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Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale (October 12, 1896 — September 12, 1981) was an Italian poet, prose writer, editor and translator, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975.


Early years

Montale was born in Genoa. His family were chemical products traders (his father furnished Italo Svevo's firm). The poet's niece, Bianca Montale, in her ''Cronaca famigliare'' ("Family Chronicle") of 1986 portrays the family's common characteristics as "nervous fragility, shyness, concision in speaking, a tendency to see the worst in every event, a certain sense of humour".

Montale was the youngest of six sons. He recalled,

We were a large family. My brothers went to the ''scagno'' ["office" in Genoese]. My only sister had a university education, but I had not such a possibility. In many families the unspoken arrangement existed that the youngest was released from the task to keep up the family's name.

In 1915 Montale worked as an accountant, but was left free to follow his literary passion, frequenting the city's libraries and attending his sister Marianna's private philosophy lessons. He also studied opera singing with the baritone Ernesto Sivori.

Montale was therefore a self-taught man. Growing up, his imagination was fired by several writers, including Dante Alighieri, and by studies of foreign languages (especially English), as well as the landscapes of the Levante ("Eastern") Liguria, where he spent holidays with his family.

During World War I, as a member of the Military Academy of Parma, Montale asked to be sent to the front. After a brief war experience as an infantry officer in Vallarsa and Val Pusteria, in 1920 he came back home.

Poetic works

Montale wrote a relatively small number of works. Four anthologies of short lyrics, a ''quaderno'' of poetry translation, plus several books of prose translations, two books of literary criticism and one of fantasy prose. Alongside his imaginative work he was a constant contributor to Italy's most important newspaper, the ''Corriere della Sera''.

The perceived futility and pointlessness of World War I had a profound effect on European art and the resulting nihilism manifested itself in various ways; e.g., Dadaism, de Stijl. In Italy, amongst poets, this post-war despair manifested itself in the form of the Hermetical Society; which was, as the name suggests, inspired by Hermeticism . The output of the poetry group was to create poems of total illogic; thus mirroring the absurdity of the "War to End all Wars". Montale did not belong to the Hermeticism, even though he came in touch with some of those poets.

The rise of the fascist regime also influenced Montale profoundly, especially in his first poetry collection ''Ossi di seppia'' ("Cuttlefish Bones"), which appeared in 1925: he felt detached from the contemporary life and found solace and refuge in the solitude of nature.
A famous poem of ''Ossi di seppia'' ends with these two verses:
Codesto solo oggi possiamo dirti,

ciò che ''non'' siamo, ciò che ''non'' vogliamo.

(This alone is what we can tell you today,

that which we are ''not'', that which we do ''not'' want.)

The Mediterranean landscape of Montale's native Liguria was a strong presence in these early poems: they gave him a sort of "personal seclusion" in face of the depressing events around him. These poems emphasise his personal solitude and empathy with the "little" and "insignificant" things around him, or with its horizon, the sea. According to Montale, nature is "rough, scanty, dazzling". In a world filled with defeat and despair, nature alone seemed to possess dignity, the same that the reader experiences in reading his poems.

Anticonformism of the new poetry

Montale moved to Florence in 1927 to work as editor for the publisher Bemporad. Florence was the cradle of the Italian poetry of that age, with works like the ''Canti orfici'' by Dino Campana (1914) and the first lyrics by Ungaretti for the review ''Lacerba''. Other poets like Umberto Saba and Vincenzo Cardarelli had been highly praised by the Florentine publishers. In 1929 Montale was asked to be chairman of the Gabinetto Vieusseux Library, a post from which he was expelled in 1938 by the fascist government. In the meantime he collaborated to the magazine ''Solaria'', and (starting in 1927) frequented the literary café La Giubbe Rosse ("Red Jackets") on the Piazza Vittoria (now Piazza della Repubblica). Visiting often several times a day, he became a central figure among a group of writers there, including Elio Vittorini, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Arturo Loria and Elio Vittorini (all founders of the magazine).Eugenio Montale, ''Collected Poems 1920-1954'', translated and edited by Jonathan Galassi, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998, ISBN 0374125546 He wrote for almost all the important literary magazines of the time.

Though hindered by financial problems and the literary and social conformism imposed by the authorities, Montale published in Florence his finest anthology, ''Occasioni'' ("Occasions", 1939). From 1933 to 1938 he was acquainted with Irma Brandeis, a Jewish-American scholar of Dante who occasionally visited Italy in short stints before returning to the United States. After falling in love with Brandeis, Montale's recollection of her ceased to be literary and she became a mediatrix figure like Dante's Beatrice. ''Le occasioni'' contains numerous allusions to Brandeis, here called Clizia (a senhal). Franco Fortini judged Montale's ''Ossi di Seppia'' and ''Occasioni'' the highest point of 20th century Italian poetry.

T.S. Eliot, who shared Montale's taste for Dante, was an important influence on his poetry at this time; in fact, the new poems of Eliot were shown to Montale by Mario Praz, then teaching in Liverpool. The concept of the objective correlative used by Montale in his poetry, was certainly influenced by T. S. Eliot. In 1948, for Eliot's sixtieth birthday, Montale contributed a celebratory essay entitled "Eliot and Ourselves" to a biblio-symposium published to mark the occasion.

