Giuseppe Ungaretti Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Giuseppe Ungaretti was born on February 8, 1888, to Italian parents, Antonio and Maria Ungaretti, in Alexandria, Egypt. Ungaretti’s parents had emigrated from an area near Lucca, Italy, to Egypt, where his father, who was employed for a short time at the Suez Canal site, contracted an illness that was to lead to his death in 1890. The Ungarettis had opened a bakery in the Arab quarter of the city, however, and Maria Ungaretti, after her husband’s death, continued this business quite successfully.

Ungaretti’s education was French, but he was familiar with the Italian intellectual scene in Alexandria. He knew the Italian writer Enrico Pea and frequented Pea’s house, called the baracca rossa, a gathering place for anarchists. At this time, the period between 1906 and 1912, Ungaretti’s interests included politics, for he wrote and published some political essays. More important, however, Ungaretti came to know several writers both from Alexandria and abroad. He corresponded with Giuseppe Prezzolini, editor of the important literary magazine La voce. It was through Prezzolini, in part, that Ungaretti met many of the most notable writers and artists of his day when he finally left Alexandria in 1912, at the age of twenty-four, to travel to Italy and then to Paris.

Paris was the place of Ungaretti’s first self-awakening. There, he met with men such as artists Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Leger, Giorgio Di Chirico, writer Max Jacob, sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, the Italian Futurists, and others. In 1913, Ungaretti followed Henri Bergson’s courses at the Collège de France; in the same year, Mohammed Sheab, Ungaretti’s friend since childhood, unable to adjust to European life, committed suicide. Ungaretti remembered him in the poem “In Memoria” (“In Memoriam”): “And only I perhaps/ still know/ he lived,” he wrote, foreshadowing, as Frederic C. Jones points out in Giuseppe Ungaretti: Poet and Critic, Ungaretti’s conviction that immortality is gained only in the memory of others.

By 1914, Ungaretti was in Italy, where...

(The entire section is 861 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Giuseppe Ungaretti (ewng-gah-REHT-tee) was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and spent his first twenty-four years there. In 1912 he moved to Paris, where, while attending the Sorbonne, he met many gifted artists, including the poets Paul Valéry and Guillaume Apollinaire and the painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Ungaretti joined the Italian army when World War I broke out, and during the war he continued to write and to develop his skill as a poet. Like many writers of his generation, Ungaretti was strongly influenced by various aspects of modernism, with its rejection of many traditional views of the nature and function of art.

According to the modernist perspective, advances in physical science had proved traditional views of religion, ethics, and the human psyche to be superstitious nonsense, and, consequently, such views were regarded as reactionary and irrelevant. One seemingly insoluble implication of this new worldview was that it left the individual isolated in a universe whose only reality was that of physics and chemistry, and, despite the many conveniences afforded by new technology, few found great comfort in that version of reality. The destruction wrought in Europe by new technology and old politics during World War I certainly forced writers and other artists to recognize that the new era had brought its own horrors. Like the American novelist Ernest Hemingway, Ungaretti saw the war as a manifestation of the social and psychological fragmentation of the modern world. Confronted by a chaotic universe, Ungaretti sought to create an artistic harmony in his poetry, even when the poetry itself spoke of chaos.

At the time of Ungaretti’s arrival in Paris in 1912, the city had long been a center of artistic experimentation, especially in poetry. From the work of Gérard de Nerval through that of Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud to...

(The entire section is 766 words.)