Leopardi, Giacomo (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)
Giacomo Leopardi 1798-1837
(Conte Giacomo Talegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi) Italian poet, prose writer, translator, and editor.
The following entry presents criticism on Leopardi from 1963 through 2000. For additional information on Leopardi's life and career, see NCLC, Volume 22.
An important figure of Italian Romanticism, Leopardi is best remembered for his profoundly pessimistic outlook on the human condition and his exquisite lyricism. Not widely known in his own time, Leopardi has since been acclaimed as the greatest Italian poet of the nineteenth century.
Leopardi was born June 29, 1798, in Recanati, an isolated rural village in Italy. He was the eldest of five surviving children of Count Monaldo Leopardi and the Marquess Adelaide Antici Leopardi. His father was interested in literature, philosophy, and politics, and he established an impressive personal library that covered a wide variety of subjects. Anxious for his talented son to succeed as a classical scholar, Leopardi's father provided the best possible private tutors for the boy, and by the age of sixteen, Leopardi had mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as English, French, and Spanish. Leopardi's mother, who controlled the family's finances due to her husband's inability to manage money, encouraged her children to lead the same austere, religious life she led. The boy spent hours reading, writing, and translating, which contributed to his poor health and exacerbated his numerous physical ailments, including poor vision and a deformity of the spine. The atmosphere created by his domineering mother and overprotective father was stifling and constricted, and Leopardi spent an isolated and boring childhood. Although he professed great love for the rest of Italy, he grew to despise Recanati, referring to it as a “horrible, detestable, execrated sepulcher, where the dead are happier than the living.”
In 1817 Leopardi began recording his thoughts in a notebook that would become one of his most celebrated works, and also began corresponding with several important European writers. After an unsuccessful attempt to leave the family home in 1819, Leopardi continued his studies but increasingly devoted time to his own writing. In 1822 he was finally able to leave Recanati and visit Rome, which proved a bitter disappointment to him. He was unable to find suitable employment in the clerical or academic fields, in part due to his physical limitations, but also because of his agnosticism and avowed patriotism, both unpopular positions at the time. After returning for a time to his family, he began traveling throughout Italy, settling first in Florence, where an unhappy love affair inspired some of his most mournful verse, and then in Naples, where he took up residence with his friend and companion Antonio Ranieri. Supporting himself through his writing was a constant struggle and at times he was forced to depend on the generosity of friends. In his last years he became increasingly despondent over his failed romance, deteriorating health, and the Italian government's suppression of his writings. He died in 1837 of pulmonary failure.
Leopardi's early works consist of translations of the texts of Horace and Moschus, and sections of the Aeneid and the Odyssey. His first original works were Storia della astronomia (1813; History of Astronomy), which he wrote at the age of fifteen, and Saggio sopra gli errori popolari degli antichi (1815; Essay on the Popular Errors of the Ancients).
In 1816, according to some scholars, Leopardi experienced what he called his “literary conversion,” after which he concentrated on the production of creative pieces rather than critical writings. The poems “All'Italia” (“To Italy”) and “Sopra il monumento di Dante” (“On Dante's Monument”) were inspired by a visit from his friend and first literary mentor Pietro Giordani in 1818. Some time after 1819 he composed some of his most admired poetry, including “L'Infinito (“The Infinite”), “Alla luna” (“To the Moon”), and “Alla Primavera” (To the Spring”). His first collection of poetry, Canzoni, was published in 1824, and in 1831 a second collection, Canti, appeared.
One of Leopardi's most important works was his seven-volume notebook, Pensieri di varia filosofia e di bella letteratura, better known as Zibaldone, published in 1898-1900, but written between 1817 and sometime in the 1830s. Influenced by classical poetry as well as by Enlightenment rationalism and skepticism, the work represents Leopardi's philosophical speculations and reflects his profoundly pessimistic belief in the meaninglessness of life. In his later poems and in the Operette morali (1827), a series of dialogues outlining his philosophy, Leopardi tempered some of the nihilism expressed earlier in the Zibaldone. Leopardi's final poem, “La ginestra” (“The Broom”), dealt with the hostile relationship between nature and mankind, but offered a slight glimmer of hope—unlike most of his earlier pieces.
