Posts Tagged With: religious poetry

Religious Poetry: Saint Frances and Jacopone da Todi

Jacopone da Todi’s Religious Poetry
By Carly Besh
Jacopone da Todi was a vast array of constant divisions; from being labeled a mystic, a poet, a saint, and a heretic or even sane or insane is all now subject to interpretation. Even questions of his veneration are disputed, through the Romantic period he was judged as a ‘poeta mancuto’ meaning he was unworthy for the title of a poet, while later in the 20th century he was named a ‘grande poeta’ by our contemporaries. Jacopone da Todi’s corpus of works left a lasting impression on Franciscan religious poetry in Italian intellectual history. (Louise, 1996)

Jacopone was born circa 1230 in the town of Todi, which is settled atop the hills in Perugia. Born into a minor noble family, he did not endure many adversities during his adolescent years and was well cultured. With his education and rank he became a lawyer and notary, and enjoyed a decently well paying job. In his mid-thirties he was ready to settle down and found the young and beautiful Lady Vanna di Bernardino di Guidone. (Vettori, 2009) After a little time of marriage, as members of high aristocratic society they were dining out and the ceilings floorboards fell onto Lady Vanna, and killed her. Upon her death, he discovered she had been wearing a penitent’s hair shirt. This shock of her death, and the discovery that she was devout to God has been thought to trigger his conversion into a religious friar. (Bruce, 1982)

Jacopone was alive during a turbulent political and religious era in Italian history. Years prior to his birth, Saint Francis of Assisi was revolutionary in his creation of a new order following the words of Matthew 10:9; words that emphasized a person to renounce one’s earthly possessions and following a path of poverty. The first and second orders follow strict adherence to poverty, celibacy and obedience whilst the third order practiced the three fold rule of simplicity, chastity and obedience. St. Francis gained official recognition of his order of eleven disciplines by Pope Innocent III in the year 1209. Following Saint Francis death in 1226, his order was split into two factions, the “Spirituals”(I zelanti) and the “Conventuals”. (Hughes, Hughes, & Zolla, 1982)
The Conventuals were attempting to change the word of St. Francis and lower the extent of poverty that he had preached. They wished for the availability to small amount of ownership of property and use of material comforts. Jacopone quickly converted into the third-fold rule of simplicity, chastity and obedience after the death of his wife, but only after a couple of years was allowed to officially become a friar. While risky, Jacopone was outspoken on the Spiritual side and was clearly opposed to the new current pope, Pope Boniface VIII and the corruption of the Church. He was opinionated and spoke freely about his accusations of the new Pope’s greed for power. The blunt criticisms of Pope Boniface VIII lead towards Jacopone da Todi’s excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1298. The pope sent him to solitary confinement and due to his excommunication he has not been canonized or beatified by the Catholic Church. He was released in 1303 and upon liberation he resided in the convent of San Lorenzo of Collazzone where he passed away. His body was moved, and taken back to his hometown in Todi, and his remains are placed in the San Fortunato church. (Bruce, 1982)

Jacopone da Todi’s religious poetry corpus is mainly in the Italian vernacular, distinctly using the Umbrian dialect. He wrote around 100 poems, that were very personal and for the use of local friars. He is one of the more famous known poets before Dante Alighieri time, who also wrote in the Italian vernacular, and was made famous by his work called the Divine Comedy. Few texts are available of Jacopone works due to the controversy and difficulties determining his authorship. His poems are written in lauda, the form of sacred songs in Italian. Characterized by unique rhyming schemes, and stanzas. Most of his poetry writings take shape as free-form worship and are characterized by devotional praise. (Vettori, 2009)

According to Giuseppe Ungaretti, a contemporary modern Italian poet, Jacopone distinctively wrote into three different categorizes. (Louise, 1996)The first category was autobiographical poetry with links to the matter of death. This was most likely due to the sad untimely death of his wife. This sadness and grievance was portrayed in his early poetry. The second category which Ungaretti puts Jacopone’s work into is that of ‘political satire and lyrical verse’. These texts were written during Jacopone’s outspoken time, and where he ultimately landed himself excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The third and final category was that of ‘poesia pura’, meaning direct expression of the soul. He wrote these poems while imprisoned by Pope Boniface the VIII. (Vettori, 2009)

