Giuseppe Ungaretti believed that great poets write “seemly biographies,” for “poetry is the discovery of the human condition in its essence.” Friendship, love, death, and man’s fate, the great lyric themes, are the subjects of Ungaretti’s poetry. Though his poems show a contemporary concern for autobiographical material, they blend this material with the imagery of the poetic tradition. The form of this poetry is discontinuous, sensuous, and elusive. Metonymy, hyperbaton, ellipsis, surprising juxtapositions of images, and the cultivation of unusual language are all characteristic of Ungaretti’s style.
As “seemly biography,” Ungaretti’s lifework developed with the movement of his experience. His first major collection, L’allegria, reflected his experience of World War I. Sentimento del tempo, written during his first extended stay in Rome, unfolded around a religious crisis. Il dolore, the book Ungaretti said he loved most, chronicled the poet’s struggle to come to terms with the loss of his brother and son and the disaster Italy faced at the end of World War II. La terra promessa (the promised land) and the later works grew out of the realization that aging and its consequences, the fading of the senses and of feeling, offer a final challenge to the poet.
Ungaretti’s first major collection, L’allegria, includes revisions of two earlier...
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