Giacomo Leopardi was an essayist, philosopher, and philologist and, to many, the greatest Italian poet since Dante. His finest work, L’Infinito (The Infinite – 1819), is short, of only four complete sentences, wistful, contemplative and profound. The narrator compares the immensity, the ‘unending spaces’ and ‘endless stillness’ of the universe with his own, prosaic surroundings.
This lonely hill was always dear to me,
and this hedgerow, which cuts off the view
of so much of the last horizon.
But sitting here and gazing, I can see
beyond, in my mind’s eye, unending spaces,
and superhuman silences, and depthless calm,
till what I feel is almost fear.
And when I hear the wind stir in these branches, I begin
comparing that endless stillness with this noise:
and the eternal comes to mind,
and the dead seasons, and the present
living one, and how it sounds.
So my mind sinks in this immensity:
and floundering is sweet in such a sea.
Translated by Jonathan Galassi. Photo: NASA/ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team