The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Lemon Trees” is the second poem in Eugenio Montale’s collection Ossi di seppia (Bones of the Cuttlefish, 1984) and the first poem of the series entitled “Movimenti” (“Movements”). It consists of forty-nine lines in free verse, divided into four stanzas of various lengths. In addition to introducing an important image in the poem—the lemon trees themselves—the title suggests a connection with the first composition of the book. First, it recalls the orchard mentioned in the opening poem and suggests to the reader that images of nature will continue to figure as prominently in the following compositions as they did in the first (“wave of life,” “garden,” “beating of wings,” “solitary strip of land”). Furthermore, the Italian “I limoni” echoes the title of the first poem, “In limine” (“On the Threshold”), hinting that both poems together serve an introductory function in the collection.

As in “On the Threshold,” the poet begins by addressing the reader with an imperative: “Listen.” He thus impresses on the reader the urgency of his message and invites him to consider carefully not only what he has to say but also the way he says it, that is, the language of the poem. In the opening lines, he tells the reader that he will break with the laureate poets of the past and select for his poems objects, places, and language from his personal experience, rather than those dictated by...

(The entire section is 476 words.)