Salvatore Quasimodo Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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...

(The entire section is 1038 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Salvatore Quasimodo (kwah-zee-MOH-doh) was one of the most important Italian poets of the twentieth century. Born in a small community on the island of Sicily, this son of a railway worker dreamed of becoming an engineer and finding a life in the wider world. He studied at technical schools in Palermo and Messina and then went to Rome in 1919 to further his education in engineering. He surprised himself by discovering a passion for classical literature and ultimately found his calling as a writer and teacher instead of an engineer.

Financial difficulties forced him to leave school, and he earned his living for a time with stints as a draftsman, a hardware salesman, and a store clerk. In 1925 he married Bice Donetti. By the end of the 1920’s he had begun submitting poems to small literary magazines, and in 1930 he published his first book of poems, Acque e terre (waters and lands). After a few years as a drama editor in Florence, he became in 1941 a professor of Italian literature at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan, where he taught for twenty-three years.

Quasimodo’s life and work is usually divided into two periods. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, he was one of the central figures of what came to be known as the Hermetic school of Italian poets. His poetry from this period is often difficult to understand because its elevated language is chosen more for its personal meaning to the poet than for its...

(The entire section is 508 words.)