Eugenio Montale

Infobox Writer
name = Eugenio Montale

awards = awd|Nobel Prize in Literature|1975
birthdate = birth date|1896|10|12|mf=y
birthplace = Genoa, Italy
deathdate = death date and age|1981|9|12|1896|10|12|mf=y
deathplace = Milan, Italy
occupation = Poet, prose writer, editor, translator

Eugenio Montale (October 12, 1896September 12, 1981) was an Italian poet, prose writer, editor and translator, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975.


Early years

Montale was born in Genoa. His family were chemical products traders (his father furnished Italo Svevo's firm). The poet's niece, Bianca Montale, in her "Cronaca famigliare" ("Family Chronicle") of 1986 portrays the family's common characteristics as follows:

Montale was the youngest of six sons. He recalled: "We were a large family. My brothers went to the "scagno" ["office" in Genoese] . My only sister had a university education, but I had not such a possibility. In many families the unspoken arrangement existed that the youngest was released from the task to keep up the family's name". In 1915 Montale worked as an accountant, but was left free to follow his literary passion, frequenting the city's libraries and attending his sister Marianna's private philosophy lessons. He also studied opera singing with the baritone Ernesto Sivori, but this had only superficial effect in his future inspiration.

Montale was therefore a self-taught man, free of any conditioning from higher authorities and limited only by his very will and his person itself. His imagination was formed by several writers, including Dante Alighieri, and by studies of foreign languages, together with the landscapes of the Levante ("Eastern") Liguria, where he spent holidays with his family.

During World War I, as a member of the Military Academy of Parma, Montale asked to be sent to the front. After a brief war experience as an infantry officer in Vallarsa and Val Pusteria, in 1920 he came back home.

The years of Montale's youth can described as "rugged and essential" - the words he used for his land. In his vision of the world, the private feelings and a deep observation of the few things surrounding him were prevalent. This "little world" of Mediterranean nature and the women of the family is however supported by an unstoppable series of reading, the most gratifying for Montale, being motivated only by his pleasure and desire of knowledge.

Poetic works

Montale wrote a relatively small number of works. Four anthologies of short lyrics, a "quaderno" of poetry translation, plus several books of prose translations, two books of literary criticism and one of fantasy prose. Alongside his imaginative work he was a constant contributor to Italy's most important newspaper, the "Corriere della Sera".

The resulting absurdity of World War I (nothing was accomplished; and as General Foch said, the Treaty of Versailles, it was not the end, but only a temporary cease-fire) took its toll in various parts of the world of the arts and it manifested itself in various ways; eg, Dadaism, de Stijl. In Italy, among the poets, it manifested itself in the form of the Hermetical Society; refer to Hermeticism which was probably the inspiration for the society's name. The output of the poetry group was to create poems of total illogic; thus mirroring the absurdity of the "War to End all Wars". The rise of the fascist regime influenced deeply, though at an unconscious level, his first poetry collection "Ossi di seppia" ("Cuttlefish Bones"), which appeared in 1925.

The strong presence of Mediterranean landscape of Montale's native Liguria was a strong presence in his first poems: the geographical limits of Montale's inspiration were therefore the outer face of a sort of "personal reclusion" in face of the depressing events around him. The social emargination of his social class, liberal and acculturated, sharpened his sensibility towards nature's phenomena: the personal solitude generated a talk with the little and insignificant things of Ligurian nature, or with the far and evocative of its horizon, the sea. According to Montale nature is "rough, scanty, dazzling". The sea is "fermenting", provided of that hypnotic call which only the Mediterranean in certain hours can exert. In a life which appeared one of defeat since the very beginning, nature seemed to give Montale a deeper dignity, the same that the reader experiences reading his poems.

