Friday, February 1, 2013

What's in a name? (A rose by any other name)

I have often said that Sylvia is a beautiful name, and I am honoured to have it, but I don't think it really suits me. My Dad named me. He has a cousin named Nella, back in Sicily, she too had a daughter about the same time, and we both are named Sylvia.

An Itailan poet named Giacomo Leopardi wrote a poem about a girl he was infatuated with, Sylvia. It's a beautiful poem and my Dad liked it enough to name his first daughter Sylvia. Sylvia is quite a popular Italian girl's name because of this poem. Somehow in its translation it loses something- as a lot of things do when you translate from Italian to English- I suspect other languages are the same.

So for my non Italians, this is the poem of which my dad named me after.

---- (translation courtesy of ----

1. To Silvia (XXI) -Giacomo Leopardi

Silvia, do you remember
those moments, in your mortal life,
when beauty still shone
in your sidelong, laughing eyes,
and you, light and thoughtful,
leapt beyond girlhood’s limits?

The quiet rooms and the streets
around you, sounded
to your endless singing,
when you sat, happily content,
intent on that woman’s work,
the vague future, arriving alive in your mind.
It was the scented May, and that’s how
you spent your day.

I would leave my intoxicating studies,
and the turned-down pages,
where my young life,
the best of me, was left,
and from the balcony of my father’s house
strain to catch the sound of your voice,
and your hand, quick,
running over the loom.
I’d look at the serene sky,
the gold lit gardens and paths:
this side the mountains, that side the far-off sea.
And human tongue cannot say
what I felt then.

What sweet thoughts,
what hope, what hearts, O my Silvia!
How all human life and fate
appeared to us then!
When I recall that hope
such feelings pain me,
harsh, disconsolate,
I brood on my own destiny.
Oh Nature, Nature
why do you not give now
what you promised then? Why
do you so deceive your children?

Attacked, and conquered, by secret disease,
you died, my tenderest one, and did not see
your years flower, or feel your heart moved,
by sweet praise of your black hair
your shy, loving looks.
No friends talked with you,
on holidays, about love.

My sweet hopes died also
little by little: to me too
Fate has denied those years.
Oh, how you’ve passed me by,
dear friend of my new life,
my saddened hope!
Is this the world, the dreams,
the loves, events, delights,
we spoke about so much together?
Is this our human life?
At the advance of Truth
you fell, unhappy one,
and from the distance,
with your hand you pointed
towards death’s coldness and the silent grave.

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