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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Montale uses two formal devices—omission of a title and refusal to specify the “voice” of the poem—to help immediately immerse readers in his poetry so they can experience its unique vision as fully, directly, and intimately as possible.

Another device he uses is imagery, the most famous aspect of his poetry. Taking as his source the commonplace realities of nature and daily life, he presents sharply etched details with spare, economical description. These carefully delineated images are radiant with life; like the glaring midday landscape of “The Wall,” their concreteness creates a multifaceted significance which pervades the poem.

When images have such an extensive influence on the poem, they can be said to provide its basic structure. This is certainly the case in “The Wall,” as the poem’s English title attests. Of major importance to its setting and action, the image of the wall both opens and closes the poem. The wall, the physical reality of which is expressed first in terms of simple description, is later treated as complex metaphor. This metaphor simultaneously symbolizes the narrator’s perception of existential reality while it embodies the pessimistic vision of life itself, for it is through “this following alongside” the orchard wall that the narrator progressively perceives the wholeness—both physical and metaphysical—of life.

Although the poem has many such concrete images, it is the way...

(The entire section is 493 words.)