Giuseppe Ungaretti

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Ungaretti, Giuseppe 1888–1970

An Italian poet, translator, and critic, Ungaretti is one of the major poets of the twentieth century. Considered by many to be the father of modern Italian poetry, he adapted the conventions of French blank verse to the Italian lyric, thus revitalizing that form. A concise craftsman, he concentrated on the power of the individual word, freeing his poetry of florid rhetoric. His work is often concerned with the spiritual quest of modern man, conveyed in a dreamlike, impressionistic manner with very personal imagery. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)

Glauco Cambon

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[The "I" of "I fiumi" (The Rivers)] defines itself more strongly and completely than anywhere else in L'allegria. (p. 584)

Bits of personal history rise to the surface, whether the persona evokes his lost Africa or his more recently abandoned Paris. Mostly, though, in the other poems it is a nonhistorical self that emerges (or seeks resubmersion in the All), with fragments of memory floating around. But in "I fiumi" the "I" takes stock of its whole history; it repossesses its vital ambience; it momentarily finds the "innocent country" elsewhere so poignantly missed, and strikes roots in its native soil without having to surrender its mobility. It is a historical self. Accordingly, the poem takes shape as a total epiphany rather than as a fragmentary illumination. It does not merely pierce and subvert, it orders and recapitulates—a rare operation for any modern poet whose beginnings must be subversive. Not just the moment out of time, the timeless instant; but the duration, the river of time, which one can also ply backwards, toward the source…. [The] action of recognizing himself has sprung in the persona from [the] reviewing-reliving of his own past. Memory, the Bergsonian mémoire as opposed to the inertial opacity of matière, equals consciousness and is conceived as the liberating force, in sharp contrast to later phases of Ungaretti's work where memory will be equated with guilt and phobia, "Caino" in Sentimento del tempo providing the clearest example…. There (as in "Alla noia," where memory is apostrophized as "sad mockery" and "darkness of blood") memory is the negative existential principle, the doom from which deliverance is sought, and the poet opposes it to innocence (as in his essays).

Here instead, in "I fiumi," memory is the cleansing of consciousness, and it appears as individual as well as historical, ethnic memory which extends backward into prenatal memory—a kind of historical anamnesis (notice the pointed reference to Plato's concept in Ungaretti's Ragioni d'una poesia …)…. [In] "Risvegli" anamnesis deranges the persona who … risks losing himself utterly, and has to come back to himself in an "awakening" that is the opposite of the existential recognition attained in "I fiumi"…. And in "Girovago," anamnesis takes the form of déjà vu, leading to disenchantment and estrangement, for every new place the persona visits turns out to have been only too well known from earlier, indefinable phases. Not so in "I fiumi," where anamnesis is the natural projection of individual consciousness and thus helps the self to find, to recognize himself, by constituting his history as an offshoot of his prehistory. In "Risvegli" the persona has placed himself this side of the dark beyond which is his prehistory; he is "lost with his memory" in pursuit of "those lost lives" (quelle vite perse), all right, but the prenatal reaches are glimpsed and exorcised; the demonstrative word applied to them is a distancing one, quelle (those), while the qualifying adjective, perse (lost), implies an irrecoverable loss,...

(This entire section contains 1150 words.)

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a kind of existential waste from which the reconnoitering self recoils in fear, to fall back upon the reassurance of familiar things. Anamnesis can be a disquieting, even a shattering revelation.

In "I fiumi," on the contrary, the hammering iteration of the demonstrative adjective questo (this) and its cognate adverb qui (here) conveys firm proximity, showing that the persona has placed himself right in the middle of everything that could have otherwise remained disturbingly beyond his reach…. Things are within the persona's grasp, indeed he feels that here he has really recognized himself as an intimate part of the universe. The heightening repetition of questo, always at the beginning of a line … structures the poem hieratically; anaphora results in litany…. Thus a form of stability counterpoints the flowing of fluvial imagery and the protean changes of the persona in the first part. The cue comes from the first two lines of the poem:

              Mi tengo a quest 'albero mutilato               abbandonato in questa dolina               I hold on to this mutilated tree               forlorn in this glen

Here the cardinal word questa, though already emphasized by close repetition, is still embedded in mid-line; it will emerge to dominant initial position later on, at the crucial moment of recognition ("Questo è l'Isonzo," This is the Isonzo). So much for the supposed lack of structure in Ungaretti's poetry—if anybody were still willing to credit that hoary imputation. (pp. 584-86)