Leopardi's oeuvre has received considerable scholarly attention in Italy while garnering steady and diverse criticism from other Western critics as well. Many scholars have commented on the despair inherent in Leopardi's work. Sergio Pacifici compares Leopardi to Alessandro Manzoni, but where the latter's work is infused with Christian optimism, the former's verse is characterized by a “bleak pessimism.” Yet due to this, Pacifici believes that Leopardi's work is more likely to appeal to modern readers because he explores the fundamental questions of life with an unblinking eye. Kenelm Foster also compares Manzoni and Leopardi, but finds that despite their differences, both poets were concerned with the essential nature of truth. Alfredo Bonadeo has examined Leopardi's treatment of death in his prose works and contends that “contrary to what one may surmise from his somber vision of life, neither the fact nor the idea of death bears negatively upon his evaluation of human existence nor do they constitute a desirable escape from life.”
Numerous critics have noted the importance of illusion in Leopardi's thought and in his writing. Erasmo G. Gerato maintains that it is a crucial concept in understanding the poet because for Leopardi illusion was the one thing that could make life bearable, not just for him but for all of humanity. But as the poet was increasingly making use of illusion, he was at the same time, according to Gerato, viewing reason more and more negatively. G. Singh believes that illusions were an important part of Leopardi's early life, as they are with most people. However, Singh reports that “the crucial difference between him and any other person … was the extraordinarily swift and unimpeded transition from illusions, however agreeable and even necessary, to truth, however bitter. His journey from the one to the other could not have been briefer or more decisive.” Alan S. Rosenthal asserts that Leopardi's concept of nature also became increasingly negative over time: “In Leopardi's poetry, Nature is at first indifferent to mankind, then cruel, increasingly hostile, and finally viciously destructive.” Bonadeo traces a similar evolution in Leopardi's concept of nature, although he finds that the poet first held a positive conception of the link between man and nature.
In recent years the Zibaldone has received increasing attention from literary critics, including Martha King and Daniela Bini. “Leopardi's meditations on the creative process and his statements on style and the psychological effect of certain words are a rare testimony of a great poet,” according to King and Bini. Despite this renewed interest, however, Leopardi's poetry remains relatively unknown outside Italy; in the English-speaking world, the study of his work is largely restricted to academic circles where he is considered by many the greatest Italian poet of the nineteenth century. In his own country, according to Nicolas J. Perella “the critical literature on Leopardi has, in the last forty years, been massive, perhaps exceeding even what has been written on Dante.” Perella believes that Leopardi has been a significant influence on Western literature since his death but the acknowledgement of that impact has not been sufficient to secure his reputation, outside scholarly circles, as one of Italy's greatest poets and thinkers.
Storia della astronomia (essay) 1813
Saggio sopra gli errori popolari degli antichi (essay) 1815
Canzoni del conte Giacomo Leopardi (poetry) 1824; revised and enlarged as Versi del Conte Giacomo Leopardi 1826
Operette morali [Essays and Dialogues of Giacomo Leopardi; also published as Essays, Dialogues and Thoughts of Giacomo Leopardi] (essays, fictional dialogues, and prose poetry) 1827; enlarged edition, 1836
Canti (poetry) 1831; enlarged edition, 1835
Opere di Giacomo Leopardi. 6 vols. (poetry, essays, fictional dialogues, aphorisms, and letters) 1845-49
Pensieri di varia filosofia e di bella letteratura [Zibaldone]. 7 vols. (prose) 1898-1900
The poems of Leopardi (poetry) 1923
Epistolario di Giacomo Leopardi. 7 vols. (letters) 1934-41
Tutte le opere di Giacomo Leopardi. 5 vols. (poetry, prose, fictional dialogues, essays, aphorisms, prose poetry, and letters) 1937-49
Poems from Giacomo Leopardi (poetry) 1946
Giacomo Leopardi: Selected Prose and Poetry (poetry, prose, and fictional dialogues) 1966
A Leopardi Reader (poetry, prose, aphorisms, and letters) 1981
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SOURCE: Corrigan, Beatrice. “The Poetry of Leopardi in Victorian England 1837-1878.” English Miscellany 14 (1963): 171-84.
