Passions & Places

Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi

This solitary hill has always been dear to me
And this hedge, which prevents me from seeing most of
The endless horizon
But when I sit and gaze, I imagine, in my thoughts
Endless spaces beyond the hedge
An all encompassing silence and a deeply and profound quiet
To the point that my heart is almost overwhelmed
And when I hear the wind rustling through the trees
I compare its voice to the infinite silence.
And eternity occurs to me, and all the ages past,
And the present time, and its sound.
Amidst this immensity my thought drowns;
And to flounder in this sea is sweet to me.

L' Infinito di Giacomo Leopardi

A frugal mother, Adelaide, who came from an old, established Marchigiani family and a father, Monaldo, who on the contrary was partial to excessive spending but who at least established an extensive library which became the inexhaustible source of studying and reading at which Giacomo Leopardi, although still a child, quenched his intense thirst for knowledge. It was in the quiet environment of the provincial town of Recanati that the great poet was born on the 29 June 1798.

Within just a few years, Giacomo  Leopardi was already beginning to enjoy studying various languages, translating the classics and reading all types of essays: from the history of natural science to philology through to both classic and modern languages. In 1813 he had already written two tragedies La virtu Indiana e Pompeo in Egitto and, La Storia dell’astronomia dalla sua origine fino all’anno 1811 and, in 1815, Il Saggio sopra gli errori popolari degli antichi and L’Orazione degli italiani in occasione della liberazione.

It was from 1816 that he started to undertake his first poetic works, providing him with a voice to express his feeling of suffocation under the authority of his father who wanted him to be a priest and wouldn’t allow him to go out of the house alone until he was twenty. Due to his delicate health and conscious of his extremely fragile disposition he defined himself as a “mobile sepulchre”. He had a tendency to fall in love with women who disregarded him, and so it was that Giacomo  Leopardi started to cultivate a highly pessimistic view of modern society, reacting against the corruption of nature.

At around twenty years old, following his readings of Pascal, Voltaire and Rosseau, the poet turned his attentions towards philosophy, and it was in 1819 that he wrote the wonderful poetic compositions of L’Infinito, Alla luna and Canzoni, which was published just five years later.

In 1822 Leopardi was allowed to go to Rome to visit a cousin; however the eternal city and the literary environment disappointed him enormously and so the following year he returned to Recanati where, in 1824, he composed the Operette morali. It was his personal vision of absolute pessimism; he explored the way in which nature inspires unattainable desires of happiness in men, causing them both pain and frustration. From the following year until 1828, thanks to a publishing collaboration, he went to Milan, Bologna, Florence and Pisa. They were profitable years in which he wrote the Versi, Il Risorgimento and the consuming A Silvia.

He returned to Florence in 1830 and there, in spite of his irreverent and sullen ways in his confrontations of all and everything, he enjoyed a period of intense socialising, along with delusional love affairs, such as his unrequited loved for Fanny Targioni Tozzetti which inspired the series Aspasia. It was in Florence the he met Antonio Ranieri, whose friendship faithfully accompanied him during the following years. Florence was also where Leopardi continued in his often caustic analysis of spiritualistic ideology and of contemporary society, he wrote the Dialogo di Tristano e di un amico and Dialogo di un venditore di almanacchi e di un passeggero.

In 1833 he moved to Naples with his friend Ranieri, and here he saw the publication of the Palinodia al marchese Gino Capponi, La Ginestra, Il tramonto della luna e I nuovi credenti. However, his already unstable health was deteriorating with continuous asthma attacks and a serious eye infection. He died on 14th June 1837, it was said to be from an infection with cholera which lead to a stronger than usual asthma attack. However, it was also said that he had a sweet tooth and was extremely greedy and that it may have been caused by indigestion from Confetti di Sulmona (sugared almonds). Perhaps there is some consolation in the idea that for a man who felt the weight of his existence and the disillusionment with life, at least during his last moments on earth he had savoured the sweet taste of sugared almonds.

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