Ungaretti's choice of current speech to the exclusion (in the Allegria phase) of courtly diction, his rejection of traditional prosody in favor of a free rhythm, his concentration on what is elemental in word and structure, make of L'allegria not so much an avant-garde experiment in free verse as a return to the literary source of Italian poetry. Paratactic, idiomatic, imbued with a religious solemnity (as witness the ceremony of symbolic death and baptismal rebirth which is enacted in stanzas 2, 3 and 4 to culminate in the vaguely Christlike figure of the acrobat walking on water), verbally pared down to austere simplicity, attuned to harmony with creation: "I fiumi" rejuvenates Italian poetry…. Ungaretti's career will complete the cycle by going on from the Gothic to baroque, from Saint Francis and Jacopone to Petrarch, the Petrarchists of Europe, and Leopardi, in a personal rehearsing of the whole literary history of Italy and Europe that is marked … by the transition from … assertive to hypothetical modes, from austerity to tense luxuriance.

Thus the whole style of L'allegria … amounts to a feat of cultural anamnesis. (pp. 586-87)

Never again, in the course of his long creative career, would Ungaretti find such an ecstatic, calm voice, such a vision of oneness with the elements. Compare the steadiness of "I fiumi" with the demonic restlessness of the persona's rhetorical stance in Sentimento del tempo pieces like "La pietà" or "Caino." Or again, compare the effortless quality of diction in "I fiumi" (whose scarcity of acknowledged variants seems to indicate a massive accession of grace) with the rather labored, if poignant, style of "Canzone" in La terra promessa…. In "I fiumi" verbal and existential innocence is a gift; in "Canzone," instead, it appears as a glimpsed idea of distant perfection, strenuously pursued. (pp. 587-88)

Ungaretti's development as a poet after L'allegria could be seen as the loss of innocence and the constant endeavor to regain it; which helps us to understand why his valuation of the fundamental word memory and semantic equivalents changed so drastically from "plus" to "minus" in the course of his career. When we realize how peculiar Ungaretti's personal destiny was, and how cogently his imagination used it to make it exemplary, so that the four rivers of his individual history could become, rather than four accidental countries, the four rivers of a unique Eden, we shall see why his achievement grows with the passing of time. (p. 588)

Glauco Cambon, "'The Rivers': Ungaretti's Anamnesis," in Books Abroad (copyright 1970 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 44, No. 4, Autumn, 1970, pp. 584-91.

Andrew Wylie

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Ungaretti's poems are of their time to such an extent that within the volume that collects Vita d'un uomo, four divisions are easily seen. These divisions are: L'allegria, in which a spare and hard language describes the trenches of World War I; Sentimento del tempo, in which a more peaceful time generally gives rise to a quieter language: Il dolore and Un grido e paesaggi, in which the sheer size of World War II was enough to shatter any semblance of fragility; La terra promessa, Il taccuino del vecchio, and the latest poems, which join the previous languages of war and peace for our time.

Of all Ungaretti's works, the most peaceful are furthest from us now. But how much peace is there in these poems? Very little; even in Sentimento del tempo and the poems since Taccuino, there is often an extremely violent language.

What Ungaretti has done in his poetry is similar to what the Viennese school did to the musical tradition. Like magnets brought close at the same poles, words stand next to their surrounding words in tension…. [This] is a matter of experimental time [alteration in tempi, of varying degree, intensity, and interval]. (p. 611)

Within each line, we experience a certain logic of the flow, only to have that logic "surprised" at the beginning of the next line.

Now [this] process can occasionally be seen in Ungaretti's early work, for instance in the beginning of "Veglia" (Watch): "Un'intera nottata/buttato vicino/a un compagno/massacrato". This is a common method in the later Sentimento del tempo, and is one reason why the poems in that volume are, as a whole, the least violent in Ungaretti's work.

But already, as in "Agonia" (Agony), there is something different: "Morire come le allodole assetate/sul miraggio" ("To die like larks parched/on the mirage"). Here the lines are no longer divided at the point of greatest degree of alteration, which instead occurs between "larks" and "parched."