Works under the first category include “Love, beloved Love, why have You left me”, “Why do you wound me, cruel charity…?” which are both carefully written in meter, and rhyme yet the pitch and tone is fairly inconsistent. His most famous piece of poetry that I believe would fit into this category would be “Lady of the Heaven” that is written in the form of a dialogue between the Virgin Mary and Jesus during his Crucifixion. This is well known since it was instrumental in the development in medieval dramas along the Italian peninsula. (Hughes, Hughes, & Zolla, 1982)

For the second category on political satire and lyrical verse, Jacopone stays on the same subject of Crucifixion and the Virgin Mary in the poem titled, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” which is deeply moving with verses such as ,“Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son” It has been a focal point in Jacopone’s works, one of the few that has been popularly set to music by various composers. Examples of his work in the third category, classified by ‘poesia pura’, would be like the title” Lady Poverty, burning with charity, Vast is your dominion!” which focuses on the trueness of poverty and how simplicity brings your sinner soul closer to the Divine. (Louise, 1996)

Jacopone da Todi’s life works have been influential to this day, from Dante to influencing the creation of medieval dramas, to the countless friars and laymen he inspired with his rhythm and verse about the Celestial and metaphysical. Though pushed to the side by academics and intellectuals for many years, he is resurfacing and his poetry is in increasingly gaining popularity. From varying perspectives and reviews, such as ‘poeta mancuto’ and ‘grande poeta’ he remains a much disputed poet. His rhythm and rhyme will continue to leave his readers in awe, and give life to his deeply passionate personality and shed new life unto his loving dedication as a friar, and his exemplary service to God.
Bruce, L. J. (1982). Jacopone Da Todi’s Mystical Pathology . British Medical Journal(Clinical Research Edition) , 285 (6357), 1803-1804. Retrived May 2,2014 from Jstor:
Hughes, S., Hughes, E., & Zolla, E. (1982). Jacopone da Todi “The Lauds”. New York, New York: The Missionary Society of St. Paul and Apostle in the State of New York.
Louise, K. V. (1996, June). Jacopone da Todi, Poet and Mystic: A Review of the History of the Criticism. 22 (2), pp. 46-57. Retrieved May 2,2014 from Jstor:
Lucchi, L. d. (1922). An Anthology of Italian Poems 13th-19th Century. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Vettori, A. (2009, February 20). Jacoponde da Todi. Retrieved February 5, 2014, from The Literary Encyclopdia:


The Works of Saint Francis of Assisi

by Brooke Tomsula

Born in 1182 A.D. St. Francis was baptized as Giovanni Di Beradone. His father a merchant who regularly travel to France maintenance Francis. He was raised in an extremely catholic home and attended Catholic school. Well in the military service he was captured by the rival and was imprisoned for a year in Perugia. When released he suffered a year of sickness. During this time he fled to God for comfort and thus the Saint began his simple life entirely devoted to God.

Throughout the second half of St. Francis his life he produced many works, which we are fortunate enough to still have. The majority of his works focus on two major themes: the love of God, and turning from the attractions of this world. The collection of his works includes: 28 Admonitions, letters, and prayers, which are in forms of poetry and hymns. Two of his handwritten works are on a small double-sided parchment, which include The letter to brother Leo and  Praises of God and the blessing for brother Leo. Three of his works were written in the Umbrian dialect. They include: The Canticle of the sun, The exhortation of St. Clair and her sisters, and The prayer before the crucifix. There are also letters and six personal prayers in his collection.

The most personal and emotional of his prayers was written on the parchment, given to Brother Leo. Praises of God and the Blessing of Brother Leo. It read;

May the Lord bless you and keep you;

May he show his face to you and be merciful to you.

May he turn his countenance to you and give you his peace.

May the Lord bless you, Brother Leo.

It was given to Brother Leo after he believed he had disgraced God, and was extremely depressed. In the rest on the letter it refers to honorable attributes, which mean so much more to God.

The 28 Admonitions were in a style that resemble the book of Proverbs and concentrate on issues that evolved through the growth of the Franciscan order. These I chapters cover topics such as: poverty, chastity, obedience and purity of heart. The first was completed in 1221. It was written to the Saints followers before the official formation of fryers was created. The Rule was never presented to the pope and is the longest and strictest of the 28. The last chapter of a is not the original writing that includes a goodbye message from the saint mirroring Christ’s farewell in the Gospel of John. The 22nd chapter of The Rule was written in 1219 during the time St. Francis believe it is going to die. It includes many of his Testaments. The Rule of 1223, this Admonition primarily deals with the requirements of poverty and seeking out forgiveness. This will was sent to the pope, seeing as it was written after the official establishment of the order, and was approved.

