Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Giuseppe Ungaretti’s Il porto sepolto (the buried harbor) came out of the peculiar circumstances of World War I; Ungaretti had volunteered in May of 1915 to join the Italian military. Each of the thirty-three poems of this, Ungaretti’s first volume, is tagged with the date and place of composition. Two of the poems were written in December, 1915, and twenty-eight were composed between April, 1916, and September, 1916. They are for the most part placed within the volume in chronological order. Thematically, the collection explores solitude and the various ways in which human beings try to bridge the spaces between themselves and others. It shows the heights to which human aspiration can ascend, even out of the depths of trench warfare.
Il porto sepolto forms one of three parts of a larger collection, Allegria di naufragi (1919; the joy of shipwrecks). The “harbor” that is “buried” is most likely the harbor off Pharos at Alexandria, Egypt, the city of Ungaretti’s youth. The harbor become mythic for Ungaretti. Like the legendary lost city of Atlantis, the harbor is so far below the surface, and so legendary, that it represents the unfathomable depths of the human psyche as well as the height of the most intense consciousness. It is to him, he writes, “the mirage of Italy”; it represents that part of one’s early life that is submerged in the subconscious “or in the intense heat of the mirage.”
(The entire section is 1689 words.)
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