Landscapes and dreams


Travelling through the Marches, up and down the hills of Recanati, when my sight is blocked in some way and the imagination is stimulated and set free, there it happens that Giacomo Leopardi's “L'infinito”, his best known poem comes into my mind.

The infinite
Ever dear to me was this small hill,
The hedgerow round it that obstructs the view
Of boundless distances where the earth and sky
Merge as one. My sitting there, my gazing out
On spaces limitless, unending silence, on
The depths of quietness my thoughts can sense
Undo the heart almost. I hear the wind
Ruffle the hedgerow and I must go on
Balancing an infinite silence with this voice.
So come to mind the eternal and the dead
Seasons, the present and the living, the sound
Of them: immensities in which my thoughts drown,
Though sweet to me the foundering in such sea.

translated by John Holcombe


And when in springtime and autumn Urbino gets dressed up, every part of the town in its own color, ready to win the kite competition, then suddenly Giovanni Pascoli’s “Aquilone” becomes the background music of the performances.

The kite

There's something new in the sun to-day - but no,
It's more something ancient: even at this distance
I sense the violets starting to peep through

Beside the Convent of the Capuchins,
On the wood floor, between the stumps of oak
Where dead leaves shilly-shally in the wind.

A breath of mild air breathes, its gentle frolic
Cajoles hard clods, combs the yielding grass
Round country churches green to the very doorstep -

Air from another life and time and place,
Pale blue heavenly air that is supporting
A flotilla of white wings on the breeze -

The kites! Yes, it is! The kites! This morning
There's no school and we've come trooping out
Among the briar hedges and the hawthorn.

The hedges bristled, shivered, spiky, stripped,
But autumn lingered in red clumps of berries
And the spring in a few flowers, blooming white.

A robin hopped around the leafless branches,
In the ditch a lizard showed its darting head
Above dead leaves and vanished: a few quick curries.

So now we take our stand, halt opposite
Urbino's windy hill: each scans the blue
And picks his spot to launch his long-tailed comet.

And there it hovers, flips, veers, dives askew.
Lifts again, goes with the wind until
It rises to loud cheers from us kids below.

It rises and it carries ever higher
The longing in the breast and anxious feet
And gazing face and heart of the kite-flier,

Higher and higher until it's just a dot
Of bightness far, far up ... But now a sudden

Crosswind and a scream ... Whose scream was that?

translated by Seamus Heaney


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