[In the following essay, Corrigan discusses Leopardi's reputation in England in the mid-nineteenth century.]
«The first time an Englishman ever mentioned the name of Leopardi in print was, we believe, in a recent novel», wrote George Henry Lewes in an anonymous contribution to Fraser's Magazine in 18481. «Yet Germany has long known and cherished Leopardi. Even France, generally so backward in acknowledging a foreigner, has, on several occasions, paid tribute to his genius».
Some of Leopardi's poems had indeed been translated into German as early as 18232, and he had been the subject of an article in France in 18333. But during his lifetime an unfortunate barrier had already risen between English and Italian men of letters. No longer did English poets seek out, as Byron had done in Milan in 1816, their Italian confreres, and the English periodicals were interested in Italian politics rather than in Italian literature.
Leopardi was himself conscious of this lack of intellectual intercourse. Of the two Leopardi brothers, it was Carlo who had devoted himself to English literature, and who was urged by his uncle to win fame as a translator4; yet it was Giacomo who in 1826 wrote to the publisher...
(The entire section is 4578 words.)
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SOURCE: Foster, Kenelm. “The Idea of Truth in Manzoni and Leopardi.” Proceedings of the British Academy 53 (1967): 243-57.
[In the following essay, Foster compares the philosophies of Manzoni and Leopardi, who, despite their extreme differences, were both concerned with the nature of truth.]
There is a danger in being honoured beyond one's expectations; one may try a little too hard to rise to the occasion, and I fear I have run the risk of doing that in choosing to address so distinguished an audience on so difficult, though fascinating, a topic. Two men of genius and their idea of truth would always be a large subject for one lecture, and the matter is certainly made no easier in the present case by the fact that the two minds and mentalities I have chosen as my theme are not only complex but also exceedingly different. As thinkers—which is how I have to consider them—Alessandro Manzoni and Giacomo Leopardi differ all along the line—in temperament, outlook, method, and conclusions, in their entire view of things; to which it seems almost trivial to add that intellectually each was wholly independent of, indeed almost unaffected by the other, though they were contemporaries and slightly acquainted. As thinkers they had almost nothing in common except the concern to think truthfully. That certainly they shared in some sense. But what does a common truth-concern imply? Manzoni, writing to Victor...
(The entire section is 6484 words.)
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SOURCE: Perella, Nicolas James. “The Sun and Midday in Leopardi.” In Night and the Sublime in Giacomo Leopardi, pp. 139-51. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.
[In the following excerpt, Perella examines Leopardi's many references in his lyric poetry to light, which he equated with happiness.]
Taking both day and night settings, the number of references to light in Leopardi's not very large output of lyric poetry is strikingly high. We have seen that brightness and clarity have for him a significant affective value of a positive kind (chapter I). In this connection, an entry made in the Zibaldone on August 19, 1823, explicitly equates light with happiness, and darkness with melancholy. The affirmation is made by way of illustrating the idea that the “spirit” of man is affected by external physical causes independently of habit:
Così, per esempio, la luce è naturalmente cagione di allegria, siccome le tenebre di malinconia; quella eccita sovente l'immaginazione, ed ispira; queste la deprimono. Un luogo, un appartamento, un clima chiaro e sereno, o torbido e fosco, influiscono sulla immaginativa, sull'ingegno, sull'indole degli abitanti, sieno individui o popoli, indipendentemente dall'assuefazione. Così una stagione, una giornata, un'ora nuvolosa o serena; il trovarsi per più o men tempo in un luogo...
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SOURCE: Bonadeo, Alfredo. “Death in Leopardi's Prose.” Italian Quarterly 70 (1974): 3-19.
[In the following essay, Bonadeo discusses Leopardi's concept of death in the Zibaldone, maintaining that the poet was more concerned with life and its purpose than with death.]
