Rarely has a poet in modern times been awarded the admiration and adulation that Italians accorded to Giosuè Carducci during his lifetime. Regarded as a national prophet as well as the unofficial poet laureate of Italy, he was something of an Italian institution. In addition to his career as poet and essayist, he was a highly successful academic. Although derided in his time by some groups, he served as a professor of literature at the University of Bologna for more than forty years. In 1906, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, one of the earliest recipients of the prize.
For most of his career, Carducci was, until converting to monarchism, a nonconformist, a republican supporter of Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini during the unification wars. As a poet, he was an outspoken anti-Romantic and an anticleric. These stances contributed to his popularity in Italy. His importance in the history of Italian literature rests on the quantity and quality of his neoclassical poetry, which is rife with references to Roman glory, and a vocabulary to match. When he began his career in the middle of the nineteenth century, Romanticism was in full flower and entering its decadent phase. Carducci’s neoclassical poems represent a different poetic, one addressing political topics and advocating political vigor for the Italians engaged in the unification movement—poetry that stressed the greatness of Rome over the theocratic Roman Catholicism of medieval Italy.
Carducci fervently believed that his, if not all, poetry should be an effective instrument in the great awakening—political, religious, and literary—that was taking place in Italy against the papacy and foreign occupiers. Carducci was dogmatically convinced that his neoclassical verses, vocabulary, and references would revitalize Italian poetry and put it back on the right and true track furnished by its Romano-classical ancestry. Literary history has proven his program misguided. His purely neoclassical poems are restrained, controlled, and intellectual. The bulk of his poetry is too often occasional, polemic, sententious, or tied to places and bygone people and events—factors that account for his poetry lacking a high readership today. Many readers dislike Carducci’s grandiloquence, but his Romantic poetry is often exquisite.
Carducci continued writing in the spirit of the neoclassical movement that was initiated by J. J. Winckelmann and his...
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