Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Broom by Giacomo Leopardi

These are the first two stanzas of what is a very long poem.

Wild Broom (or The Flower of the Desert)
‘And men loved darkness rather than the light’
John, III:19

Fragrant broom,
content with deserts:
here on the arid slope of Vesuvius,
that formidable mountain, the destroyer,
that no other tree or flower adorns,
you scatter your lonely
bushes all around. I’ve seen before
how you beautify empty places
with your stems, circling the City
once the mistress of the world,
and it seems that with their grave,
silent, aspect they bear witness,
reminding the passer-by
of that lost empire.
Now I see you again on this soil,
a lover of sad places abandoned by the world,
a faithful friend of hostile fortune.
These fields scattered
with barren ash, covered
with solid lava,
that resounds under the traveller’s feet:
where snakes twist, and couple
in the sun, and the rabbits return
to their familiar cavernous burrows:
were once happy, prosperous farms.
They were golden with corn, echoed
to lowing cattle:
there were gardens and palaces,
the welcome leisure retreats
for powerful, famous cities,
which the proud mountain crushed
with all their people, beneath the torrents
from its fiery mouth. Now all around
is one ruin,
where you root, gentle flower, and as though
commiserating with others’ loss, send
a perfume of sweetest fragrance to heaven,
that consoles the desert. Let those
who praise our existence visit
these slopes, to see how carefully
our race is nurtured
by loving Nature. And here
they can justly estimate
and measure the power of humankind,
that the harsh nurse, can with a slight movement,
obliterate one part of, in a moment, when we
least fear it, and with a little less gentle
a motion, suddenly,
annihilate altogether.
The ‘magnificent and progressive fate’
of the human race
is depicted in this place.

Proud, foolish century, look,
and see yourself reflected,
you who’ve abandoned
the path, marked by advancing thought
till now, and reversed your steps,
boasting of this regression
you call progress.
All the intellectuals, whose evil fate
gave them you for a father,
praise your babbling, though
they often make a mockery
of you, among themselves. But I’ll
not vanish into the grave in shame:
As far as I can, I’ll demonstrate,
the scorn for you, openly,
that’s in my heart,
though I know oblivion crushes
those hated by their own time.
I’ve already mocked enough
at that fate I’ll share with you.
You pursue Freedom, yet want thought
to be slave of a single age again:
by thought we’ve risen a little higher
than barbarism, by thought alone civilisation
grows, only thought guides public affairs
towards the good.
The truth of your harsh fate
and the lowly place Nature gave you
displease you so. Because of it
you turn your backs on the light
that illuminated you: and in flight,
you call him who pursues it vile,
and only him great of heart
who foolishly or cunningly mocks himself
or others, praising our human state above the stars.
There is a downloadable translation of the whole poem here:

Leopardi: Thoughts

Another little book from Hesperus Classics.

Quoting from the Introduction by Edoardo Albinati:
Both the limitations and the greatness of Leopardi's Thoughts are to be found precisely in this fact: that they are the moral maxims of a misfit - a brilliant outsider who was always set apart. They contrast with the rich moralistic tradition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a treasure of direct experience put into focus by accomplished men of the world (like La Rochefoucauld and Voltaire) situated at the very centre of the most highly developed society in Europe. The anathema which Leopardi pronounces on worldly institutions sounds above all like the defeat of illusions ardently nourished in solitude, or even worse, like a confirmation that the ancient cynical philosophers whom he committed to memory as a boy were right. And this anathema reverberates with all his sacrificial, private, obsessive torment, even though Leopardi makes every effort to translate his ethical condemnations into impersonal axioms, trusting to a cold and unbending manner which a true man of the world would never dream of adopting.

One after another, the values and customs of so-called civilised ways of living come under fire, as in the manual of an idealistic sly-boots. Good reputation, discretion, education…….. and finally the worldly cult of seduction, regarded simply as robbery of the weak by the strong - all come under attack. Nothing can be salvaged from the mass of deception and abuse that is society.

Albinati goes on to say: The Thoughts were intended to be the mature legacy of a man who had not reached his 40th year, but their splendour is not due to any special wisdom, but on the contrary to the romantic reverberations of inexperience, exactly what makes a character of Hoffmansthal, who dies without ever having known love, say "I have been in Egypt and I have not seen pyramids…." Leopardi had not seen them either.

So, you may be wondering by now, why do we want to read this book? Try this:

'We know for certain that the majority of those whom we appoint to educate our children have not themselves been educated. And we should be in no doubt that they cannot give what they have not received, and what cannot be acquired in any other way.'

