Giacomo Leopardi (b. June 29, 1798 Recanati, Italy – d. June 14, 1837 Naples) was a nineteenth century Italian poet, essayist, scholar, philosopher, philologist, and atheist. He has been ranked alongside Dante as one of the most important Italian literary figures, and praised by Schoepenhauer, Leopardi’s influence can be seen in modern modes of thought such as nihilism and existentialism. Though revered by Italians as one of their greatest thinkers, Leopardi has remained relatively obscure elsewhere. Among his important works are his Canti, a collection of poems completed in 1835, Operette Morali or “Small Moral Works”, and the Zibaldone.
Published in seven volumes in 1898, over a half century after his death, the Zibaldone is essentially a very large miscellany of observations, personal thoughts, essays, literary criticism, and philological writing. It wasn’t until 1937 when the work was republished that it became widely known as Zibaldone. Among its themes are pessimism, the human condition, and our excesses against nature. The first English translation of the work was published in Britain and America in the summer of 2013, and is over two thousand pages long.
From the Zibaldone (p. 2118 of Leopardi’s original manuscript, p.920 of the new English translation, FSG 2013):
It is pleasurable to be the spectator of vigorous, etc. etc., actions of any sort, not only those relative to man. Thunder, storm, hail, a strong wind, seen or heard, and its effects, etc. Every keen sensation in man brings with it a vein of pleasure, however unpleasurable it is within itself, however terrible, or painful, etc. I heard a farmer whose land was often severely damaged by a nearby river say that nonetheless the sight of the flood was a pleasure as it advanced, rushing swiftly toward his fields, with a thunderous noise, and carrying with it a great mass of rocks, mud, etc. And such images, while ugly in themselves, always turn out to be beautiful in poetry, in painting, in eloquence, etc.