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To His Lady

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Beloved beauty who inspires
love in me from afar, your face obscured   
except when your celestial image   
stirs my heart in sleep, or in the fields
where light and nature's laughter shine more lovely—
was it maybe you who blessed
the innocent age called golden,
and do you now, blithe spirit,   
fly among men? Or does that miser fate
who hides you from us save you for the future?

No hope of seeing you alive   
remains for me now,
except when, naked and alone,
my soul will go down a new street   
to its unknown home. Already at the dawn
of my dark, uncertain day
I imagined you a fellow traveler
on this arid ground. But there's no thing
that resembles you on earth. And if someone
had a face like yours, in act and word she'd be,
though something like you, far less beautiful.

In spite of all the suffering
fate decreed for human time,
if there were anyone on earth
who truly loved you as my thought depicts you,
this life for him would be a blessing.
And I see clearly how your love
would lead me still to strive for praise and virtue,
as I used to in my early years.
Though heaven gave no comfort for our troubles,
yet with you mortal life would be
like what in heaven leads to divinity.

In the valleys, where the song
of the weary farmer sounds,
and when I sit and mourn   
the illusions of youth fading,
and on the hills where I recall   
and grieve for my lost desires   
and my life's lost hope, I think of you
and start to shake. If only I, in this   
sad age and unhealthy atmosphere,
could keep hold of your noble look; for since the real thing's
missing I must make do with the image.

Whether you are the only one   
of the eternal ideas eternal wisdom
refuses to see arrayed in sensible form
to know the pains of mortal life
in transitory spoils,
or if in the supernal spheres another earth
from among unnumbered worlds receives you
and a near star lovelier than the Sun
warms you and you breathe benigner ether,
from here, where years are both ill-starred and brief,
accept this hymn from your unnoticed lover.

Source: Poetry (April 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

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To His Lady

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  • Prolific writer, translator, and thinker Giacomo Leopardi was born in the small provincial town of Recanati, Italy, during a time of political upheaval and unrest in Europe created by the French Revolution. Although his aristocratic family was affected by the instability of the region, Leopardi was tutored extensively under private priests from an early age, showing a remarkable talent and thirst for knowledge. As a sickly adolescent who was often confined to the household, Leopardi spent most of his time in his father’s extraordinary library, immersing himself in classical and philological knowledge. Within years of independent study, Leopardi became fluent in reading and writing Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, while he began translating various classical texts including Horace and Homer.
    For years Leopardi secluded himself in his father’s library, studying and writing constantly. At the age of fourteen he wrote Pompeo in Egitto (Pompey in Egypt) an anti-Caesarean manifesto,...

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