Ungaretti, Giuseppe (Vol. 15)
Ungaretti, Giuseppe 1888–1970
An Italian poet, translator, and critic, Ungaretti is one of the major poets of the twentieth century. Considered by many to be the father of modern Italian poetry, he adapted the conventions of French blank verse to the Italian lyric. A concise craftsman, he concentrated on the power of the individual word, freeing his poetry of florid rhetoric. His work is often concerned with the spiritual quest of humanity, conveyed in a dreamlike, impressionistic manner with very personal imagery. (See also CLC, Vols. 7, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
[The wartime poems of L'Allegria modulate Ungaretti's] voice in its simplest form, as a naming of things which is at the same time an acknowledgment of existence, of its mystery and stark "givenness." They are generally statements of the human condition made in wonder and awe. (p. 97)
This is the dawning form of vocation or calling: the poet cast into exile and war calls created things and resigns himself to their protection, even to their indifference since it is a guaranty of reality, of indestructibility. Or we should say, rather, that he names them as a kind of reassurance. "The things exist, therefore I exist." The calling, a silent one, comes from the things themselves; and such a mood continues with notable deepening into the Sentimento del tempo collection, which marked, in the early thirties, Ungaretti's "hermetic" evolution. He contemplates things, or listens to them, in a posture of wonder…. Elemental stupor begets myth … and then we have a thing like Nascita d'aurora (Birth of Sunrise), where pure perception shapes an evanescent, inchoate goddess. But the intentness of contemplation and listening gradually shifts the focus from the presence of things to their absence; and then the mode of vocation becomes one of evocation. The poet is "illumined with immensity," and "listens to a dove of other deluges."… One is always struck in Ungaretti by the periodical...
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What immediately strikes the reader [of Allegria] is the sense of solitude and consequent on that, the sense of anguish of the man, Ungaretti, who in the trenches on the Front, feels so utterly alone—cut off from his fellow men, cut off from God…. [These sentiments, however,] are not the point of arrival but merely the point of departure, for it is precisely from this same sense of solitude, of anguish and fragility that is germinated the desire for their opposites and that is, brotherhood (with a consequent reduction of anguish) and permanence. It is precisely the recognition of his fragility which links Ungaretti to his fellow men and it is this union with them through love—the Eluardian 'de l'horizon d'un homme à l'horizon de tous'—which points out to him the origin of his fragility and the means to convert it into permanence. His fragility is a lack of love on a divine plane…. Now given the connection in Ungaretti between life and poetry … it is clear that his attempt to reach spiritual harmony in life will be corresponded on an artistic level. Therefore if we are to give credence to the Poet—and no one doubts Ungaretti's sincerity—the lack of torment, the so-called 'formalism' of the later collections of his poems … indicate a relative lack of torment in Ungaretti, the man—a peace or as he himself would say a 'certezza' reached in life. This spiritual calm or 'certezza' which Ungaretti finds in...
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[L'allegria] is informed by a vision of Edenic innocence and unification. This central myth is variously expressed by Ungaretti in [the volume]….
Not only the vision, but the language too of L'allegria is "edenically" pure. This fact has been noted by virtually all of Ungaretti's critics, and today we have a plethora of terms to describe L'allegria's linguistic purity…. (p. 342)
Ungaretti's ecstatic vision of a static Edenic innocence does not require syntactical periodicity and hierarchy. The language used to represent the vision is necessarily paratactical; and as the poems disclose an Edenic unification of all phenomena, the language of L'allegria relies upon rich, but terse, metaphorical figures.
L'allegria is Ungaretti's Eden. His fall out of Eden into time and history is clearly evinced by both the stylistic and thematic characteristics of his poetry after 1919. Time and history become, in fact, his thematic obsessions after L'allegria—as the title of his second collection, Sentimento del tempo (1933), denotes. After L'allegria, Ungaretti's syntax moves from a paratactical, monadic centering on the single word to a hypotactical style. The paradigmatic orientation of L'allegria gives way to the syntagmatic orientation of Sentimento del tempo; relationships of identity give way to relationships of mere contiguity. (pp....
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