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illeopardi text integral passage complete quotation of the sources comedies works historical literary works in prose and in verses



Translated by A.S.Kline

ĎAnd men loved darkness rather than the lightí

      Fragrant broom,
content with deserts:
here on the arid slope of Vesuvius,
that formidable mountain, the destroyer,
that no other tree or flower adorns,
you scatter your lonely
bushes all around. Iíve seen before
how you beautify empty places
with your stems, circling the City
once the mistress of the world,
and it seems that with their grave,
silent, aspect they bear witness,
reminding the passer-by
of that lost empire.
Now I see you again on this soil,
a lover of sad places abandoned by the world,
a faithful friend of hostile fortune.
These fields scattered
with barren ash, covered
with solid lava,
that resounds under the travellerís feet:
where snakes twist and couple
in the sun, and the rabbits return
to their familiar cavernous burrows:
were once happy, prosperous farms.
They were golden with corn, echoed
to lowing cattle:
there were gardens and palaces,
the welcome leisure retreats
for powerful, famous cities,
which the proud mountain crushed
with all their people, beneath the torrents
from its fiery mouth. Now all around
is one ruin,
where you root, gentle flower, and as though
commiserating with othersí loss, send
a perfume of sweetest fragrance to heaven,
that consoles the desert. Let those
who praise our existence visit
these slopes, to see how carefully
our race is nurtured
by loving Nature. And here
they can justly estimate
and measure the power of humankind,
that the harsh nurse, can with a slight movement,
obliterate one part of, in a moment, when we
least fear it, and with a little less gentle
a motion, suddenly,
annihilate altogether.
The Ďmagnificent and progressive fateí
of the human race
is depicted in this place.

      Proud, foolish century, look,
and see yourself reflected,
you whoíve abandoned
the path, marked by advancing thought
till now, and reversed your steps,
boasting of this regression
you call progress.
All the intellectuals, whose evil fate
gave them you for a father,
praise your babbling, though
they often make a mockery
of you, among themselves. But Iíll
not vanish into the grave in shame:
As far as I can, Iíll demonstrate,
the scorn for you, openly,
thatís in my heart,
though I know oblivion crushes
those hated by their own time.
Iíve already mocked enough
at that fate Iíll share with you.
You pursue Freedom, yet want thought
to be slave of a single age again:
by thought weíve risen a little higher
than barbarism, by thought alone civilisation
grows, only thought guides public affairs
towards the good.
The truth of your harsh fate
and the lowly place Nature gave you
displease you so. Because of it
you turn your backs on the light
that illuminated you: and in flight,
you call him who pursues it vile,
and only him great of heart
who foolishly or cunningly mocks himself
or others, praising our human state above the stars.

      A man generous and noble of soul,
of meagre powers and weak limbs,
doesnít boast and call himself
strong and rich in possessions,
doesnít make a foolish pretence
of splendid living or cutting a fine
figure among the crowd:
but allows himself to appear
as lacking wealth and power,
and says so, openly, and gives
a true value to his worth.
I donít consider a man
a great-hearted creature, but stupid,
who, born to die, nurtured in pain,
says he is made for joy,
and fills pages with the stench
of pride, promising
an exalted destiny on earth,
and a new happiness, unknown to heaven
much less this world, to people
whom a surging wave, a breath
of malignant air, a subterranean tremor,
destroys so utterly that they
scarcely leave a memory behind.
He has a noble nature
who dares to raise his voice
against our common fate,
and with an honest tongue,
not compromising truth,
admits the evil fate allotted us,
our low and feeble state:
a nature that shows itself
strong and great in suffering,
that does not add to its miseries with fraternal
hatred and anger, things worse
than other evils, blaming mankind
for its sorrows, but places blame
on Her who is truly guilty, who is the mother
of men in bearing them, their stepmother in malice.
They call her enemy:
and consider
the human race
to be united, and ranked against her,
from of old, as is true,
judge all men allies, embrace
all with true love, offering sincere
prompt support, and expecting it
in the various dangers and anguish
of the mutual war on her. And think
it as foolish to take up arms against men
and set up nets and obstacles
against their neighbours as it would be in war,
surrounded by the opposing army, in the most
intense heat of battle,
to start fierce struggles with friends,
forgetting the enemy,
to incite desertion, and wave their swords
among their own forces.
If such thoughts were revealed
to the crowd, as they used to be,
along with the horror that first
brought men together in social contract
against impious Nature,
then by true wisdom
the honest, lawful intercourse
of citizens would be partly renewed,
and justice and piety, would own
to another root than foolish pride,
on which the morals of the crowd
are as well founded
as anything else thatís based on error.