“What meaning and significance can be attached to the fact that man must die?”1 What meaning and significance, consequently, can be attached to life in view of its extinction? These are the questions that may help to understand Leopardi's concept of death embodied in the prose of the Zibaldone. If one bears in mind the pessimism and the unhappiness that pervaded the life and work of the poet from Recanati, one would be inclined to think that he held life into little account, and viewed death as a welcome and liberating event. The glorification of death is indeed said to be part and parcel of romantic thought and sensibility;2 death was Ugo Foscolo's answer to the narrowness and emptiness of life as conceived in Le ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis. For Leopardi, however, contrary to what one may surmise from his somber vision of life, neither the fact nor the idea of death bears negatively upon his evaluation of human existence nor do they constitute a desirable escape from life. The idea of death brings Leopardi's mind back constantly to the idea of life and to a search for its meaning and...
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SOURCE: Gerato, Erasmo G. “Reality of Illusion and Illusion of Reality in Leopardi's Zibaldone.” South Atlantic Bulletin 41, no. 2 (May 1976): 117-25.
[In the following essay, Gerato traces Leopardi's increasingly negative assessment of reason, which the poet came to identify as the source of humanity's unhappiness.]
Illusion is perhaps the most essential element in the pensiero of Leopardi, becoming in the end the sole concept capable of rendering life bearable not only for the poet himself but for all of humanity as well.
This study aims at tracing the theme of illusion in the development of Leopardi's thought, especially in relation to one of the poet's least-known works, the Zibaldone. We shall further attempt to show how momentous the presence of illusion was for the poet and how with the passing of time its importance increased.1
Reflecting on reason as it contrasts with nature, Leopardi mentions, for the first time the word illusione in the Zibaldone, which bears the date 1818. From this point on, it is evident that in the opinion of the poet, illusion is not only desirable and gratifying to man, but absolutely necessary if he is to achieve any greatness in life: “Voglio dire che uno uomo tanto meno o tanto più difficilmente sarà grande, quanto più sarà dominato dalla ragione: chè pochi possono essere grandi...
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SOURCE: Rosenthal, Alan S. “Baudelaire and Leopardi: An Affinity in Anguish.” Essays in Literature 3, no. 2 (fall 1976): 251-67.
[In the following essay, Rosenthal discusses similarities in themes, imagery, and even phrasing in the work of Leopardi and Baudelaire.]
Considering the differences in their respective backgrounds, the likelihood of parallels between Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) and Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837) would, at first glance, appear remote. Yet, in spite of the obvious contrasts, there does indeed exist between the two poets a remarkable and largely unheralded literary affinity.1 Surprisingly, these seemingly dissimilar individuals treated many of the same themes and ideas, employed analogous imagery, and at times used almost identical phraseology. There has been, up to now, little tangible evidence to support the possibility of direct influence. Nevertheless, the parallels are undeniable; and their very nature and number suggest that they are not the product of mere coincidence. They seem, instead, to represent significant points of congruence in two otherwise contrasting personalities.
Baudelaire was undoubtedly familiar with Leopardi to a certain extent, as he ranked him among the finest modern poets.2 One can not be absolutely sure where Baudelaire read him, but there was an abundance of material available. In 1841, for example, an...
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SOURCE: Bonadeo, Alfredo. “Leopardi's Concept of Nature.” In The Two Hesperias: Literary Studies in Honor of Joseph G. Fucilla, edited by Americo Bugliani, pp. 69-87. Madrid: José Porrúa Turanzas, 1977.
[In the following essay, Bonadeo explores the two phases of Leopardi's views on nature; the poet originally considered nature a benign force, but later began to see nature as hostile toward humanity.]
