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To Angelo Mai,


Italian bold, why wilt thou never cease
The fathers from their tombs to summon forth?
Why bring them, with this dead age to converse,
That stifled is by enemies and by sloth?
And why dost thou, voice of our ancestors,
That hast so long been mute,
Resound so loud and frequent in our ears?
Why all these grand discoveries?
As in a flash the fruitful pages come,
What hath this wretched age deserved,
That dusty cloisters have for it reserved
These hidden treasures of the wise and brave?
Illustrious man, with what strange power
Does Fate thy ardent zeal befriend?
Or does Fate vainly with man's will contend?

Without the lofty counsel of the gods,
It surely could not be, that now,
When we were never sunk so low,
In desperate oblivion of the Past,
Each moment, comes a cry renewed,
From our great sires, to shake our souls, at last!
Heaven still some pity shows for Italy;
Some god hath still our happiness at heart:
Since this, or else no other, is the hour,
Italian virtue to redeem,
And its old lustre once more to impart,
These pleading voices from the grave we hear;
Forgotten heroes rise from earth again,
To see, my country, if at this late day,
Thou still art pleased the coward's part to play.

And do ye cherish still,
Illustrious shades, some hope of us?
Have we not perished utterly?
To you, perhaps, it is allowed, to read
The book of destiny. _I_ am dismayed,
And have no refuge from my grief;
For dark to me the future is, and all
That I discern is such, as makes hope seem
A fable and a dream. To your old homes
A wretched crew succeed; to noble act or word,
They pay no heed; for your eternal fame
They know no envy, feel no blush of shame.
A filthy mob your monuments defile:
To ages yet unborn,
We have become a by-word and a scorn.

Thou noble spirit, if no others care
For our great Fathers' fame, oh, care thou still,
Thou, to whom Fate hath so benignant been,
That those old days appear again,
When, roused from dire oblivion's tomb,
Came forth, with all the treasures of their lore,
Those ancient bards, divine, with whom
Great Nature spake, but still behind her veil,
And with her mysteries graced
The holidays of Athens and of Rome.
O times, now buried in eternal sleep!
Our country's ruin was not then complete;
We then a life of wretched sloth disdained;
Still from our native soil were borne afar,
Some sparks of genius by the passing air.

Thy holy ashes still were warm,
Whom hostile fortune ne'er unmanned;
Unto whose anger and whose grief,
Hell was more grateful than thy native land.
Ah, what, but hell, has Italy become?
And thy sweet cords
Still trembled at the touch of thy right hand,
Unhappy bard of love.
Alas, Italian song is still the child
Of sorrow born.
And yet, less hard to bear,
Consuming grief than dull vacuity!
O blessed thou, whose life was one lament!
Disgust and nothingness are still our doom,
And by our cradle sit, and on our tomb.

But thy life, then, was with the stars and sea,
Liguria's hardy son,
When thou, beyond the columns and the shores,
Where oft, at set of sun,
The waves are heard to hiss,
As he into their depths has plunged,
Committed to the boundless deep,
Didst find again the sun's declining ray,
The new-born day didst find,
When it from us had passed away;
Defying Nature's every obstacle,
A land unknown didst win, the glorious spoils
Of all thy perils, all thy toils.
And yet, when known, the world seems smaller still;
And earth and ocean, and the heavenly sphere
More vast unto the child, than to the sage appear.

Where now are all the charming dreams
Of the mysterious retreats
Of dwellers unto us unknown,
Or where, by day, the stars to rest have gone,
Or of the couch remote of Eos bright,
Or of the sun's mysterious sleep at night?
They, in an instant, vanished all;
A little chart portrays this earthly ball.
Lo, all things are alike; discovery
But proves the way for dull vacuity.
Farewell to thee, O Fancy, dear,
If plain, unvarnished truth appear!
Thought more and more is still estranged from thee;
Thy power so mighty once, will soon be gone,
And our poor, wounded hearts be left forlorn.

But thou for these sweet dreams wast born,
And the _old_ sun upon thee shone,
Delightful singer of the arms, and loves,
That in an age far happier than our own,
Men's lives with pleasing errors filled.
New hope of Italy! O towers, O caves,
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:03 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,268
Words 804
Stanzas 9
Stanza Lengths 2, 15, 15, 15, 15, 15, 16, 15, 6

Count Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Taldegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi was an Italian philosopher, poet, essayist, and philologist. He is considered the greatest Italian poet of the nineteenth century and one of the most important figures in the literature of the world, as well as one of the principals of literary romanticism; his constant reflection on existence and on the human condition—of sensuous and materialist inspiration—has also earned him a reputation as a deep philosopher. He is widely seen as one of the most radical and challenging thinkers of the 19th century but routinely compared by Italian critics to his older contemporary Alessandro Manzoni despite expressing "diametrically opposite positions." Although he lived in a secluded town in the conservative Papal States, he came into contact with the main ideas of the Enlightenment, and through his own literary evolution, created a remarkable and renowned poetic work, related to the Romantic era. The strongly lyrical quality of his poetry made him a central figure on the European and international literary and cultural landscape. more…

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    "To Angelo Mai," Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 31 Mar. 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/7320/to-angelo-mai,>.

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