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The Milky Way

The rich drop bombs, the poor plant bombs; armies crush their enemies en masse from above; terrorists counterattack from below in blind spasms. Above all this hatred lies The Milky Way.

Missiles use it to guide their trajectories toward their targets with mathematical precision, but that instrument of nocturnal battles also serves the confused dreams of poets and the instincts of the dung beetle.

Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa—Glimmering stars of Ursa Major.

Thus begins the poem of Leopardi in which he recalls lying in the grass of the garden on summer nights watching the carriage of the Great Bear in the sky, listening to the whispering of the wind in the fragrant footpaths, the quiet performance of their domestic chores by the servants in the house and thinking of the arcane joy of freeing himself from grief and crossing the sea and the blue mountains one day.

The other night, The Milky Way spread over the crowd that filled the stadium after passing through a neurotic deployment of police. During the moment of silence in homage to the victims of terrorism, they played The Marseillaise, interpreted by a slow organ, and the soccer players of Real Madrid and “La Barca” [Barcelona Football Club], lined up in the middle of the playing field, wearing sweats to hide the names of Qatar and The Emirates which were displayed on the shirts of their uniforms.

While La Marseillaise was ringing, I was looking at the Milky Way and thinking about the missiles that adjust their flight paths using the stars; recalling the verses of Leopardi; and imagining the work that a dung beetle might be doing at that moment.

The dung beetle, with all the patience the task demands, constructs a ball with the feces it finds in its territory and drags the ball to its nest so the female dung beetle may deposit a larva in it. In this nocturnal excursion, it is guided by The Milky Way, like the poets; like the bombers.

Lovely stars of Ursa Major, I never dreamed

I would return to gaze at you, as before,

sparkling above my father’s gardens,

or meditate on you, from the window

of the same house I lived in as a child,

where I saw an end to all my happiness.

What imaginings, what fancies the sight

of you, the lights of your company,

used to create then in my thoughts!

Then I used to sit silent on green grass,

spending the greater part of the evening,

watching the sky, hearing the croaking

of frogs far off in the countryside!

And the fireflies flickering here and there

in hedges, flowers, the breeze sighing

from scented roadways, the cypress trees,

that woodland: under my father’s roof

conversation echoed, and the calm work

of the servants. What immense thoughts,

what sweet dreams breathed in me at the sight

of the distant ocean, those azure hills

that I can see from here, and that I hoped

to cross one day, imagining secret worlds

and arcane delights to support my existence!

Ignorant of my fate, how often

I wished to exchange this sad

naked life of mine, for death.

I never thought in my heart that in my green

youth I’d be condemned to waste away

in my barbarous native place, among a vile,

loutish race: where learning and wisdom

are foreign words, and a cause of mockery

and laughter.


One Comment

  1. LouisBedrock December 31, 2015

    “La Barca” refers to the Barcelona Football Club.
    The Barcelona Football Club has nothing to do with Leopardi’s lovely poem.

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