The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Provisional Conclusions” actually comprises two poems: “Piccolo testamento” (“Little Testament”) consists of six sentences forming thirty undivided lines of free verse, while “Il sogno del prigioniero” (“The Prisoner’s Dream”) has thirty-four free-verse lines divided into four stanzas of various lengths. Each title plays upon alternate meanings of “conclusion”: “Little Testament” alludes to death, the final end, and “The Prisoner’s Dream” carries the political connotation of termination or liquidation. Both are written in the first person, for they present the poet’s “temporary judgment or conclusions” about contemporary life.

“Little Testament” opens at night as the poet contemplates his own kindled thoughts. No ardent blaze ignited by political or religious reflection (“factory or churchred or black” signify communism and Catholicism), the fragile “mother-of-pearl” iridescence springs from recollections of love. As if present, the poet tells his beloved to conserve the “powder” of these memories for the time when “every other light’s gone out” and “dark Lucifer” swoops down on the “wild,” “hellish” world to make the apocalyptic pronouncement, “It’s time.”

Hardly diminishing this frightening vision, the poet says his modest gift is “no inheritance, no goodluck charm/ to stand against the hurricanes.” Yet to counteract the gloom, he goes on to reassure his...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The two poems are joined not only by poet Eugenio Montale’s label as “provisional conclusions” but also by the similar forms and devices they share. Presented as loose, even sometimes incoherent ruminations, both open with references to the night, as the narrator ponders the perennial battle between darkness and light. Through various manifestations and images of these forces, each poem offers its own distinctive vision of the difficult, often tragic reality of modern life. In “Little Testament,” this vision is structured around a nucleus of personal religious sentiment. In “The Prisoner’s Dream,” on the other hand, it is conditioned by the exigencies of political dogma. No doubt its focus on the public or social arena of contemporary times makes this second poem more accessible to most readers.

In large part because of their pessimistic visions, both poems are pervaded by gloom and obscurity, which the poet partially offsets through the device of symbolic imagery. Above all, Montale’s images revolve around different types of illumination. In “Little Testament,” for example, “flickering,” “glass-grit,” “faint glow,” and “strikingmatch” all refer to brief, unstable fits of light, with an eventual and more constant brightness promised in references to the “tough log on a grate” and the “glow catching fire/ beneath” at the end of the poem. Images of light of equal significance can be found in “The Prisoner’s...

(The entire section is 522 words.)