Among his many other works one of his most famous writings is the Canticle of the sun. Also known as praise of the creatures, this religious song is believed to be one of his first works and was originally written in the Umbrian dialect. Supposedly composed in late 1224 is believed that the saint was recovering from sickness in San Domiano when he compose the song. This work primarily rejects man’s worldly attractions and focuses on nature. He regularly acknowledges gods creations as his brothers and sisters, proclaiming his personal ideals of rejecting the materialistic world and affirming his love for “Lady poverty” above all. The song was sung in its entirety for the first time in 1226 A.D. by St. Francis and accompanied by his brothers Angelo and Leo, when the Saint was on his deathbed. The final verse was added just moments before it was sung welcoming “sister death”.

“Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.”

(St. Fransis, Canticle of the Sun)

There is a beautiful legend attached with this particular song. It is said that the Saint did not write the Canticle down himself due to an eye disease that left him blinded. This legend emphasizes that he uses his inner eye of mine to become even more aware of Gods gift of nature.

Through the writings of St. Francis we can understand his complete devotion to Christ, and the importance of the Passion of His Son. It is also very obvious how much he relied on the Holy Spirit and the enlightenment of God to help him and his order focus on eternity in a world of desire.

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Leopardi’s Life and Work

Leopardi’s Works

by Cali Weber

Leopardi wrote many poems and essays during his short lifetime. I have chosen a few of his most famous poems to look at and do an in depth analysis on, while examining how his world view, his environment, and struggles in life influenced his writing.

Leopardi’s first known poems were written after the Napoleonic Wars and during a time of a lot of turmoil for Italy. During the wars, Recanati was annexed as part of Napoleon’s puppet state, the Kingdom of Italy (Marino 1). After Napoleon’s defeat, the Congress of Vienna restored the power of the pope, which had been vastly decreased during Napoleon’s rule, and returned Recanati, along with most of central Italy, to the Papal States, eliminating all democratic reforms that Napoleon had brought about (Marino 1).

In his poem To Italy, Leopardi laments the weakened state Italy is in. He invokes images of Italy’s glorious past, in which it was a conqueror, but at the time this was written Italy was weak and lay in a state of “helplessness [and] shame” ( qtd in Leopardi 2). On Dante’s Monument also shows Leopardi’s dismay at Italy’s defeated state, and “he turns to Dante and asks from him pity for the pathetic state of his fatherland” (qtd in Poemhunter 5). His works were highly valued by the nationalist movement at the time because Leopardi, like many romantic poets of his time, had a strong sense of nationalism (Cultural Society 1). This can be seen in both of these poems because, even though Italy was divided up into different kingdoms, he addresses all of Italy as one nation.

Leopardi’s most famous poem is called The Infinite or L’Infinito in the original Italian. This was written in 1819 when Leopardi had still not left his hometown of Recanati. The poem reveals his longing to leave Recanati and to travel. This poem was written at a time of intellectual and personal turmoil. The poem divulges the loneliness that Leopardi feels and how it is as though everyone in life has left him behind, but he cannot follow. In the poem this is shown through the hedge that blocks his view of what lies beyond, so he must use his mind to imagine an infinite space beyond the hedge. While he gazes out past the hill, he figuratively drowns so deeply in his own prolific and unfathomable thoughts, that a shipwreck seems sweet to him.

After travelling to several cities in Italy including Rome, Florence and Milan, Leopardi returned to his hometown of Recanati in 1828 and wrote, among others, the poem To Silvia. This poem commemorates the death of a young girl named Teresa Fattorini, who was the daughter of a servant (Carrera 4). Leopardi admired her greatly and perhaps even loved her romantically (Poemhunter 9). In the poem, Silvia has taken on a figurative meaning, because Leopardi is using her as a symbol to represent the unfairness of life. Leopardi uses tuberculosis, which Silvia died of, as a symbol for the cruelty of nature and of reality. Silvia was young and had much to look forward to in life, but reality destroys Silvia’s expectations and dreams. Leopardi’s and Silvia’s lives parallel each other. Leopardi also had many hopes and reveries that were dashed by sickness just like Silvia. This poem explores the concept of the brutality of life and nature, running themes in many of Leopardi’s poems.

