Essays in Literary Criticism of George Santayana

By Irving Singer; George Santayana | Go to book overview
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LEOPARDI

THIS BOOK* speaks for itself. To the gallery of romantic poets of the early nineteenth century it adds for the English-speaking reader a life-like portrait of Leopardi. I have no competence and no wish to retouch the picture, painted as it is with a fine perception of character and a deep knowledge of Italy, yet without surrendering the English point of view that serves to frame the perspectives in and to bring out the colours.

There is only one thing that the purely English reader may miss, because it is only communicable to those who have some familiarity with the Italian language and some sympathy with the classic temperament: I mean the poignant accent, the divine elevation of this poet. The student, the writer, the sufferer, the wanderer was only Conte Giacomo Leopardi, but the poet was Orpheus himself. Long passages are fit to repeat in lieu of prayers through all the watches of the night. How shall I express their quality? Suppose you were held up in some minor Italian town where by chance an itinerant company was to perform Il Trovatore. Suppose that having nothing better to do you strolled into the theatre, resigned in advance to a meagre stage-setting, a harsh orchestra, a prima donna past her prime, a rhetorical little tenor saving his breath for the gymnastic prodigy of his final high note. But suppose also that, having found things in general much as you expected, suddenly you heard, coming from behind the wings, an unexampled heavenly voice, a voice pure as moonlight, rich as sorrow, firm as truth, singing Solo in terra. Alone on earth that voice might indeed seem, and far from earth it would carry you; and no matter how commonplace the singer might look, or even

____________________
*
Leopardi by Iris Origo, Oxford University Press, 1935, of which this essay was originally the Foreword.

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