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I will claim that this poem arose from a deep meditation of Catullus , Multas per gentes, which Foscolo had unsuccessfully tried to reinvent in , in a sonnet for his own dead brother In morte del fratello Giovanni.
In a third contemporary sonnet, A Zacinto To Zacynthos , this feeling is transposed to the mother land the Greek island, then under the dominion of Venice, where Foscolo was born , whose last embrace the burial is denied to the poet.
My translation of the Sepolcri is preceded by a translation of the three sonnets, with brief commentaries that highligh the themes and the words that recur in the major poem.
E quando ti corteggian liete o twilight! Vagar mi fai co' miei pensieri su l'orme You make me wander through the steps that lead to che vanno al nulla eterno; e intanto fugge the eternal nothing; meanwhile, there elapses questo reo tempo, e van con lui le torme this cursed time, carrying along a host delle cure onde meco egli si strugge; of troubles by which I am with it consumed; e mentre io guardo la tua pace, dorme and while I watch your peace, the warlike spirit quello spirito guerrier ch'entro mi rugge.
Right from the start the poet creates a striking contrast between the somewhat melancholic sweetness of the verses and the unquiet vastness alluded to in verses Tu non altro che il canto avrai del figlio, You will have nothing of this son of yours, o materna mia terra; a noi prescrisse mother land, but this prayer; for the Fate il fato illacrimata sepoltura. This cycle is taken up in the Sepolcri, lines The main theme of the sonnet is exile and the impossible return to the mother land, also taken up in lines of In morte del fratello Giovanni, and again in lines of the Sepolcri.
Sento gli avversi numi, e le secrete I feel the adverse forces, and the unconfessed cure che al viver tuo furon tempesta, worries that turned your life into a storm, e prego anch'io nel tuo porto quiete. Questo di tanta speme oggi mi resta! Straniere genti, almen le ossa rendete Foreigners, when I die, at least my bones allora al petto della madre mesta. Catullus Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus5 adveni has miseras, frater, ad inferias, ut te postremo donarem munere mortis et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem.
In this sonnet, Foscolo unsuccessfully tried to reinvent Catullus For Catullus, instinctively hanging to the traditional rites is a way of overcoming the moment of desperation: these traditions constitutes the link between a purely 2 Cf.
Leopardi, A Silvia: Quando sovvienmi di cotanta speme The theme of the tradition of funeral rites, creating a chain between generations and ultimately the basis of civilization itself, is central to the Sepolcri. The Sepolcri, lines refers to the assumed usage of dedicating to the dead glass vials filled with tears.
These tears do not merely express a personal grief: rather, they signify the link of memory between the dead and those who love them. Leopardi, A Silvia: mia lacrimata speme! Leopardi, A Silvia Pur nuova legge impone oggi i sepolcri 51 And yet a novel law now sets the graves fuor de' guardi pietosi, e il nome a' morti away from pious eyes, and robs the dead contende.
E senza tomba giace il tuo of their name. O bella Musa, ove sei tu? Non sento 62 O fair Muse, where are you? E tu venivi for my dear homeland. Forse tu fra plebei tumuli guardi Maybe you are wandering among plebeian moulds, vagolando, ove dorma il sacro capo to find out where the sacred head now lies del tuo Parini?
A lui non ombre pose of your Parini? Indarno on the forgotten tombs. In vain, o Goddess, sul tuo poeta, o Dea, preghi rugiade you invoke a dewdrop over your dear poet dalla squallida notte. No flower can bloom non sorge fiore, ove non sia d'umane over the dead, unless it is enlivened lodi onorato e d'amoroso pianto.
In Morte, A noi are buried yet alive, the coats of arms morte apparecchi riposato albergo, is the only praise that they deserve. A egregie cose il forte animo accendono The tombs of great men do spur the great souls l'urne de' forti, o Pindemonte; e bella to noble deeds, o Pindemonte; beautiful e santa fanno al peregrin la terra and saint, because of them, is to the pilgrim che le ricetta.
