There are only 41 of them, but they were the distillation of a lifetime’s thinking in poetry, continually reworked until his death in 1837 at 39. They include some of the most famous poems in Italian. Leopardi lived much of his life in Recanati, a backwater within the backward Papal States near Ancona. This spurred him on to become something of a literary prodigy: by 11 he had translated Horace’s Odes and was well on the way to having taught himself Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish and English. His father had already dismissed the priest who was instructing young Giacomo in Latin for having nothing more to teach him. Through his teenage years he embarked on what he later described as “seven years of insane and desperate study” in his father’s library of 16,000 volumes. He ruined his health and developed a serious hunchback. Leopardi is Italy’s great romantic poet, and while there are similarities with Wordsworth and Coleridge, the contrasts are more striking. Most of these stem from Giacomo’s cosmic pessimism. Leopardi looked to classical authors for ideals of rationality and stoicism to face the suffering and nullity of the world. For this he was at odds with his century’s frenzied rallying calls to nationalism and progress, and more in line with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, both of whom he influenced. For literary historian Francesco De Sanctis, Leopardi’s scepticism heralds the end of the world of theology and metaphysics and the inauguration of material nihilism.
more from Simon West at The Australian here.