To His Sister Paolina, On Her Approaching Marriage.

A poem by Giacomo Leopardi

Since now thou art about to leave
Thy father's quiet house,
And all the phantoms and illusions dear,
That heaven-born fancies round it weave,
And to this lonely region lend their charm,
Unto the dust and noise of life condemned,
By destiny, soon wilt thou learn to see
Our wretchedness and infamy,
My sister dear, who, in these mournful times,
Alas, wilt more unhappy souls bestow
On our unhappy Italy!
With strong examples strengthen thou their minds;
For cruel fate propitious gales
Hath e'er to virtue's course denied,
Nor in weak souls can purity reside.

Thy sons must either poor, or cowards be.
Prefer them poor. It is the custom still.
Desert and fortune never yet were friends;
The strife between them never ends.
Unhappy they, who in these evil days
Are born when all things totter to their fall!
But that we must to heaven leave.
Be this, above all things, thy care,
Thy children still to rear,
As those who court not Fortune's smiles,
Nor playthings are of idle hope, or fear:
And so the future age will call them blessed;
For, in this slothful and deceitful world,
The living virtue ever we despise,
The dead we load with eulogies.

Women, to you our country looks,
For the redemption of her fame:
Ah, not unto our injury and shame,
On the soft lustre of your eyes
A power far mightier was conferred
Than that of fire or sword!
The wise and strong, in thought and act, are by
Your judgment led; nay all who live
Beneath the sun, to you still bend the knee.
On you I call, then; answer me!
Have _you_ youth's holy aspirations quenched?
And are our natures broken, crushed by _you_?
These sluggish minds, these low desires,
These nerveless arms, these feeble knees.
Say, say, are you to blame for these?

Love is the spur to noble deeds,
To him its worth who knows;
And beauty still to lofty love inspires.
Love never in his spirit glows,
Whose heart exults not in his breast,
When angry winds in fight descend,
And heaven gathers all its clouds,
And mountain crests the lightnings rend.
O wives, O maidens, he
Who shrinks from danger, turns his back upon
His country in her need, and only seeks
His base desires and appetites to feed,
Excites your hatred and your scorn;
If ye for men, and not for milk-sops, feel
The glow of love o'er your soft bosoms steal.

The mothers of unwarlike sons
O may ye ne'er be called!
Your children still inure
For virtue's sake all trials to endure;
To scorn the vices of this wretched age;
To cherish loyal thoughts, and high desires;
And learn how much they owe unto their sires.
The sons of Sparta thus became,
Amid the memories of heroes old,
Deserving of the Grecian name;
While the young spouse the trusty sword
Upon the loved one's side would gird,
And, afterwards, with her black locks,
The bloodless, naked corpse concealed,
When homeward borne upon the faithful shield.

Virginia, thy soft cheek
In Beauty's finest mould was framed;
But thy disdain Rome's haughty lord inflamed.
How lovely wast thou, in thy youth's sweet prime,
When the rough dagger of thy sire
Thy snowy breast did smite,
And thou, a willing victim, didst descend
Into realms of night!
"May old age wither and consume my frame,
O father,"--thus she said;
"And may they now for me the tomb prepare,
E'er I the impious bed
Of that foul tyrant share:
And if my blood new life and liberty
May give to Rome, by thy hand let me die!"

Ah, in those better days
When more propitious shone the sun than now,
Thy tomb, dear child, was not left comfortless,
But honored with the tears of all.
Behold, around thy lovely corpse, the sons
Of Romulus with holy wrath inflamed;
Behold the tyrants locks with dust besmeared;
In sluggish breasts once more
The sacred name of Liberty revered;
Behold o'er all the subjugated earth,
The troops of Latium march triumphant forth,
From torrid desert to the gloomy pole.
And thus eternal Rome,
That had so long in sloth oblivious lain,
A daughter's sacrifice revives again.

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