A reoccurring entity in Leopardi’s poems is the moon. It is seen in fourteen of the poems in the Canti (Hartley 1). For Leopardi, the moon was the only thing other than his father’s books that he could always take comfort in. In the poem To the Moon, Leopardi delineates how whenever he felt distraught, he would often cry while reflecting on his life and how unfortunate and static it was whilst staring up at the moon. In this poem, Leopardi’s desire to travel and to leave Recanati can be clearly seen. Leopardi also recalls on how he had many dreams as a young man, but he knows that he will never achieve any of them.

Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia is considered by some scholars to be Leopardi’s best and most profound poem, even though it is not the most well-known or popular. This poem also frequently mentions the moon. As a shepherd gazes up at the moon one night, he begins to ponder the meaninglessness of his own life while questioning the existence of the moon. He ponders whether the moon ever tires of its role, and if it too feels that its existence is purposeless (Cultural Society 1). Both the sheep herder and the moon are symbolic, with the shepherd representing humanity and mankind and the moon representing Nature (Poemhunter 10). Much like in To The Moon and The Infinite, a part of nature, whether it is the moon or a hill with a hedge, serves as a gateway into Leopardi’s inner thoughts and also leads him to ponder the meaning of life, analyzing the universe, and the cruel forces of nature (Cultural Society 1).

In the poem Saturday Night in the Village, Leopardi begins by describing the various citizens he sees from outside his window, such as woman carrying a bouquet of flowers and an elderly woman sitting and chatting with her friends. He expresses the excitement that the townspeople are feeling because the next day is a holiday, and how everyone is celebrating and making preparations. Then he suddenly shifts from this tone of happiness and excitement to an unpleasant one. He muses how everything will soon come to end, and alludes that happiness is fleeting and that this holiday will culminate with bitter disappointment. He also compares this celebration with life because both will end in shattered dreams and disenchantment. I think this poem showcases the loneliness that Leopardi probably often felt. He is very disconnected from anything that is going on in the town. It seems that he has distanced himself from everyone and can only watch and observe from afar.

What inspired a lot of Leopardi’s poems was the heartbreak he felt when every woman he ever loved rejected him. In 1831 he fell in love with a woman named Fanny Targioni Tozzetti, but she never loved him in return (Carrera 4). He wrote several poems about his heartache, including the poem To Himself. He talks about how Fanny’s rejection shattered his heart and destroyed his last hopes of ever being loved by woman. Leopardi reiterates how happiness is merely an illusion and he once again emphasizes the cruelty of life and of nature. Leopardi delineates that he can only find comfort in death, which will free him from the miseries he is experiencing in life.

I think it is understandable why many of Leopardi’s poems have such melancholy tones. He lived a very solitary and lonely life, because he was unable to find love due to his sickness and deformities. Poetry, for him, was a way to express these frustrations and complex emotions. His struggles and his environment contributed both to the gloomy nature of his poems, and to his musings about the meaning of life and the cruelty of nature. He developed a distinct style of intellectual yet extremely emotionally moving poetry that contributed to the flourishing Romantic Movement in Italy and his work solidified him as one of the greatest Italian poets to ever live.





Carrera, Alessandro. “Giacomo Leopardi.” The Literary Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May             2014.

“Count Giacomo Leopardi Poems.” Poem Hunter . Np, nd Web. 5 May 2014.   

“Giacomo Leopardi Essay – Leopardi, Giacomo (Poetry Criticism) -.”, nd Web. 5 May 2014.        leopardi/critical-essays/leopardi-giacomo-78912

Hartley, Heather. “Leopardi, to the Moon.” Rumpusnet The Leopardi to the Moon Comments.   Np, 1 Apr. 2011. Web. 5 May 2014.

Leopardi, Giacomo, and Frederick Townsend. The poems of Giacomo Leopardi, . New York:      GP Putnam’s Sons, 1887 Print.

Marino, John. “Italy.” Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 5 May 2014.          Sicily#toc27720.

“THE FUTURE OF ILLUSIONS: LEOPARDI’S CANTI.” The Cultural Society . Np, 6 Feb.      2012. Web. 5 May 2014.     illusions-leopardi%E2%80%99s-canti/


The Life of Giacomo Leopardi

Lauren O. Codina

When one thinks of famous Italian writers, painters, or thinkers, the typical names Dante Alighieri, Leonardo da Vinci, or Michelangelo come to mind. However, during the time of Italian Romanticism (1798-1848), one very important writer distinguished himself: Giacomo Leopardi. Giacomo Leopardi was born in June of 1798, in Recanati, Italy (Herdler and Menger, 1893, p. v). An incredibly smart man, Leopardi’s talents were not limited to writing. He was also a philosopher and philologist. However, Leopardi is best remembered as a writer (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2012). The works of Leopardi have classified him as one of the greatest Italian writers; his genius inspired a new style of poetry, challenged the capability of translators, and left valuable insight into emerging views of philosophy during the time of Romanticism and Enlightenment.

