Mario Luzi Bruce Merry - Essay

Bruce Merry

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mario Luzi is now one of the most fertile Italian poets…. He has gradually become the most discussed of the so-called 'second generation' of Italian hermetic poets, which includes Sereni, Bigongiari and Parronchi among others, and centred around the city of Florence in the late '30s and '40s. He has always been a difficult and esoteric author who seemed to write as much for himself as for any reader. His first six collections … are now conveniently gathered in a single volume called Il giusto della vita (… 1960). Since that date there have been three more…. [The first of these, Nel magma,] is a harsh collection of reminiscences: quarrels, dialogue and meditation set in daringly free verse, suspended, like much of Luzi's thought, on a thin metaphorical wire in a hostile environment. The second is Dal fondo delle campagne, but these poems were written before the poetic break-through of Nel magma, and are better excluded from under the heading 'Luzi's recent poetry'. Third … come the three short poems and three long poetic meditations of Su fondamenti invisibili (… 1971). Although Luzi had always been at the centre of modern Italian poetry, this most recent volume is so striking as to call for a re-evaluation of his poetics and an inquiry as to how the author of Il giusto della vita was metamorphosed into the poet of Su fondamenti invisibili. (p. 333)

Luzi is constantly tempted into a sumptuous use of metaphor, which is, after all, poetry's most drastic tool…. Some of these early metaphors verge on the gauche and inapposite…. His verbs are invariably set in the third person of the present tense, so they fall past the reader like a series of fixed photographs for him to observe…. But when we pause to make allowances for the precious word order and audacious metaphors, we are still faced by a poet drawing on all his resources of eloquence in an attempt to offer definitive statements about the world…. Often the definition is strong and decisive, but the conclusion that closes off the poem is weak in comparison with it…. The contrast of two possible attitudes to life—the cosmos-defining self-assured individual set against the speculative, self-questioning thinker—is actually made explicit in one of the closing poems of Onore. Two different types of passers-by are seen across wind and rain by a chosen 'just man', who is leaning against a pole, 'expiating the migrations of the world'…. It is not too bold to see this tableau as the first sign of real change in Luzi's poetics. One arm of the signpost is the fisher of eels who 'strides decisively through the quilt of damp'; it points backwards to the first six volumes from La barca to Onore del vero. In these Luzi has always been the principal citizen in a universe which is beautiful but basically familiar. His utterances have issued from a friendly Delphic oracle round the corner, invariably a Florentine street corner, with a spring or summer wind blowing up the road, roses and blossom dangling from the walls, and bright maidens chatting from first-floor balconies. But the other arm of the signpost points diffidently onward to Fondamenti, to the tentative, hesitant world of the 'uomo nuovo del posto'. This new Luzi is the inhabitant of a difficult and alienating world, a world where love affairs crumble into accusation and jealousy, where there are quarrels between...

(The entire section is 1407 words.)