Introduction

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Ungaretti, Giuseppe 1888–1970

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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

(The entire section contains 5634 words.)

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