Before he earned his title as a great Italian writer, Leopardi had to live his life first. Born into a noble family in Recanati, his family consisted of him, his mother, Adelaide Antici Mattei, his father, Count Monaldo Leopardi, his sister Paolina, and brother Carlo (Casale, 1981, p. 3-25). Despite their noble status the Leopardi family had many financial issues and disputes among the family members themselves. His father had a gambling problem, which prompted Leopardi’s mother to watch over the finances of the estate. Both of his parents were strict and pushed Leopardi and his siblings to constantly study (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2012). In his book, “A Leopardi Reader,” Ottavio Casale compares the relationship Leopardi and his father had, “Monaldo was to Giacomo roughly what Leopold Mozart had been to Wolfgang” (page 9). Aside from the stress his father gave him, his mother was often described as severe and a religious fanatic. Casale described Adelaide as having two priorities, “to repair the family finances…[and] to make sure that the children feared God, hated earth, and looked forward to heaven” (page 9). Leopardi’s poor relations with both of his parents only amplified the abhorrence he held for Recanati. However, he could find a small amount of happiness in his siblings; but nevertheless, he remained a cynic throughout his life, finding comfort only in studying and writing.

His father owned an extensive and large personal library, which became like another home to Leopardi. Besides much of his self study in his father’s library, Leopardi was constantly taught and instructed by private tutors. However, they proved to be ineffective, seeing that by age 10 Leopardi is supposed to have translated works by Horace and Moschus (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2012). At age 15 he wrote “Storia della Astronomia” – the history of astronomy from the very beginning until his present day. Later, at 16 years of age, Leopardi mastered Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and became proficient in Spanish, English, German, and French. He continued to write and study throughout his youth. He actually became so intelligent, that his tutors did not believe there was more for him to learn. Sadly, Leopardi studied so long and intensely that it damaged his health. He went blind in one eye and developed scoliosis, eventually becoming a hunchback (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2014). These terrible medical conditions only contributed to more anger and frustration in his life.

Leopardi often described his home as a prison, and made many attempts to “escape”. In 1822, Leopardi ventured to Rome with Pietro Giordani, another writer. Giordani and Leopardi, prior to their travel to Rome, had frequently corresponded with each other through letters. These letters were emotional, and Giordani quickly became a father figure to Leopardi, since Count Monaldo’s hostility and pressure to constantly improve and study greatly distanced him from Leopardi. However, due to his poor health, Leopardi could not find sustainable work (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2014). Finding dissatisfaction in Rome only brought Leopardi to a more depressed state when he returned to Recanati in 1823. However, it was in 1824 that he published “Canzoni”, which was his first collection of his poetry (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2012). This is considered to be one of his greatest works. One year later, Giacomo tried to leave Recanati again and went to Milan, where he would be an editor to Cicero. The years following this led him to Bologna, Pisa, Florence, and his home of Recanati (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2012; “Giacomo Leopardi,” 2014). Still, Leopardi suffered from his ill health. For him, there was always an unattainable happiness – reflected in his writing and his inability to find happiness even outside of Recanati.

Unsurprisingly, Leopardi was a pessimist, a skeptic – his illness and family/home troubles clouded his mind and disturbed him until his death. However, his pessimism stemmed further than just that. He observed death as a comfort, something to embrace, and thought of life as a joke of the Gods. When it came to love, Leopardi fancied dark loves, finding love only more beautiful when combined with tragedy and death. Perhaps this is a reflection of his personal love affairs. He had no real great loves, and never married. In his lifetime, though, he did love his cousin Gertrude Cassi, but unfortunately for Leopardi she was already married. Leopardi also loved the daughter of the family coachmen, Teresa Fattorini. She died of tuberculosis in 1818, and this devastated Leopardi. It was her death that impelled he wrote “A Silvia”, Silvia representing Teresa. The poem reflected Leopardi’s pessimism and inability to understand why nature, why life, is so cruel. During his time in Florence it is said he loved Fanny Targioni-Tozzetti (“Giacomo Leopardi,” 2014). However, his affections for her did not bear him anything more than further heartbreak.