Or this, which could be a Thought for Our Times:

'If I had Cervantes' talent, I would write a book to purge - as he purged Spain of the imitation of knights errant - to purge Italy, indeed the civilised world, of a vice which, considering the mildness of current manners, and perhaps even without that consideration, is no less cruel and barbarous than any remnant of mediaeval savagery castigated by Seventies is. I mean the vice of reading or performing one's own compositions in front of others. This is an ancient vice which was tolerable in previous centuries because it was rare, but which today, when everyone writes and it is very difficult to find someone who is not an author, has become a scourge, a public calamity, one further tribulation for human beings.'

The book ends with a translation of Leopardi’s last great desolate poem, one haunting in its sheer clarity, where a new society is announced, one in which human beings are allied against suffering because they are fully possessed by it- The Broom, the lowly flower which survives in the desert. (See separate post.)

It was, perhaps, unlucky to happen upon Leopardi’s Thoughts before having read any of his other works, particularly the poetry. After having read The Broom I feel inspired to seek out more of him.

On Carrock Fell

Sunday, 18th February. These gentle, almost featureless fells, outliers to Skiddaw to the south east, have their own beauty. For one thing, lacking the drama and rugged character of the high fells, they are much less visited. They are lonely and remote, demanding no heroic feats of the walker but affording rare peace and tranquility. You can walk for miles, thinking your own thoughts, taking your own time, and never see another soul - unlike the fells round Keswick or Ambleside, for example, where you may be just one more in a long lines of other walkers, all panting and struggling to achieve a summit.
This is a view to the West - the thin blue line on the horizon is the Solway Firth.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Mr.Simpson's Dressing gown - continued

Pinning out the pattern pieces on the lined patchwork ready for cutting out. There is some wastage round the edges - I left plenty of excess because of shrinkage during quilting. When the construction is completed, cuffs and a hem are added in velvet (black in this case) because it stands up well to the wear and tear of daily use. Finally, a lining will be added.


These are the Biographies I read in 2006.
Claire Tomalin: Samuel Pepys. The Unequalled Self (Excellent. Biographical writing of highest standard with a refreshingly different approach to presentation of material which has already been much covered; instead of following a chronological line, Tomalin present Pepys in different aspects of his life: Family/Work/Entertainment etc. etc.

Richard Holmes: Coleridge – Vol.I: Early Visions. Vol.II: Darker Reflections

Hilary Spurling: Matisse. The Master (Two Volumes) (One of the most engrossing biographies I’ve read in recent years. In particular, all post-feminists should read this book for the study it contains of the psychological development of Madame Matisse! Her life could be compared with that of Alice James (H.J.’s sister) and with that of generations of ladies who in their repression and sense of worthlessness resorted to ‘the vapours’ !)

Geoffrey Wainwright: Lucy Duff Gordon (Interesting to compare Lucy with the above-mentioned; she showed that it was possible to develop her (formidable) intellect and to lead an independent life – but she did have the benefit of being educated by a similarly energetic and enlightened mother. Also, the very moving story of her self-exile, and ultimately death, in Egypt after she was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Molly Hughes: A London Childhood of the 1870s (Persephone)(Autobiographical memoir)

Philip Callow: Lost Earth. A Life of Cezanne (I thought this was a very dull and ploddy book which didn’t do the subject justice.)

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Pointer and Poppies

The Aged Beast - Hunter (Hunny) in the summer time.(2005)

Thursday, 8 February 2007

February 6th 2007

On Sale Fell, above Bassenthwaite Lake. Beyond, the outline of the foothills of Skiddaw.
"Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery." (Ruskin)

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Roman Wall Blues

The view from Hadrian's Wall, for example the one shown here, might have looked very scenic, unless you were a Roman soldier! Maryport was a Milefort on the coastal defences which extended from the Wall in the North, down to Barrow in Furness in the south.

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I've lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.
The rain comes pattering out of the sky.
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone.
My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don't like his manners, I don't like his face.

Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish;
There'd be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I'm a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Winter Morning

The view West across the Solway Firth, to the hills of Dumfries and Galloway. Low tide.

A Working Arrangement

This is one corner of my workroom - but I know where everything is, honest!

Mr. Simpson's Dressing Gown 3

As each separate pattern piece is finished and cut out, it is quilted down the strips. After this the pieces can be cut to the exact size required, ready for assembly.

Mr. Simpson's Dressing Gown 2

The yardage is ready for the pattern pieces to be cut. The patchwork is layed on wadding and backing fabric - leaving plenty of leeway to allow for shrinkage during quilting.

The Whale Looks Forward to Spring