'The perfect idyll' turns 200

Perhaps the most famous poem in the Italian language is a brief idyll composed of fifteen loose hendecasyllables in which the poet, about to climb a hill, sees a hedge that blocks his view. His mind begins to wander, and he fantisises about unknown and endless places, where peace and tranquility reign. The hedge blocking his view becomes a springboard to the inner self.

The poem is called L' Infinito or ‘Infinity’ and the poet is one who has played an important role in Italian culture, the celebrated Giacomo Leopardi.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of this masterpiece of the Italian language. On the 28th May, the Countess Olimpia Leopardi, a direct descendant of the poet, organized a flash mob in which thousands of students recited L'Infinito in the Piazzetta del Sabato del Villaggio in the poet’s native town of Recanati, but also in squares, schools, libraries, prisons, and ships throughout Italy and abroad.  

‘It seemed right to set the initiative in the Piazzetta del Sabato del Villaggio,’ said the countess, ‘symbolically linking it to all the Italian Piazzas to transform them from a place where people pass each other by, ignoring each other or even colliding with each other, into a space of spiritual sharing, to build a future “beyond the hedge”.’

Manuscript of L'Infinito

The importance and affection that Italians have for this poem is underlined by the fact that we have chosen to celebrate its bicentennial, something that does not happen every day. There are also many professors who decide to read it in class, even when it is not part of the official school program, making it a cross to bear or sometimes a delight for students who are a little bored, occasionally evoking bitter memories for those who left school long ago.

In support of the celebrations, the Progetto Infinito Leopardi was set up chaired by the Comitato Nazionale per le celebrazioni del bicentenario de L’Infinito di Giacomo Leopardi (The National Committee for the bicentennial celebrations of L’Infinito by Giocamo Leopardi), created in turn by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities. Throughout 2019 there will be plenty of shows, exhibitions, conferences and publications dedicated to L'Infinito and the work of Leopardi. The focal point of the event will be the exhibition at Villa Colloredo Mels in Recanati of the signed manuscript of L'Infinito which will return after 120 years to the poet's city.

I N F I N I T O                                                                                                                          

Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle,

E questa siepe, che da tanta parte

Dell’ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.

Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati

Spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani

Silenzi, e profondissima quiete

Io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco

Il cor non si spaura. E come il vento

Odo stormir tra queste piante,

io quello Infinito silenzio a questa voce

Vo comparando: e mi sovvien l’eterno,

E le morte stagioni, e la presente

E viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa

Immensit{ s’annega il pensier mio:

E il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare.


This lonely hill was always dear to me,

and this hedgerow, which cuts off the view

of so much of the last horizon.

But sitting here and gazing, I can see

beyond, in my mind’s eye, unending spaces,

and superhuman silences, and depthless calm,

till what I feel

is almost fear. And when I hear

the wind stir in these branches, I begin

comparing that endless stillness with this noise:

and the eternal comes to mind,

and the dead seasons, and the present

living one, and how it sounds.

So my mind sinks in this immensity:

and foundering is sweet in such a sea.

English translation by Jonathan Galassi