Home  »  library  »  poem  »  Sylvia

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.


By Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837)

Translation of Katharine Hillard

SYLVIA, canst thou still remember

That time in thy brief existence

When a beauty all-resplendent

Shone from thine eyes, with their fleeting, smiling glances,

What time, pensive yet gay, thou wert crossing

The boundaries of thy youth?

Resounded all thy quiet

Dwelling, and the lanes around it,

With the music of thy singing,

As intent on the tasks of women

Thou wert pond’ring, lost in contentment,

All the vague future fancy held before thee.

It was May, the month of fragrance; and thus ever

Didst thou dream out the hours.

And I, my fairest studies

At times forsaking, and the well-thumbed volumes

Over whose weary pages

I spent myself, and the best part of my youth,

Leaned from the terrace of my father’s dwelling,

To listen to the music of thy voice;

And to watch thy busy fingers

As they flew o’er the tiresome sewing.

While I gazed on the placid heavens,

The golden lanes and the gardens,

And there the far-off sea, and here the mountains,—

No mortal tongue could utter

The feelings that rose in me.

O Sylvia mine, what visions,

What hopes, what hearts, were ours!

Under what beautiful seeming

Lay human life and fate!

When I remember those fancies,

I am seized by a mortal sorrow,

Bitter, devoid of comfort,

And I return to grieve over all my misfortune.

O Nature, O Mother Nature,

Why dost thou never give us

That we were promised at first? Alas, why so often

Dost thou deceive thy children?

Thee, ere the grass had faded with winter,

Insidious death had vanquished;

Thy tender beauty perished. And never saw’st thou

The flower of thy maiden years.

Thy heart was never melted

Or by the praises of thy raven tresses,

Or of thy loving glances, swift and bashful.

Nor at their feast-days with thy young companions,

Could’st thou discourse of love.

And shortly also perished

The sweet hope that treasured; even youth itself

The cruel fates denied me.

Alas, alas! how utterly has vanished

The dear companion of my early years,

The hope I mourn forever!

Is this the world we pictured? Can these be

The dear delights, the love, the deeds, the events,

That long ago we talked about so fondly?

Is this the destiny of all mankind?

When the truth dawned upon thee,

Poor child, thou sank’st before it; thy cold hand pointing

To where the naked tomb and pallid Death

Waited me from afar.