The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“La Pietà” (the pity) is a poem of seventy-four lines arranged in four sections. The English translation is generally very close to the Italian original in meaning and identical in arrangement of line. Most stanzas are composed of only one line, although several contain more; moreover, the poem is divided into four parts, the first being composed of thirty-nine lines, the second of twenty, the third of only four, and the fourth of eleven. The lines are of irregular length in the original, and the translation follows the line length of the original as much as possible. For instance, in the second stanza, composed of four lines, the English translation has two lines of six syllables each, one of five, and one of four; in the original, each line has eight syllables. The lines, in both languages, are unrhymed. In both the original and the translation, the poem is written in grammatically correct, complete sentences, but with a simple, conversational style.

The poem takes the form of a monologue, which occasionally becomes a prayer. The speaker begins by saying “I am a wounded man,” expressing a desire to “reach” pity, as if he were trying to journey to a place where he might be healed. In a sense, the rest of the poem describes a journey through various aspects of the speaker’s profound dissatisfaction with his existence. Ungaretti wrote “La Pietà” in 1928, when he was forty, and in it he reassesses life—as do many thinkers at that age—but in ways specifically his own.

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem shares its general sentiment with some biblical psalms, as a lamentation over the human inability to find ultimate certainty or fulfillment. Like many psalms, it is a first-person meditation in which both personal grief and the fate of humanity are lamented. Also like biblical poetry, “La Pietà” repeats ideas in different words, as in the first section’s “You have banished me from life./ And will you banish me from death?” In both lines, God has somehow chosen to isolate the speaker from the world around him, and the lines repeat the thought, forming a pair that is more memorable than either line would be on its own. This biblical rhetorical strategy gives a traditionally religious feel to the poem.

Also, like the four movements of a classical symphony, the parts of the poem complement one another. Although each portion reflects the same general state of unhappiness with worldly life, each portrays a different aspect. The first section, which constitutes just over half the poem, recounts the poet’s disillusionment in detail. He compares himself to leaves being blown by the wind and claims he has been crying without an audible voice, suggesting total futility. In section 2, the poet speaks directly of a lack of joy and of an awareness of death in the midst of the bustle that is contemporary life. He once was joyful and knew purpose in life, but now is convinced his activities belong to a world already dead.

In the third...

(The entire section is 455 words.)