Giacomo Leopardi’s Desperation at Its Grandest

Giacomo Leopardi: Desperation at Its Grandest

The majestic, but yet despairing poet Giacomo Leopardi once wrote, “Illusions, however weakened and unmasked by reason, still remain and form the chief part of our life.” This one vibrant statement is by far the ultimate main and viable driving force of his classic and timeless poetry. Illusion, which encompasses every part of human existence is not only one of the subtexts of Leopardi’s life, but is also the mere context of his thought process and hopeless look on life as he knew it in 19th century Italy.

Leopardi excelled at using several varieties of styles when creating his poetry including ancient Greek, satire, and contemporary. (Vivante 1) He tended to write his poetry in the Romantic traditional style of the day often with subtle tones of pessimism but yet clarity of vision.

One of Leopardi’s first poems, a thought-provoking and somewhat visionary work was Appressamento della morte (Approach of Death). The themes of this poem: despair, subjectivity and illusion, not only express the loneliness and dejection of his unhappy childhood which was plagued by illness and physical as well as spiritual frustration, but also transcends an anticipation of death, a reward per say, of a new and more profound life after one’s passing.

Readers can experience Leopardi’s themes of despair in an excerpt from his masterful yet despondent poem The Broom:

Nature has no more care

Or praise for human souls

Than for the ants: and is she slaughters men

Less terribly than them,

This is no great wonder,

For man’s fecundity and ants’ are worlds asunder.”

Even though Leopardi focused on a pessimistic view of life, he still is considered one of Italy’s greatest Romantic writers. (Goodwin) One of his most famous quotes “Conserve energy — make love more slowly” (Bini) indicates that Leopardi was a man with a mind for romanticism but lacked the luster a key component: physical intimacy. It has been noted throughout the history of Leopardi’s life that he was never loved by any women and most likely did not have any intimate relations as well. (Origo) This in and of itself contributed to the longing for romanticism and the consistent themes of adoration. This would also tarnish his heart and directly envelope his entire life.

We know this to be true in his poem To Italy. In this poem, Leopardi expresses his undying love for Italy. He also expresses great love, adornment and a constant theme of illusion in Ode on the Likeness of a Beautiful Woman Carven on Her Tomb:

That breast, which visibly

Blanched with beauty him who looked on it

All these things were, and now Dust art thou, filth, a fell

And hideous sight hidden beneath a stone.”

Disappointed love inspired one of his greatest early lyrics, A Silvia (To Sylvia) which is based on the tragedy of a peasant girl who worked for Leopardi’s family whom he was terribly in love with. “Sylvia remember now, if you can / that fleeting time of your mortal span,/when beauty flashed in splendor/from eyes which laughed and yet were hid.”

Leopardi was always convinced that it would require great courage “to love a vitreous man whose only beauty is his soul.” His pessimistic views always hindered his ability to love fully.

Since Leopardi’s romantic dreams never obtained fulfillment, (Origo), he was completely convinced that readers would also not be fulfilled with his work. His perfectionism was a direct result of his constant vie for approval, especially from his family.

But, to the contrary, Leopardi became one of the most formidable linguists, thinkers, and writers of his time. His works found admirers among the best literary circles in Rome and around the world. (Microsoft Encarta) Devotees and readers alike always understood the direct truth of his perspective on humanity and life itself. (The theme that our world is one where humanity is subjected to a hopeless state of boredom and despair by the forces of nature which are wholly indifferent to man’s predicaments.)

Leopardi succumbed to the thought that believing in joy was nothing but the momentary substance of pain and that only in death could man find lasting happiness. (Goodwin)

His attention to in-depth humanistic feelings is in part why Leopardi has remained one of the most important Romantic writers of the 19th century and has stood the test of time.

His convincing tone of skepticism was a direct product of his innermost heartaches, dejection and loneliness. Leopardi himself once said, “I say that the world is a league of scoundrels against the men of good will, and of the petty against the generous.” Since these feelings are universally felt, one can assume that contemporary audiences will continue having a fascination Leopardi’s work.

Works Sited

Bini, Daniela, Fragrance from the Desert: Poetry and Philosophy in Giacomo Leopardi.

Italy: Anma Libri, 1983.

Goodwin, Evan. “Giacomo Leopardi.” Little Blue Light.

May 6, 2002 Edition. 08, 2002.

Leopardi, Giacomo,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2002

1997-2002 Microsoft Corporation.

Vivante, Arturo, Giacomo Leopardi: Poems Translated

New York: Delphinium Press, 1988

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