Poetry on Lockdown is a blog series in which writers and Library staff reflect upon poems chosen from our website. They’ll write about how the poem is providing comfort and inspiration during the lockdown. Today, our Deputy Director Aly Barr looks at Edwin Morgan‘s translation of Leopardi’s ‘Infinity’.
We are old friends, this lonely hill and I –
and this hedge too, shutting out from sight
so much of the horizon’s farthest reach.
but here I sit and brood, and boundless are
the spaces spread beyond it, unearthlier
the silences, and deep, so deep the stillness:
I build these in my thought; build this brief truce
for the heart’s fears. And when I hear the wind
moving and ruffling through these leaves, I set
its voice against that infinite thing, that silence:
and I look back over eternity,
and the dead seasons, and this season here
with its life, and the sound of life. And so my thought
drowns in the midst of this immensity;
I never foundered in a sea so sweet.
It’s the quiet that’s really struck me. I live in a busy city: the sounds of traffic, sirens, planes and sometimes, in the dead of night, distant trains are the acoustic lingua franca that hum in the background. Since the lockdown? At times almost nothing.
Leopardi gazes at the hedge that blocks his view and broods. We immediately know where he is and what he’s doing. Sitting at a desk or a kitchen table, absorbing the sights and sounds outside and letting it all in. He appears to simultaneously be having an existential crisis and a moment of rapture as he stares into the void with both his eye and mind’s eye. He seems to be heading towards an unweaving of the rainbow: gloomily picking apart his reality.
However, it remains a very personal poem. A lonely hill is an old friend; the heart’s fears are to be parlayed with into a truce; the leaves have a voice. He’s capturing a brief moment of stillness in and around himself which, in normal times, would be a fleeting thing to the busy reader. The last line is such a relief: it’s all going to be okay. The poet altruistically offers grace as a reward for our Nietzschean brush with the abyss.
As I myself sit here and brood, a garden wall blocks from sight the horizon’s farthest reach. I wonder whether this strange time of quarantine and dancing the social-distancing do-si-do with strangers will be remembered as a dead season or have we never foundered in a sea so sweet?