      Often I sit here, at night,
on these desolate slopes,
that a hardened lava-flow has clothed
with brown, and which seem to undulate still,
and over the gloomy waste,
I see the stars flame, high
in the purest blue,
mirrored far off by the sea:
the universe glittering with sparks
that wheel through the tranquil void.
And then I fix my eyes on those lights
that seem pin-pricks,
yet are so vast in form
that earth and sea are really a pin-prick
to them: to whom man,
and this globe where man is nothing,
are completely unknown: and gazing
at those still more infinitely remote,
knots, almost, of stars,
that seem like mist to us, to which
not only man and earth but all
our stars, infinite in number and mass,
with the golden sun,
are unknown, or seem like points
of misted light, as they appear
from earth: what do you seem like,
then, in my thoughts, O children
of mankind? And mindful of
your state here below, of which
the ground I stand on bears witness,
and that, on the other hand, you believe
that youíve been appointed the master
and end of all things: and how often
you like to talk about the creators
of all things universal, who descended
to this obscure grain of sand called earth,
for you, and happily spoke to you, often:
and that, renewing these ridiculous dreams,
you still insult the wise, in an age
that appears to surpass the rest
in knowledge and social customs: what feeling is it,
then, wretched human race, what thought
of you finally pierces my heart?
I donít know if laughter or pity prevails.

      As a little apple that falls from a tree:
late autumn ripeness,
and nothing else, bringing it to earth:
crushes, wastes, and covers
in a moment, the sweet nests
of a tribe of ants, carved out
of soft soil, with vast labour,
and the works, the wealth,
that industrious race had vied
to achieve, with such effort,
and created in the summer: so the cities
of the farthest shores
that the sea bathed,
were shattered, confounded, covered
in a few moments, by a night of ruin,
by ashes, lava and stones,
hurled to the heights of heaven
from the womb of thunder,
falling again from above,
mingled in molten streams,
or by the vast overflow
of liquefied masses,
metals and burning sand,
descending the mountainside
racing over the grass: so that now
the goats graze above them,
and new cities rise beside them, whose base
is their buried, demolished walls
that the cruel mountain seems to crush underfoot.
Nature has no more love or care
for the seed of man
than for the ants: and if the destruction
of one is rarer than that of the other,
itís for no other reason
than that mankind is less rich in offspring.

      Fully eighteen hundred years
have passed, since those once-populated cities
vanished, crushed by fiery force,
yet the farmer intent
on his vines, this dead
and ashen soil barely nourishes,
still lifts his gaze
with suspicion,
to the fatal peak
that sits there brooding,
no gentler than ever, still threatening
to destroy him, his children, and his
meagre possessions. And often
the wretch, lying awake
on the roof of his house, where
the wandering breezes blow at night,
jumps up now and again, and checks
the course of the dreadful boiling,
that pours from that inexhaustible lap
onto its sandy slopes, and illuminates
the bay of Capri, the ports
of Naples and Mergellina.
And if he sees it nearing, or hears
the water bubbling, feverishly, deep
in the well, he wakes his children, quickly
wakes his wife, and fleeing, with whatever
of their possessions they can grasp,
watches from the distance, as his familiar
home, and the little field
his only defence against hunger,
fall prey to the burning tide,
crackling as it arrives, inexorably
spreading over all this, and hardening.
Lifeless Pompeii returns to the light of heaven
after ancient oblivion, like a buried
skeleton, that piety or the greed
for land gives back to the open air:
and, from its empty forum,
through the ranks of broken
columns, the traveller contemplates
the forked peak and the smoking summit,
that still threatens the scattered ruins.
And, like nightís secret horror,
through the empty theatres,
the twisted temples, the shattered
houses, where the bat hides its brood,
like a sinister brand
that circles darkly through silent palaces,
the glow of the deathly lava runs,
reddening the shadows
from far away, staining the region round.
So, indifferent to man, and the ages
he calls ancient, and the way descendants
follow on from their ancestors,
Nature, always green, proceeds instead
by so long a route
she seems to remain at rest. Meanwhile empires fall,
peoples and tongues pass: She does not see:
and man lays claim to eternityís merit.

      And you, slow-growing broom,
who adorn this bare landscape
with fragrant thickets,
you too will soon succumb
to the cruel power of subterranean fire,
that, revisiting places
it knows, will stretch its greedy margin
over your soft forest. And youíll bend
your innocent head, without a struggle,
beneath that mortal burden:
yet a head thatís not been bent in vain
in cowardly supplication
before a future oppressor: nor lifted
in insane pride towards the stars,
or beyond the desert, where
your were born and lived,
not through intent, but chance:
and youíll have been so much wiser
so much less unsound than man, since you
have never believed your frail species,
can be made immortal by yourself, or fate.

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