Eugenio Montale

View: Eugenio Montale Poems

Italian poet, prose writer, editor and translator who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1975. Montale made his breakthrough as one of the chief architects of modern Italian poetry in the 1920s. The Italian writer Italo Calvino has called Montale’s LA BUFERA E ALTRO (1956) “the finest book to have emerged from the Second World War”. Montale was also a student of music – especially bel canto. In his work, Montale focused on the dilemmas of modern history, philosophy, love, and human existence.

Eugenio Montale was born in Genoa. He was the youngest of five children of Domenico Montale, who ran an import business, and Giuseppina (Ricci) Montale. His formal education was cut short by ill heath. Montale spent his summers at the family villa in a small village nearby the Ligurian Riviera, and later images from its harsh landscape later found their way into his poetry. Originally Montale aspired to be an opera singer, but he also was interested in literature, especially Italian classics, French fiction and such philosophers as Arthur Schopenhauer, Benedetto Croce, and Henri Bergson. During World War I he served as an infantry officer on the Austrian front. Upon to his return to his family home, Montale took up singing again. After the death of his voice teacher in 1923, he abandoned his operatic hopes, and started his literary career by writing for several publications.

A white dove has landed me
among headstones, under spires where the sky nests.
Dawns and lights in air; I’ve loved the sun,
colors of honey, now I crave the dark,
I want the smoldering fire, this tomb
that doesn’t soar, your stare that dares it to.

(from Collected Poems, 1920-1954, trans. by Jonathan Galassi)

In 1927 Montale moved to Florence, where he worked briefly for a publishing house. He was appointed director of the Gabinetto Viesseux research library in 1928. He worked as a critic, and along with James Joyce helped the writer Italo Calvino (1861-1928) to gain critical attention. His first collection of poetry was OSSI DI SEPPIA (1925, Bones of the Cuttlefish). It included several poems about Liguria and its scenery. In the following collections, such as OCCASIONI (1939, The Occasions), Montale’s expression grew more subjective and introspective. The love poems of The Occasions are about “Clizia” who has been identified with Irma Brandeis, a Jewish-American scholar of Dante, whom Montale met in the 1930s and who appeared as his Beatrice or Laura in several of his poems.

With his difficult, pessimistic, and obscure poems Montale was superficially associated with his contemporaries Giuseppe Ungaretti and Salvatore Quasimodo representatives of hermeticism in poetry. Loosely, the term denotes obscure, difficult poetry, in which the symbolism and images are subjective and the words have emotionally suggestive power. He once noted, “The poet does not know – often he will never know – whom he really writes for.”

Montale was always an opponent of fascism, but he showed understanding to Ezra Pound, in spite of Pound’s sympathies for the Fascist regime. In 1938 Montale was dismissed from his cultural post for refusing to join the Fascist Party. His poems were not included in school syllabuses, but Italo Calvino mentions in his essay ‘Eugenio Montale, ‘Forse un mattino andando” (1976), that he learned several of them by heart in the early 1940s. Montale withdrew from public life and spent the following years translating into Italian such writers as William Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Herman Melville, Eugene O`Neill and others. He was especially impressed by Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, which he translated into Italian. It caught the pessimism and mood of confusion felt by many between the world wars, but whereas Eliot remained for many readers inaccessible, Montale was more open, and also expressed feelings of love. Politicians he despised, and he was sarcastic about every “cleric, red or black”. Eliot knew Montale’s work and published a translation of Montale’s ‘Arsenio’ in an early number of The Criterion.

After the war Montale moved to Milan, where he wrote the literary page for Corriere della sera, the most influential Italian daily newspaper. He wrote among others about Ettore Schmitz, who became famous as the author Italo Svevo, W.H. Auden, a “cosmopolitan poet in every sense of the word,” Emily Dickinson, “a virile soul”, and Henry Furst, an unknown poet who published his poetry in private editions. Montale reviewed almost all important new Italian books and his opinions influenced other reviewers. In spite of Ezra Pound’s sympathies for the Fascist regime in the 1930s, he considered Pound a profoundly good man.

In 1967 Montale became a member-for-life of the Italian Senate. He died in Milan on September 12, 1981. Montale was married to Drusilla Tanzi; she had separated from her husband in the late 1930s, but Montale and Tanzi were not married until in 1958, after her husband died. The couple had no children. In Xenia(1966) Montale dealt with love and marriage. His wife, called Mosca (fly), had died in 1963, and in the title poem of the collection he wrote: “They say my poetry / is a poetry of unbelonging. / But if it was yours it was someone’s, / yours, who are no longer form, but essence.”

Web Source: Books and Writers


Nobel Prize for literature