Now take the beginning of a still later poem, "Tu ti spezzasti" (You Shattered): "I molti, immani, sparsi, grigi sassi/Frementi ancora alle segrete fionde/di originarie fiamme soffocate" ("The many, monstrous, scattered, grey rocks/Still shuddering in secret slings/Of choked natal flames"). Here there's a great density of alteration within the lines, with less time to grasp alteration than there was in the Pound, or in "Veglia." When we hear "The many," we think: "The many—what?" But instead of "The many rocks," which is what we might expect, we have "The many, monstrous." So we hear that and think: "The many, monstrous—what?" But again, instead of the noun for which we're waiting, there's another adjective.

If dislocation of syntax accounts for the density of alteration in the first line, in the second and third lines alteration is dependent rather on the unexpected coupling of words—"secret" with "slings," "choked" with "natal" and "flames." Unless we've read the poem before, we don't remember words joined like this, so we can't expect them. They are all the more surprising because they are joined within the same line.

Words stand next to their surrounding words in tension: between each adjective and its noun, between each noun and its verb, is a high degree of alteration, with the logic of the flow repeatedly broken. This density of alteration gives violence even in a slow tempo.

So if these poems are of their time, and if there are distinctly separate voices between one division and another—between the poems of one war and another, between the poems of one "peaceful" interval and the next—there's still unity. We do not live under the old order; poetry that reflects our time must break that order. So now that "only the improbable and violent are important," this is a new unity. Ungaretti's poetry is true to his time; we are living his violence now. (pp. 612-13)

Andrew Wylie, "Ungaretti's Poetry and Experimental Time," in Books Abroad (copyright 1970 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 44, No. 4, Autumn, 1970, pp. 611-13.

Takis Papatzonis

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[On first reading Ungaretti's poetry,] I was greatly moved by his delicate poetic sensibility, by the aesthetic beauty of his immaterial forms which seemed to belong austerely to "pure poetry," by the masterly technical elaboration with which he combined deeply moving emotions and situations. Parallel to this was the absence of every device of rhetoric of inflation. Instead, I found a classical brevity, a condensation achieved by masterful dexterity, which gave to his poems the impression of musical epigrams….

In the genius of Ungaretti, and in the new form which he was giving to the Italian lyric, I met something unprecedented, a renovation syncronized with new directions. (p. 616)

[I have read] Ungaretti, though a victim of his age, nevertheless represented the transition from a rhetorical and lyrical babbling to an austere and laconic style. Even so, this theory goes, Ungaretti had achieved nothing more than an "infertile formalism," in contrast to the perfections achieved by the newer Montale and Quasimodo.

Permit me to disagree with these arbitrary divisions, this false dividing line of the thirties. The flow of aesthetic evolution has been uninterrupted; no period has been isolated from another; and the age … has produced poets and writers who are among the glories of any literature—Rilke, Mallarmé, Appollinaire, Valéry, Claudel, Eluard, Yeats, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Lorca, Caváfis, Sikelianós, and the Kazantzákis of the Odyssey—to mention many, but not all. Equal to these, in worth and importance, is Giuseppe Ungaretti. He is anything but a victim of his age, and his work demonstrates that poetry has flowed unimpeded in the seven decades of our century in a uniform pursuit of whatever is beautiful in its myriad forms. His entire work is proof against the falsity of this imaginary barrier of the thirties. Further still: if the work written after the thirties is to survive, it will be because it has been nurtured on the masterpieces of the immediate past. Great periods of literature are not barriers or dividing lines; rather they are floodlights that illuminate vast regions of both past and future.

Ungaretti refined the innate musicality of Italian poetry, made it more immaterial, transmuted vulgarity and rhetoric into a sober and disciplined formal harmony of almost mathematical proportions. He must be placed, in value and importance, by the side of Apollinaire and Mallarmé and Valéry, among the great renovators of modern times to whom future generations will owe a great debt. (p. 617)

Takis Papatzonis, "Ungaretti: The Great Renovator of Modern Italian Poetry," in Books Abroad (copyright 1970 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 44, No. 4, Autumn, 1970, pp. 616-17.

Tom O'Neill

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[Ungaretti's] sense of guilt, of corruption in the nature of man—… man who, without the help of God's grace, cannot hope to redeem himself, which is at the centre of Jansenist doctrine [—is] to be found explicitly stated on more than one occasion in the critical writings of the poet….