The concept of nature in Leopardi's work has been, and still is controversial. Nature, and fate in Leopardi's poetical works were interpreted by De Sanctis as «due persone poetiche sotto le quali si nasconde una concezione del mondo essenzialmente materialista»1. This materialistic view of nature as an impersonal force governing blindly man's life met with great favor among future critics, and was also applied to Leopardi's prose, specifically to that part that is said to represent the last phase of his thought. Recent and current criticism does in fact refer to two phases in the development of Leopardi's concept of nature: an earlier one representing nature as beneficial to man, and a later one representing it as hostile to mankind2. This second phase has considerably exercised the imagination of the critics. According to Blasucci, for instance, in the Dialogo della natura e di un Islandese (1824) «natura rivela finalmente il suo volto malefico, assumendo...
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SOURCE: Brose, Margaret. “Leopardi's ‘L'Infinito’ and the Language of the Romantic Sublime.” Poetics Today 4, no. 1 (1983): 47-71.
[In the following essay, Brose examines the relationship of Leopardi's lyrics to the aesthetics of European romanticism in general and of the romantic sublime in particular.]
Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle, E questa siepe, che da tanta parte Dell'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude. Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati Spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani Silenzi, e profondissima quiete Io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco Il cor non si spaura. E come il vento Odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello Infinito silenzio a questa voce Vo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno, E le morte stagioni, e la presente E viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa Immensità s'annega il pensier mio: E il naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.
(Giacomo Leopardi, 1819)
[(1) Always dear to me was this solitary hill, (2) And this hedge, which from so great a part (3) Of the farthest horizon excludes the gaze. (4) But sitting and gazing, boundless (5) Spaces beyond that, and superhuman (6) Silences, and profoundest quiet (7) I in my mind imagine (create); wherefore (8) The heart is almost filled with fear. And as (9) I hear the wind rustle through these plants, that (10) Infinite silence to...
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SOURCE: Bini, Daniela. “Introduction: A Synthesis for Leopardi.” In A Fragrance from the Desert: Poetry and Philosophy in Giacomo Leopardi, pp. 1-21. Saratoga, Calif.: ANMA Libri, 1983.
[In the following excerpt, Bini discusses Leopardi's writings as a synthesis between poetry and philosophy, maintaining that earlier critics have mistakenly considered the two aspects of his work incompatible.]
The imagination takes its flight only after the void, the inauthenticity of the existential project has been revealed; literature begins where the existential demystification ends.
(Paul de Man, Blindness & Insight)1
Life itself … has no meaning. But so what? “What are the meanings in our lives?” is the only question.
(Robert Solomon, The Passions)2
Tout ce qui est beau et tout ce qui est grand, ne soit qu'une illusion. Mais si cette illusion était commune … n'en serait-on pas plus heureux? … En effet il n'appartient qu'à l'imagination de procurer à l'homme la seule espèce de bonheur positif dont il soit capable. C'est la véritable sagesse que de chercher ce bonheur dans l'idéal.
(Giacomo Leopardi, Lettere)3
The 1959 Taylorian...
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SOURCE: Caesar, Michael. “Leopardi and the Knowledge of the Body.” Romance Studies 19 (winter 1991): 21-36.
[In the following essay, Caesar rejects earlier critical views that equated Leopardi's own physical limitations with his pessimism and agnosticism, focusing instead on the body as “disputed territory in Leopardi's work.”]
Natura umana, or come, Se frale in tutto e vile, Se polve ed ombra sei, tant'alto senti? Se in parte anco gentile, Come i più degni tuoi moti e pensieri Son così di leggeri Da sì basse cagioni e desti e spenti?
Englished by Ezra Pound with due pathos—O mortal nature, / If thou art / Frail and so vile in all, / How canst thou reach so high with thy poor sense; / Yet if thou art / Noble in any part / How is the noblest of thy speech and thought / So lightly wrought / Or to such base occasion lit and quenched?1—these lines complete one of the last of the canti composed by Leopardi,2 and take on the redundancy of a great and final question. I do not think that I will be giving anything away if I say that the answer to such a question posed by a poet whose atheism and whose pessimism fascinated and horrified his contemporaries and successors, in Victorian England as in Risorgimento Italy, in about equal measure,3 is not that despite the baseness of the body we are yet capable of exquisite feeling and right thought because...