The Anticonformism of the new poetry

Montale moved to Florence in 1927 to work as editor for the publisher Bemporad. Florence was the cradle of the Italian poetry of that age, with works like the "Canti orfici" by Dino Campana (1914) and the first lyrics by Ungaretti for the review "Lacerba". Other poets like Umberto Saba and Vincenzo Cardarelli had been highly praised by the Florentine publishers. In 1929 Montale was asked as chairman of the Gabinetto Vissieux Library, from which he was expelled in 1938 by Fascism. In the meantime he collaborated to the magazine "Solaria", and frequented the literary cafe Giubbe Rosse ("Red Jackets"), where he got acquainted with Elio Vittorini and Carlo Emilio Gadda. He also wrote for almost all the literary magazines of that age of renovated research for poetry.

Though hindered by economic problems and by the conformism imposed by the authorities, Montale published in Florence his finest anthology, "Occasioni" ("Occasions", (1939). From 1933 to 1938 he was acquainted with Irma Brandeis, a Jewish-American scholar of Dante who occasionally visited Italy for short visits before returning to the United States. After falling in love with Brandeis, Montale's recollection of her ceased to be literary and she became a mediatrix figure like Dante's Beatrice. "Le occasioni" contains numerous allusions to Brandeis, here called Clizia. Franco Fortini judged Montale's "Ossi di Seppia" and "Occasioni" the highest points of the whole 20th century's Italian poetry.

A very important role in the poetry of Eugenio Montale was played by T. S. Eliot. In fact, the new ideas (poems) of Eliot were showed after just printed to Eugenio Montale from an important Italian professor who was teaching to Liverpool, Mario Praz. The objective correlative used by Montale in his poetry, was certainly influenced by T. S. Eliot.

Disharmony with the world

From 1948 until his death Montale lived in Milan. As a contributor to the "Corriere della Sera" he was music editor and reported from abroad, including Palestine where he went as a reporter to follow Pope Paul VI's voyage there. His works as a journalist are collected in "Fuori di casa" ("Out of Home", 1969).

"La bufera e altro" ("The Storm and Other Things") was published in 1956 and marks the end of Montale's most acclaimed poetry. Here his figure Clizia is joined by La Volpe ("the Fox"), based on the young poetess Maria Luisa Spaziani with whom Montale had an affair during the 1950s.

His later works are "Xenia" (1966), "Satura" (1971) and "Diario del '71 e del '72" (1973). Montale's later poetry is wry and ironic, musing on the critical reaction to his earlier works and on the constantly changing world around him. "Satura" contains a poignant elegy to his wife Drusilla Tanzi. Montale's fame at that point had extended to the whole world. He had received honorary degrees by the Universities of Milan (1961), Cambridge (1967), Rome (1974), and had been named Senator-for-Life in the Italian Senate. In 1975 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He died in Milan in 1981.

In 1996 a work appeared called "Posthumous Diary" ("Diario postumo") that purported to be a literary time-bomb constructed by Montale before his death with the help of the young poet Annalisa Cima. Critical reaction at first varied, with some believing that Cima had forged the collection outright, though now the work is generally considered authentic.


* "Ossi di seppia" (1925)
* "La casa dei doganieri e altre poesie" (1932)
* "Le occasioni" (1939)
* "Finisterre" (1943)
* "La fiera letteraria" (Poetry criticism, 1948)
* "La bufera e altro" (1956)
* "La farfalla di Dinard" (Journalism, 1956)
* "Satura" (1962)
* "Accordi e pastelli" (1962)
* "Il colpevole" (1966)
* "Xenia" (1966)
* "Fuori di casa" (1969)
* "Diario del '71 e del '72" (1973)
* "Posthumous Diary" (1996)
* "The Storm & Other Poems", trans. Charles Wright (Oberlin College Press, 1978), ISBN 0-932440-01-0
* "Selected Poems", trans. Jonathan Galassi, Charles Wright, & David Young (Oberlin College Press, 2004), ISBN 0-932440-98-3

External links

* " [ Eugenio Montale e la sua poesia] " (in Italian)
* [ Montale at the Nobel E-Museum]
* [ Montale and T.S.Eliot] (in Italian)

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