This sense of guilt is to be seen in the consciousness of the fleetingness of time, in the transiency of human existence. (p. 61)

[Jansenist doctrine] is a point of departure from which [Ungaretti] will move out in search of an order and permanence on a spiritual level which will find correspondence in a search for order and permanence on an artistic level in the poetic form. The aim of the poet will be to achieve in his poetry that state of grace which, when achieved, will remove the sense of guilt in him and restore him to his original state of innocence before the Fall and give him once more a sense of measure which, given the link between life and poetry in Ungaretti, is never merely equated with a simple aesthetic metrical game. (pp. 62-3)

[Ungaretti's] destruction of the traditional metres of Italian poetry is not so much a destruction as a purification of that tradition in order to build it afresh. This reconstruction is seen … in the reintroduction of punctuation and traditional versification in Sentimento del tempo but … it is a reconstruction which is already present consciously in the poems of L'Allegria in the return to the individual word, the parola … according to the poet, the basic rhythmic unit of the Italian language. (p. 63)

[Right] from the outset of his poetic career there is in Ungaretti a concern for form and tradition and it is his concern for these, through a purification of them, that constitutes to a great extent his originality in these early years….

[The] consciousness of the fleeting nature of time and, along with this, the sense of guilt, of Jansenist mark, which has been individuated right from the outset in Ungaretti's poetry … is constituted by a search for stability and permanence…. If immortality of the body is not possible, immortality of the spirit is through form. (p. 64)

[The crisis expressed in the poetry of Sentimento del tempo] was much more than just a personal one but in the years of Fascism in Italy and of general spiritual upheaval in Europe as a whole, was the crisis of an age, the crisis of a society. (p. 65)

[Valery's perception that even the most ancient and best ordered civilization is mortal and fragile enough to perish by accident is] alien to Ungaretti, not only by nature but also by the faith he has in the power of poetry which, in its essence, is essentially faith in the single word…. (p. 66)

Evidently the concern for form and and tradition that has characterized the poetry of Ungaretti from the outset has … moved beyond the personal sphere in which the poet, platonically, was merely concerned with the perpetuation of the man, through his works, to a much more embracing sphere, namely that of saving the works themselves, now threatened. The aim of the poet is now, through his poetry, to rebuild and recreate civilisation. Poetry now takes on more than ever a moral content and the concern for form, if it becomes predominant, does so because it is now clear to the poet that it is precisely form that is the highest expression of civilisation. (pp. 66-7)

Nor … is this merely an empty, rhetorical concern for form … but it is a concern through form, for the very existence of civilisation itself….

Clearly there has been a distinct evolution in the poetry of Ungaretti over the years and if it still takes its roots very much in the personal events of the poet's life, it is clearly no longer meant to be merely an expression of a personal situation, if indeed it ever had been, but one of more universal significance: more, it is meant to be one of civic significance—not in the narrowly nationalistic sense as in the poetry of the late Nineteenth century—but civic in the sense that it celebrates and perpetuates the highest ideals and aspirations of man—civic in the sense indicated by Eliot in Tradition and the individual talent…. (p. 68)

[The poems of La terra promessa can be seen] as a perpetuation and a renewal—in a personal key—of all that is of value in civilisation by drawing inspiration from that same civilisation's literary heritage. It is this concern that dictates Ungaretti's choice of the traditional and most beautiful poetic vehicles in Italian, the canzone and the sestina, and it is this same concern that sends him for his subject-matter back to the Classical inheritance of Italy in Aeneas and Dido. (p. 70)

Tom O'Neill, "The Problem of Formalism in Ungaretti's Poetry," in Italian Quarterly (copyright © 1970 by Italian Quarterly), Fall, 1970, pp. 59-73.

Margaret Brose

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Ungaretti endows his verbal structures with thematic force [in L'Allegria]; the syntactic and semantic encodations converge in such a way that the former becomes a transcription of the latter. Encoded within the poems' structural patterns lies L'Allegria's central myth of Edenic harmony and cosmic immersion: the "paese innocente". The convergence is in fact threefold: syntax and semantics both parallel Ungaretti's psychological experience of Edenic unification in the trench. The most striking characteristics of that experience are the poet's sense of identification with his fellow soldiers and all natural phenomena, on the one hand, and the sense of spatial and temporal immobility, on the other hand. These two conditions are transcribed thematically into a static Edenic vision of universal harmony. Their structural counterparts are, respectively, metaphor and parataxis.

By metaphor I refer to the immediate and synthetic verbal representation of relations of identity; by parataxis, the syntactical representation of a world without spatial or temporal periodicity. Metaphor is in L'Allegria the dominant paratactical stylistic device.

