Mario Luzi is now one of the most fertile Italian poets…. He has gradually become the most discussed of the so-called 'second generation' of Italian hermetic poets, which includes Sereni, Bigongiari and Parronchi among others, and centred around the city of Florence in the late '30s and '40s. He has always been a difficult and esoteric author who seemed to write as much for himself as for any reader. His first six collections … are now conveniently gathered in a single volume called Il giusto della vita (… 1960). Since that date there have been three more…. [The first of these, Nel magma,] is a harsh collection of reminiscences: quarrels, dialogue and meditation set in daringly free verse, suspended, like much of Luzi's thought, on a thin metaphorical wire in a hostile environment. The second is Dal fondo delle campagne, but these poems were written before the poetic break-through of Nel magma, and are better excluded from under the heading 'Luzi's recent poetry'. Third … come the three short poems and three long poetic meditations of Su fondamenti invisibili (… 1971). Although Luzi had always been at the centre of modern Italian poetry, this most recent volume is so striking as to call for a re-evaluation of his poetics and an inquiry as to how the author of Il giusto della vita was metamorphosed into the poet of Su fondamenti invisibili. (p. 333)
Luzi is constantly tempted into a sumptuous use of metaphor, which is, after all, poetry's most drastic tool…. Some of these early metaphors verge on the gauche and inapposite…. His verbs are invariably set in the third person of the present tense, so they fall past the reader like a series of fixed photographs for him to observe…. But when we pause to make allowances for the precious word order and audacious metaphors, we are still faced by a poet drawing on all his resources of eloquence in an attempt to offer definitive statements about the world…. Often the definition is strong and decisive, but the conclusion that closes off the poem is weak in comparison with it…. The contrast of two possible attitudes to life—the cosmos-defining self-assured individual set against the speculative, self-questioning thinker—is actually made explicit in one of the closing poems of Onore. Two different types of passers-by are seen across wind and rain by a chosen 'just man', who is leaning against a pole, 'expiating the migrations of the world'…. It is not too bold to see this tableau as the first sign of real change in Luzi's poetics. One arm of the signpost is the fisher of eels who 'strides decisively through the quilt of damp'; it points backwards to the first six volumes from La barca to Onore del vero. In these Luzi has always been the principal citizen in a universe which is beautiful but basically familiar. His utterances have issued from a friendly Delphic oracle round the corner, invariably a Florentine street corner, with a spring or summer wind blowing up the road, roses and blossom dangling from the walls, and bright maidens chatting from first-floor balconies. But the other arm of the signpost points diffidently onward to Fondamenti, to the tentative, hesitant world of the 'uomo nuovo del posto'. This new Luzi is the inhabitant of a difficult and alienating world, a world where love affairs crumble into accusation and jealousy, where there are quarrels between...
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Luzi's poems ought to make most contemporary American poets entirely ashamed. I refer to our habit, as X. J. Kennedy once put it, of using the public as our waste basket. Ninety percent of the poetry published today fails to make anything of experience for the simple reason that it makes everything of experience, so that experience becomes not tutor but a kind of trivial tyrant. For Luzi all experience alters, alters profoundly, yet the alteration alters only to lead the self into the self. Hence, like all major poets Luzi is freed from effect. When the publishers sent me the manuscript of this book last year, I wrote as follows (and see no risk in repeating myself now): "Mario Luzi is a wonderful poet, so sure of his truth that he has no use for glitter."
Radcliffe Squires, "Mario Luzi," in Michigan Quarterly Review (copyright © The University of Michigan, 1975), Winter, 1975, p. 118.
[Mario Luzi's] Su fondamenti invisibili made us aware of a new, resolutely tragic tone in his voice. The preciosite characteristic of the Italian hermetic school had disappeared, and in its place we had heavy, slow-moving poems tending towards some negative revelation. Luzi has now produced a volume of critical essays, ranging in subject from Lucretius to Montale. [Vicissitude e forma] shows a remarkable advance on his previous critical work, if an increasing awareness of tragedy can be labelled as an advance….
Every page of [Vicissitude e forma] turns out to be a desperate rather than a confident defence of poetry. Luzi seems to be making poetry into the legitimate expression of an inner world rather than a technique. But the battle for the preservation of this inner world is lost, and Luzi knows it.
Guido Almansi, "Bearers of Ill-Luck," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), January 24, 1975, p. 89.
Luzi is a meditative poet, conceives his themes generally against the coming of night, the break of day, silhouettes at noon; cherishes signs of Fate, Time, Woman, the Mother Church, of fire, smoke, dust, of rivers caught "between thunder and lightning," the exigencies of the Florentine flood; mythologizes the penalties of the day, spiritual and cultural unease. Politically, I suppose, he is a democrat and a humanist, would probably second Ortega's notion that "it is essential as Europeans adopt the point of view of life, of the Idea of Life, itself an advance over intellectualism, that they not let go of reason in the process."
But what really permeates his cool and somber world, I think, is a muted devotional air: the Catholic concepts of charity and grace, in particular, often being the fugitive accompaniment to many of the harsh settings. For Luzi's is a sort of skepticism that believes nonetheless, a resignation that does not imply despair. He's also something of a philosopher, which perhaps will not endear him to Americans.
Coleridge thought that "no man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher." And while that's not at all true, I can't think of another American poet aside from Eliot (Stevens is an aesthetician—not the same thing) who would adequately fit the description, though of course there are many European or English poets who could. But Luzi goes somewhat wrong for me as a philosophical poet, in that, as never happens, say, in the works of Eliot or Montale or Rilke, his perceptions tend to turn into philosophical statuary, the owl of Minerva stuffed and on display at the end of the tour. (p. 25)
Robert Mazzocco, "Between Thunder and Lightning," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1975 by Nyrev, Inc.), April 17, 1975, pp. 24-5.