Pier Paolo Pasolini Pasolini, Pier Paolo - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

Pier Paolo Pasolini 1922–1975

Italian poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, filmmaker, critic, editor, and short story writer.

Pasolini has been called one of the most notable poets to have emerged from post-World War II Italy. Although recognized outside his country primarily as a filmmaker, Pasolini is well known in Italy for the outspoken views on Marxism and religion he presents in his poetry. Central to Pasolini's life and works is his despair over Italy's impoverished conditions and his anger over the indifference of the materialistic bourgeoisie. During the course of his controversial career, his observations on Catholicism, communism, and the existing social order have alternately pleased and angered conservatives and leftists alike and have earned Pasolini the title of "civil poet." Frank Capozzi noted, "In Pasolini one finds the lyricism of Pascoli, the aspiration of Rousseau, the revolt and the anguish of Rimbaud, the self-destruction of Genet. His … poems … will always be important for an understanding of post-war society."

Biographical Information

Pasolini was born in Bologna, the son of an army officer. His father's long absence as a prisoner of war in Kenya and his brother's execution as a partisan by the Fascists forced political awareness upon Pasolini at an early age. Having begun to write poetry when he was seven, Pasolini attended high school and university in Bologna, though he had lived in various parts of northern Italy during his youth. His childhood and early adult experiences in the poverty-stricken village of Casarsa, located in the province of Friuli, inspired his first book of Friulian dialect poetry, Poesie a Casarsa (1942) as well as his lifelong identification with the poor. Following a brief period with the Italian army, just before the Italian surrender to the Allied forces in 1943, Pasolini returned to Casarsa, where he was strongly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci, the leading theoretician of Italian communism. In the late 1940s, Pasolini earned his doctorate degree and became a state high school teacher. He had kept his homosexuality a secret until a scandal in 1949, stemming from accusations that he had approached a male student, led to the loss of his teaching job and his membership in the Italian communist party. Pasolini escaped with his mother to Rome, where he became immersed in the slum life of that city. Subsequently the lives and views of its underclass youths would become central to his poetry and films. In 1955 Pasolini co-founded the review Officina in Bologna with friends Francesco Leonetti and Roberto Roversi, and

later joined Enzo Siciliano in the Nuovi Argomenti. In 1957 Le ceneri di Gramsci (The Ashes of Gramsci) was published, earning Pasolini a Viareggio Prize. In 1962 Pasolini was arrested on charges that he had insulted the church in his poetry and films. Later, two of his films, I racconti di Canterbury (1972) and Salò o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma (1975), were declared obscene. In 1975, at age 54, Pasolini was murdered in Ostia, outside Rome, by a 17-year-old male prostitute.

Major Works

Pasolini wrote his earliest poetry, collected in his first book, Poesie a Casarsa, in his native Friulian peasant language, in the hope of creating a literature accessible to the poor. Pasolini rejected the official language because he believed that it had been created by and for the bourgeoisie. These early poems appear in an expanded and revised version, La meglio gioventù (1954) and center on his renunciation of Catholicism and his endorsement of Marxist beliefs. Other early poems, along with some experiments in the tradition of religious poetry, are collected in the volume, L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica (1958). The poetry of Le ceneri di Gramsci and La religione del mio tempo (1961) reflects, among other beliefs, Gramsci's idea of a "popular national literature." Pasolini broke away from the preceding generation of Italian poets by composing Le ceneri di Gramsci in terza rima—a subversive return to the traditional verse of Dante, Pascol, and the civic poets of the Risorgimento. Although he eventually abandoned terza rima, he later returned to it in "A Desperate Vitality," in Poesia in forma di rosa (1964). He revised many poems in Friuliano and published them in La nuova giovento (1975). Pasolini's later poems are more autobio-graphical and confessional, yet the political concerns central to the majority of his works are still evident. In his last works Pasolini declared a kind of poetic bankruptcy as he attempted to renounce literature and his origins. Shortly before his death Pasolini repudiated a large part of his own work: "It's already an illusion to write poetry, and yet I keep doing so, even if for me poetry is no longer the marvelous classic myth that exalted my adolescence. I no longer believe in dialectic and contradiction, but only in opposition."

