Thursday, February 16, 2017


Mother Nature

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "Sopra in basso relievo antico sepocrale," lines 44-64 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
Nature, mother feared and wept for
since the human family was born,        45
marvel that cannot be praised,
that bears and nurtures only to destroy,
if dying young brings mortals pain,
why let it come down
on these blameless heads?        50
And if good, then why is it unhappy,
why make this leaving inconsolable,
worse than any other woe,
for those who live, as well as those who go?

Unhappy everywhere they look,        55
wretched where they turn or run,
is this feeling race.
You chose that life should disappoint
the hope of youth,
that the wave of years be full of pain,        60
with death our only
shield from suffering;
and this inevitable end, this changeless law,
you established for the human journey.

Madre temuta e pianta
Dal nascer già dell'animal famiglia,        45
Natura, illaudabil maraviglia,
Che per uccider partorisci e nutri,
Se danno è del mortale
Immaturo perir, come il consenti
In quei capi innocenti?        50
Se ben, perchè funesta,
Perchè sovra ogni male,
A chi si parte, a chi rimane in vita,
Inconsolabil fai tal dipartita?

Misera ovunque miri,        55
Misera onde si volga, ove ricorra,
Questa sensibil prole!
Piacqueti che delusa
Fosse ancor dalla vita
La speme giovanil; piena d'affanni        60
L'onda degli anni; ai mali unico schermo
La morte; e questa inevitabil segno,
Questa, immutata legge
Ponesti all'uman corso.
The same (tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth):
Mother, bewailed and feared
Since first thy creature-kind was born till now,        45
Nature, uncommendable monster, thou
Who bringest forth and nurturest but to kill,
If evil it be to die
Untimely, wherefore should these innocent
So perish, and thou consent?        50
If good, why makest thou
So lamentable, why
So far beyond all comfort such a death
Both to the dying and those who still draw breath?

Wretched in all its aims,        55
Wretched in all it seeks, in all it shuns,
Is this quick-feeling race!
It pleased thee that the hope
Man cherishes in youth
Should be belied by age; that brimmed with woe        60
His years should flow; from ills his only shield
Be death; ay, this the inevitable end,
This the unchanging law
Imposed on his career.
The same (tr. R.C. Trevelyan):
Mother, feared and bewailed
Since we thy offspring first to life were born,        45
Nature, thou wondrous power whom none can praise,
Who engenderest and nurturest but to kill,
If evil it be for mortals
To die untimely, why on these innocent heads
Suffer this woe to fall?        50
If it be good, why make
This parting such a sorrow,
So unconsolable beyond all evils
To those who depart from life and those who stay?

Wretched where'er it gazes,        55
Wretched where'er it turns or seeks for refuge,
Is man's too sensitive race.
It has pleased thee that youth's
Fond hopes should be deceived
By life's experience; that filled with miseries        60
Our years should flow; our one defence from evils
Should be death: this the inevitable limit,
The unalterable law
Thou hast ordained for man's career.
Id., lines 107-109 (tr. Galassi):
But Nature in her actions is concerned
with something else besides our pain or joy.

                           Ma da natura
Altro negli atti suoi
Che nostro male o nostro ben si cura.
The same (tr. Bickersteth):
                           But for our woe
Or for our weal no care
Hath Nature, bent on ends that none can know.
The same (tr. Trevelyan):
                           But in her works
Nature is ever busied
With cares far other than for our weal or woe.

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