Leopardi, Giacomo (Poetry Criticism)
Giacomo Leopardi 1798-1837
(Full name Giacomo Talegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi, Conte) Italian poet, philosopher, and scholar.
Leopardi is generally considered the greatest Italian lyric poet of the nineteenth century and one of the finest writers of the period. An accomplished classical scholar who mastered Greek and Latin at a very young age, Leopardi occupies a unique place between Classicism and Romanticism in Italian literature. His poetry combines established lyric forms, such as the Petrarchan canzone, with notable developments in metrical flexibility and blank-verse composition, and is pervaded with his profoundly pessimistic vision. Coupled to this, Leopardi's verse expresses a characteristically Romantic longing for the infinite and concern with the lost human affinity to nature. Leopardi's principal poetic mood is melancholic, and themes of solitude, suffering, despair, and disappointed love predominate, as in his lyric masterpiece “A Sylvia” and the late, philosophical poem “La ginestra.” While typically studied as a poet rather than as a systematic thinker, Leopardi's prose writings—collected in his wide-ranging Zibaldone, (“notebook” or “miscellany”)—as well as in his letters, essays, and dialogues, are also viewed as significant both as explanatory adjuncts to his poetry and as eloquent articulations of his materialist, atheistic, skeptical, and decidedly modern thought.
Leopardi was born in Recanati, Italy, the eldest son of Count Monaldo Leopardi. Guided by his father's desire that he become a classical scholar, the young Leopardi lived a sheltered life and was refused to make even modest excursions away from Recanati, though he later observed in his Zibaldone that his childhood was a joyous one. Leopardi's father provided him with the finest education he could make available; a battery of private tutors coupled with the boy's prodigious talents and disciplined self-study in his father's sizable library led to his mastery of classic Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and a number of modern European languages by the age of sixteen. He wrote commentaries on classical and early Christian texts, made skillful poetic translations, and produced numerous erudite essays while still in his teens and before reaching his twenties had become one of the outstanding European philologists of the day. The years of indefatigable learning exacted an irreversible toll on Leopardi's body, however, contributing to a pronounced curvature of his spine as well as a weakened heart and lungs that continued to deteriorate with age. His pivotal first experience of love occurred in late 1817 with the appearance of his cousin, Countess Gertrude Cassi, at Recanati. The married Cassi could not have returned the feelings of the shy, hunchbacked Leopardi, and the unrequited emotion became an important motif in his subsequent poetry as well as being duly noted in his Diario d'amore (“Diary of Love”). First in 1819 and thenceforth, Leopardi was subject to bouts of temporary blindness in one eye. This problem, together with his other maladies, contributed to the omnipresent sense of pessimism in Leopardi's mature works, although the poet generally offered other rationalizations for his outlook. Meanwhile, Leopardi's increasingly philosophical musings of the period began a process of transformation in the writer, bringing him closer to an interest in modern literature while leaving his appreciation for classical poetry and the Italian verse of Petrarch and Tasso intact. He left Recanati for the first time in November of 1822, accompanied by his uncle on a tour of Rome. Disillusioned by the shallowness of urban intellectual life he encountered there, Leopardi began to write his cynical Operette morali del conte Giacomo Leopardi (1827; Essays and Dialogues of Giacomo Leopardi) on his return to Recanati in the spring of 1823. Between the period of 1823 to 1825, Leopardi largely abandoned poetry in favor of prose as a vehicle for philosophical reflection. He undertook a translation of Cicero's writings in 1825 for a publisher in Milan, and later visited Bologna, where he made the acquaintance of Countess Teresa Carniana Malvezzi. The married Malvezzi became the object of Leopardi's passions, though she remained solely interested in cultivating him as a poet. From 1826 to late 1828, Leopardi lived in Florence and later Pisa, mingling with intellectuals, clergyman, and nationalists. In Pisa, he began to write verse with renewed vigor, continuing his creative burst in Recanati until the end of the decade. Leopardi then spent the early 1830s once again in Florence, and published the first edition of his poetry under the title of Canti there in 1831. The inspiration for his subsequent series of “Aspasia” poems appears to have been his affection for the wife of his Florentine doctor, Fanny Targioni Tozzetti, the last of his attractions to lovely, unobtainable women. In September of 1833, Leopardi, his health failing, departed for the warmer climate of Naples. During this time he wrote and published his Pensieri (1834-37) as well as several of his finest poems, including “Il tramonto della luna” (“The Setting of the Moon”) and “La ginestra” (“The Broom Flower”). Leopardi died in June of 1837.
