Canti, 1831, 1835 (includes expanded version of Versi; English translation, 1962)
I paralipomeni della batracomiomachia, 1842 (The War of the Mice and the Crabs, 1976)
The Poems of Leopardi, 1923, 1973
Selected Poems of Giacomo Leopardi, 1995
Pompeo in Egitto, wr. 1812
Telesilla, wr. 1819
Storia dell’astronomia, 1813 (History of Astronomy, 1882)
Saggio sopra gli errori popolari degli antichi, 1815 (Essay on the Popular Superstitions of the Ancients, 1882)
Discorso sopra la vita e le opere deM. Cornelio Frontone, 1816
Il salterio Ebraico, 1816
Discorso di un Italiano intorno alla poesia romantica, 1818 (Discourse of an Italian Concerning Romantic Poetry, 1882)
Crestomazia, 1827, 1828 (2 volumes)
Operette morali, 1827, 1834, 1836 (Essays and Dialogues, 1882)
Cento undici pensieri, 1845 (Pensieri, 1981)
The Letters of Giacomo Leopardi, 1817-1837, 1998
Giacomo Leopardi (lay-oh-PAHR-dee), the most distinguished Italian lyricist of the nineteenth century and Italy’s great contribution to European Romanticism, was born on June 29, 1798, to a noble but impoverished family in the provincial town of Recanati, close to the French border. Encouraged by his piously strict parents not merely to study but to drown in learning, Leopardi had an astounding but rather pathetic childhood. At the age of fifteen he could read and write Greek, and for the next two years he produced elaborate editions of classical writers, the publication of which won for him some notice from scholars.
Pursuing fame as urged by his parents, in 1816 he produced an imitative “Ode to Neptune” in classical Greek that convinced many scholars that a new work from antiquity had been discovered. However, at the age of eighteen, with almost ruined eyesight and a back permanently damaged by curvature of the spine, Leopardi suffered a breakdown; it was partly physical but largely a psychological rebellion against his unnatural regimen. Creative imagination saved him: He began to write his original poetry during his convalescence. Unable to pursue scholarly ambitions (which up to this time had been undertaken in almost utter isolation, without schools or tutors), and growing hostile to his family and his dull little town, Leopardi began to send his early verse and prose to noted men of letters of the day, hoping for help.
He found a patron in Abbate Pietro Giordani, a politician and a patriotic writer, who visited him and encouraged him. In answer to Madame de Staël’s famous work on German Romanticism, Leopardi penned an essay that was to become its Italian equivalent. In it he called for Italian writers to use their own folklore, their own customs, and their own dialects in order to embody the imagination of the South and the Mediterranean rather than imitating the Germans and their poetic themes. In 1824 he wrote most of his satirical dialogue, Essays and Dialogues (though three more installments were written from 1825 to 1827, and two in 1832). Almost Swiftian in nature, these imaginary conversations are devoted to stripping humankind of its sentimental illusions about its grandeur in the world of unpredictable nature.
In 1825 Leopardi received a contract to do a new edition of Cicero for a publisher in Milan and escaped from Recanati for three years. Ill health sent him back to his home, much against his will, but some of his finest work was done there in 1828 and 1829. In 1830 he left home for good, and the remaining few years of his life were spent in Florence and Naples with Antonio Ranieri and his wife. Soldier, liberal, and writer, Ranieri later was to become the first biographer of Leopardi, who died in Ranieri’s home in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius on June 14, 1837.
There is much akin to William Wordsworth in Leopardi’s poems, especially the scenes of wood, field, and village rich in naturalistic detail. The spirit of the Italian lyricist is quite different, however; his nature presents a much more darkly ambiguous scene than that of the English poet’s. Undoubtedly as a result of an anguished life, Leopardi’s poetry is suffused with a grimness quite alien to Wordsworth. In his greatest work, his joy in the creative imagination matches or even triumphs over his despair about the life of humans in the world. One of the finest images of this complex attitude is the flower of “The Broom,” a lyric written during the last summer of his life. This plant, with its rich color and fragrance, grows in crusted volcanic ash. It displays its beauty despite the volcano towering above, which has destroyed it before and will destroy it again.