Sit down. Look up.

Georges Barthouil on Leopardi’s attitude to travel:

Leopardi was not a great traveller. In fact he imagined his foreign travels…

Surely he had long wanted to escape his ancestral prison at Recanati in the Marches:

However, escaping from a prison is not the same as giving in to the temptation of travel. He did not feel particularly drawn to it; neither did he feel any powerful sense of curiosity. In this respect, and indeed in many others, he was very similar to Vigny, his contemporary, who felt that foreign travel was simply useless, since one had to transport oneself along with other hindrances.

According to Barthouil, Leopardi lived in a half-dozen Italian cities but that doesn’t qualify as travel. At any rate, he never left Italy. (If I were Italian, I’m not sure I’d want to.) On the other hand, says Barthouil, Leopardi wasn’t interested in travel “around his room” – he wasn’t given to imagining multiple faraway countries in all the varied detail of their phantom richness. This said, one of his greatest poems was inspired, to some extent, by a travelog: Il canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia.

Over to Alfred de Vigny. Under the rubric “poems to write,” we find this note, apparently from 1856:

Traveling, you say? What does it mean, travel?

If I were instantly transported to the island of Hong Kong or to Grenade, what would I do? One look would reveal the whole country to me; one pencil stroke would preserve its appearance for me. Afterwards, this moment gone by, I would take up again my philosophic dreams, my poetic delights, my metaphysical reveries.

What land would be novel enough to my thinking to surprise it? What country is there of which I can’t have an image in advance?

What region would draw my glance to turn it away from the sky; isn’t the sky everywhere?

Sit down, then, raise your head to the sky, watch and think.

Unsurprising, perhaps, coming from a poet approaching sixty, a semi-permanent resident of a modest manor house in a small provincial town. In fact, Sainte-Beuve had associated Vigny’s name with the ivory tower nearly twenty years earlier, in 1837. An insidious relegation, argued René Pomeau in 1949.

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