In 1817, Leopardi began accumulating pieces for his encyclopedic Zibaldone and continued making additions to the voluminous work until the 1830s. Its vast scope reveals the depth of his erudition, with apparent influences ranging from the classical poetry of Homer, Virgil, and Lucretius to the Enlightenment rationalism and skepticism of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Voltaire, and Madame de Staël. Around the same time as he initiated construction of his notebook, Leopardi began to produce his first notable works of verse. His “Appressamento della morte” (“The Approach of Death”), written in 1817, and “Il primo amore” (1818; “First Love”) illustrate both his strong visionary impulse and the early influence of Petrarchan poetic forms. Many of his initial canzoni, composed in the period of 1818 to 1822, are also public or occasional poems, such as “All'Italia” (“To Italy”) and “Sopra il monumento di Dante” (“On the Monument of Dante”), both paeans to nationalistic grandeur. An overlapping poetic phase also marks the appearance of Leopardi's piccoli idilli (“minor idylls”), including the frequently anthologized “L'infinito” (“The Infinite”). Among them, “Alla luna” (“To the Moon”) features Leopardi's oft-revisited poetic motif of the moon as a catalyst for recollections of loneliness and sorrow. The pursuit of virtue is the subject of “Bruto minore” (“Brutus the Younger”), which treats the idealistic Roman's suicide as a turning point from ancient to cynically modern sensibilities. Suicide is also the topic of “Ultimo canto di Saffo” (“The Last Song of Sappho”), evoking the ancient poet's self-destruction for unrequited love. Ostensibly a celebration of Platonic beauty, “Alla sua donna” (“To His Lady”) is suffused with Leopardi's fundamental pessimism and anti-idealism. It was one of the only poems he wrote in the middle of the 1820s as his literary efforts were dominated by his composition of the prose dialogues and essays of Operette morali. 1828 saw a resurgence of Leopardi's poetry in the so-called grandi idilli (“major idylls”), among them “Il risorgimento” (“The Reawakening”), which comments on the rebirth of poetic inspiration while alluding to the growing Italian independence movement. “A Sylvia” (“To Sylvia”) focuses the poet's attentions on youthful longings and disappointed love. Earthly transience and melancholy reflection inform the lyric “Le ricordanze” (“Memories”), while “Il sabato del vilaggio” (“The Village Saturday”) demonstrates Leopardi's autobiographical impulse, drawing imagery from his childhood recollections. Another of the grandi idilli, “Canto notturno di un pastore errant dell'Asia” (“Nocturne of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia”) resonates with a more tragic and universal pitch, following its subject on a solitary trek beneath an unfeeling desert moon. Inspired by his real-life infatuation with Fanny Targioni Tozzetti, the poems of Leopardi's ciclo di Aspasia (“Aspasia cycle”) were written between 1831 and 1834. “A se stesso” offers a bleak vision as the poet reaches the nadir of despair, while in the final verse of the sequence, “Aspasia,” Leopardi reflects on his bittersweet suffering and philosophical liberation from unrequited love. Written in 1834, but published six years later, Leopardi's Paralipomeni della Batracomiomachia (translated as The War of the Mice and the Crabs, although the title literally means “Additions to the Batracomiomachia,” a pseudo-Homeric poem) is a verse satire aimed at contemporary Italian politics. Many of Leopardi's philosophical thoughts in prose, often culled from his Zibaldone, are available in the Pensieri (1834-37). Musing on subjects such as self-knowledge, disillusionment, and the animating power of imagination, the Pensieri, with their accompanying satirical jabs at human pretension and weakness, also bear thematic resemblance to the Paralipomeni. Leopardi's final, Neapolitan phase of poetic output extends from 1834 to his death in 1837. The culminating work of this period, “La ginestra,” makes symbolic reference to blooming desert plants on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano responsible for the destruction of Pompeii in 79 A. D. Thematically, “La ginestra” touches upon the problem of human solidarity and the fragile coexistence of mankind and nature.
