Dino Campana

Dino Campana
Born Dino Carlo Giuseppe Campana
20 August 1885(1885-08-20)
Marradi, Italy
Died 1 March 1932(1932-03-01) (aged 46)
Scandicci, Italy
Occupation Poet
Nationality Italian

Dino Campana (20 August 1885 – 1 March 1932) was an Italian visionary poet. His fame rests on his only published book of poetry, the Canti orfici ("Orphic Songs"), as well as his wild and erratic personality, including his ill-fated love affair with Sibilla Aleramo. He is often seen as an Italian example of a poète maudit.



Campana was born in Marradi, near Faenza, northern Italy. Here he spent a happy childhood, despite the discipline of his parents. His father Giovanni, an elementary school principal, was a forthright community member of weak and neurotic character. His mother, Fanny Luti, came from a wealthy family but was an eccentric and compulsive woman, affected by mental illness. She would often wander the hills, forgetting about family duties, and would pathologically attack Dino's younger brother Manlio, born in 1887.[1]

In 1900, at approximately fifteen years of age, Campana came to be diagnosed with the first symptoms of nervous disturbances, and was medicated and sent to an asylum. This did not, however, prevent him from completing the several stages of Italian school. He completed his elementary education in Marradi - his third, fourth and fifth gymnasium years at the college of Salesiani di Faenza. He then undertook his liceo studies, partially at the Liceo Torricelli of the same city, and partially in Carmagnola, at another college. However, when he returned to Marradi, the nervous crises were sharpened, together with frequent jolts of humour - symptoms of a difficult relationship with his family (above all his mother) and his hometown. The future poet obtained his liceo certificate at Carmagnola. In 1903 he enrolled himself at the University of Bologna, in the chemistry faculty, in order to pass through to the faculty of pharmaceutical chemistry in Florence, but he did not succeed in finishing his university career and had difficulty in finding his true calling. This he could only find hints of in writing poetry, and it was to this pursuit – between periods of exaltation and depression – that he applied himself.


Campana had an irrepressible desire to escape and dedicate himself to a life of vagrancy, which he accomplished by undertaking disparate jobs. The first reaction of his family, his town, and public authorities was to consider Campana's strange behavior as obvious signs of madness. Following his journeys, the police (in conformity with the psychiatric system of the day and the uncertainty of his family), admitted him to a lunatic asylum, at the age of 21.

Between May and July 1906, Campana made a first journey to Switzerland and France, which ended with his arrest in Bardonecchia and his admission to Imola. In 1907, Campana’s parents, not knowing what to do about the madness of their son, sent him to stay in Latin America with a family of Italian immigrants. This did not amount to an autonomous journey of the poet, who could not have managed to obtain a passport for the new world by himself, as he was already officially a ‘madman’. In fact his family procured the passport and organised the travel, and Campana left for fear of having to return to an asylum. Campana’s partners supported the move to send him to America, in the hope that the journey would help him recover, but it seems that the passport was valid only for arrival - probably also a matter of an attempt to get rid of him, since living with Campana had by now become unbearable.

His travels in America represent a particularly obscure and unknown point in Campana’s biography: there are those who see him as ‘the poet of two worlds’, while others instead claim that Campana did not even travel to the continent. There are also numerous opinions about possible dates of travel and the route home. The most accredited hypothesis is that he left in the autumn of 1907 from Genova, and wandered around Argentina until the spring of 1909, when he returned to Marradi, and was subsequently arrested. After a short intermission at San Salvi in Florence, he left for travel in Belgium, but came to be arrested again in Brussels, and was interned in a ‘maison de santé’ in Tournai at the start of 1910. After asking for help from his family, he was sent back to Marradi.

Canti Orfici

In its original form the book was composed between 1906 and 1913, and was submitted for possible publication to the poet/painter Ardengo Soffici in Florence. Soffici subsequently lost the manuscript. Campana spent the next six months reconstructing the book from memory. In 1914, with the help of a local printer of religious tracts, he self-published a first edition of around 500 (originally meant to be 1,000). 44 copies were sold on subscription and Campana attempted, with marginal success, to sell the remainder of his portion of the run (the printer had taken half the books as partial printing payment) himself at cafes in Florence.

The text is an autobiographical journey from Marradi through Bologna, Genova, Argentina and back to Genoa. Paralleling the actual physical journey is a spiritual and mystical voyage undertaken by Campana in search of The Longest Day of Genoa (il più lungo giorno di Genova)- his concept of an eternal moment (il eterno presente) outside of normal space-time in which everything and everywhere exists simultaneously. This concept is not explicitly defined in the text, which is less expository or didactic than incantatory in nature. Indeed, it has been left to his critics to extrapolate much of the underlying theory in Campana’s work.

