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.