Born in Modica, Sicily, the son of Gaetano Quasimodo and Clotilde Ragusa, Salvatore Quasimodo, the second of four children, spent the first years of his life following his father, a humble stationmaster, as the family moved from one small Sicilian railroad station to another. In 1908, his father settled in Gela, where Quasimodo was able to attend grade school. In 1909, he again followed his father, this time to Messina, the Sicilian town which, along with Reggio Calabria, had just been hit by the terribly destructive earthquake of 1908. In 1916, after a few years spent near Palermo, Quasimodo returned with his family to Messina, where he and his older brother were enrolled in the local trade school.
At this time, Quasimodo’s poetic vocation, nurtured by careful reading of the classics as well as the major contemporary Russian and French writers, began to surface. He published his first two lyrics, one in the journal Humanitas and the other, a Futurist poem, in Italia futurista. In 1917, together with his lifelong friends Giorgio La Pira and Salvatore Pugliatti, Quasimodo founded the Nuovo giornale letterario, which was in print from March to November of that year.
In 1919, Quasimodo left Messina for Rome in order to attend the engineering school of that city’s university. He soon dropped out, however, and spent the next few years working at odd jobs and leading a rather bohemian life. In 1926, he succeeded in obtaining a position as a land surveyor with the government’s Civil Engineering Department at Reggio Calabria, and thus was able once again to meet regularly with his friends among the Sicilian literati. At this point he began to write seriously; some of the poems included in Acque e terre (waters and lands) date from this period.
The year 1929 was a decisive one in Quasimodo’s life. He was invited by his brother-in-law Elio Vittorini (later to become one of the leading literary figures of contemporary Italy) to go to Florence. There, he was introduced to an influential group of writers and poets, among them Eugenio Montale, and in 1930, he published his first collection of poems, Acque e terre, which met with favorable critical reviews. For work-related reasons, he was sent to Liguria in 1931, where he published the widely acclaimed Oboe sommerso (the sunken oboe) in 1932. That same year, he was awarded the Florentine Prize of the Antico Fattore, which had been given the year before to Eugenio Montale. Sent in 1934 to Valtellina (Lombardy) after a short stay in Sardinia, Quasimodo entered the Milanese intellectual milieu, and in 1935, his daughter, Orietta, was born out of wedlock.
In Milan in 1936, Quasimodo published another book, Erato e Apollion (Aerato and Apollyon), and in 1938 he finally quit his job as a land surveyor to begin working as an editor and assistant to Cesare Zavattini, then the editor of several Mondadori periodicals. In 1939, Quasimodo was made literary editor of the weekly magazine Il tempo. The same year, his son, Alessandro, was born. In 1940, Quasimodo published his controversial translation Lirici greci (Greek lyric poets), notable for its aggressively modern idiom, and the following year he was appointed professor of Italian literature at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan. In 1942, he published the most successful of his works: Ed è subito sera, the volume which marked his shift from the hermetic style of his early verse.
During the war years, without being overtly involved in the anti-fascist resistance movement, Quasimodo nevertheless took a firm stand against fascism, and in 1945, soon after the war, he joined the Italian Communist Party. That same year, he published his masterful translations of Sophocles and of the Gospel of John. Belonging also to this period are a number of critical essays and two collections of socially and ideologically oriented poems: Con il piede straniero sopra il cuore (with an invader’s foot on your heart), published in 1946, and Giorno dopo giorno (day after day),...
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