By Simone Marchesi, Princeton University.
There are two orders of observations that may be made about this remarkable and remarkably popular song. The first concerns the homogeneity and coherence of its lyrics with those of another song Paoli composed in the same turn of years, Il cielo in una stanza (1960). The second has to do with the intratextual coherence of several elements interspersed in the song itself.
First, an intertextual comparison with Il cielo in una stanza. Both songs apparently deal with standard romantic situations: the dream-like state which lovers enter when they are together and the absolute and absorbing quality of erotic passion, respectively. One element that binds these songs together beyond their situational commonality, however, is their shared mobilizing of ‘vague and indefinite’ expressions to characterize the various situations at hand. In Il cielo in una stanza, the trees that replace the walls of the lovers’ room are programmatically infinite; its ceiling is replaced by an immense sky; the sound of a harmonica dilates to resemble that of an organ; the world is reduced to nothing. The same set of notions constellates Senza fine: the endlessness of the title is immediately paired with instantaneity, in a micro/macro equivalence that doubles the all-and-nothing setup of the nothing and world in the previous song. Similarly, a set of astral bodies –moon, stars, sun, and sky– is discounted in favor of the one and only (infinite) object of desire: the dedicatory tu of the song. In the Italian lyrical tradition, such a focus is neither a new nor a neutral choice. Giacomo Leopardi, in an 1819 page of his Zibaldone, practically coeval of his celebrated poem L’Infinito, discusses the intrinsically poetic quality of such expressions, which are designed to recover, insofar as possible in an adult consciousness, and replicate, again insofar as possible in the adult language of sensibility, the naturally poetic experience of reality that characterizes the subject’s childhood.
The song is also particularly interesting for its deeper structure as a calendrical mechanism. The attention to time is, of course, as immediately evident as it is paramount in the lyrics. The first stanza establishes that whoever (or whatever) the ‘you’ in the song may be, it is responsible for the sweeping and breathless motion of our life, a motion that is measured in psychological terms, through dreams of the future and memories of one’s past, as well as in chronological terms: there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, only an endless instant. While the song is vague and indefinite in the way it treats the instantaneous, ever-present time of the experience it recounts, the final stanza is extremely precise in its renouncing specific objects that are not simply celestial, but most clearly time-setters. The first dyadic structure opposes quite simply night and day, by contrasting the moon with the sun and the fully starred night sky with the empty daytime sky. But there is perhaps more. Moon and stars, sun and sky are each responsible for a way in which humans measure time. The cyclical patterns of the sun give us the measure of the day, those of the moon control the months, those of the stars (i.e. of the constellations) mark the progression of the year. In the imaginary setting of the song, the cielo is empty and unmarked, but it too may be seen in a strict if not immediately evident connection with time. The Primum mobile, an empty heaven extending beyond the seven planetary spheres and the sphere of the fixed stars, is actually a staple element of Aristotelian, pre-Copernican conceptions of the universe, one which Dante’s Paradiso specifically deems to be the origin of Time. As Dante puts it in Paradiso XXVII.115-118, the Primum mobile is the heaven whose “motion is not measured by another’s, / but from it all the rest receive their measures” and, in a suggestive metaphor, ‘the flowerpot in which time has its roots’.