“The most blissful creatures in the world are birds.” – Giacomo Leopardi
|Il passero solitario|
D’in su la vetta della torre antica,
passero solitario, alla campagna
cantando vai finchè non more il giorno;
ed erra l’armonia per questa valle.
brilla nell’aria, e per li campi esulta,
sì ch’a mirarla intenerisce il core.
Odi greggi belar, muggire armenti;
gli altri augelli contenti, a gara insieme
per lo libero ciel fan mille giri,
pur festeggiando il lor tempo migliore:
tu pensoso in disparte il tutto miri;
non compagni, non voli,
non ti cal d’allegria, schivi gli spassi;
canti, e così trapassi
dell’anno e di tua vita il più bel fiore.
Oimè, quanto somiglia
al tuo costume il mio! sollazzo e riso,
della novella età dolce famiglia,
e te german di giovinezza, amore,
sospiro acerbo de’ provetti giorni
non curo, io non so come; anzi da loro
quasi fuggo lontano;
quasi romito, e strano
al mio loco natio,
passo del viver mio la primavera.
questo giorno ch’omai cede alla sera,
festeggiar si costuma al nostro borgo.
odi per lo sereno un suon di squilla,
odi spesso un tonar di ferree canne,
che rimbomba lontan di villa in villa.
Tutta vestita a festa
la gioventù del loco
lascia le case, e per le vie si spande;
e mira ed è mirata, e in cor s’allegra.
Io solitario in questa
rimota parte alla campagna uscendo,
ogni diletto e gioco
indugio in altro tempo: e intanto il guardo
steso nell’aria aprica
mi fere il sol che tra lontani monti,
dopo il giorno sereno,
cadendo si dilegua, e par che dica
che la beata gioventù vien meno.
Tu, solingo augellin, venuto a sera
del viver che daranno a te le stelle,
certo del tuo costume
non ti dorrai; che di natura è frutto
ogni vostra vaghezza.
A me, se di vecchiezza
la detestata soglia
evitar non impetro,
quando muti questi occhi all’altrui core,
e lor fia voto il mondo, e il dì futuro
del dì presente più noioso e tetro,
che parrà di tal voglia?
che di quest’anni miei? che di me stesso?
Ahi pentirommi, e spesso,
ma sconsolato, volgerommi indietro.
|The monticola solitarius|
From the highest part of the ancient tower,
monticola solitarius, to the leas
you sing until the day is done,
and over this valley roams your song.
Spring all around
shines in the air, and in the fields exults,
such that the sight melts the heart.
You hear flocks bleating, lowing herds;
the other merry birds, all together
in the open sky, circle hundreds of times,
in celebration, too, of their favourite hour:
you pensive, apart, observe it all;
you don’t court, you don’t fly,
you don’t share in the cheer, you escape the fun;
you sing, and thus you spend
of the year and of your life the fairest flower.
Oh, how similar
to your way is mine! Joy and laughter,
the kind kin of early days and times,
and you, love, the brother of youth,
bitterly longed for in the prime of life,
I do not seek, and do not know why; from them, in fact,
I flee almost, far away;
remote almost, a stranger
to my native land,
I live my own spring.
On this day, which yields by now to night,
festivities are a custom in our town.
You hear in the stillness the sound of bells,
you hear in repetition a thunder of firearms,
which echo afar from hamlet to hamlet.
In Sunday dress,
the youths of the town
leave their homes, and onto the roads alight;
they admire and are admired, and their hearts rejoice.
I, alone, in this
remote part of the countryside descend,
every pleasure and amusement
I put off to another time: and meanwhile my glance
is lost in that luminous air,
wounded by the sun which, among distant hills
after the quiet day,
falling dissolves, and it seems to say
that blessed youth is coming to an end.
You, solitary bird, with the coming of night
for the life your stars afford you,
for your custom, surely,
will not cry; your every whim
is the fruit of your nature.
But if I, the detested threshold
of old age,
when these eyes no longer speak to the hearts of others,
and the world is empty to them, and the future
darker and more tiresome than the present,
what will I think of this desire?
of how I spent these years? of myself?
Ah, I will feel regret, and often,
but inconsolable, will look back.
Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2023
*The Latin name monticola solitarius means solitary mountain dweller, and it perfectly defines the bird, the Blue Rock-thrush, its behaviour and choice of habitat. The monticola solitarius lives in rocky terrains, slopes and valleys and breeds in holes and crevices; it is very territorial and guards that territory, chasing away other birds.
In this poem, Leopardi compares his solitary life to that of the Blue Rock-thrush: one is solitary by nature; the other by choice. He asks himself if he will always be certain of his decision to isolate himself from others and the pleasure and amusement that are an important part of youth. If he has the misfortune of becoming old, he writes, will he regret his desire to be alone?
The poem is made up of three stanzas. The verse is free, rhyming only sometimes, and with some internal rhymes. Of the few end rhymes we find cor, tempo miglior, and più bel fiore: these link the heart and youth (via the metaphor). The verses are in hendecasyllables and heptasyllables with numerous enjambments (vv. 1-2; vv. 5-6; vv. 9-10; vv. 15-16; vv. 17-18…). Another fundamental device is the poet’s use of the metaphor: spring, primavera, and the fairest flower, il più bel fiore, are youth; night, sera, is the end of youth. Other poetic devices fill the text: alliteration; anaphora (non in vv. 13-14, quasi in vv. 23-24, odi in vv. 29-30, and che in vv. 56-57; chiasmus (brilla nell’aria, e per li campi esulta in v. 6, and greggi belar, muggire armenti in v. 8); anastrophi (dell’anno e di tua vita il più bel fiore in v. 16, del viver mio la primavera in v. 26), di natura è frutto (v. 48), di vecchiezza / la detestata soglia vv. 50-51).
The first stanza is joyous, full of song and full of light; it contains a description of spring, of life and rebirth and describes the solitary bird using words like “pensoso”, thus personifying it.
The second stanza describes the poet himself. It begins: “Oh, how similar/ To your manner is mine!”
In the third stanza, there is a comparison between the poet and the monticola solitarius. The poet identifies with the Blue Rock-thrush, but also notes the difference between them. The Blue Rock-thrush is solitary by nature while the poet chooses to isolate himself. The Blue Rock-thrush doesn’t suffer for his condition because it is natural to him; however, man is not a solitary creature; man is gregarious, and the poet’s condition is not natural but by choice. The poet recognizes this and ends the poem by saying that he will regret having thrown away his “blessed youth”.
Leopardi’s passion for birds is well known. He dedicated a section, Elogio agli uccelli, to them in his Operette moral (1824-1832). I am including a brief excerpt (the complete text is forthcoming):
The most blissful creatures in the world are birds. I’m not saying this because they always make you happy when you see or hear them; what I mean to say is that they themselves are happy and feel more joy and bliss than any other animal. When you look at other animals, they are so serious and grave, and some look downright melancholy. They rarely express signs of joy, and when they do, these are small and fleeting. For the most part, when they are pleased and content, they do not exalt or show signs of happiness. If even they enjoy the green fields, the open and airy views, the splendid expanses, the gentle and crystalline breezes, they never show it outwardly, except for hares who, according to Xenophon, romp around and play at night under the moon, especially if it is full, taking pleasure in its brilliance. Birds, for the most part, express their bliss both in their movements and appearance.
I like to try to find a balance between reproducing the poetic devices of the original, recreating the musicality and also conveying the sense. It is not always possible…or maybe I am not just talented enough. I don’t believe in paraphrasing the poem, which seems to strip it of everything but meaning…but that is just me. – M.C.
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