Giacomo Taldegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi (June 29, 1798 – June 14, 1837)
More than eighteen hundred years have passed
since these crowded places disappeared,
extinguished by the power of fire,
and yet the farmer bending to his vines
which the scorched and poisoned earth
nurtures poorly in these fields
still lifts his anxious eyes
to the fatal peak,
in no way gentler,
which sits there still tremendous,
still threatening ruin
for him, his children,
and their mean possessions.
And often the poor man sleepless on the roof
of his country hovel,
lying in the open air all night,
jumps up time and time again to watch
the progress of the fearful boiling,
spilling out of the inexhaustible womb
onto the sandy mountainside,
on which the shore of Capri gleams reflected,
and the port of Naples, and Mergellina.
And if he sees it coming close, or hears
his well water gurgling agitated,
he frantically collects his wife and children,
and, fleeing with as many of their things
as they can carry, watches from afar
their longtime nest and the small field
that was their one defense from hunger
fall prey to the burning flood,
which advances hissing and unstoppable,
to pour over them unendingly.
returns to the celestial light
from her immemorial oblivion
like a buried skeleton
that greed or piety has raised out of the earth
into the air, and from the empty forum
the wanderer, gazing
down the rows of broken colonnades,
contemplates the distant double peak
and its smoking crest,
still menacing the scattered ruin.
And in the horror of the hidden night,
in the empty theaters, the broken temples,
and ruined houses where the bat
conceals its offspring,
advancing cruelly through vacant buildings
like an evil torch the gleaming,
deadly lava flows,
and glows red among the distant shadows,
dyeing everything around.
So, ignorant of man and of the age
that he calls ancient, and of the descendants
following their ancestors,
nature stays evergreen; indeed she travels
such a long road she might as well
be standing still. Meanwhile kingdoms fall,
languages and peoples die; she doesn’t see.
Yet man takes it upon himself to praise eternity.
Translated, from the Italian, by Jonathan Galassi.