With Eugenio Montale and Salvatore Quasimodo, Giuseppe Ungaretti stands as a leader of contemporary Italian poetry. His is the first modern poetic idiom in Italian. He renewed interest in, and criticism of, the tradition of Italian poetry and is considered the father of the dominant school of poetry in Italy in the twentieth century, the hermetic school. Though he never won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he had a significant international reputation and influence. He won the most prestigious prizes in Italy; the earliest was the Gonfaloniere Prize in Venice in 1932, followed by the Premio Roma in 1949, the Premio Montefeltro from Urbino in 1960, and the Etna-Taormina International Poetry Prize in 1966. Outside Italy, his poetry was honored in 1956 when he shared the Knokke-le-Zoute Poetry Prize with Juan Ramón Jiménez and W. H. Auden; in 1970, he received the Books Abroad Award (now the Neustadt International Prize for Literature) at the University of Oklahoma.
Ungaretti was perhaps the major voice in establishing Leopardi as the most important traditional influence on Italian poetry of the first half of the twentieth century, for he found in Leopardi a bridge between his own poetics and the long Italian tradition that had begun with Petrarch. He also wrote significantly of Baroque poetry, of Shakespeare and Blake, and of several poets of the French tradition.
Difficult in its austere, understated beginnings, Ungaretti’s poetry grew deeper and yet more complex as he became responsive to traditional metrics; indeed, he was often accused of purposeful obscurity. There was no doubt, however, that Ungaretti spoke to other poets, for when Francesco Flora called his poetry “hermetic” because of its subjective content, involuted forms, and French Symbolist influences, he was unwittingly acknowledging Ungaretti’s leading position in Italian poetry. Ungaretti himself, however, did not remain within what came to be called the hermetic school. The hermetics, it might be claimed, developed mannerisms and an abstruse poetic idiom. Ungaretti, with a possible exception here and there, though writing a difficult poetry, always used that difficulty to intensify communication, and not merely for its own sake.