The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Wall” is a short poem in irregular verse, its seventeen lines divided into four stanzas. The author believed that titles often mislead or constrict the reader’s understanding of poems—thus this poem has no title in the original Italian. In being untitled, it is like most of the other poems in Ossi di seppia (1925; Bones of the Cuttlefish, 1984); it differs from the majority of Eugenio Montale’s works, however, in that it is written from an impersonal point of view.

“The Wall” opens with a situation common in the sunny Mediterranean: the search for repose during the hot noon hours. Although lethargy and sleep are common in this oppressive period, the anonymous observer is paradoxically attentive. The narrator’s sense of hearing is abnormally heightened in spite of his “lazying” beside the orchard wall, and he is acutely aware of the wild, harsh surroundings. Instead of dismissing as unimportant background noise the “crackles” and “rustles” of nature, the poet makes them the central focus of stanza 1.

The next stanza shifts this focus to the sense of sight. The narrator watches, as if through a magnifying glass, columns of tiny red ants in the nearby cracks and brush. The ants become a significant presence in the dry wasteland, keenly observed as they scurry in their frantic, often contradictory motion atop their minuscule mountains.

In the third stanza, as if using a motion-picture...

(The entire section is 407 words.)