During his lifetime, Leopardi was considered an outstanding lyric poet, although his literary notoriety was largely confined to Italy. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, however, interest in his writings had spread northward to Germany, with critics observing that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche found Leopardi's historical insights congenial to his own, and noting affinities between Leopardi's pessimistic worldview and those of the Germanic thinkers Arthur Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann. Leopardi's reputation as a poet in the English-speaking world was established in 1850, when William Gladstone commented on the reflective quality of his verse, and extended by Matthew Arnold's 1882 comparison of Leopardi with the English Romantic poets Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. Still, Arnold expressed reservations about the limited scope of Leopardi's poetry, which numbers only about forty pieces of verse. Nevertheless, scholars continue to view such enduring and sublime lyrics as Leopardi's “A Sylvia,” “L'infinito,” and “La ginestra” as among the finest poetic expressions in Italian. In addition to producing explications of Leopardi's poetry, a number of modern critics have also focused on Leopardi's theory of inspiration, and on the development of his philosophical outlook, guided by his extensive commentary in the Zibaldone and other prose works.
Canzoni del conte Giacomo Leopardi 1824
Versi del conte Giacomo Leopardi 1826
Canti del conte Giacomo Leopardi [Leopardi's “Canti” Translated into English Verse] 1831
Paralipomeni della Batracomiomachia [The War of the Mice and the Crabs] 1842
Opere di Giacomo Leopardi. 15 vols. (poetry, dialogues, essays, criticism, letters, and miscellaneous prose) 1845-1938
Poesie di Giacomo Leopardi 1849
Canti di Giacomo Leopardi. 2 vols. 1927
Tutti le opere di Giacomo Leopardi. 5 vols. (poetry, dialogues, essays, criticism, letters, and miscellaneous prose) 1937-73
Giacomo Leopardi: Selected Prose and Poetry [translated by Iris Origo and John Heath-Stubbs] (poetry, dialogues, essays, and miscellaneous prose) 1966
Operette morali del conte Giacomo Leopardi [Essays and Dialogues of Giacomo Leopardi] (dialogues and essays) 1827
Pensieri (aphorisms) 1834-37
Pensieri di varia filosophia e di bella letteratura di Giacomo Leopardi. 7 vols. Zibaldone (essays, criticism, and miscellaneous prose) 1898-1900
Scritti vari inediti di Giacomo Leopardi dalle carte napoletane (prose) 1906
Epistolario di Giacomo Leopardi. 7...
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SOURCE: Gladstone, William. Review of Poesie di Giacomo Leopardi. The Quarterly Review 86, no. 172 (1850): 295-336.
[In the following excerpted review, Gladstone observes that Leopardi was not a poet of the very highest status but finds much that is great and admirable in his collected works of poetry.]
When we regard Leopardi in his character of a poet—in which no Italian of the present generation, we conceive, except Manzoni even approaches him, and he in a different order, and perhaps but in a single piece—it is not difficult to perceive that he was endowed in a peculiar degree with most of the faculties which belong to the highest excellence. We shall note two exceptions. The first is the solid and consistent wisdom which can have no other foundation in the heart of man than the Gospel revelation: without which, even while we feel the poet to be an enchanter, we cannot accept and trust him as a guide: and of which Wordsworth is an example unequalled probably in our age, and unsurpassed in any age preceding ours. Nor let it be said that this is not properly a poetical defect; because the highest functions of the human being stand in such intimate relations to one another, that the want of any one of them will commonly prevent the attainment of perfection in any other. The sense of beauty enters into the highest philosophy, as in Plato. The highest poet must be a philosopher, accomplished,...
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SOURCE: Arnold, Matthew. “Byron.” In English Literature and Irish Politics, edited by R. H. Super, pp. 217-37. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1973.
[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1882, Arnold compares Leopardi with the English poets Lord Byron and William Wordsworth.]
