“Va, pensiero” also known in English as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, is a chorus from the third act of Nabucco (1842) by Giuseppe Verdi, with words by Temistocle Solera, inspired by Psalm 137. Known as Verdi’s “Jewish” work of art, it recollects the story of Jewish exiles from Judea after the loss of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The opera with its powerful chorus established Verdi as a major composer in 19th-century Italy. The full incipit is Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate, meaning “Fly, thought, on wings of gold”.
Here it is sung by the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera House in a 2002 production.
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…
O, 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 Sòlima ai fati
traggi un suono di crudo lamento,
o t’ispiri il Signore un concento
che ne infonda al patire virtù.
Fly, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!
Greet the banks of the Jordan
and Zion’s toppled towers…
Oh, my country, so beautiful and lost!
Oh, remembrance, so dear and so fatal!
Golden harp of the prophetic seers,
why dost thou hang mute upon the willow?
Rekindle our bosom’s memories,
and speak to us of times gone by!
Mindful of the fate of Jerusalem,
give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
or may the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.