Classical rhetoricians such as Aristotle and Quintillian regarded metaphor as a poetic trope. In recent years metaphor has been viewed as one of the fundamental principles of language formation and phenomenological apperception. L'Allegria is "metaphorical" in both respects (as are mystical and primitive perceptions of reality). There is little consensus, however, as to the exact form and function of metaphor as trope; or for example, as to whether such rhetorical figures as metonymy and synecdoche are distinct tropes or are simply forms of metaphor. There is a similar lack of consensus with regard to the nomenclature applied to L'Allegria: its basic syntactical construction has been described as analogia, metafora, comparazione, similitudine, and apposizione. Yet all of these terms designate a relationship of similarity between two things: a relationship of metaphor. (pp. 45-6)

Metaphor in L'Allegria … encompasses all the rhetorical devices used to describe one thing in terms of something else. The basic perspective employed is that of analogy. One might even say that the perspective is two-dimensional, and that in L'Allegria the metaphors operate on two levels: generality (essence) and specificity (attribute). All phenomena are perceived in terms of a general similarity: participation within a universal harmony; analogy in terms of consubstantiality. This is, so to speak, a "deep-structure" metaphorical relation. There are, moreover, those phenomena which are perceived also in terms of a particular analogous aspect: a specific similarity between two specific dissimilars. This would be a "surface-structure" metaphorical relation. All phenomena are analogous in essence; some phenomena have analogous attributes.

One might also describe these two dimensions in terms of "explicit" and "implicit" metaphorical constructions. Those figures in L'Allegria which refer to a specific similarity between two things are stated explicitly. They are, properly speaking, similes, the two terms being joined by the connective come. However, many of the figures in L'Allegria express a general relationship—a similarity not of any one attribute, but ascription of a general essence. Here the relationship is given implicitly: the two terms are not described as "like" each other in any particular aspect but are presented in a mutually interdependent relationship; their interaction depends upon a "deep-structure" metaphorical identification. This implicit metaphor usually takes the form of two substantives joined by the preposition di. These categories do not constitute a binary opposition ("specific-explicit" figures versus "general-implicit" figures, for example), since any two things which share a specific similarity also share a general similarity of essence. The designations of "specific" and "general" are not, therefore, mutually exclusive: they are intended only to suggest that all those phenomena not participating in an overt simile, participate nevertheless in a universal harmony. The distinction between explicit and implicit metaphors, however, is both syntactically and semantically manifest.

L'Allegria's explicit metaphors are "similes", which are descriptive forms of metaphor. (pp. 47-8)

A simile … is not only discursive and logical, it is semantically unilateral: both its terms are restricted to their literal senses. My designation of L'Allegria's similes as "surface-structure" metaphors implies, therefore, both overt syntactical connectives and restricted, unilateral semantics. This explains in part why the "essential" (or "radical") metaphor is a richer rhetorical figure: syntactically it is compressed while semantically it is extended onto both literal and figurative levels. The implicit or essential metaphors of L'Allegria's ("substantive-di-substantive") all exhibit this syntactic compression and semantic extension. To achieve a similar density, L'Allegria's similes must rely upon a startling juxtaposition of the two terms' literal senses only. Essential metaphors are naturally catachrestic, similes only so by design. The fact that many of L'Allegria's similes approach catachresis reveals the depth of Ungaretti's metaphoric perception of reality at that period. (p. 48)

In L'Allegria there are well over fifty similes (explicit metaphors). The majority appear in the chapters "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi", those poems written between December, 1915 and August, 1917 while Ungaretti fought in the trenches of Carso…. The chronology is not unimportant: it suggests that a heightened metaphoric perception occurred within the trench. All five of L'Allegria's chapters contain similes, as indeed do Ungaretti's other collections. In "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi", however, the similes occur with greater frequency (twenty-seven and nineteen times respectively) and greater force. Their strength as imagery derives from the catachrestic union of the two terms: from the novelty or unexpectedness of their juxtaposition. Since the two terms of a simile have only literal signification, their confrontation is one-dimensional or "horizontal"; a metaphor, on the other hand, contains bilevel signification (literal and figurative) and its terms interact "vertically" as well as horizontally. The similes in "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi" explore the limits of their one dimension, and the two terms are usually startlingly dissimilar…. To this end, Ungaretti often compares something animate to something inanimate, or an abstract to a concrete entity….