We will take three poets, among the most considerable of our century: Leopardi, Byron, Wordsworth. Giacomo Leopardi was ten years younger than Byron, and he died thirteen years after him; both of them, therefore, died young—Byron at the age of thirty-six, Leopardi at the age of thirty-nine. Both of them were of noble birth, both of them suffered from physical defect, both of them were in revolt against the established facts and beliefs of their age; but here the likeness between them ends. The stricken poet of Recanati had no country, for an Italy in his day did not exist; he had no audience, no celebrity. The volume of his poems, published in the very year of Byron's death, hardly sold, I suppose, its tens, while the volumes of Byron's poetry were selling their tens of thousands. And yet Leopardi has the very qualities which we have found wanting to Byron; he has the sense for form and style, the passion for just expression, the sure and firm touch of the true artist. Nay, more, he has a grave fulness of knowledge, an insight into the real bearings of the questions which as a sceptical poet he...
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SOURCE: Levi, Moritz. “Silence and Solitude in the Poems of Leopardi.” Modern Language Notes 24, no. 6 (June 1909): 172-76.
[In the following essay, Levi remarks on themes of solitude and silence as key elements in Leopardi's pessimistic poetic expression.]
It has often been said that the greatness of a man does not depend upon the pleasures he enjoys but upon the sufferings he undergoes. Among Italians who prove the truth of this saying none stand forth more clearly than Dante and Leopardi. Both drained the cup of bitterness to the dregs. Dante's lofty patriotism and uncompromising uprightness of character brought upon him endless woe during his days on earth, and Leopardi's physical and mental sufferings doomed him to a brief life full of misery. And yet had Leopardi and Dante suffered less, the world would probably have been deprived of two of its greatest poets. While Dante sang the sorrows of sinners in the other world and the happiness of the blessed, Leopardi sang the bitter fate of mankind in this world of ours. It is true the latter poet sang first of all his own misfortunes and his own despair, but behind the manifestations of his individual sufferings, the accents of universal misery and sorrow ring out as clearly as they do in Hamlet's famous soliloquy. Leopardi was a pessimistic poet—he has been called even the poet of pessimism. This pessimism sprang from the profound...
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SOURCE: Singh, G. “The Role of Melancholy and the Concept of Poetic Inspiration.” In Leopardi and the Theory of Poetry, pp. 64-86. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1964.
[In the following essay, Singh considers the philosophical significance of suffering and inspiration in Leopardi's theoretical writings on poetry.]
In so far as modern poetry is concerned, Leopardi, like so many poets before and after him, considered melancholy as something more congenial to poetic sentiment than cheerfulness. And it is not only more congenial to poetic sentiment, but also more conducive to the discovery of truth, and hence more useful to philosophers, than cheerfulness. At one point, and that through the creative philosophical value of melancholy, the antagonism, or what Leopardi himself calls the “unsurmountable barrier, a mortal enmity,”1 between philosophical or scientific truth and poetic illusion, is broken down and a common ground is found where both can meet in harmony. If melancholy generates a poetic mood or poetic feelings, it is at the same time “the friend of truth, the light that can discover truth and that is less liable to err [than cheerfulness]”; a true philosopher, Leopardi adds, “in the state of cheerfulness cannot but persuade himself, not that the truth is good or beautiful, but that the evil, that is to say the truth, must be forgotten, and one must console oneself...
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SOURCE: Caserta, Ernesto G. “Leopardi's Paralipomeni.” Italian Quarterly 17, no. 66 (Fall-Winter 1973): 3-23.
[In the following essay, Caserta analyzes Leopardi's political satire Paralipomeni, seeing it as critique of the Italian Risorgimento and a polemical description of “the miserable destiny of the whole of mankind blindly in search of an illusory progress.”]
The Paralipomeni della Batracomiomachia is Giacomo Leopardi's longest poem. Composed after the Canti and the Operette morali, between 1830 and 1837, and for the most part during his residence in Naples, the work was first published in Paris in 1842, but until recent years it has enjoyed little favor among scholars due to various prejudices both moral and aesthetic. Most of the opinions expressed about the poem during the second half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth are, in fact, based on reservations of a political and pedagogical nature. They often reflect the indignation of patriotic scholars who evaluated works of art from the standpoint of their possible moral, social, and political impact on the citizens.
