Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ungaretti was one of the most influential figures in twentieth century Italian poetry and a founder of a poetry movement called Hermeticism. This movement was an effort to establish a newer, simpler form of poetry unencumbered by traditional ornamentation, such as rhyme, and based more on a dreamlike association of ideas than on logical order.

Ungaretti published “La Pietà” in its first collection as part of a series of poems termed “Inni,” or hymns, which marked his return to a predominantly Christian view of life and literature, after he had explored less overtly religious modes of thought in his earlier work. Many writers and artists of the 1920’s saw life as bleak and unfulfilling; the return to religious faith was Ungaretti’s own response to a common perception.

The poem expresses disillusionment and discouragement with life in general and implies that the speaker is very much in need of mercy from God. This mercy would assuage the painful emptiness he has discovered in his life and renew the “light that goads us” in section 3, the sense of the divine which Ungaretti found missing from much European intellectual activity in the decades between World Wars I and II. The pity the speaker seeks is not expressed in traditional Christian terms of forgiveness for sins, but instead as redemption from the transitory and unsatisfying life in which he feels the human race is burying itself.

Ungaretti expresses the recurrent thought that the individual exercises a kind of dominion over his or her own life, but one which disappoints, suggesting that egotism is pointless. In section 1, the speaker parallels Adam, naming the animals in Genesis, but the speaker’s naming the “silence” of his life is an attempt to fill a void rather than to establish order in a new and promising world. He asks, carrying this image further but also...

(The entire section is 770 words.)