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SOURCE: Pesaresi, Massimo Mandolini. “Leopardi's Platonic Temper.” In Giacomo Leopardi: Estetica e Poesia, edited by Emilio Speciale, pp. 57-75. Ravenna, Italy: Longo Editore, 1992.
[In the following essay, Pesaresi discusses the critical debate on whether or not Leopardi was a Platonic thinker, noting that the relationship between ethics and aesthetics in the poet's work was complicated and ambiguous.]
The dispute on Leopardi's Platonism, being partly a terminological one, risks to be marred with nominalistic elusiveness. Before deciding to which extent Leopardi was a “Platonic” thinker, one should have a fairly precise and consistent definition of Platonism: which, of course, is not always the case, and, in a sense, cannot be the case, because such an apodeictic clarity is rarely the lot of historical discussions.
Out of the extreme complexity and ambiguity of the notion of Platonism, therefore, I will simply point to a few aspects that have been notably relevant to Leopardi's own reflection.
In his youth, when barely sixteen, Leopardi had translated Porphyry's Vita Plotini:1 a monument of classical scholarship which earned him the praises of the German philologist Friedrich Creuzer. A few years later, in 1823, he accepted a proposal from the printer De Romanis to translate Plato's entire work2.
In spite of this...
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SOURCE: King, Martha, and Daniela Bini. Introduction to Zibaldone: A Selection, translated by Martha King and Daniela Bini, pp. xiii-xxii. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.
[In the following essay, King and Bini provide an overview of the composition of Leopardi's multivolume record of his thoughts on poetry and philosophy.]
Giacomo Leopardi, the author of this collection of thoughts, this hodge-podge or medley, as the Italian word Zibaldone signifies, was beginning to win renown as a precocious young philologist when the three poets whose names are identical with English romantic poetry took up residence in Italy. In fact, Byron, Shelley, and Keats came to Italy between 1816 and 1820, during the crucial years of Leopardi's intellectual development, the years of his “conversion” [143-144] (Numbers correspond to Leopardi's pagination in the Zibaldone.) to poetry which would eventually make him not only Italy's greatest poet of the Romantic period, but one of the greatest poets of Italian literary history.
Of the three English expatriots, Leopardi had heard only of Byron, whose fame preceded his arrival, and which became even more widespread as word of his physical, amorous, revolutionary, and literary activities got around. It was Byron's poetry, particularly The Giaour, that one Italian romantic, Ludovico di Breme, touted as the great exemplar of modern...
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SOURCE: Singh, G. “Giacomo Leopardi: Journey from Illusions to Truth.” In The Motif of the Journey in Nineteenth-Century Italian Literature, edited by Bruno Magliocchetti and Anthony Verna, pp. 53-69. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994.
[In the following essay, Singh traces Leopardi's brief journey from a period of youthful and comforting illusions to maturity and the necessity of abandoning those illusions in favor of a pursuit of truth.]
Illusions—or what he considered to be such—were to play as important a part in Giacomo Leopardi's childhood and early life as in that of any other person. The crucial difference between him and any other person, however, was the extraordinarily swift and unimpeded transition from illusions, however agreeable and even necessary, to truth, however bitter. His journey from the one to the other could not have been briefer or more decisive. “I fanciulli trovano il tutto nel nulla, gli uomini il nulla nel tutto” [children find everything in nothing, men nothing in everything], he was to say in Zibaldone.1 But his own journey from a child's position—seeing “il tutto nel nulla”—to an adult's, seeing “il nulla nel tutto,” cannot be measured in terms of time; only in terms of a tacit change within himself that amounted to a sort of moral, psychological, and emotional revolution. From 1809 (when he took his first communion and...
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SOURCE: Alcorn, John, and Dario Del Puppo. “Leopardi's Historical Poetics in the Canzone ‘Ad Angelo Mai.’” Italica 72, no. 1 (spring 1995): 21-39.
[In the following essay, Alcorn and Del Puppo discuss Leopardi's use of figures from Italian history in his poetry.]
