Il porto sepolto, 1916
Allegria di naufragi, 1919
La Guerre, 1919
L’allegria, 1931, 1942 (includes revisions of Il porto sepolto and Allegria di naufragi)
Sentimento del tempo, 1933
Il dolore, 1947
La terra promessa, 1950
Gridasti, soffoco ... , 1951
Un grido e paesaggi, 1952
Life of a Man, 1958
Il taccuino del vecchio, 1960
Morte delle stagioni, 1967
Giuseppe Ungaretti: Selected Poems, 1969
Vita d’un uomo: Tutte le poesie, 1969
Selected Poems of Giuseppe Ungaretti, 1975
The Buried Harbour: Selected Poems of Giuseppe Ungaretti, 1990 (Kevin Hart, translator and editor)
The Major Selection of the Poetry of Giuseppe Ungaretti, 1997
Traduzioni, 1936 (various poems and authors)
Venti-due sonetti de Shakespeare: Scelti e tradotti da Giuseppe Ungaretti, 1944
Vita d’un uomo: Quaranta sonetti di Shakespeare tradotti, 1946
L’Après-midi et le monologue d’un faune di Mallarmé, 1947
Vita d’un uomo: Da Góngora e da Mallarmé, 1948
Vita d’un uomo: “Fedra” di Jean Racine, 1950
Finestra del caos, 1961 (of Murilo Mendes)
Vita d’un uomo: “Visioni” di William Blake, 1965
Il povero nella città, 1949
Il deserto e dopo, 1961
Innocence et memoire, 1969
Lettere a un fenomenologo, 1972
Vita d’un uomo: Saggi e interventi, 1974
Giuseppe Ungaretti (ewng-gah-REHT-tee) was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and spent his first twenty-four years there. In 1912 he moved to Paris, where, while attending the Sorbonne, he met many gifted artists, including the poets Paul Valéry and Guillaume Apollinaire and the painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Ungaretti joined the Italian army when World War I broke out, and during the war he continued to write and to develop his skill as a poet. Like many writers of his generation, Ungaretti was strongly influenced by various aspects of modernism, with its rejection of many traditional views of the nature and function of art.
According to the modernist perspective, advances in physical science had proved traditional views of religion, ethics, and the human psyche to be superstitious nonsense, and, consequently, such views were regarded as reactionary and irrelevant. One seemingly insoluble implication of this new worldview was that it left the individual isolated in a universe whose only reality was that of physics and chemistry, and, despite the many conveniences afforded by new technology, few found great comfort in that version of reality. The destruction wrought in Europe by new technology and old politics during World War I certainly forced writers and other artists to recognize that the new era had brought its own horrors. Like the American novelist Ernest Hemingway, Ungaretti saw the war as a manifestation of the social and psychological fragmentation of the modern world. Confronted by a chaotic universe, Ungaretti sought to create an artistic harmony in his poetry, even when the poetry itself spoke of chaos.
At the time of Ungaretti’s arrival in Paris in 1912, the city had long been a center of artistic experimentation, especially in poetry. From the work of Gérard de Nerval through that of Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud to the work of such Symbolist poets as Stéphane Mallarmé, nineteenth century Paris had produced a remarkable variety of brilliant experiments in poetic form and content. Ungaretti’s friends Apollinaire and Valéry were interested in developing a poetry appropriate to contemporary civilization, and Ungaretti’s early poetry reveals his own determination to break with tradition. He avoided rhyme and punctuation, and his poems were often obscure. Although Ungaretti eventually adopted a somewhat more traditional poetic form, critics continued to accuse him of excessive obscurity.
In 1936 the literary critic Francesco Flora called Ungaretti’s poetry “hermetic,” implying that any meaning contained in the poems was completely sealed within the poems and consequently remained inaccessible to the reader. As a consequence, Ungaretti came to be designated as a proponent of “Hermeticism,” and the poets Salvatore Quasimodo and Eugenio Montale, both influenced by Ungaretti, were regarded as his fellow Hermeticists. It is possible that some of the obscurity of Hermeticist poetry resulted from the threat of retribution from Fascist censors during this time, but it is clear that for Ungaretti the very difficulty of producing poetic art inevitably entailed a corresponding aesthetic demand upon the reader.
In 1936 Ungaretti moved to Brazil, where he spent six years as a university professor. The poetry he produced after arriving in São Paulo displays a greater clarity than much of the earlier work, possibly because personal grief overwhelmed him during this period. Devastated by the death of his young son, Ungaretti tried to express his emotions in his art. In 1942 he returned to Italy, where he taught at the University of Rome until 1957. During this phase of his academic career he continued to publish collections of poetry, along with various translations from French, English (including Shakespeare), and Spanish literature.
Ungaretti died in 1970. His career resembles those of several of his contemporaries in some respects, particularly in the modernist themes and techniques that preoccupied his generation, but he is also a unique figure. An Italian born and raised in Egypt, educated among the gifted avant-garde artists of Paris, Ungaretti lived a life in which he moved from rejection of the arbitrariness of convention to an understanding that poetic form is itself essential. Like the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, Ungaretti continually sought to ground himself in a larger reality, and, as did Yeats, he found in his artistic maturity a calm authority and dignity of expression. Wherever he lived, this poet remained attuned to the highest possibilities of his art. Having lived on three continents and through two world wars, and having spent thirty years of his long life outside the circles of European culture, Giuseppe Ungaretti survived the merely clever and consequently short-lived fashions of modernism to establish himself as a major figure among the European poets of the twentieth century.