Mario Luzi Robert Mazzocco - Essay

Robert Mazzocco

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Luzi is a meditative poet, conceives his themes generally against the coming of night, the break of day, silhouettes at noon; cherishes signs of Fate, Time, Woman, the Mother Church, of fire, smoke, dust, of rivers caught "between thunder and lightning," the exigencies of the Florentine flood; mythologizes the penalties of the day, spiritual and cultural unease. Politically, I suppose, he is a democrat and a humanist, would probably second Ortega's notion that "it is essential as Europeans adopt the point of view of life, of the Idea of Life, itself an advance over intellectualism, that they not let go of reason in the process."

But what really permeates his cool and somber world, I think, is a muted devotional air: the Catholic concepts of charity and grace, in particular, often being the fugitive accompaniment to many of the harsh settings. For Luzi's is a sort of skepticism that believes nonetheless, a resignation that does not imply despair. He's also something of a philosopher, which perhaps will not endear him to Americans.

Coleridge thought that "no man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher." And while that's not at all true, I can't think of another American poet aside from Eliot (Stevens is an aesthetician—not the same thing) who would adequately fit the description, though of course there are many European or English poets who could. But Luzi goes somewhat wrong for me as a philosophical poet, in that, as never happens, say, in the works of Eliot or Montale or Rilke, his perceptions tend to turn into philosophical statuary, the owl of Minerva stuffed and on display at the end of the tour. (p. 25)

Robert Mazzocco, "Between Thunder and Lightning," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1975 by Nyrev, Inc.), April 17, 1975, pp. 24-5.