The canzone, “Ad Angelo Mai quand'ebbe trovato i libri di Cicerone della Repubblica” (1820),1 raises interesting questions about poetry as a medium for representing history. Though likened to a philosophy of history by Francesco De Sanctis,2 it is perhaps best analyzed as an expression of what we shall call Leopardi's historical poetics, a central element of which is the representation of an idiosyncratic canon of glorious figures in Italian history. In this paper we wish to elucidate Leopardi's historical poetics and make sense of his choice of canon by exploring his philological sensibility and his affinities with the figures whom he evokes. In Section One we consider his philological sensibility through the prism of Friedrich Nietzsche's typology of history, as set out in the essay, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.” In this light we discuss Leopardi's notions of truth, reason, beauty, and imagination, and their place in the canzone. In Section Two we analyze the poem's framework and its canon of great-hearted spirits. We argue that the poem...
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SOURCE: Stancati, Claudia. “The French Sources of Leopardi's Linguistics.” In Historical Roots of Linguistic Theories, edited by Lia Formigari and Daniele Gambarara, pp. 129-39. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1995.
[In the following essay, Stancati examines the relationship of Leopardi's linguistic theory to his study of various thinkers of the French Enlightenment.]
Giacomo Leopardi's “rationally founded and demonstrated scepticism” (ZIB [Zibaldone]: 1653) draws its nourishment from still-vital elements of Enlightenment thought. This can be seen, for example, if we explore Leopardi's connection with Holbach (cf. Stancati 1979). But it is true in a more general way of his relationship with other French Enlightenment thinkers, also with regard to the question of a national language, the “questione della lingua”, which is an important aspect of Leopardi's political and cultural project. As Lo Piparo (1982) and Gensini (1984) have shown, Leopardi's materialist anthropology, based on the discovery of the “adaptive” nature of man, is tightly linked to his linguistic theory, which posits close, reciprocal relations between society, language and culture.
1. LEOPARDI'S USE OF HIS SOURCES
It is very hard to identify the sources of Leopardi's linguistics owing to his extraordinary ability to make highly significant contributions of his own to...
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SOURCE: Castronuovo, David. “Metamorphosis of the Occasion in ‘Nelle Nozze Della Sorella Paolina.’” Rivista di Studi Italiani 16, no. 1 (December 1998): 160-84.
[In the following essay, Castronuovo explains Leopardi's poem “Nelle Nozze Della Sorella Paolina,” which purports to be a brother's remarks on his sister's marriage, but which is actually a pessimistic assessment of his sister's transition from childhood to adulthood.]
All literary works are occasioned in some sense; occasional verse differs in having not a private but a public or social occasion.
(Miner et al., 851)
What is poetry's relationship to its occasion? Does poetry imitate it? Merely complement or report it? Recreate it? Create a parallel occasion? Supplant it? Does poetry compensate for it, create the occasion where history neglected or failed to? Or is poetry rather constitutive of the occasion it appears to describe?
Among the titles of the Canti, surely none suggests the idea of occasional verse more clearly than “Nelle nozze della sorella Paolina” (Oct.-Nov. 1821), which proposes the theme of a brother's remarks on the “occasion” of his sister's marriage (in point of fact, never celebrated).1...
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SOURCE: Urbancic, Anne. “Reflecting on a Moment of Calm: Leopardi's ‘La Quiete Dopo La Tempesta.’”1Rivista di Studi Italiani 16, no. 1 (December 1998): 519-36.
[In the following essay, Urbancic discusses an especially tumultuous time in Leopardi's life that was followed by a period of calm during which he composed the lyric poems of the “grandi idilli.”]
