Va’ pensiero (Hasten, thoughts)

This famous aria from the Nabucco opera was written in 1842 by Giuseppe Verdi using lyrics by the poet Temistocle Solera. While it is officially about the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, the words clearly refer to the condition of Italy, which at the time was under Austrian rule. For this reason the song has become a sort of second national anthem, and it was actually proposed as such several times in substitution of the frankly much uglier Fratelli d’Italia.

Va’ pensiero (the apostrophe is there as the word is the truncated form of ‘Vai’, meaning ‘go!’) is however unofficially used as a hymn in several instances, the most famous of which is the traditional New Year’s Eve Concert. More controversially, it has been adopted as a symbolic anthem both by the Lega Nord secessionist party and by the people of Istria, Fiume and Dalmatia when the former Yugoslavia annexed their territories forcibly exiling them. The lyrics use many aulic and outdated words, so even many young Italians don’t easily understand its meaning!

Italian lyrics

Va’, pensiero, sull’ali dorate;
Va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli,
ove olezzano tepide e molli
l’aure dolci del suolo natal!
Del Giordano le rive saluta,
di Sionne le torri atterrate…
Oh mia Patria sì bella e perduta!
O membranza sì cara e fatal!
Arpa d’or dei fatidici vati,
perché muta dal salice pendi?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi,
ci favella del tempo che fu!
O simile di Solima ai fati,
traggi un suono di crudo lamento;
o t’ispiri il Signore un concento
che ne infonda al patire virtù!

English translation

Hasten thoughts on golden wings.
Hasten and rest on the densely wooded hills,
where warm and fragrant and soft
are the gentle breezes of our native land!
The banks of the Jordan we greet
and the towers of Zion.
O, my homeland, so beautiful and lost!
O memories, so dear and yet so deadly!
Golden harp of our prophets,
why do you hang silently on the willow?
Rekindle the memories of our hearts,
and speak of the times gone by!
Or, like the fateful Solomon,
draw a lament of raw sound;
or permit the Lord to inspire us
to endure our suffering!