Disharmony with the world

From 1948 to his death, Montale lived in Milan. As a contributor to the ''Corriere della Sera'' he was music editor and reported from abroad, including Palestine, where he went as a reporter to follow Pope Paul VI's voyage there. His works as a journalist are collected in ''Fuori di casa'' ("Out of Home", 1969).

''La bufera e altro'' ("The Storm and Other Things") was published in 1956 and marks the end of Montale's most acclaimed poetry. Here his figure Clizia is joined by La Volpe ("the Fox"), based on the young poetess Maria Luisa Spaziani with whom Montale had an affair during the 1950s.

His later works are ''Xenia'' (1966), ''Satura'' (1971) and ''Diario del '71 e del '72'' (1973). Montale's later poetry is wry and ironic, musing on the critical reaction to his earlier works and on the constantly changing world around him. ''Satura'' contains a poignant elegy to his wife Drusilla Tanzi. Montale's fame at that point had extended throughout the world. He had received honorary degrees by the Universities of Milan (1961), Cambridge (1967), Rome (1974), and had been named Senator-for-Life in the Italian Senate. In 1975 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He died in Milan in 1981.

In 1996, a work appeared called ''Posthumous Diary'' (''Diario postumo'') that purported to have been 'constructed' by Montale before his death with the help of the young poet Annalisa Cima. Critical reaction at first varied, with some believing that Cima had forged the collection outright, though now the work is generally considered authentic.


Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in literature" or "[year] in poetry" article:
* 1925: ''Ossi di seppia'' ("Cuttlefish Bones"), first edition; second edition, 1928, with six new poems and an introduction by Alfredo Gargiulo; third edition, 1931, Lanciano: Carabba
* 1932: ''La casa dei doganieri e altre poesie'', a chapbook of five poems published in association with the award of the Premio del Antico Fattore to Montale; Florence: Vallecchi
* 1939: ''Le occasioni'' ("The Occasions"), Turin: Einaudi
* 1943: ''Finisterre'', a chapbook of poetry, smuggled into Switzerland by Gianfranco Contini; Lugano: the Collana di Lugano (June 24); second edition, 1945, Florence: Barbèra
* 1948: ''Quaderno di traduzioni'', translations, Milan: Edizioni della Meridiana
* 1948: ''La fiera letteraria'' poetry criticism
* 1956: ''La bufera e altro'' ("The Storm and Other Things"), a first edition of 1,000 copies, Venice: Neri Pozza; second, larger edition published in 1957, Milan: Arnaldo Mondadore Editore
* 1956: ''Farfalla di Dinard'', stories, a private edition
* 1962: ''Satura'', poetry, published in a private edition, Verona: Oficina Bodoni
* 1962: ''Accordi e pastelli'' ("Agreements and Pastels"), Milan: Scheiwiller (May)
* 1966: ''Il colpevole''
* 1966: ''Auto da fé: Cronache in due tempi'', cultural criticism, Milan: Il Saggiatore
* 1966: ''Xenia'', poems in memory of Mosca, first published in a private edition of 50
* 1969: ''Fuori di casa'', collected travel writing
* 1971: ''Satura (1962-1970)'' (January)
* 1971: ''La poesia non esiste'', prose; Milan: Scheiwiller (February)
* 1973: ''Diario del '71 e del '72'', Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (a private edition of 100 copies was published in 1971)
* 1973: ''Trentadue variazioni'', an edition of 250 copies, Milan: Giogio Lucini
* 1977: ''Quaderno di quattro anni'', Milan: Mondadori
* 1977: ''Tutte le poesie'', Milan: Mondadori
* 1980: ''L'opera in versi'', the Bettarini-Contini edition; published in 1981 as ''Altri verse e poesie disperse'', publisher: Mondadori

;Translated in Montale's lifetime
* 1966: ''Ossi di seppia, Le ocassioni'', and ''La bufera e altro'', translated by Patrice Angelini into French; Paris: Gallimard
* 1978: ''The Storm & Other Poems'', translated by Charles Wright into English (Oberlin College Press), ISBN 0-932440-01-0

* 1981: ''Prime alla Scala'', music criticism, edited by Gianfranca Lavezzi; Milan: Mondadori
* 1981: ''Lettere a Quasimodo'', edited by Sebastiano Grasso; pubisher: Bompiani
* 1983: ''Quaderno genovese'', edited by Laura Barile; a journal from 1917, first published this year; Milan: Mondadori
* 1991: ''Tutte le poesie'', edited by Giorgio Zampa. Jonathan Galassi calls this book the "most comprehensive edition of Montale's poems".
* 1996: ''Diario postumo: 66 poesie e altre'', edited by Annalisa Cima; Milan: Mondadori
* 1996: ''Il secondo mestiere: Arte, musica, società'' and ''Il secondo mestierre: Prose 1929-1979'', a two-volume edition including all of Montale's published writings; edited by Giorgio Zampa; Milan: Mondadori
* 2004: ''Selected Poems'', trans. Jonathan Galassi, Charles Wright, & David Young (Oberlin College Press), ISBN 0-932440-98-3

Source: Wikipedia