18 Nov First Love
by Giacomo Leopardi
Ah, well can I the day recall, when first
The conflict fierce of love I felt, and said:
If this be love, how hard it is to bear!
With eyes still fixed intent upon the ground,
I saw but her, whose artless innocence,
Triumphant took possession of this heart.
Ah, Love, how badly hast thou governed me!
Why should affection so sincere and pure,
Bring with it such desire, such suffering?
Why not serene, and full, and free from guile
But sorrow-laden, and lamenting sore,
Should joy so great into my heart descend?
O tell me, tender heart, that sufferest so,
Why with that thought such anguish should be blent,
Compared with which, all other thoughts were naught?
That thought, that ever present in the day,
That in the night more vivid still appeared,
When all things round in sweet sleep seemed to rest:
Thou, restless, both with joy and misery
Didst with thy constant throbbings weary so
My breast, as panting in my bed I lay.
And when worn out with grief and weariness,
In sleep my eyes I closed, ah, no relief
It gave, so broken and so feverish!
How brightly from the depths of darkness, then,
The lovely image rose, and my closed eyes,
Beneath their lids, their gaze upon it fed!
O what delicious impulses, diffused,
My weary frame with sweet emotion filled!
What myriad thoughts, unstable and confused,
Were floating in my mind! As through the leaves
Of some old grove, the west wind, wandering,
A long, mysterious murmur leaves behind.
And as I, silent, to their influence yield,
What saidst thou, heart, when she departed, who
Had caused thee all thy throbs, and suffering?
No sooner had I felt within, the heat
Of love’s first flame, than with it flew away
The gentle breeze, that fanned it into life.
Sleepless I lay, until the dawn of day;
The steeds, that were to leave me desolate,
Their hoofs were beating at my father’s gate.
And I, in mute suspense, poor timid fool,
With eye that vainly would the darkness pierce,
And eager ear intent, lay, listening,
That voice to hear, if, for the last time, I
Might catch the accents from those lovely lips;
The voice alone; all else forever lost!
How many vulgar tones my doubtful ear
Would smite, with deep disgust inspiring me,
With doubt tormented, holding hard my breath!
And when, at last, that voice into my heart
Descended, passing sweet, and when the sound
Of horses and of wheels had died away;
In utter desolation, then, my head
I in my pillow buried, closed my eyes,
And pressed my hand against my heart, and sighed.
Then, listlessly, my trembling knees across
The silent chamber dragging, I exclaimed,
“Nothing on earth can interest me more!”
The bitter recollection cherishing
Within my breast, to every voice my heart,
To every face, insensible remained.
Long I remained in hopeless sorrow drowned;
As when the heavens far and wide their showers
Incessant pour upon the fields around.
Nor had I, Love, thy cruel power known,
A boy of eighteen summers flown, until
That day, when I thy bitter lesson learned;
When I each pleasure held in scorn, nor cared
The shining stars to see, or meadows green,
Or felt the charm of holy morning light;
The love of glory, too, no longer found
An echo in my irresponsive breast,
That, once, the love of beauty with it shared.
My favorite studies I neglected quite;
And those things vain appeared, compared with which,
I used to think all other pleasures vain.
Ah! how could I have changed so utterly?
How could one passion all the rest destroy?
Indeed, what helpless mortals are we all!
My heart my only comfort was, and with
That heart, in conference perpetual,
A constant watch upon my grief to keep.
My eye still sought the ground, or in itself
Absorbed, shrank from encountering the glance
Of lovely or unlovely countenance;
The stainless image fearing to disturb,
So faithfully reflected in my breast;
As winds disturb the mirror of the lake.
And that regret, that I could not enjoy
Such happiness, which weighs upon the mind,
And turns to poison pleasure that has passed,
Did still its thorn within my bosom lodge,
As I the past recalled; but shame, indeed,
Left not its cruel sting within this heart.
To heaven, to you, ye gentle souls, I swear,
No base desire intruded on my thought;
But with a pure and sacred flame I burned.
That flame still lives, and that affection pure;
Still in my thought that lovely image breathes,
From which, save heavenly, I no other joy,
Have ever known; my only comfort, now!