Critical Reception

Most critics agree that Pasolini's great contribution was the creation of a "civic" poetry, "the rational argument of a civilized mind." The adjective has also been used to describe Pasolini's verse as "public" poetry, even if there was not necessarily a consensus of acceptance by the public. Critics and intellectuals have considered Pasolini an "organic intellectual," a term used by Gramsci to designate a new kind of militant intellectual, linked to the working class, who worked through the apparatus of the party. The openness in Pasolini's poetry has been seen as a strength by some critics; others have commented on Pasolini's inability to resolve his inner conflicts in his work, and his tendency toward narcissism, egocentrism, and martyrdom. While some critics, noting Pasolini's strong narrative tendency and use of traditional metrics, have read his poetry as a conservative exercise which missed the 1960s avant-garde trend in Italy, Pasolini's poetry has been seen by some as immune to a historically-determined categorization. Stefano Agosti considered Pasolini's poetic language "a diction which is at once total and suspended, entirely involved and critically deferred."

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)


Poésie a Casarsa 1942

I diarii 1945

Tal cour di un frut: Nel cuore di un fanciullo 1953

Dal diario, 1945-47 1954

La meglio gioventù 1954

Le ceneri di Gramsci [The Ashes of Gramsci] 1957

L'usignolo delia Chiesa Cattolica 1958

Passione e ideologia, 1948-1958 (poetry and essays) 1960

Roma 1950: Diario 1960

La religione del mio tempo 1961

L'odore dell'India [The Scent of India] (poetry and prose) 1962

Poesia in forma di rosa 1964

Poesie dimenticate 1965

Trasumanar e organizzar 1971

La nuova giovento: Poesie friulane, 1941-1974 1975

La divina mimesis [The Divine Mimesis] 1975

Le poesie [Poems] 1975

Roman Poems: Bilingual Edition 1986

Poetry 1993

Other Major Works

Ragazzi di vita [The Ragazzi] (novel) 1955

Una vita violenta [A Violent Life] (novel) 1959

Accatone (screenplay) 1961

Il sogno di una cosa [A Dream of Something] (novel) 1962

Mamma Roma (screenplay) 1962

Il vangelo seconde Matteo (screenplay) 1964

Alì dagli occhi azzurri [Roman Nights and Other Stories] (short stories) 1965

Ucellacci e uccellini (screenplay) 1965

Edipo Re [Oedipus Rex: A Film, adapted from the tragedy by Sophocles] (screenplay) 1967

Teorema [Theorem] (novel and screenplay) 1968

Porcile [Pigsty] (screenplay) 1969

Medea [adapted from the tragedy by Euripides] (screenplay) 1970

Empirismo eretico [Heretical Empiricism] (essays) 1972

Calderón (drama) 1973

Il padre selvaggio (prose) 1975

Salò o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma (screenplay) 1975

Scritti corsari (essays) 1975

Trilogia della vita (Il Decamerone, I racconti di Canterbury, Il fiore delie Mille e una notte) (screenplays) 1975

Affabulazione (drama) 1977

Pilade (drama) 1977

The Letters of Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1940-1955 (letters) 1993

Jean-Michel Gardair (essay date 1971)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: An Interview with Pier Pasolini, in Stanford Italian Review, Vol. II, No. 2, Fall, 1982, pp. 46-8.

[In the following interview, originally published in 1971, Pasolini discusses the poetic renewal that inspired Trasumanar e organizzar.]

Pasolini the filmmaker had overshadowed for some time Pasolini the writer. Then, however, not only six tragedies and a collection of essays were published one after the other, but with Trasumanare e organizzar a poetic silence that had lasted since Poesia in forma di rosa (1964) was broken.

[Gardair]: Was this silence due to circumstances or to some "poet's block"?


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Norman MacAfee (essay date 1980-81)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "'I Am a Free Man': Pasolini's Poetry in America," in Italian Quarterly, Vols. XXI-XXII, Nos. 82-83, Fall-Winter, 1980-81, pp. 99-105.

[In the following excerpt, MacAfee focuses on the appropriateness of Pasolini's civil poems to a post-fascist society.]

Pasolini's Italian poems were made as civil poems, in bright contrast to the then still dominant mode of poetic discourse, hermeticism—whose style was, I think, a function of its poets living under the growth and success of fascism. Pasolini's Italian poems, from 1954 to his death, are discourse appropriate to a post-fascist society, and fully use a climate of freer speech. Pasolini's long civil poems link...

