Saturday, December 10, 2016


Such Is Human Life

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia," lines 21-38 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
Little old white-haired man,
weak, half naked, barefoot,
with an enormous burden on his back,
up mountain and down valley,
over sharp rocks, across deep sands and bracken,        25
through wind and storm,
in burning, freezing weather,
runs on, running till he's out of breath,
crosses rivers, wades through swamps,
falls and climbs and rushes on        30
ever faster, no rest or relief,
battered, bloodied; till at last he comes
to where his way
and all his effort led him:
terrible, immense abyss        35
into which he falls, forgetting everything.
This, O virgin moon,
is human life.
The Italian:
Vecchierel bianco, infermo,
Mezzo vestito e scalzo,
Con gravissimo fascio in su le spalle,
Per montagna e per valle,
Per sassi acuti, ed alta rena, e fratte,        25
Al vento, alla tempesta, e quando avvampa
L'ora, e quando poi gela,
Corre via, corre, anela,
Varca torrenti e stagni,
Cade, risorge, e piú e piú s'affretta,        30
Senza posa o ristoro,
Lacero, sanguinoso; infin ch'arriva
Colà dove la via
E dove il tanto affaticar fu volto:
Abisso orrido, immenso,        35
Ov'ei precipitando, il tutto obblia.
Vergine luna, tale
È la vita mortale.
The same, tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:
A hoary, weak, old man,
Half-clothed, with naked feet,
A load exceeding heavy on his shoulders,
O'er hill, o'er dale, o'er boulders
Sharp-pointed and deep desert-sand and brambles,        25
In wind and storm, beneath the raging heat
And later when 'tis chill,
Runs, runs on, never still;
O'er pools and torrents scrambles
Breathless; falls, rises, more and more doth haste,        30
Without pause, without rest,
Mangled and bleeding; till at length he comes
Where is the limit set
Unto his journey and so great distress:
A gulf, dread, bottomless,        35
Wherein he plunges and doth all forget.
Moon-maiden, such the way
We mortals live our day.
Related post: What Is Life?

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