On June 14th, in 1837, Italian poet and scholar, Giacomo Leopardi, died in Naples, during a cholera outbreak. He was 38 years old.
The product of an aristocratic, religiously fanatic and emotionally stifled household, Giacomo Leopardi began reading and eventually writing as a means of escape. As a child, he was sickly and suffered physical pain and deformity due to scoliosis, and so he was often confined to the house- where he passed the time immersed in his father’s extensive library of classics.
At the tender age of fourteen, he wrote Pompeo in Egitto (Pompey in Egypt) an anti-Caesarean manifesto, and from there, he developed a taste for writing many other philological works, and he may have continued down that path and made a career of it, until…. in 1816, something remarkable happened. Leopardi wrote L’appressamento della morte (The Approach of Death), a poem in terza rima , which was, obviously, well influenced by the works of Dante.
On his transition to poetry, he is recounted as having called it “the passage from erudition to the beautiful”. And how beautiful it was. Leopardi would go on to be praised not only for his lyrical poetry, but also his satirical prose.
Even today, many people regard Leopardi as the “first modern Italian classic” poet. Some scholars liken his style to that of Byron, in that it is often melancholy and despairing, but there is some deeper quality to Leopardi’s work that we find perfectly sobering, if at times depressing. In fact, we found this great article from the New Yorker, published in 2010, which describes reading Leopardi’s works as not being “an experience for the fainthearted”. This could not be more true. As Frederick John Snell, author of The Primer of Italian Literature, once said of Leopardi’s writing:
“He opens every little scratch, and probes, if he does not poison, the wounds of suffering humanity. Yet in all this he is the reverse of a fanatic. He argues dexterously, in the finest of literary styles.”
If you are unfamiliar with this tragically beautiful poet, you should head to your local library and scout around for him. Some of our favorite works by Leopardi include Zibaldone di pensieri (a collection of observations and criticisms) and the Last Canti, published between 1832 and 1837.
Today… explore your own cynicism and get to know the tormented artist within. Write down everything that you think is wrong with the world. Even if you never share it with another living soul, perhaps Signore Leopardi will appreciate your clever observations.
Write on in peace, Giacomo Leopardi!
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