21 Nov The Ruling Thought
The Ruling Thought
by Giacomo Leopardi
Most sweet, most powerful,
Controller of my inmost soul;
The terrible, yet precious gift
Of heaven, companion kind
Of all my days of misery,
O thought, that ever dost recur to me;
Of thy mysterious power
Who speaketh not? Who hath not felt
Its subtle influence?
Yet, when one is by feeling deep impelled
Its secret joys and sorrows to unfold,
The theme seems ever new however old.
How isolated is my mind,
Since thou in it hast come to dwell!
As by some magic spell,
My other thoughts have all,
Like lightning, disappeared;
And thou, alone, like some huge tower,
In a deserted plain,
Gigantic, solitary, dost remain.
How worthless quite,
Save but for thee, have in my sight
All earthly things, and life itself become!
How wearisome its days;
And all its works, and all its plays,
A vain pursuit of pleasures vain,
Compared with the felicity,
The heavenly joy, that springs from thee!
As from the naked rocks
Of the rough Apennine,
The weary pilgrim turns his longing eyes
To the bright plain that in the distance lies;
So from the rough and barren intercourse
Of worldly men, to thee I gladly turn,
As to a Paradise, my weary mind,
And sweet refreshment for my senses find.
It seems to me incredible, that I
This dreary world, this wretched life,
So full of folly and of strife,
Without thy aid, could have so long endured;
Nor can I well conceive,
How one’s desires could cling
To other joys than those which thou dost bring.
Never, since first I knew
By hard experience what life is,
Could fear of death my soul subdue.
To-day, a jest to me appears,
That which the silly world,
Praising at times, yet ever hates and fears,
The last extremity!
If danger comes, I, with undaunted mien,
Its threats encounter with a smile serene.
I always hated coward souls,
And meanness held in scorn.
Now, each unworthy act
At once through all my senses thrills;
Each instance vile of human worthlessness,
My soul with holy anger fills.
This arrogant, this foolish age,
Which feeds itself on empty hopes,
Absorbed in trifles, virtue’s enemy,
Which idly clamors for utility,
And has not sense enough to see
How useless all life thenceforth must become,
I feel beneath me, and its judgments laugh
To scorn. The motley crew,
The foes of every lofty thought,
Who laugh at thee, I trample under foot.
To that, which thee inspires,
What passion yieldeth not?
What other, save this one,
Controls our hearts’ desires?
Ambition, avarice, disdain, and hate,
The love of power, love of fame,
What are they but an empty name,
Compared with it? And this,
The source, the spring of all,
That sovereign reigns within the breast,
Eternal laws have on our hearts impressed.
Life hath no value, meaning hath,
Save but for thee, our only hope and stay;
The sole excuse for Fate,
That cruelly hath placed us here,
To undergo such useless misery;
For thee alone, the wise man, not the fool,
To life still fondly clings,
Nor calls on death to end his sufferings.
Thy joys to gather, thou sweet thought,
Long years of sorrow I endure,
And bear of weary life the strain;
But not in vain!
And I would still return,
In spite of all my sad experience,
Towards such a goal, my course to recommence;
For through the sands, and through the viper-brood
Of this, our mortal wilderness,
My steps I ne’er so wearily have dragged
To thee, that all the danger and distress
Were not repaid by such pure happiness.
O what a world, what new immensity,
What paradise is that,
To which, so oft, by thy stupendous charm
Impelled, I seem to soar! Where I
Beneath a brighter light am wandering,
And my poor earthly state,
And all life’s bitter truths forget!
Such are, I ween, the dreams
Of the Immortals. Ah, what but a dream,
Art thou, sweet thought,
The truth, that thus embellished?
A dream, an error manifest!
But of a nature, still divine,
An error brave and strong,
That will with truth the fight prolong,
And oft for truth doth compensate;
Nor leave us e’er, till summoned hence by Fate.
And surely thou, my thought,
Thou sole sustainer of my days,
The cause beloved of sorrows infinite,
In Death alone wilt be extinguished quite;
For by sure signs within my soul I feel
Thy sovereign sway, perpetual.
All other fancies sweet
The aspect of the truth
Hath weakened ever. But whene’er I turn
To gaze again on her, of whom with thee
To speak, is all I live for, ah,
That great delight increases still,
That frenzy fine, the breath of life, to me!
Angelic beauty! Every lovely face,
On which I gaze,
A phantom seems to me,
That vainly strives to copy thee,
Of all the graces that our souls inthral,
Sole fount, divine original!
Since first I thee beheld,
Of what most anxious care of mine,
Hast thou not been the end and aim?
What day has ever passed, what hour,
When I thought not of thee? What dream of mine
Has not been haunted by thy face divine?
Angelic countenance, that we
In dreams, alas, alone may see,
What else on earth, what in the universe,
Do I e’er ask, or hope for, more,
Than those dear eyes forever to behold?
Than thy sweet thought still in my heart to hold?