Dead Reckoning


or, The Chorus of the Mummies
in the Laboratory of Frederick Ruysch
by Giacomo Leopardi

Alone in the world
eternal, toward whom
every created thing
returns; in you, Death,
rests our bare nature,
joyful, no, but secure
from ancient pain.
Deep night
blots dark thought
from the confused mind;
and the dry spirit,
feeling no need
for hope and desire,
is freed from anguish
and fear to waste away
the slow and empty eons
without ennui.
Once we lived:
and like the confused
memory of some fright
or fever dream
flits through the soul
of a little one,
so the memory of life
flits through us.
But there is no fear
in the remembering.
What were we?
What was that
bitter instant
we called life?
To our thought today,
life seems some awesome
and mysterious thing,
just like death
seems to be some
unknowable thing
to the living. And
just as the living
flee from death,
so our bare nature
flees the vital
flame of life;
joyful, no,
but secure;
for fate denies
bliss to those subject
to death,
and to the dead,

translation APVoine