Quasimodo, Salvatore (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Quasimodo, Salvatore 1901–1968
An Italian poet, translator, and critic, Quasimodo imbued his poems with lyrical, musical qualities underscored with a strain of sadness and anxiety. He believed that the artist could not remain separated from society, but instead must take an ethical, political stand on the events of his time. Quasimodo received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 15-16; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)
Louis R. Rossi
Salvatore Quasimodo has always worked to remove the barriers that prevent understanding between men. This preoccupation brought about a change in his poetic and critical orientations during the war. The time for engaging in "abstract modulations of one's own feelings," he insists, has come to an end. He believes that poetry must serve as a means of communication; the poet must address all men and speak out for truth and "not renounce his presence" in the world. But it would be a mistake to use his own words against him, to interpret them as a repudiation of his earlier poetry, and so to pass over the very personal and often involute poems in which he distilled his private anguish. (pp. 3-4)
While a number of the earlier poems may have seemed derivative, with echos of D'Annunzio and Pascoli and certain attitudes of despair reminiscent of Ungaretti or Montale, it was also apparent that Quasimodo had fused these elements in the alchemy of a personal style. The sensual music of his verse was not audible in any of his contemporaries, who were perhaps wary of the facile musicality of too much Italian poetry. Compared to the harsher line of Montale, for instance, the lush cadences of many of Quasimodo's earlier poems make him sound less "contemporary." To find the equal of his rich melody one must go as far back as Tasso…. But despite his musicality, Quasimodo shared with Ungaretti a sparse phrase reduced to the bare essentials of...
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[Quasimodo's] voice is not only unique in contemporary European poetry but it is a voice of rarest distinction: absolutely free of rhetorical inflation, at once generous and fastidious, un "fashionable" yet representative of an entire generation. The formal perfection of his verse is matched by both solidity and urgency of matter; in other words, Quasimodo is the least vapid of poets, even as he is one of the purest by those exigent standards to which Mallarmé, Rilke, and Valéry have accustomed us, the dedicated readers and judges of lyric poetry.
Italian critics have made much of Quasimodo's changes of style, of his evolution from complete internality, or subjectivity, into a writer of verse that is public and largely available, because of his new concern with extra personal issues and relevancies. Provocative though they are, considerations of this sort tend to base themselves on psychological rather than artistic evidence. Unquestionably the late war brought on a crisis in Quasimodo's career as a poet: from 1940 onward there is less listening to the "inner voice," a marked shift from the personal to the general tragedy. Unquestionably, too, that shift of thematic attention has resulted in certain stylistic modifications, which I am the last to undervalue. But what strikes the reader most forcibly is the continuity of Quasimodo's work, not its discontinuity. I would even hesitate to speak of the later work as being richer,...
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Thomas G. Bergin
Assaying [the letters of Lettere d'amore a Maria Cumani] collectively, the first thought that comes to mind is that they are truly and exclusively love letters. For the central theme throughout is the love inspired in the poet by the dancer: its mystery, its strength and its significance in his life and his art. Over the years this obsessive concentration endures…. The preface, by Davide Lajolo, suggests that the collection provides a kind of commentary on the literary world of the period, but I doubt the validity of this affirmation…. We do hear much about Quasimodo's own work of course—what he is planning, what he is writing, what kind of reviews he gets and the like. We get a clear picture of a man who has no doubts about the importance of his art nor about his own destiny. And of a man in love. The beauty and eloquence of many passages bear witness to the sincerity of his love, and they have their own irony in a way. For Quasimodo had a horror of being "romantic," yet, as he is obliged to confess, some of his outpourings of rapture are couched in the old romantic idiom. (pp. 103-04)
Thomas G. Bergin, in Books Abroad (copyright 1975 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 49, No. 1, Winter, 1975.
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