The Italian romantic poet Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827) spent the last eleven years of his life in a voluntary exile in England, where he was initially lionised but fell out of favour and died at Turnham Green after a spell in debtor’s prison. This poem clearly owes much to Catullus’s famous elegy ‘Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus’, but Foscolo adds a measure of Italian pathos to Roman gravity: Catullus, for example, makes no mention of his mother.
The translation that follows, which makes no attempt to imitate Foscolo’s rich rhyme scheme, is my own.
In Morte Del Fratello Giovanni
Un dí, s’io non andrò sempre fuggendo
Di gente in gente, me vedrai seduto
Su la tua pietra, o fratel mio, gemendo
Il fior de’ tuoi gentili anni caduto.
La madre or sol, suo dí tardo traendo,
Parla di me col tuo cenere muto,
Ma io deluse a voi le palme tendo;
E se da lunge i miei tetti saluto.
Sento gli avversi Numi, e le secrete
Cure che al viver tuo furon tempesta,
E prego anch’io nel tuo porto quïete.
Questo di tanta speme oggi mi resta!
Straniere genti, almen le ossa rendete
Allora al petto della madre mesta.
On The Death of His Brother Giovanni
One day, brother, when I’m done with this
Wandering from tribe to tribe, you’ll find me
Seated by your stone at last, lamenting
The fallen flower of your gentle years.
Our mother, left alone now, drawing out
Her late days, speaks of me to your mute ashes,
While I reach out vain hands to both of you
Greeting my homeland from afar, and yet
I feel the adverse Fates, the secret cares
That were a tempest to you while you lived,
And I would share with you your quiet haven.
That much of so much hope is left to me!
Strangers, when that day comes, give my bones
Back to the bosom of my grieving mother.