Only two of the twelve poems in "Ultime", Ungaretti's pre-war poems, contain similes, and these are discursive and heavily modified. (p. 49)

The only two similes in "Prime", Ungaretti's post-war poems, are even less striking. This chapter marks the transition between L'Allegria and Sentimento del Tempo, but lacks the strength of both. Only three of "Prime"'s seven poems retain the laconic style of L'Allegria; the remaining four are especially discursive prose poems. The two similes of the chapter appear in prose poems; or, rather, they disappear within the diffusive prosaic matrix. (pp. 50-1)

The chapter "Girovago" contains war poems written after Ungaretti's trench experience. The poems exhibit some of the same weaknesses as those in "Ultime" and "Prime", but with this important difference: "Girovago" retains that aura of cosmic communitas experienced within the trench. Although neither of the two similes in "Girovago" presents a particularly unusual comparison, they both effectively evoke that mood of innocence and awe which accompanied Ungaretti's revelation of universal harmony. (p. 51)

Ungaretti's similes are most impressive in the chapters "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi", those poems actually written in the trench. Here they most approximate the "essential" metaphor syntactically and semantically. A simile normally tends toward the discursive mode. In "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi", however, it assumes a more compressed form, without extensive modification, while still obeying laws of logic and grammar: here its syntax is most integrative. In these two chapters the simile is also at its most catachrestic semantically, its two terms being drawn for the most part from different classifications and realms of experience: their comparison provokes, therefore, a revelation of what Shelley called a "before unapprehended" and often fantastic relation of similarity.

The simile in "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi" mirrors Ungaretti's experience in the trench: in that spiritual and physical wasteland he perceived a bond of similarity and fraternity between all things no matter how ostensibly dissimilar. In that world of spatial and temporal immobility a revelation of communitas was achieved, instantaneous and intense. Ungaretti's sense of identity with other phenomena is not restricted to objects or animals which, like birds, bear some conventional metaphorical relation to men. This is not to imply, however, that "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi" are devoid of such similes. Many of the figures used by Ungaretti to suggest the identification of men with natural phenomena are posited upon rather manifest aspects of similarity, especially those drawn from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. (p. 52)

The most effective similes in "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi" function much this way. A "vertical" (or paradigmatic) movement of meaning between two parallel situations, one literal and one figurative, is denied; to compensate, Ungaretti exploits the "horizontal" (or syntagmatic) distance between the terms' literal or contiguous meanings. The semantic distance that the two terms must traverse in order to meet on grounds of similarity evokes unexpected vistas of dissimilarity. The power of the simile resides in what is left unsaid: in this way it best approximates a metaphor's parallel levels of signification. When the comparison is too accessible, we question neither the manifest similarity nor the latent dissimilarities. When, on the other hand, the stated similarity is incongruous and uncommon, we are forced to inquire how the two terms are similar and, thus, how they are not: a Pandora's box is opened.

Many similes in "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi" compare a tangible and intangible term, thus assuring an a priori element of incongruity. (p. 53)

The verb in L'Allegria's similes is of great importance. The verb is generally an active transitive verb, and usually in the first person singular, present tense. The verb defines the specific similarity between the two terms, and evokes by contrast their dissimilarities. When the verb is in the first person singular, it also defines the poet's interaction with those phenomena. In the war-poem chapters "Il Porto Sepolto" and "Naufragi", the verb is always metaphorical and often metamorphic: either emblematic of a particular metaphorical identification between two phenomena other than the poet himself, or the vehicle for Ungaretti's own metamorphosis into some non-human phenomenon.

Metaphorical relations between two phenomena are established by means of Ungaretti's interaction with them. Because of this, the similes in these two chapters are never abstractions; they are immediate and concrete…. [The] two terms of the simile are instantaneously telescoped into the present and presence of the poet. The similes become "concretized" because even if one of the terms is intangible or abstract, the ground of their analogy depends upon a verb of concrete action. The tangibility of the one term is transferred to the second by means of the verb. In these similes the verb not only describes a metaphorical relation, it is actually a "metaphor" by itself: it functions semantically on two levels, referring to two parallel objects or situations. In reference to one, the verb's meaning is literal, in reference to the other, figurative.