An erratic autodidact, Campana taught himself functional French, German and English- enough to read the Symbolists and Whitman in the original languages. The text is subtitled, in German, The Tragedy of the Last German in Italy and is dedicated to Kaiser William II. Campana ended his book with a faultily remembered quotation in English from Leaves of Grass: “They were all torn and cover’d with the boy’s blood”.

The original manuscript was found amongst Soffici’s belongings in 1971. This find demonstrated that not only had Campana rewritten the original text almost perfectly but had also nearly doubled it in size. This has led some to suggest that Campana had another copy of the manuscript from which he “reconstructed” the work.

Later years

In 1915, Campana again went travelling, without a fixed goal: passing through Turin, Domodossola, and then Florence.

In 1916 the poet looked for employment in vain. He wrote to Emilio Cecchi and began a short correspondence with the author. At Livorno he met with the journalist Athos Gastone Banti, who wrote him a disparaging article in the journal "Il Telegrafo": this nearly ended in a duel. In the same year Campana met Sibilla Aleramo, the author of the novel Una donna, and began an intense and tumultuous relationship with her, that she ended at the start of 1917 after a brief encounter in Christmas 1916 in Marradi. Testimony still remains of the tragic correspondence between Campana and Aleramo, and their letters have been recently published. This correspondence begins with a letter from Aleramo dated June 10, 1916, in which the author expresses her admiration for "Canti Orfici", declaring the poems to have 'enchanted and bedazzled' her. Sibilla was then holidaying in the Villa La Topaia at Borgo San Lorenzo, while Campana was in a critical condition at Firenzuola, recovering after being struck by partial paralysis to the right side of the body.

In 1918 Campana again became interned at the psychiatric hospital of Castel Pulci, in Scandicci (Florence), where he was to remain until his death. The only surviving account of this period of Campana’s life are the interviews with him there by the psychiatrist Carlo Pariani, eventually published in 1938. Dino Campana died, seemingly from a form of blood poisoning due to unknown factors, on March 1, 1932. His remains lie in the cemetery of San Colombano in the territory of Scandicci.


Campana's poetry is a new poetry in which sounds, colors and music are blended in a powerful vision. The line is undefined, an expressive articulation of monotony, but at the same time full of dramatic images of annihilation and purity. The title of Campana's only published work alludes to the Orphic hymns, a literary genre developed in ancient Greece between the second and third century AD and characterized by a non-classical theogony. Also prayers to the gods (especially the god Phanes) are characterized by spells to prevent evil and misfortune.

Key Themes

One of the major themes of Campana, which is present at the beginning of the "Orphic Songs" in the early prose parts - "The Night", "Journey and Return" - is the obscurity between dream and wakefulness. Adjectives and adverbs return with the repetitive insistence of a dreamer's speech: a dream, however, that is interrupted by startling shifts in tone (as in the poem "The Skylight"). In the second part - the nocturne of "Genoa", all the basic mythic figures and scenes that will preoccupy Campana return: port cities, barbaric mother figures, enormous prostitutes, windy plains, the captive teenager. Even in his prose poems, the use of repetition, superlatives, and keywords, as well as the effect of resonance in prepositions, create a strong scene.


In the fifteen years following his death at the end of World War II, and before, during the period of expressionism and futurism, the interpretation of Campana's poetry focused on the apparently uncontrolled depth of the word, hidden in a psychological state of hallucination and ruin. In his verse, where there is evidence of weak supervision and rough writing, there is - according to many critics - the vitality of the turn of the century avant-garde. Because of this, many different poets have been drawn to his poetry, such as Mario Luzi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Andrea Zanotto.

Selected works

The current edition of Dino Campana’s collected writings is Dino Campana Opere (Milan: Editori Associate, 1989).


Dino Campana: Selected Works, trans. Cristina Viti (Survivors' Press, 2006) ISBN 978-1-874595-02-1

Orphic Songs and Other Poems, trans. by Luigi Bonaffini (P. Lang, 1991)

Orphic Songs, trans. Charles Wright (Oberlin College Press, 1984), ISBN 0-932440-17-7

Orphic Songs Pocket Poets #54, trans. Lawrence Salomon (City Lights, 1998) ISBN 978-0-87286-340-8

External links


  1. ^ Salomon, I.L. Preface, 'Orphic Songs'. City Lights Books, 1998, p. xvii.

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  • Campana — I Campana   [spanisch, kam pana], Cencerro. II Campana   [italienisch] die, /...ne, italienische Bezeichnung für Glocke. III Campana …   Universal-Lexikon

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