Eugenio Montale Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The youngest of five siblings, Eugenio Montale was born in Genoa on October 12, 1896, to Giuseppina Ricci and Domingo Montale, a well-to-do businessman who shared with two first cousins the ownership and management of a firm for the importation of turpentine and other chemicals. Poor health forced Montale to withdraw from school as a ninth-grader; henceforth, only his insatiable curiosity for books and the unfailing assistance of his sister Marianne—a philosophy student—were to sustain him in the pursuit of a broad culture, ranging from Italian, French, and English literature to modern philosophy. Entering the family firm or a bank, as his brothers did, was out of the question from the start for the dreamy adolescent, who, sharing with his family a great love for opera, soon began to train for baritone singing with Ernesto Sivori. This fine teacher’s death in 1916 put an end to Montale’s plans for an operatic career but not to his lifelong interest in musical theater. In 1917, Montale joined the army and soon was serving as an infantry officer on the Trentino front against the Austrians.

During the years immediately following World War I, Montale’s contributions to literary journals and the limited if solid success of Cuttlefish Bones were not enough to earn a living, and in 1927, he moved to Florence, where he found work first with Bemporad, a publishing firm, and then as curator of the Vieusseux rare books library in the employ of the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1975, Eugenio Montale (mohn-TAH-lay) indicated with the title of his acceptance speech, “Is Poetry Still Possible?,” that throughout his career he had experimented with other arts and literary genres—including music, fiction, essay, journalism, criticism, and translation—because he found poetry a limited means of communication and an insufficient means of earning a living. Like all metaphysical poets, Montale found language not only a vehicle of expression but also an obstacle to expressing the absolute truth. During his formative years Montale witnessed World War I and the rise of fascism in Italy, events that caused him to question the role of literature in society.

When Montale began writing, the dominant voice in Italian poetry was that of Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose populism and nationalism made him disagreeable to Montale. Reacting against D’Annunzio’s use of words as a call to action during Benito Mussolini’s regime, Montale opted for poetry that expressed universal and eternal truths over poetry with immediate social import. Because of this apolitical stance Montale has been dubbed a Hermetic poet. He resisted that label, claiming that his poetry had spiritual value.

Another Italian who addressed the issue of art’s place in society was Benedetto Croce, the leading literary critic of Montale’s day. Croce, an antifascist, argued for a strict separation between literature and politics because he thought that modernist literature, especially the movement known as decadence, had promoted sensuality and irrationality at the expense of humanism and spirituality. Montale shared Croce’s antifascist views but not his belief that modernist literature had helped fascism justify its own irrational politics.

In 1915 Montale, who aspired to be an opera singer, began to study music. His voice teacher died in 1916 but not before teaching his student an appreciation for Claude Debussy, whose musical devices and effects Montale tried to imitate in his...

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(Poetry for Students)

Eugenio Montale was born October 12, 1896, in Genoa, Italy, the youngest of five children born to Domenico (a merchant) and Giuseppina...

(The entire section is 476 words.)