It is this bilevel signification which … differentiates a metaphor from a simile. (pp. 55-6)

Ungaretti's practice of using verbs metaphorically approaches what Aristotle calls making a metaphor "graphic". For Aristotle, the liveliness of a metaphor is greatly increased when the "hearers see things", by which he means "using expressions that represent things as in a state of activity". Most of the Homeric examples of "graphic" metaphors cited by Aristotle show inanimate objects endowed with life by means of the actions they perform. Many inanimate phenomena in L'Allegria are, by means of an active verb, endowed with similar metaphorical life. (p. 56)

In the construction "noun-of-noun", an attribute or impression becomes a substantive rather than an adjective: it is, therefore, as a grammatical entity, separate from and equal to the object once incorporating it. (p. 62)

[In] Ungaretti's "animistic" vision in L'Allegria, all phenomena and their attributes are perceived as autonomous and participating equally in a cosmic harmony. The "noun-of-noun" construction abounds in L'Allegria, where it substantivizes attributes and succinctly fuses abstract and concrete entities. Just as the metaphorical verbs in L'Allegria permit Ungaretti to interact with abstract and inanimate phenomena, the metaphorical "noun-of-noun" construction permits interaction between the phenomena themselves. (p. 63)

Giuseppe Ungaretti's L'Allegria is "paratactical" in its syntax, metrics, and semantics. But it is especially the "noun-of-noun" construction which permits interaction among entities, concrete and abstract, and substantivizes attributes. Metaphorical relationships are instantaneously and graphically represented—mirroring L'Allegria's atemporal, immobile vision which precludes predication and periodicity…. [This is] a stylistic device inherited from the Symbolist poets and adopted by Ungaretti to express his vision of universal harmony….

In Sentimento del Tempo the underlying vision is of hierarchical separateness and the rhetoric is hypotactical. (p. 65)

[What] is parataxis in L'Allegria becomes hypotaxis in Sentimento…. Hypotaxis is based on periodicity, the product of time, and thus perfectly mirrors Ungaretti's growing obsession with time after 1919. L'Allegria's vision of ecstatic cosmic immersion gives way to Sentimento's experience of disunion and death, and to Ungaretti as witness to his own isolation and transience. (p. 66)

The majority of L'Allegria's some sixty implicit metaphors ("noun-of-noun") are found in the second chapter, "Il Porto Sepolto", written in the trench…. [Most] "noun-of-noun" metaphors in "Il Porto Sepolto" join two independent entities. Their union is all the more effective therefore: there are no immediate syntactical or semantic indications as to which noun is subordinate to the other.

This type of metaphor is initially experienced as neither "horizontal" (as in a syntactical progression) nor "vertical" (as in metaphorical bisignification): it is an immobile, immediate fusion of two entities into a new whole. It is, therefore, paradigmatic of the cosmic fusion felt by Ungaretti throughout his trench experience…. Metaphorical language is both epiphanic and epistemological: it reveals relationships and provides knowledge of the world. (pp. 67-8)

"Prime", L'Allegria's last chapter, marks the "first" poems of Ungaretti's second period and a decisive falling-away from the Edenic vision of cosmic harmony expressed by the metaphors and parataxis of L'Allegria.

The parataxis of L'Allegria is not arbitrary. It is, perhaps, the syntactical mode best suited to express, an epiphanic experience of harmony. It is the mode of prayer. (p. 71)

L'Allegria's metaphors and parataxis create illuminations: they "figure" forth the ultimate harmony of the world. This interpretation seems consonant with Ungaretti's own perceptions. (p. 72)

[He has said] that modern poetry seeks to transcend time…. Poetry seeks, by means of the word, to recreate eternal Edenic harmony, now lost to mankind since the Fall. The poetic word seeks to recapture its "originaria purezza". Poetry's mission is religious, according to Ungaretti, and "la poesia è testimonianza d'Iddio". In the beginning the word was the world. Since the Fall, word and world are severed. The poet seeks to rejoin them, to know the world through the word, to transcend the Copernican crisis of the unknowability of the universe and the non-referentiality of language. By means of the word … word becomes world. The poetic act creates a promised land. Poetry is, simultaneously, epiphany and epistemology. (pp. 72-3)

Margaret Brose, "Metaphor and Simile in Giuseppe Ungaretti's 'L'Allegria'," in Lingua E Stile (reprinted by permission of Società editrice il Mulino, Bologna), March, 1976, pp. 43-73.


Ungaretti, Giuseppe


Ungaretti, Giuseppe (Vol. 15)