness;
The soldier's vigils, perils of the field,
The eager merchant's cares are idle all;
Because true happiness, for which alone
Our mortal nature longs and strives, no man,
Or for himself, or others, e'er acquires
Through toil or sweat, through peril, or through care.
Yet for this fierce desire, which mortals still
From the beginning of the world have felt,
But ever felt in vain, for happiness,
By way of soothing remedy devised,
Nature, in this unhappy life of ours,
Had manifold necessities prepared,
Not without thought or labor satisfied;
So that the days, though ever sad, less dull
Might seem unto the human family;
And this desire, bewildered and confused,
Might have less power to agitate the heart.
So, too, the various families of brutes,
Who have, no less than we, and vainly, too,
Desire for happiness; but they, intent
On that which is essential to their life,
Consume their days more pleasantly, by far,
Nor chide, with us, the dulness of the hours.
But we, who unto other hands commit
The furnishing of our immediate wants,
Have a necessity more grave to meet,
For which no other ever can provide,
With ennui laden, and with suffering;
The stern necessity of killing time;
That cruel, obstinate necessity,
From which, nor hoarded gold, nor wealth of flocks,
Nor fertile fields, nor sumptuous palaces,
Nor purple robes, the race of man can save.
And if one, scorning such a barren life,
And hating to behold the light of day,
Turns not a homicidal hand upon
Himself, anticipating sluggish Fate,
For the sharp sting of unappeased desire,
That vainly calls for happiness, he seeks,
In desperate chase, on every side, in vain,
A thousand inefficient remedies,
In lieu of that, which Nature gives to all.

One to his dress devotes himself, and hair,
His gait and gesture and the learned lore
Of horses, carriages, to crowded halls,
To thronged piazzas, and to gardens gay;
Another gives his nights and days to games,
And feasts, and dances with the reigning belles:
A smile perpetual is on his lips;
But in his breast, alas, stern and severe,
Like adamantine column motionless,
Eternal ennui sits, against whose might
Avail not vigorous youth, nor prattle fond
That falls from rosy lips, nor tender glance
That trembles in two dark and lustrous eyes;
The most bewildering of mortal things,
Most precious gift of heaven unto man.

Another, as if hoping to escape
Sad destiny, in changing lands and climes
His days consuming, wandering o'er sea
And hills, the whole earth traverses; each spot
That Nature, in her infinite domain,
To restless man hath made accessible,
He visits in his wanderings. Alas,
Black care is seated on the lofty prow;
Beneath each clime, each sky, he asks in vain
For happiness; sadness still lives and reigns.

Another in the cruel deeds of war
Prefers to pass his hours, and dips his hand,
For his diversion, in his brother's blood:
Another in his neighbor's misery
His comfort finds, and artfully contrives
To kill the time, in making others sad.
This man still walks in wisdom's ways, or art
Pursues; that tramples on the people's rights,
At home, abroad; the ancient rest disturbs
Of distant shores, on fraudful gain intent,
With cruel war, or sharp diplomacy;
And so his destined part of life consumes.

Thee a more gentle wish, a care more sweet
Leads and controls, still in the flower of youth,
In the fair April of thy days, to most
A time so pleasant, heaven's choicest gift;
But heavy, bitter, wearisome to him
Who has no country. Thee the love of song
Impels, and of portraying in thy speech
The beauty, that so seldom in the world
Appears and fades so soon, and that, more rare
Which fond imagination, kinder far
Than Nature, or than heaven, so bounteously
For our entranced, deluded souls provides.
Oh, fortunate a thousand-fold is he,
Who loses not his fancy's freshness as
The years roll by; whom envious Fate permits
To keep eternal sunshine in his heart,
Who, in his ripe and his declining years,
As was his custom in his glorious youth,
In his deep thought enhances Nature's charms,
Gives life to death, and to the desert, bloom.
May heaven this fortune give to thee; and may
The spark that now so warms thy breast, make thee
In thy old age a votary of song!
I feel no more the sweet illusions of
That happy time; those charming images
Have faded from my eyes, that I so loved,
And which, unto my latest hour, will be
Remembered still, with hopeless sighs and tears.
And when this breast to all things has become
Insensible and cold, nor the sweet smile
And rest profound of lonely sun-lit plains,
Nor cheerful morning song of birds in spring,
Nor moonlight soft, that rests on hills and fields,
Beneath the limpid sky, will move my heart;
When every beauty, both of Nature, and
Of Art, to me will be inanimate
And mute; each tender feeling, lofty thought,
Unknown and strange; my only comfort, then,
Poor beggar, must I find in studies more
Severe; to them, thenceforward, must devote
The wretched remnant of unhappy life:
The bitter truth must I investigate,
The destinies mysterious, alike
Of mortal and immortal things;
For what was suffering humanity,
Bowed down beneath the weight of misery,
Created; to what final goal are Fate
And Nature urging it; to whom can our
Great sorrow any pleasure, profit give;
Beneath what laws and orders, to what end,
The mighty Universe revolves - the theme
Of wise men's praise, to me a mystery?

I in these speculations will consume
My idleness; because the truth, when known,
Though sad, has yet its charms. And if, at times,
The truth discussing, my opinions should
Unwelcome be, or not be understood,
I shall not grieve, indeed, because in me
The love of fame will be extinguished quite;
Of fame, that idol frivolous and blind;
More blind by far than Fortune, or than Love.

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