Even the true admirers of Leopardi were shocked at the appearance of this work and could not help expressing surprise. Vincenzo Gioberti, for example, stated that Leopardi at the end of his life had written “un libro terribile,”1 and...
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SOURCE: Nelson, Lowry, Jr. “Leopardi First and Last.” In Italian Literature: Roots and Branches, edited by Giose Rimanelli and Kenneth John Atchity, pp. 333-62. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976.
[In the following essay, Lowry examines Leopardi's poetic development within the historical context of Italian versification, paying special attention to the works “All'Italia” and “La ginestra.”]
Since the great efflorescence of Italian literature in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the incumbency of tradition from classical antiquity and Provencal was established, Italian poets have felt the pressure of the past at increasingly complex levels. Perhaps one of the reasons for the neglect of Dante until the later eighteenth century was that the example of the Divine Comedy was too momentous to cope with: a cosmic poem in intricate verse whose language was as much a creation as any of the other aspects of the poem; a poem overwhelmingly exemplary, self-consistent, complex, and complete; a poem intensely personal and idiosyncratic, and yet so public as to be the literate reader's total possession. Even Dante's lyric poetry took on the character of private-public autobiography (the Canzoniere as well as La Vita nuova) in so systematic a way as almost to exclude imitation or rivalry on its own terms.
Petrarch's poetry is, of course, another...
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SOURCE: Cook, Albert. “Leopardi: The Mastery of Diffusing Sorrow.” Canadian Journal of Italian Studies 4, Nos. 1-2 (1980): 68-82.
[In the following essay, Cook details the mood, style, and thematic range of Leopardi's poetry.]
In the isolation of his father's library Leopardi set himself to the mastery of classical antiquity; other equally cloistered but less inspired minds, after the Industrial Revolution were similarly shown toward what will be called a miximizing retrieval of data backed by a faith in the set significance of one hallowed past. Behind and around this faith, something, that would negate it by engulfing it, was gathering head; this was a process of speculation and its accompanying expression characterized by the splendid control of a diffusing sorrow. Meanwhile it was Wolf and Cardinal Mai—the addressee of one of his first long poems (1.7-9)1—rather than Winckelmann, to whom Leopardi gave his intellectural attention. Soon he would move beyond Winckelmann from the painfully close concentration on detail of minor classical writers2 to the integral incorporation of classical examples in his vast meditative effort which was to be unprecedented and was not to be matched and surpassed till the extensive Cahiers of Valéry. In the four thousand five hundred and twenty-six pages of the Zibaldone (“Miscellany”), written...
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SOURCE: Sowell, Madison U. “A Comparative Interpretation of Leopardi's ‘La vita solitaria’.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 38, Nos. 1-2 (1984): 44-54.
[In the following essay, Sowell explicates the poem “La vita solitaria,” concentrating on Leopardi's use of literary allusion, and on the poem's theme of personal isolation contrasted with artistic communion.]
O'er my thoughts There hung a darkness, call it solitude Or black desertion. No familiar shapes Remained, no pleasant images of trees, Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields.
Wordsworth, The Prelude
Through the eighteenth century only four poets stand at the apex of the Italian Parnassus: Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso. Although other poets of renown arise between the Trecento and the Settecento—e. g., Pulci, Politian, Boiardo, Marino, and Parini—none approaches these four in the making of beautiful and meaningful verse. Then, in the nineteenth century, Count Giacomo Leopardi becomes the fifth member “tra cotanto senno,” to borrow Dante's phrase when he numbers himself among the great intellects of all times (Inferno IV. 102). According to many critics the Count of Recanati ranks second only to the great Florentine exile himself in terms of poetic production.1 Yet in...
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SOURCE: Chomel, Luisetta Elia. “Extratemporality in Leopardi's Major Idylls: ‘La rimembranza’ and ‘Le temps retrouvé’.” Italica 63, no. 2 (Summer 1986): 161-70.
[In the following essay, Chomel discusses Leopardi's philosophical reflections on time as depicted in his poetry of 1828 to 1829.]
