Giosue Carducci 1835-1907
(Also wrote under the pseudonym Enotrio Romano) Italian poet, essayist, and critic.
Regarded as the finest Italian poet of the late nineteenth century, Carducci was also a noted classicist and accomplished writer of essays and criticism. His neo-classical ideals of reason, action, and nature evinced his strong reaction against the predominantly romantic and sentimental mode of works written by his Italian contemporaries in the earlier nineteenth century. Carducci also vehemently opposed the monarchy and the Catholic Church, believing them to be responsible for inhibiting progress towards the unification of Italy. He employed his literary talents to voice these controversial opinions. In his poetry, Carducci drew from Italy's rich historical tradition in an attempt to inspire his countrymen and restore a more heroic age. He additionally utilized classical Greek and Latin forms and conventions to impart his pagan ideals, perhaps most successfully in his collection Odi barbare (1877; The Barbarian Odes.) For his exceptional poetry, Carducci was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1906.
Born in 1835 in Val di Castello, Tuscany, Carducci inherited much of his political fervor from his father, a local physician and patriotic believer in the unification of Italy. The Carducci family moved to Tuscan Maremma when Giosue was three. During his time there, Carducci attended the local school and learned Latin and Italian from his father. He also discovered his love of nature while exploring the Tuscan countryside, a place he would allude to frequently in his subsequent poetry. In 1848, the family was forced to move again, this time to Florence, when his father's political ties caused their home to be destroyed. In Florence, Carducci began a formal education and proved to be an excellent student, which led to his attendance at the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. After acquiring his teaching certificate and degree in Philosophy and Philology (Classics), Carducci began teaching Rhetoric (Latin Language and Literature) at San Miniato al Tedesco, a local university near Florence. Although he managed to get his first volume of poetry published at his own expense in 1857, he lost his teaching position due to his continued outspoken political and literary disagreements with the local press. In November of that same year, his brother Dante committed suicide, an event that devastated Carducci and received mention in some of his most poignant poems. His father died less than a year later, making Carducci the primary financial supporter of his family. He settled in Florence editing classical texts for literary journals and teaching private lessons. In 1859, he married Elvira Menicucci. A new opportunity presented itself the following year when the minister of education appointed him the Chair of Literature at the renowned University of Bologna. He was a popular teacher, which brought both financial security and the opportunity to write consistently, sometimes under the pseudonym Enotrio Romano for more controversial works. After the unification of Italy, Carducci's career flourished, but his personal life suffered when his mother and his only son died. In 1871, he turned to another woman for consolation, Carolina Priva, who was a married mother of four children. Addressing her as Lidia or Lina in his poetry, Carducci continued the affair for over seven years. Toward the end of the relationship, Carducci's interest in politics prompted him to run for and win a seat in Parliament in 1876. Unfortunately, due to a threshold on the number of teachers permitted, he was unable to serve his term. Carolina died of tuberculosis in 1881, leaving Carducci to lean on a former acquaintance, Dafne Gargiolli, for whom he wrote many poems until she remarried in 1887. A relationship with twenty-one year old Annie Vivanti inspired poems contained in Rime e ritmi (1899; The Lyrics and Rhythms), his last collection. Illness forced him to stop teaching in 1904. In 1906, three months before his death, Carducci was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Among Carducci's earliest works of verse, the provocatively titled Inno a Satana (1865; which may be translated as Hymn to Satan) praises the poet's ‘pagan’ principals of reason and rebellion. In the work, Carducci strongly criticized the pope, whom he believed was a major factor in preventing Italian unification. He used classical Greek and Latin metrical and verse forms to support his political views more extensively in Giambi ed epodi (1882; which may be translated as Iambics and Epodes). In a representative poem from this volume, “Ripresa: Avanti! Avanti!” (first published in 1872), galloping horses represent Carducci and his peers, and reflect the poet's disappointment and anger in seeing that his work has had little effect in stirring a hoped for revolution. This anger is much tempered in his most highly regarded poems, the Odi barbare (1877; translated as Barbarian Odes), which place contemporary Italian politics within the broadened and valorizing contexts of Roman and Italian history. Carducci's command of meter in conjunction with his ability to descriptively evoke the atmosphere of the Adriatic Sea provides the setting for tragic adventure in “Miramar,” a piece from Barbarian Odes. In other works, Carducci applied his mastery of classical meter and unrhymed verse to more personal matters, including those he addressed to “Lina.” In one of his most notable poems of this type, “Alla stazione in una mattina d'autunno” (which may be translated as “To the Station On an Autumn Morning”), Carducci says one of many farewells to his mistress, in the process revealing some of his most intimate lyrical verse. The Rime nuove (1887; The New Lyrics) marks a significant departure for Carducci in its use of Italian forms and other modern principles rather than previously preferred Greek and Latin conventions. “Nostalgia”, from this collection, again offers vibrant natural imagery, but this time to suggest the idyllic countryside of his carefree youth. Furthermore, his application of contemporary forms and subjects shows Carducci broadening his literary tastes and skills. His final book, Rime e ritmi, demonstrates a blend of Italian and classical principles and themes.
Critics in the late nineteenth century were initially divided in opinion on Carducci's work. The publication of Inno a Satana created adversarial relationships with some. To his contemporaries, the somewhat extreme opinions contained in his works generally elicited strong reactions and exerted a greater influence on critics than the merit of his poetry. After Italian unification, acclaim was virtually unanimous, however, as Carducci became an important voice for his struggling nation. In addition, his affair with Carolina Priva brought a heightened emotional sensibility to his work, which for many made it more accessible and increasingly popular with critics. Opinions of Carducci's last work, Rime e ritmi, were harsh, with many criticizing the volume for its lack of progression in ideas or technique. In the twentieth century, Carducci's work began to receive notice outside of Italy, among critics from Northern Europe and the United States, where opinions ranged from acclamation to subdued indifference. Critics have since pondered whether his poetry is meaningful outside of Italy, while others have noted the difficulty in translating his work. Most scholars agree, nevertheless, that Carducci is without equal as the leading figure in Italian poetry during the late nineteenth century.