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Allen Mandelbaum (essay date 1980-81)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: '"Ah Mistica / Filologia!" Rereading Pasolini," in Italian Quarterly, Vols. XXI-XXII, Nos. 82-83, Fall-Winter, 1980-81, pp. 95-8.

[In the following essay, Mandelbaum comments on what he deems the "over-sympathetic relation between Pasolini and his audience"]

Few poets have declared their own bankruptcy as resolutely as did Pasolini: "Ιο? Ιο sono inaridito e superato," uttered in parentheses, parentheses less complex than Marvell's "my fruits are only flowers" but certainly echt Pasolini. Like Eliot's rueful assessment of "twenty years largely wasted" at the end of "east Coker"; or Swinburne's "least song" at the end of "By the North...

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Anthony Oldcorn (essay date 1980-81)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini and the City: Rome 1950: A Diary," in Italian Quarterly, Vols. XXI-XXII, Nos. 82-83, Fall-Winter, 1980-81, pp. 107-19.

[In the following excerpt, Oldcorn examines the poet's formative years in Rome and how they are reflected in his work, particularly in the early verse journal, Rome 1950: A Diary.]

The verse journal Roma 1950, diario (Rome 1950: A Diary) remained unknown until 1960, when it was published in a limited edition of 600 copies by Vanni Scheiwiller of Milan. This "book of hours," which chronicles the poet's state of mind in his moments of rest from servile work—his first awakenings, his evenings, holidays, the...

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Wallace P. Sillanpoa (essay date 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini's Gramsci," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 96, No. 1, January, 1981, pp. 120-37.

[In the following excerpt, Sillanpoa investigates the influence of Antonio Gramsci on Pasolini's work.]

When discussing those who perhaps most influenced the thought of the late Pier Paolo Pasolini, poet, novelist, critic and filmmaker, one critic recently spoke of "il suo Gramsci." Implied in this possessive is the highly personal interpretation that Pasolini attached to the example and writings of Antonio Gramsci, revolutionary political theorist whose famous notebooks survived their author's death in 1937 after eleven years of Fascist imprisonment. What follows...

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Paul Colilli (essay date 1981-82)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Concept of Death in Pier Paolo Pasolini: A Philosophical Approach," in Canadian Journal of Italian Studies, Vol. 5, Nos. 1-2, Fall-Winter, 1981-82, pp. 91-7.

[In the following essay, Colilli uses philological criticism to study the concept of death in Pasolini's poems.]

The purpose of this paper is to investigate briefly the application of philological criticism to the study and interpretation of poetry, and in particular to a selected poem of Pier Paolo Pasolini in order to examine the claim by philological critics that a specific word is not used repetitively and randomly by the poet. In fact, as is generally believed by philological critics, a...

(The entire section is 2210 words.)

Stefano Agosti (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Word Beside Itself," in Stanford Italian Review, Vol. II, No. 2, Fall, 1982, pp. 54-71.

[In the following essay, Agosti presents a phenomenological analysis of Pasolini's poetry, seeing his verse as both conservative and innovative.]

It is probable (it is, at least in part, already an established fact) that an attempt at historical collocation of Pier Paolo Pasolini's poetry—considered in terms of its most significant and most striking achievements: Le ceneri di Grantsci, 1957; La religione del mio tempo, 1961; some sections of L'usignolo delta Chiesa cattolica, published in 1958 but containing work of the period 1943-1949—would...

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Keala Jane Jewell (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Reading Pasolini's Roses," m Symposium, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, Fall, 1982, pp. 207-19.

[In the following excerpt, Jewell examines the poems "A na fruta," "Poesia informa di rosa," and "Nuova poesia in forma di rosa" in order to find a definition of Pasolini's poetic language.]

Pier Paolo Pasolini initiated his literary education writing lyric poetry. Commentators have found elusive, inherent poeticity throughout his work. In fact it is possible to view the poetic as a key to the complexity and diversity of a production which included novels, plays, journalistic essays, drawings and films. I wish to examine moments of Pasolini's poetic practice and theory in order...

(The entire section is 4632 words.)

N. S. Thompson (review date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Poet into man," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4,149, October 8, 1982,p. 1105.

[In the following excerpt, Thompson notes the development of Pasolini from "civil poet" to "kinetic poet" in Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poems]

As a poet, Pier Paolo Pasolini was an arch-traditionalist; as a man, a "politikon z on", he was a radical romantic whom disillusion drove to despair. The man frustrated the poet and forced him, first, to relinquish his traditional means in favour of a freer approach to poetry, and later, to abandon his poetry—ostensibly, at least—for the cinema.