Man's desire for an infinite, eternal happiness, in contrast with the finite temporal limits of existence, is the fundamental theme of Leopardi's lyrics. As Bruno Biral has noted, long before he started his philosophical reflections, Leopardi felt the horror of the inexorable passing of time in its existential impact.1 From this perspective, I Canti, in their various and apparently contradictory approaches to the notion of time, represent the poet's lifelong struggle to overcome the initial horror of disintegration, the “mai più” inherent in human mortality. The poetics that inform the subsequent phases of Leopardi's production are strictly related to the different conceptions of time the poet embraced before finally accepting the limits of human existence. Only at the end of his artistic and existential experience, “dopo aver fatto una grande esperienza di sè,” was Leopardi able to confront his historical present.2 In “La ginestra” a new certainty emerges: human consciousness, the only concrete force man can employ to oppose the dissolution brought about by...
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SOURCE: Vivante, Arturo. “Introduction.” In Giacomo Leopardi Poems, pp. i-vii. Wellfleet, Mass.: Delphinium Press, 1988.
[In the following excerpted introduction to his translation of Leopardi's poetry, Vivante summarizes the poet's life and method of composition.]
There are books to have near, and Leopardi's Canti is assuredly one of them. XIXth-century Italian poetry would be immeasurably poorer without him. Besides the Canti, on which his fame mainly rests and which consists of thirty-six poems (in all about 200 pages,) his works include the Operette Morali, mostly in dialogue form; the Zibaldone, a voluminous diary-like collection or miscellany of observations; the Pensieri, or thoughts, which could be considered a distillation of the Zibaldone; an annotated edition of Petrarch's Rhymes (there are unmistakable echoes of Petrarch in some of his poems,) and the Paralipomeni, a satire in verse. His letters are also noteworthy.
He was born in 1798 in the small town of Recanati, in the Marches, a region of central Italy between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Not till 1822 did he leave his native town, but his thoughts roved over those mountains and that distant sea into the infinite spaces beyond them. His father, Count Monaldo, a man of literary tastes but of narrow political views, and his mother, Adelaide...
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SOURCE: Brose, Margaret. “Moontime and Memory: Leopardi's ‘Alla luna’.” Stanford Italian Review 9, Nos. 1-2 (1990): 155-79.
[In the following essay, Brose offers a detailed stylistic analysis of “Alla luna,” viewing it as a work concerned principally with the act of remembering, and comparing the poem with others in Leopardi's oeuvre.]
Giacomo Leopardi's “Alla luna,” written most probably in July of 1819, is the second composition of the group of poems known as the primi or piccoli idilli: a group of five poems written between 1819 and 1821, which are united by their shared setting of the Recanati landscape, and suffused with a nostalgia for the loss of innocence. The term idillio comes from Leopardi's own description of those poems of 1819, which he further defines as “situazioni affezzioni avventure storiche del mio animo.”1 As is well known, Leopardi's idyllic voice was born contemporaneously with another poetic register, that of his first political and mythological odi and canzoni. The most salient features of this latter group are, thematically, a heroic agon pitched against the tyranny of human destiny and the mechanistic laws of the universe, and, stylistically, a classical hypotaxis marked by long periods and hyperbatons. In contradistinction, the relatively shorter five primi idilli are marked by dense euphonic patterning...
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SOURCE: Perella, Nicolas James. “Leopardi and the Primacy of Desire.” In Giacomo Leopardi, edited by Giovanni Cecchetti, pp. 57-86. Los Angeles: Forum Italicum, 1990.
[In the following essay, Perella deems Romantic desire and the philosophical longing for the infinite as central to Leopardi's poetry.]
Un vértigo espantoso se apoderó de mi, y comencé a ver claro. El cementerio està dentro de Madrid. Madrid es el cementerio. Pero vasto cementerio, donde cada casa es el nicho de una familia; cade calle, el sepulcro de un acontecimiento; cada corazón, la urna cineraria de una esperanza o de un deseo.
[“Dìa de difuntos de 1826,” Mariano José de Larra (1809-1837)]
Let me begin by stating what can be safely taken as a truism: the origin of all imaginative creation lies in the consciousness of a lack, of an absence, and in the desire to supply or attain what is lacking, to make present what is absent. Certainly this is the principle underlying the Romantics' concept of the imagination, though the Romantics were far from the first to be aware of this close relationship between desire and the imagination, between desire and the creative impulse. It would be wearisome to rehearse the many citations—from Plato to Freud and beyond—that could be summoned to illustrate the point. I choose but one, from the pre-Romantic age, in...