From poor illness to heartbreak, to isolation and cynicism, it is clear Leopardi’s life was filled with loneliness and sadness. On this Casale wrote, “The poems, however, are loneliness made palpable” (page 4). Yet, what is loneliness to Leopardi? Leopardi may not have excelled at love, and his hometown may have left him feeling isolated, but he did fill this void of loneliness in his letters and friendships, of which he had many. In Florence he befriended Antonio Ranieri; in Rome and through letters, he befriended Pietro Giordani, and the list goes on. His frequent relations with these men, however, have led to assumptions that Leopardi was in fact a homosexual. In the time of Romanticism, it was not uncommon that letters were eloquently written with terms of endearment; it did not matter if two men wrote using terms of endearment. Furthermore, Leopardi himself condemned homosexuality as unnatural (Casale, 1981, p. 12). Leopardi’s reputation varied; he was often judged for his extremely dark opinions about life, and his denouncement of God and/or religion. Ultimately though, Leopardi was respected because he was so gifted and intelligent.

This is the story Giacomo Leopardi – born in Recanati in 1798 and died in Naples in 1837. His life was full of tragedy, solitude, and illness. Still, he was incredibly smart and talented in his writing; he never let blindness or scoliosis prevent him from creating more works. He used his tragedies to create incredible literary works of art that modern translators struggle to reinterpret and mimic correctly. His vast intelligence aided him but also trapped him; his mind was full of knowledge, and his body was too damaged to fully help him process and produce at his highest potential. One wonders what more Leopardi could have created, without his physical hindrances. However, these hindrances (bodily and familial) were perhaps the driving forces of his writing. Had it not been for all of Leopardi’s sorrow, he may not have been capable of balancing his role as a cynic and poet quite as well. This is precisely what Leopardi believed, that sorrow and grief were inevitable, necessary parts of life – happiness being constantly unattainable. Precisely what he lived is precisely what he believed, and he was forever trapped in his pessimistic world of writing.



Casale, O. M. (1981) A Leopardi Reader. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Kirsch, A. (2010, October 25th). Under the Volcano. Retrieved 2 May 2014 from


Carrera, A. “Giacomo Leopardi”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 7 November 2009. Retrieved 02 May, 2014, from

Ernesto, L. “Italian Romanticism”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 29 October 2009. Retrieved 02 May, 2014, from

Giacomo Leopardi. (2014). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2 May 2014, from

Giacomo Leopardi. (2012). Retrieved 04:07, 2 May 2014 from


Casa Leopardi. (2005). “Family.” Retrieved from 2 May 2014

Casa Leopardi. (2005). “The Leopardi Palace.” Retrieved from 2 May 2014

Scholarly Articles:

Herdler, A. W. Menger, L.E. (1893). “The Life and Works of Giacomo Leopardi.” Vol. 8, Appendix. Pp. v-xi. Doi: 10.2307/456320


Alyssa Wilson

Professoressa Lazzari


Composizione per il website


Tradurre o Tradire? I Problemi e Malintesi delle Traduzione Letterarie.


“Tradurre uguale tradire” è un pensiero che si vede in tutte le culture e le lingue letterarie. In Italia, questo è il proprio motivo per studiare il greco e il latino a Liceo Classico, per capire e per apprezzare le poesie che hanno costruito un nuovo modo di pensare, cioè un modo diverso di vedere il nostro mondo. Se qualcuno impari la lingua dell’opera, è più probabile che tradurrà la lingua meglio, ma se non è familiarissimo con la lingua, e non capisce il contesto, e se è troppo parziale al suo stile, allora tradirà quasi sicuramente il lavoro dello scrittore originale. In questo caso, io parlerò dello scrittore italiano Giacomo Leopardi. Studierò la sua opera L’Infinito, e cercherò di capire perché ci sono tante traduzioni, e perché è così difficile interpretare e tradurre una poesia.