The present volume of Poems, … represents about a sixth of...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Pia Friedrich (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "La meglio gioventù: The Best Youth," in Pier Paolo Pasolini, Twayne Publishers, 1982, pp. 48-59.

[In the following essay, Friedrich analyzes the imagery of Narcissus in Pasolini's Fruilian poems of La meglio gioventù.]

La meglio gioventù [The best youth] is the volume, published in 1954, that brings together the entire first cycle of Friulian poems: most of the Poesie a Casarsa (1941-48); the Suite furlana (1944-49); a group of poems directly linked to the events of the Resistance entitled Il Testament Coran (1947-52); Appendice (1950-53); and Romancero (1953). The latter group includes, under the subtitle /...

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John Ahern (essay date 1983)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini: His Poems, His Body," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall/Winter, 1983-Spring/Summer, 1984, pp. 103-26.

[In the following excerpt, Ahern demonstrates how Pasolini 's "whole poetic career can be seen as a doomed struggle with the violence of poetic language. "]

It is easy to forget that Pier Paolo Pasolini is a major poet. Between 1950 and his death in 1975 he published four volumes of vigorous criticism—social, political, cultural, linguistic, and literary. Some of these pieces, just a few years after newspaper publication, have already found their way into anthologies. He wrote or directed over two dozen compelling, highly...

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Robert Wells (review date 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Most Ancient of Youths," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4,253, October 5, 1984, p. 1130.

[In the following excerpted review of Selected Poems, Wells notes that the strength of Pasolini's poetry derives from its openness and departure from hermetic lyric tradition.]

"What strikes me is the realization of how ingenuous was the expansiveness with which I wrote them: it was as if I were writing for someone who could only love me a great deal. I understand now why I have been the object of so much suspicion and hatred".

The great strength of Pasolini's poetry is its openness, the desire "to have / the world before my eyes and not /...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Achille Formis (essay date 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A Review of Selected Poems, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 80, No. 4, October, 1985, pp. 959-61.

[In the following excerpted review of Selected Poems, Formis finds that Pasolini's "fracture between moral vocation and inner feelings, between reason and instinct" is not resolved in his poetry.]

Pasolini's death was tragic and at the same time dreary: a homosexual murdered by ragazzi di vita. The Italian media and over-zealous biographers exaggerated in giving details of the event. Here Pasolini's lifelong problem clearly comes to light: the fracture between moral vocation and inner feeling, between reason and instinct. I would not have...

(The entire section is 612 words.)

Naomi Greene (essay date 1990)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pasolini: Organic Intellectual'?" in Italian Quarterly, Vol. XXXI, Nos. 119-20, Winter-Spring, 1990, pp. 81-100.

[In the following excerpt, Greene surveys Pasolini's intellectual response to the thought of Antonio Gramsci, as reflected in his political verse.]

Pasolini's great debt to [Antonio] Gramsci (a debt he repeatedly acknowledged, defining himself at one point as "gramscian") was by no means an unususal phenomenon among members of his generation: as one historian has noted, the discovery of Gramsci's writings after the war "created a sub-renaissance within the wider reawakening of Italian cultural life." But he may have been unique in that his response...

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Chris Bongie (essay date 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Postscript to Transgression," in Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de Siècle, Stanford University Press, 1991, pp. 188-228.

[In the following excerpt, Bongie observes the importance of the "authentic experience" in Pasolini's poems.]

One cannot … speak of Pasolini during the early 1960's without taking into account the twenty-year path that led him to embrace the Third World as a radical solution to the problem of decadence…. If we consider his earlier (and without question most important) literary production, we find that the "outside" that will eventually become so necessary for Pasolini is anything but present there; it proves, in...

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Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Schwartz, Barth David. Pasolini Requiem. New York: Pantheon, 1992, 785 p.

Detailed biography of Pasolini's life, career, and violent death.

Siciliano, Enzo. Pasolini: A Biography, translated by John Shepley. New York: Random House, 1982, 435 p.

First translated biography of Pasolini.


Allen, Beverly. "The Shadow of His Style." Stanford Italian Review II, No. 2 (Fall 1982): 1-6.

Compares the "assertive uniqueness" of the Catholicism, Marxism, and...

(The entire section is 530 words.)