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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 study Leopardi's representation of the historical imagination in the poem “Ad Angelo Mai,” citing affinities with Friedrich Nietzsche's view of history and noting the poet's observation that “history at once affirms reason and reveals reason's limits.”]
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,...
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SOURCE: Williams, Pamela. “Leopardi's Philosophy of Consolation in ‘La ginestra’.” The Modern Language Review 93, no. 4 (October 1998): 985-96.
[In the following essay, Williams discusses Leopardi's perception of the legitimate sources of human merit and solidarity in a world devoid of true purpose and meaning, as illustrated in his poem “La ginestra.”]
The ‘philosophy of consolation’ of my title refers specifically to the famous third stanza of ‘La ginestra,’ a poem written in 1836, one year before the poet's death, at Torre del Greco, a small town on the lower slopes of Vesuvius. In the past fifty years this so-called ‘solidarity stanza’ has been the focus of much critical debate stimulated by studies published in 1947 by Cesare Luporini and Walter Binni.1 It seems appropriate to return to this topic in a year that celebrates the 200th anniversary of Leopardi's birth. The scholars who have taken part in that debate have contextualized the stanza, in order to assess its status and worth, either in the development of Leopardi's thought or in relation to a social and political context.2 This essay, however, focuses on the way Leopardi frames the virtue of human solidarity in this third stanza and therefore addresses these issues in the debate only indirectly. It refers in broad terms to aspects of moral and political philosophy in seventeenth-century and...
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SOURCE: Castronuovo, David. “The Apostrophic Prayer: A Guiding Figure in Leopardi's Earliest Poetry.” Romance Languages Annual 10, no. 1 (1999): 216-24.
[In the following essay, Castronuovo explains Leopardi's use of rhetorical apostrophe in his classically-inspired poems and translations, as well as in his early verses on Christian themes.]
Which now of islands, what hill finds most favour with thee? What haven? What city? Which of the nymphs dost thou love above the rest, and what heroines hast thou taken for thy companions? Say, goddess, thou to me, and I will sing thy saying to others.
—Callimachus, “Hymn to Artemis” (l. 183-186)
This article proposes that the figure of “apostrophe” (and more specifically, that of “apostrophic prayer”) can be used as a guide to the analysis of a substantial amount of Giacomo Leopardi's earliest poetry—beginning with the juvenile verse and ending at about the point when he began to abandon a theistic view of the universe. For clarity, I have divided the poems of the poet's youth into two groups: those that draw from the Classical tradition (Leopardi's translations of Classical authors as well as his original works of Classical inspiration) and those belonging to the Christian tradition.
As I have remarked elsewhere (187), “apostrophic prayer” is a useful...
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Alcorn, John. “Giacomo Leopardi's Art and Science of Emotion in Memory and Anticipation.” Modern Language Notes 111, no. 1 (1996): 89-122.
Views emotional recollection as central to Leopardi's Canti and Zibaldone, and includes a reading of “La ricordanze” as the finest example of Leopardi's reflective poetics.
——— and Dario Del Puppo. “Giacomo Leopardi's ‘La ginestra’ as Social Art.” The Modern Language Review 89, no. 4 (October 1994): 865-88.
Presents a formal, thematic, cultural, and philosophical analysis of Leopardi's late poem on the subject of human solidarity, “La ginestra o il fiore del deserto.”
Bini, Daniela. “Giacomo Leopardi's Ultrafilosophia.” Italica 74, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 52-66.
Places Leopardi within the Romantic debate between reason and imagination by examining his modern, almost nihilistic, philosophical expressions in Zibaldone, the Operette morali, and the poems “L'infinito” and “La vita solitaria.”
Brose, Margaret. “Leopardi's ‘L'infinito’ and the Language of the Romantic Sublime.” Poetics Today 4, no. 1 (1983): 47-71.
Affirms Leopardi's understanding and use of the ironic sublime through a detailed structural, semantic, and spatial-temporal...
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