Dialogue Between a Calender-Seller and a Passer-By

By Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)
Translated from Italian by Patrick Gasperini (*)

- February 2002 -

[Giacomo Leopardi was a Romantic poet marked by radical pessimism. This dialogue was written in 1832--probably in Florence--and appeared in the 1834 edition of his Operette Morali (Moral Tales).]

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Calendars, new calendars. New almanacs. Do you need a new calendar, sir?

PASSER-BY:
New year's calendars?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Yes, sir.

PASSER-BY:
Do you think this year will be a happy one?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Of course, sir.

PASSER-BY:
As happy as the year just gone by?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Much happier.

PASSER-BY:
As happy as the year before last?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Very much happier, sir.

PASSER-BY:
As happy as what other year? Wouldn't you like the new year to be like one of the past few years?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
No, sir. I don't think I would.

PASSER-BY:
How many new years have passed since you started selling calendars?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Some twenty years, sir.

PASSER-BY:
Which of those twenty years would you like the new year to be similar to?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
I don't know.

PASSER-BY:
Can't you remember any year in the past that you think was really happy?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
To tell the truth, I can't, sir.

PASSER-BY:
But life is beautiful, isn't it?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Everyone knows that.

PASSER-BY:
Wouldn't you like to live those last twenty years again, as well as all the time since the day you were born?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
I wish I could!

PASSER-BY:
But would you like to live exactly the same kind of life you have led--nothing more than that--with the same joys and the same sorrows?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
I wouldn't like that!

PASSER-BY:
Oh...whose life would you like to live, then? my life? or a prince's? or who else's? Don't you think that I, and the prince, and anyone else, would answer just as you have. Don't you think that no one would go back if he had to live the same kind of life again?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
I don't think so.

PASSER-BY:
And would you, if you had no other choice?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
No, sir. I'd never go back.

PASSER-BY:
So, what kind of life would you like to have?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
I'd like to have a life just as God sends it to me, without any other agreement.

PASSER-BY:
A life of chance? A life you know nothing about, just as you don't know anything about the new year?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
That's right.

PASSER-BY:
That's what I'd like myself if I were to live again. And that's what everyone would like. But this means that fate has ill-treated everyone so far. If no one would like to be born again if his life was given back to him with the same amount of good and evil, it is plain that everyone thinks that his sorrows have either outnumbered or outweighed his joys. That life, which everybody believes to be a beautiful thing, is not the life we know, but the life we don't know; not the past life, but the life yet to come. When the new year begins, fate will start to treat you, me and everyone else favourably, and that will be the beginning of a happy life. Don't you agree?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
I hope so.

PASSER-BY:
So, could you show me the most beautiful calendar you have?

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Here it is, sir. It's thirty pence.

PASSER-BY:
Here you are.

CALENDAR-SELLER:
Thank you very much, sir. Goodbye. Calendars, new calendars. New almanacs.


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