Poems of Giacomo Leopardi/Poem 1
TO ITALY. (1818.)
My country, I the walls, the arches see,
The columns, statues, and the towers
Deserted, of our ancestors;
But, ah, the glory I do not behold,
The laurel and the sword, that graced
Our sires of old.
Now, all unarmed, a naked brow,
A naked breast dost thou display.
Ah, me, how many wounds, what stains of blood!
Oh, what a sight art thou,
Most beautiful of women! I
To heaven cry aloud, and to the world:
"Who hath reduced her to this pass?
Say, say!" And worst of all, alas,
See, both her arms in chains are bound!
With hair dishevelled, and without a veil
She sits, disconsolate, upon the ground,
And hides her face between her knees,
As she bewails her miseries.
Oh, weep, my Italy, for thou hast cause;
Thou, who wast born the nations to subdue,
As victor, and as victim, too!
Oh, if thy eyes two living fountains were,
The volume of their tears could ne'er express
Thy utter helplessness, thy shame;
Thou, who wast once the haughty dame,
And, now, the wretched slave.
Who speaks, or writes of thee,
That must not bitterly exclaim:
"She once was great, but, oh, behold her now"?
Why hast thou fallen thus, oh, why?
Where is the ancient force?
Where are the arms, the valor, constancy?
Who hath deprived thee of thy sword?
What treachery, what skill, what labor vast,
Or what o'erwhelming horde
Whose fierce, invading tide, thou could'st not stem,
Hath robbed thee of thy robe and diadem?
From such a height how couldst thou fall so low?
Will none defend thee? No?
No son of thine? For arms, for arms, I call;
Alone I'll fight for thee, alone will fall.
And from my blood, a votive offering,
May flames of fire in every bosom spring!
Where are thy sons? The sound of arms I hear,
Of chariots, of voices, and of drums;
From foreign lands it comes,
For which thy children fight.
Oh, hearken, hearken, Italy! I see,--
Or is it but a dream?--
A wavering of horse and foot,
And smoke, and dust, and flashing swords,
That like the lightning gleam.
Art thou not comforted? Dost turn away
Thy eyes, in horror, from the doubtful fray?
Ye gods, ye gods. Oh, can it be?
The youth of Italy
Their hireling swords for other lands have bared!
Oh, wretched he in war who falls,
Not for his native shores,
His loving wife and children dear,
But, fighting for another's gain,
And by another's foe is slain!
Nor can he say, as his last breath he draws,
"My mother-land, beloved, ah see,
The life thou gav'st, I render back to thee!"
Oh fortunate and dear and blessed,
The ancient days, when rushed to death the brave,
In crowds, their country's life to save!
And you, forever glorious,
Where Persia, Fate itself, could not withstand
The fiery zeal of that devoted band!
Do not the trees, the rocks, the waves,
The mountains, to each passer-by,
With low and plaintive voice tell
The wondrous tale of those who fell,
Heroes invincible who gave
Their lives, their Greece to save?
Then cowardly as fierce,
Xerxes across the Hellespont retired,
A laughing-stock to all succeeding time;
And up Anthela's hill, where, e'en in death
The sacred Band immortal life obtained,
Simonides slow-climbing, thoughtfully,
Looked forth on sea and shore and sky.
And then, his cheeks with tears bedewed,
And heaving breast, and trembling foot, he stood,
His lyre in hand and sang:
"O ye, forever blessed,
Who bared your breasts unto the foeman's lance,
For love of her, who gave you birth;
By Greece revered, and by the world admired,
What ardent love your youthful minds inspired,
To rush to arms, such perils dire to meet,
A fate so hard, with loving smiles to greet?
Her children, why so joyously,
Ran ye, that stern and rugged pass to guard?
As if unto a dance,
Or to some splendid feast,
Each one appeared to haste,
And not grim death Death to brave;
But Tartarus awaited ye,
And the cold Stygian wave;
Nor were your wives or children at your side,
When, on that rugged shore,
Without a kiss, without a tear, ye died.
But not without a fearful blow
To Persians dealt, and their undying shame.
As at a herd of bulls a lion glares,
Then, plunging in, upon the back
Of this one leaps, and with his claws
A passage all along his chine he tears,
And fiercely drives his teeth into his sides,
Such havoc Grecian wrath and valor made
Amongst the Persian ranks, dismayed.
Behold each prostrate rider and his steed;
Behold the chariots, and the fallen tents,
A tangled mass their flight impede;
And see, among the first to fly,
The tyrant, pale, and in disorder wild!
See, how the Grecian youths,
With blood barbaric dyed,
And dealing death on every side,
By slow degrees by their own wounds subdued,
The one upon the other fall. Farewell,
Ye heroes blessed, whose names shall live,
While tongue can speak, or pen your story tell!
Sooner the stars, torn from their spheres, shall hiss,
Extinguished in the bottom of the sea,
Than the dear memory, and love of you,
Shall suffer loss, or injury.
Your tomb an altar is; the mothers here
Shall come, unto their little ones to show
The lovely traces of your blood. Behold,
Ye blessed, myself upon the ground I throw,
And kiss these stones, these clods
Whose fame, unto the end of time,
Shall sacred be in every clime.
Oh, had I, too, been here with you,
And this dear earth had moistened with my blood!
But since stern Fate would not consent
That I for Greece my dying eyes should close,
In conflict with her foes,
Still may the gracious gods accept
The offering I bring,
And grant to me the precious boon,
Your Hymn of Praise to sing!"