Two kinds of imagination: the strong, the promiscuous. One can exist without the other. Homer’s and Dante’s were strong, Ovid’s and Ariosto’s promiscuous. An important distinction when praising poets, or anyone, for their imagination. A strong imagination fast makes a man unhappy because his feeling runs so deep, but a promiscuous imagination cheers him because of its variety, because it nimbly visits then leaves all its objects and does so with a heady heedlessness. The two have very different characters. The first weighty, impassioned, usually (nowadays) melancholic, with deep emotion and passion, all fraught with life hugely suffered. The other playful, light, fleet, inconstant in love, high spirited, incapable of really strong, enduring passions and mental pain, quick to console itself even during the hardest times, etc. These two characters also yield clear portraits of Dante and Ovid: you see how the difference in their poetry corresponds exactly to the difference in their lives. Even more, you see how differently Dante and Ovid experienced exile. The same faculty of the human spirit is thus mother to contrary effects, qualities so different as to make the imagination seem virtually two different faculties. I don’t think that the deep imagination inspires courage, because it makes danger, pain, etc., so much more real and immediate than reflection does. What deliberation tells, deep imagination shows. And I believe that an imagination that does foster courage—such poets certainly don’t lack imagination, because enthusiasm always goes hand in hand with imagination and derives from it—belongs more to the deliberative, promiscuous type.
more from Giacomo Leopardi’s 19th century daybook at Poetry here.