Nel suo articolo, Ruth Feldman, una traduttrice che parla l’italiano e l’inglese, dice che la traduzione di una poesia è come la sorellastra della poesia;[1] la traduzione è quasi come scrivere una nuova poesia per molti traduttori, ma non lo dovrebbe essere secondo lei. Creda completamente nella fidelità, dice,che il traduttore deve mettere via il suo stile e immergersi nello spirito, nel pensiero, e nello stile dello scrittore originale, così sembrerebbe come se lo scrittore l’avesse scritto in quell’altra lingua.[2] Lei dice anche che il traduttore dovrebbe conoscere la lingua molto bene.[3] Racconta delle storie di traduttori che non conoscono bene la lingua straniera, e l’autore che non sa parlare l’inglese, quindi si fide completamente della traduzione del traduttore, e non può commentarlo e correggerlo perché non sa che qualcosa non andasse bene. Nel caso di Leopardi, lui è morto, quindi non è possibile chiedergli come vorrebbe dire le sue parole in un’altra lingua, quindi lo lasciamo fare ai nostri traduttori.

Ovviamente, sapere la lingua molto bene è necessaria. Se non conosci bene la lingua non potrai capire nemmeno il testo. Ma capire il testo, e capire il contesto è completamente diverso. Nonostante capire le parole, il traduttore deve capire la storia, la cultura della lingua. Per esempio, tante persone chiedono come si dice “I’m sorry” in italiano. È sempre difficile, perché dipende alla situazione. Loro aspettano il risposto “mi dispiace,” ma non si dice mi dispiace quando stai chiedendo perdona o scusa a qualcuno in italiano. Dunque di solito si dice, scusami. Loro chiedono perché non sia “mi dispiace” com’è scritto nel loro libro d’italiano, e quindi si deve spiegarli che “mi dispiace” si dice solo quando non c’è niente da fare nella situazione, tipo un incidente dell’auto, o una morte nella famiglia. Chiedere scusa, però, è quando hai sbagliato e vuoi che la persona ti perdoni. In inglese è la stessa frase, ma nella cultura italiana, è più complicato, tu chiederesti scusa quando non ci fosse niente da fare? No, quindi le due frasi sono diverse. Si vede questa praticità anche nel congiuntivo. Il congiuntivo non esiste proprio in inglese, perché qualcuno dice le possibilità come cose certe, ma in italiano, una lingua più romantica, le credenze e le opinioni non sono cose sicure, sono possibilità, dunque hanno una coniugazione diversa. Allora sapere la lingua non basta, conoscere la cultura e perché è fatta così è una cosa indispensabile nelle traduzioni, perché queste piccole così diventano grande nello scopo della lingua.

Ruth Feldman ha parlato anche dell’idea di non sporcare la poesia con lo stile del traduttore, e invece di immergersi nello stile dello scrittore originale. Ma questo è difficile, perché tutti noi essere umani siamo un po’ parziali, anche se cerchiamo di non esserlo. La nostra storia, le nostre esperienze nella vita ci creano la nostra identità, e questa identità è legata molto al nostro stile di scrittura. Quindi, è complicato non permettere questo stile di influenzare il nostro lavoro o traduzione. Però è essenziale che la traduzione sia il più imparziale, perché così potremmo tutti capire l’opera in un modo diverso di tutti gli altri. La nostra comprensione e la nostra traduzione non dovrebbero incontrarsi, ma come lo possiamo fare se sono indeterminati fra loro? Il traduttore dev’essere molto familiare con lo stile dell’autore originale, deve capire il suo stile, e deve cercare di comprendere perché lo scrittore avesse scelto quella parola invece di un’altra. Che cosa voleva dire? Che cosa si sentiva quando scriveva quest’opera?

Per Leopardi e la sua opera, L’Infinito, sappiamo che lui era uno scrittore molto melanconico, e che si sentiva catenato dentro le mura della sua città di Recanati. Quindi, la sua descrizione nella sua poesia dovrebbe avere le parole che illustra questa sensazione di richiusura. Parla anche della sensazione d’infinito, del tempo che non si ferma mai, quindi anche questa sensazione dev’essere descritto nelle parole scelte. Il traduttore non può neanche solo tradurre le parole, deve tradurre il sentimento, altrimenti tradirà la poesia.

Ho preso due traduzioni diverse dell’Infinito e possiamo vedere che le differenze sono immense. La prima traduzione, di Richard Jackson, del 2011 è una bellissima poesia, ma non sembra la stessa opera di Leopardi. Per esempio:

“Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati

Spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani

Silenzi, e profondissima quiete…”[4]

È questa che ha scritta Leopardi, ma era tradotta così da Richard Jackson:

“Seated here and lost in an endless meditation

Which discovers a vaster space within,

Boundless silence and deep inner quiet…”[5]

È un bellissimo lavoro, ma “boundless silence” non ha la stessa emozione che ha sovrumani silenzi, che si traduce come “superhuman silence.” Ovviamente sovrumano non è lo stesso di sconfinato (cioè boundless in inglese).