On September 5, 1829, an angry and resentful Leopardi begins to write a letter to Carlo Bunsen in Rome,2 a task which he surmises will take three or four days because of his debilitated physical state. The main purpose of the letter, to congratulate Bunsen on the inception of the Giornale archeologico and to decline the invitation to participate as contributor, is completely overshadowed by the profound bitterness and hopelessness that envelops him. Leopardi writes:
Non solo i miei occhi, ma tutto il mio fisico, sono in istato peggiore che fosse mai. Non posso né scrivere, né leggere, né dettare, né pensare. Questa lettera sinché non l'avrò terminata, sarà la mia sola occupazione, e con tutto ciò non potrò finirla se fra tre o quattro giorni. Condannato per mancanza di mezzi a quest'orribile e detestata dimora, e già morto ad ogni godimento e ad ogni speranza, non vivo che per patire, e non invoco che il riposo del sepolcro.3
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SOURCE: Barthouil, Georges. “Asia in the Work of Leopardi.” Journal of European Studies 29, no. 1 (March 1999): 55-60.
[In the following essay, Barthouil examines the Zibaldone's many references to distant lands, particularly in Asia, despite the fact that Leopardi never traveled outside Italy.]
Leopardi was not a great traveller. In fact he imagined his foreign travels, and it was only his hatred for Recanati that led him to stay elsewhere in Italy. For him, Recanati was a prison from which he wanted to escape. However, escaping from a prison is not the same as giving in to the temptation of travel. He did not feel particularly drawn to it; neither did he feel any powerful sense of curiosity. In this respect, and indeed in many others, he was very similar to Vigny, his contemporary, who felt that foreign travel was simply useless, since one had to transport oneself along with other hindrances. Leopardi, then, did not really travel. He merely stayed sometimes in various Italian cities; Rome, Bologna, Milan, Florence, Pisa, Naples … The only time he had the chance to leave Italy was when he was offered a chair at Bonn University, which he refused because he had an upset stomach.
Could he have travelled ‘around his room’ through his imagination? This seems no more likely. Like everything characteristic of Leopardi, his imagination was sentimental. He dreamed of...
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SOURCE: Perella, Nicolas J. “Translating Leopardi?” Italica 77, no. 3 (autumn 2000): 357-85.
[In the following essay, Perella ponders Leopardi's relative obscurity outside his native Italy despite the poet's influence on Anglo-American literary culture.]
E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare
—“La quiete dopo la tempesta”
“Giacomo Leopardi is a great name in Italy among philosophers and poets, but is quite unknown in this country.” So wrote Octavius Brook Frothingham in 1887 at the outset of his prefatory remarks to the first English translation of a truly representative number of the Canti, done by Frederick Townsend.1 Surely, the statement would have to be qualified today, more than one hundred years later. Or would it? Actually, it continues to be a complaint registered over and over by Leopardi's admirers, Italian and non-Italians alike, frustrated that beyond Italy's confines the name of so great a poet and thinker does not often appear save in the most generic way.
Among the reasons adduced for the absence of a fuller appreciation of Leopardi in the English-speaking world, there is one suggested by Ottavio Di Fidio that strikes me as worth pondering. It is not so much that Leopardi has not found an adequate translator into English as it is a fact that there has not been a...
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Barricelli, Jean-Pierre. “Poésie and Suono: Balzac and Leopardi on Music.” In Romanticism across the Disciplines, edited by Larry H. Peer, pp. 99-113. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1998.
Explores the relationship between Romanticism and music through the novels of Balzac and the poetry of Leopardi.
Brose, Margaret. “Remembrance and the Rhetorical Sublime in Leopardi's Lyric.” Stanford Literature Review 6, no. 1 (spring 1989): 115-33.
Discusses the opposition between the temporal present and the poetic imagination in Leopardi's Zibaldone.
Carsaniga, Giovanni. Giacomo Leopardi: The Unheeded Voice. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1977, 129 p.
Approaches Leopardi's poetry and prose from a variety of critical perspectives.
Cook, Albert. “Leopardi: The Mastery of Diffusing Sorrow.” Canadian Journal of Italian Studies 4, nos. 1-2 (1980-81): 68-82.
Examines Leopardi's deep feelings of sorrow which prompted him to combine the romantic themes of love and nature in his writing.
Dasenbrock, Reed Way. “Petrarch, Leopardi, and Pound's Apprehension of the Italian Past.” ELH 58, no. 1 (spring 1991): 215-32.
Discusses Leopardi's debt to previous Italian poets,...
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