Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Appropriating Leopardi

Ryan McGinley

Without giving away too much about the circumstances in my life, I feel I am going through an exceptionally dark period.

How did I get to this place? I've asked myself this question many times.

I can only attribute my present situation to my personality. To me, the personality is the root of all our troubles (and joys). Maybe there were certain clues in my childhood and adolescence . . .

The only inspiration I can find right now is in the verses of one of my favorite poets, Leopardi. I tried to write my own poem today, but it didn't work out. So I began reading these poems which I've read a hundred times before . . .

Here is a poem I appropriated from a translation of Leopardi's poems. I took from five separate poems and created one poem. These verses speak directly to my experience. The translator is Eamon Grennan.

At first, I was going to add a couple lines of my own, but then I thought it would diminish the power and cohesiveness of the original verses. I altered some of the lines to make them work better with the whole piece.

Such black, black days
In so green a season!

And sorely
My heart is shaken at the thought
Of how everything in the world goes by
And leaves so little trace behind.

The work-day comes on, and time takes away
All we are and do.

And random suffering cancels all
Such raw, unripened knowledge.

Both of us, she said, were born to suffer:
Our lives lacked joy, and the heavens took
Pleasure in our pain.

For I’ve seen enough of wretched cities
Where hatred dogs unhappiness, and where
I live in misery and will, soon enough,
In misery die.

Even you,
Scorning calamities and crosses, smile
Only on those who lead happy lives.
In heaven, on earth, the lost ones
Can find neither friend nor refuge
Except in their own cold steel.

It was
That sweet unrepeatable season
When the sad stage of this world seems
To young eyes a paradise of smiles:
In its very first virgin flush of hope
A boy’s heart gallops with desire
As he, hapless poor creature that he is,
Plunges into the business of living
As if it were only a game or a dance.

It is stormy weather I love plunging into
Along the crags and through deep valleys,
Seeing terror-stricken flocks in scattered flight,
Or hearing wave after wave go rushing over
Crumbled banks: the swollen torrent’s headlong roar.

But ah,
The gods and grim-lipped fate have given
Poor Sappho no part of this infinite beauty.
A tiresome wretched guest in this
Grand, indifferent domain.

What sin
Did I commit as a child—when one can know
No wrong at all—that my iron-dark thread of life,
Lacking all the summer colors of youth,
Lay twisted on fate’s implacable spindle? Reckless
Words fly from your mouth: A hidden purpose
Fashions whatever has to happen. Everything is hidden
Except our pain. We come, a forsaken race,
Crying into the world, and the gods
Keep their own counsel.

From his miser’s store
Of sweet blessings, God gave me nothing
Once my dream of youth and its illusions


Sol y Luna said...

Ah! Reminds me very much of the novel I am currently reading -- almost finished actually, just savoring the last chapter or two -- The Solitude of Prime by Paola Giordano. Check it out, perhaps it will speak to you.


Lethe said...


That's funny, I'm reading the same novel right now.


Jenny said...


Grab life by both hands and make love to it.


Lethe said...

Thanks Jenny!

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