Poi ho trovato un’altra traduzione da Mike Towler da 1998, quindi è più vecchia, comunque direi che le parole sono da una scelta migliore di quelle precedenti.

“But as I sit and watch, I invent in my mind

Endless spaces beyond, and superhuman

Silences, and profoundest quiet;…”[6]

Però, qualche uso di parola inglese l’ha sbagliato, oppure era disagevole. Come l’ultima riga:

“And to shipwreck is sweet for me in this sea.”[7]

Che scritta da Leopardi legge così:

“E il naufragar m’è dolce questo mare.”[8]

Che nella mia traduzione sarebbe:

“And I am shipwrecked in this sweet sea.”

Ovviamente ci sono tante differenze, ed è per varie ragioni. Quando impariamo un’altra lingua, ognuno usa delle frasi e delle parole un po’ diverse, quindi ognuno capisce le poesie e le opere artistiche in una maniera diversa, e questo è perché siamo tutti fatti diversamente in fondo, quindi niente che faremo e capiremo sarà mai uguale; dipenderà alle esperienze del lettore. Però, il traduttore deve cercare di camminare nel mezzo, catturare le emozioni dello scrittore, ma cercare di dimostrarle nel modo corretto della nuova lingua. Non è per niente facile, ecco perché ci sono i traduttori professionali, perché tradurre vuole tanto studio, non solo della lingua, ma anche della cultura, del contesto, e dello scrittore in sé.

Per concludere, scriverò la mia traduzione dell’Infinito. Non sono una traduttrice professionale, quindi magari non sarà perfetta, ma è una prova ad applicare le idee che ho trovato nella mia ricerca.

“Always dear to me was this small hill

And this barrier that excludes much

Of the terrestrial horizon from view.

But, sitting and admiring, unending

Spaces there, and a superhuman

Silence, and a profound quiet

Me in my thoughts I decieve myself, where for a little while

My heart isn’t alarmed. And like the wind

I hear storming between these plants, and I this

Voice of infinite silence

Comparing: and eternity emerges

And the dead seasons, and the present,

and life, and the sound of her. And like this in this

immensity, my thoughts drown:

and I am shipwrecked in this sweet sea.”

L’idea di tradurre e non tradire è più complicata che sembra. Il traduttore ideale dovrebbe essere innanzitutto familiarissimo con tutti i due delle lingue tradotte, e poi deve assolutamente capire il contesto di cui era scritto la poesia o l’opera in generale. Se il traduttore non capisce né la cultura, né la storia, non riuscirà mai a scrivere una buona traduzione, dunque tradirà l’autore originale. Nel caso di Leopardi, esistono tantissime traduzioni dappertutto, ma uno deve capire che lui non era felice nella sua vita, era melanconica, quindi le sue parole devono riflettere questa tristezza e disperazione che lui provava. Alla fine però, la traduzione dipenderà a chi la stia leggendo: il lettore deciderà ultimamente se l’opera tradotta, è una tradizione, o una traduzione.


Parole: 1476





















Feldman, Ruth. “Translating Italian Poetry.” Forum for Modern Language Studies, 1997. XXXIII, Issue 1. 3-16.

Gallo, Niccolò. Garboli, Cesare. “L’Infinito,” in Giacomo Leopardi: Canti. Torino: Einaudi, 1962. 105-106.

Jackson, Richard. “’The Infinite,’ a poem by Giacomo Leopardi translated by Richard Jackson.” Numéro Cinq. Ultima visita, 10/03/2011.

Towler, Mike. “L’Infinito: Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837).” Senza titolo. Ultima visita, Aprile 1998.



[1]Ruth Feldman, “On Translating Italian Poetry,” Forum for Modern Language Studies, 1997, XXXIII Issue 1, 3.

[2] Ruth Feldman, “Translating Italian Poetry,” 3.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Niccolò Gallo e Cesare Garboli, “L’Infinito,” in Giacomo Leopardi: Canti, (Torino: Einaudi, 1962), 105.

[5] Richard Jackson, “’The Infinite,’ a poem by Giacomo Leopardi, translated by Richard Jackson,” Numéro Cinq. Ultima visita, 10/03/2011.

[6] Mike Towler, “L’Infinito: Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837),” Senza titolo, Aprile 1998,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Niccolò Gallo e Cesare Garboli, “L’Infinito,” 106.


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