Io quando il monumento the ground where they are found. I, when I saw vidi ove posa il corpo di quel grande the monument of that great man15 who, annealing 13 Cf. When hope of glory intelletti rifulga ed all'Italia, shines for the brave souls and for Italy, quindi trarrem gli auspici. To these marbles venne spesso Vittorio ad ispirarsi.
Vittorio22 often came for inspiration. Con questi grandi abita eterno: e l'ossa With all these great men now he rests immortal: fremono amor di patria. Leopardi, A Silvia: non ti molceva il core Felice te che il regno ampio de' venti, Lucky you, Ippolito, who in your youth Ippolito, a' tuoi verdi anni correvi!
E me che i tempi ed il desio d'onore And I, whom these hard times and my own longing fan per diversa gente ir fuggitivo, for honour lead away through many peoples me ad evocar gli eroi chiamin le Muse as a fugitive, 25 may I be summoned del mortale pensiero animatrici. E ne gemea the Olympios moaned, and shaking his immortal l'Olimpio: e l'immortal capo accennando head, from his hair he let droplets of nectar piovea dai crini ambrosia su la Ninfa, fall on the Nymph, and thus he consecrated e fe' sacro quel corpo e la sua tomba.
Deprecando untied their hair, hopelessly lamenting 25 cf. In Morte Time destroying any trace of the tombs echoes verses Le mura, opra di Febo, look for your homeland! The walls, built by Phoebus, sotto le lor reliquie fumeranno. Proteggete i miei padri. One day you will see mendico un cieco errar sotto le vostre a blind beggarly person wander here antichissime ombre, e brancolando under your ancient shadow, grope his way penetrar negli avelli, e abbracciar l'urne, into the deep-set tombs, and clasp the urns, e interrogarle.
Gemeranno gli antri and question them. In this brief commentary I cannot tackle the complexity of this poem, but I wish to highlight the themes which establish a connection with the preceding three sonnets and with Catullus The first 22 verses, starting with a rhetorical question, insist upon the transforming power of time, acting as a blind and unyielding force against which a mere grave-stone is simply useless.
The theme here is the material cycle of the universe, with respect to which a man and his tomb are of no more importance than anything else. But then, starting from line 23, another rhetorical question introduces a completely different tone and a new theme: the link of memory between the dead and those who recall them, which keeps alive part of the existence of the dead.
A parallelism is drawn: on the one hand, in the material 29 Cf. Leopardi, La Ginestra: E tu, lenta ginestra, Maria Bianchi, p. This creates a non-material cycle, whose central link is memory of a person.
The dialogue of love with the dead is seen as the main element of human civilization, as it distinguishes humans from wild beasts, and it has the power to transform the life of people many generations away from the dead, when memory becomes a non-religious cult of heroic virtues. The passage from the perception of the merely material cycle to perception of the link of memory corresponds closely to the central passage in Catullus , when, after a lamentation expressing the sense of loss, the poet finds in the funereal rites a way of making eternal the moment of farewell.
Mirava il ciel sereno, I gazed at the clear sky, le vie dorate e gli orti, the golden streets, the orchards, e quinci il mar da lungi, e quindi il monte. Che pensieri soavi, What sweet and tender thoughts, che speranze, che cori, o Silvia mia! Quale allor ci apparia How it appeared to us then, la vita umana e il fato! Quando sovviemmi di cotanta speme, When I am reminded now of such a great hope un affetto mi preme I am oppressed by a feeling acerbo e sconsolato, sour and disconsolate, e tornami a doler di mia sventura.
Why are you so false inganni i figli tuoi? E non vedevi you died, o darling. Oh how, la giovinezza. Questa la sorte delle umane genti? Is this the destiny of human beings? Valentina Bianchi valentina. Related Papers. By Giuseppe Gazzola. Journal of Italian Translation, Vol. IV, No. By Luigi Bonaffini. Justice, Modesty and Compassion in Foscolo's Ajace.
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