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SCHOOL/ How to study in May with Leopardi

VALERIO CAPASA discusses how difficult it is to study in May, near the end of the year, and what Leopardi could teach us about studying and loving what we study.

(Fotolia) (Fotolia)

When May comes around again, the desire to study decreases. In the classroom, but also outside, weary words, accumulated burdens, and the hurry to be finished are in the air. The sea calls, and certainly we are not all like Leopardi: it is known that that morose man threw his teen years overboard with "seven years of mad and desperate study" (though, on the other hand, I might be permitted to say, what is the harm in someone born with a poetic talent devoting all his time to that talent? Does anyone have a problem with Messi spending his entire adolescence with a soccer ball?). However, for those not born with a talent for studying, in May the world calls more than ever, and studying can wait, postponed until September.

It seems to me, however, that there is a prospective on studying and on life that is much more interesting, and that May itself invites us urgently to discover. Let us allow Leopardi himself propose it to us. Do you know the poem A Silvia (To Silvia)? "It was the scented May," indeed, and "the streets around" echoed with the "song" of Silvia, with her voice, "happily content / the vague future in your mind". What did the teenage Leopardi do? He stopped studying and went out on the balcony to hear her sing:

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.

He looked at the sea, and the usual streets were no longer as usual. They were “gold lit” from the May sun and from Silvia’s voice. How could a “human tongue” describe the “thoughts” and “hopes” that sprang into the heart of that young man in love?

In my opinion, the secret to studying lies in these verses. What is needed, for example, to understand A Silvia? Does one need to analyze the text or to go out on the balcony, and perhaps go down in the road, passing under the window of the girl one loves? How can one take in Leopardi’s verses if one lacks the experience of a love in May, one that fills hearts and streets with promise?

Continuing to think that life and the books have nothing to do with each other, that we need to make one last effort and then we will be free, is a devious way to never to be ourselves in what we do, never turn our ears to the sound of either the poets who we have to study or even our own Silvia. Instead, we need to compare our lives with the words we read, on the assumption that a dialogue could open up between those two worlds. Moreover, this perspective alone does not betrays the origin of A Silvia, which was not born within four walls, but from looking out the window, and was not written by a man bent over books, but by one who had stopped studying.