Authors: Eugenio Montale

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Ossi di seppia, 1925 (partial translation, The Bones of Cuttlefish, 1983; full translation, Cuttlefish Bones, 1992)

Le occasioni, 1939 (The Occasions, 1987)

La bufera e altro, 1956 (The Storm, and Other Poems, 1978)

Poems by Eugenio Montale, 1959

Satura, 1962 (Satura: Five Poems, 1969)

Eugenio Montale: Poesie/Poems, 1965

Selected Poems, 1965

Provisional Conclusions: A Selection of the Poetry of Eugenio Montale, 1970

Satura, 1962-1970, 1971 (English translation, 1998)

Diario del ’71 e del ’72, 1973 (partial translation in New Poems, 1976)

New Poems: A Selection from “Satura” and “Diario del ’71 e del ’72,” 1976

Quaderno di quattro anni, 1977 (It Depends: APoet’s Notebook, 1980)

L’opera in versi, 1980

Diario postumo, 1991-1996 (2 volumes; Posthumous Diary, 2001)

Collected Poems, 1920-1954, 1998

Nonfiction:

Quaderno genovese, wr. 1917, pb. 1983

Farfalla di Dinard, 1956 (short articles, prose poems, memoirs; The Butterfly of Dinard, 1970)

Auto da fé, 1966

Fuori di casa, 1969

Nel nostro tempo, 1972 (Poet in Our Time, 1976)

Sulla poesia, 1976

Prime alla Scala, 1981

The Second Life of Art, 1982.

Biography

When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1975, Eugenio Montale (mohn-TAH-lay) indicated with the title of his acceptance speech, “Is Poetry Still Possible?,” that throughout his career he had experimented with other arts and literary genres–including music, fiction, essay, journalism, criticism, and translation–because he found poetry a limited means of communication and an insufficient means of earning a living. Like all metaphysical poets, Montale found language not only a vehicle of expression but also an obstacle to expressing the absolute truth. During his formative years Montale witnessed World War I and the rise of fascism in Italy, events that caused him to question the role of literature in society.{$I[A]Montale, Eugenio}{$I[geo]ITALY;Montale, Eugenio}{$I[tim]1896;Montale, Eugenio}

Eugenio Montale, Nobel Laureate in Literature for 1975.

(© The Nobel Foundation)

When Montale began writing, the dominant voice in Italian poetry was that of Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose populism and nationalism made him disagreeable to Montale. Reacting against D’Annunzio’s use of words as a call to action during Benito Mussolini’s regime, Montale opted for poetry that expressed universal and eternal truths over poetry with immediate social import. Because of this apolitical stance Montale has been dubbed a Hermetic poet. He resisted that label, claiming that his poetry had spiritual value.

Another Italian who addressed the issue of art’s place in society was Benedetto Croce, the leading literary critic of Montale’s day. Croce, an antifascist, argued for a strict separation between literature and politics because he thought that modernist literature, especially the movement known as decadence, had promoted sensuality and irrationality at the expense of humanism and spirituality. Montale shared Croce’s antifascist views but not his belief that modernist literature had helped fascism justify its own irrational politics.

In 1915 Montale, who aspired to be an opera singer, began to study music. His voice teacher died in 1916 but not before teaching his student an appreciation for Claude Debussy, whose musical devices and effects Montale tried to imitate in his early poetry. Montale served in the military from 1917 to 1919, but his World War I experiences did not provide him with substantial poetic material. Throughout his youth Montale spent summers at his family’s home in the Cinque Terre on the Mediterranean Sea, south of Genoa. This Ligurian coast inspired his first volume of poetry, Cuttlefish Bones. This collection contains a series of poems titled “Mediterranean,” which are meditations upon the sea.

In 1927 Montale took a job with a publisher in Florence, where he was able to make more literary contacts than in Genoa. In 1929 he was appointed director of the Gabinetto Vieusseux, where he worked until he was forced out of his position in 1938 because of his expressed lack of support for the Fascist Party. Montale thereupon resorted to translations in order to make ends meet. During World War II he succeeded in publishing some translations of English and American authors, a significant accomplishment given that Mussolini’s regime often censored translations of literature from Allied countries.

In 1939 Montale published his second major collection of poetry, The Occasions. The volume includes a series of twenty short love poems called “Motets” that he dedicated to a woman he calls Clizia, who was inspired by Irma Brandeis. Brandeis was a Jewish American scholar of Dante Alighieri whom he had met in Florence and who returned to the United States because of the anti-Semitism of the Fascist regime. The use of Clizia’s name in the “Motets” is a Dantean reference, and she personifies Montale’s opposition to fascism.

After World War II Montale joined the staff of the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, and for the next quarter century he wrote in that forum about literature, culture, and politics. His articles about American and European authors helped Italian readers forget fascism’s nationalized, self-conscious culture and introduced them to more cosmopolitan ideas. In 1955 he also became music critic for the Corriere d’Informazione. His attendance at opening nights at La Scala became legendary, and he never missed one in his twelve years in this position. In this activity he was able to take advantage of his early music training and indulge his lifelong love of opera.

In 1956 Montale published his third major collection of poetry, The Storm, and Other Poems. The opening section of this volume, “Finisterre,” had been published separately in 1943 in Switzerland because it represented too direct a criticism of Fascism. Clizia reappears in “Finisterre” and in another group of poems, “Silvae.” Elsewhere in the collection there emerges another symbol named Volpe, or the fox-woman, who is the earthy antidote to Clizia’s spirituality.

For fifteen years Montale’s poetic reputation rested on these three major collections. Then he surprised the literary establishment in 1971 with the publication of a fourth collection of poems, Satura, 1962-1970, after which he published yet other volumes of poetry. Satura contains one group of poems titled “Xenia,” which is Montale’s response to the death of his wife, who was known as “la Mosca” (the fly). In these poems Montale writes about la Mosca with the same sense of longing with which he had written about Clizia in the “Motets.”

BibliographyBrook, Clodagh J. The Expression of the Inexpressible in Eugenio Montale’s Poetry: Metaphor, Negation, and Silence. New York: Clarendon Press, 2002. Locating Montale firmly within European modernism, this book examines the struggle with language that is central to his work. In its unraveling of the inexpressibility paradox, Brook offers his reading of Montale’s early verse and discusses ways in which Montale gives insight into both his poetics and the whole process of expression.Cambon, Glauco. Eugenio Montale’s Poetry: A Dream in Reason’s Presence. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. A critical assessment of Montale’s career as a poet. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.Cary, Joseph. Three Modern Italian Poets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. Cary presents striking biographical portraits and provides an understanding of the works of Umberto Saba, Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Eugenio Montale. In addition, Cary guides readers through the first few, difficult decades of twentieth century Italy. Includes chronological tables, bibliography.Galassi, Jonathan, trans. Collected Poems, 1920-1954, by Eugenio Montale. 1998. Bilingual ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. President of the Academy of American Poets Galassi presents useful notes along with his translations of some of the most important of Montale’s poems from Cuttlefish Bones, The Occasions, and The Storm, and Other Poems.Huffman, Claire Licari. Montale and the Occasions of Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. A collection of the author’s essays and lectures about Montale’s life and works. Includes bibliographical references and index.West, Rebecca. Eugenio Montale: Poet on the Edge. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. The well-known novelist’s critical interpretations of some of Montale’s major works. Includes bibliographic references and an index.
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