Eugenio Montale is considered by many to be the greatest Italian poet since Giacomo Leopardi; he enjoyed a long and productive career as a man of letters. In 1975, Montale received the Nobel Prize for Literature, six years before his death at the age of eighty-five. One of the more frequently translated Italian poets, Montale has often been called the father of modern Italian poetry for his efforts in creating and modernizing Italian poetics and poetry. In his attempt to do so, however, Montale was often criticized as being too obscure and private, especially in his collection known as OCCASIONI--THE OCCASIONS.
The poems are often stripped of narrative and contextual information, preventing immediate accessibility. What is lost in narrative and context, however, is gained in the dramatic and lyrical intensity which characterize many of these poems. Like others in the modernist tradition--Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot come to mind--Montale obeyed the directive to “make it new.” Montale’s task--according to Arrowsmith--"entailed strenuous uphill work against inadequate or antiquated expressive modes, entrenched literary traditions, and the aversion of readers to poetry that failed to satisfy traditional notions of the “’poetic.’”
The poems in THE OCCASIONS are intense, concentrated lyrics, almost at times impenetrable. Montale sought intrinsic harmonies rather than music created by imposing stiff metrics. The occasions of the poems range from seeing a bicycle racetrack in Paris to a “keepsake” listing of favorite opera characters, to lyrics on special Italian landscapes. The ghost of Dante haunts THE OCCASIONS, and in some ways the collection is a dialogue between the old master and the new master. Arrowsmith’s preface and his section “Notes and Commentaries” provide generous and elucidating insights to this often obscure, esoteric, yet passionate poet.