Giacomo Leopardi was magnificent in his bleakness, and my bilingual edition of his Canti practically falls open to this passage from “Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia.” (“Night song of a wandering Asian shepherd.”) The shepherd, who addresses the moon, remarks.
Nasce l’uomo a fatica,
Ed è rischio di morte il nasciamento.
Prova pena e tormento
Per prima cosa; e in sul principio stesso
La madre e il genitore
Il prende a consolar dell’esser nato.
Poi che crescende viene,
L’uno e l’altro il sostiene, a via pur sempre
Con atti e con parole
Studiasi fargli core,
E consolarlo dell’umano stato:
Altro ufficio più grato
Non si fa da parenti alla lor prole.
Ma perchè dare al sole,
Perchè reggere in vita
Che poi di quella consolar convegna?
Si la vita è sventura
Perchè da noi si dura?
Intatta luna, tale
È lo stato mortale.
Ma tu mortal non sei,
E forse del mio dir poco di cale.
The translator, Jonathan Galassi, renders this as
Man is born by labor,
And birth itself means risking death.
The first thing that he feels
is pain and torment, and from the start
mother and father
seek to comfort him for being born.
As he grows
they nurture him
and constantly by word and deed
seek to instill courage,
consoling him for being human.
Parents can do no more loving
thing for their children.
But why bring to light,
someone we’ll console for living later?
If life is misery
why do we endure it?
This, unblemished moon.
is mortal nature.
But you’re not mortal,
and what I say may matter little to you.
I have some Italian, but not as much as I would like, so it is with (perverse, perhaps) pleasure that I note that, almost two centuries after Leopardi wrote them, a complete English-language edition of his Zibaldone (that is, his aphoristic philosophical writings) is going to be coming out soon. Something to live for!