Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale
(1896 - 1981)

Italian poet, prose writer, editor, and translator who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975.
Montale, a veteran of World War I, opposed Fascism in the postwar period, when his literary activity began. He was cofounder (1922) of Primo tempo ("First Time"), a literary journal; worked for the publisher Bemporad (1927-28); served as director of the Gabinetto Vieusseux Library in Florence (1929-38); was poetry critic for La fiera letteraria (1938-48; "The Literary Fair"); and in 1948 became literary editor and later music editor for the Milan daily newspaper Corriere della sera ("Evening Courier").

Montale's first book of poems, Ossi di seppia (1925; "Cuttlefish Bones"), expressed the bitter pessimism of the postwar period. In this book he used the symbols of the desolate and rocky Ligurian coast to express his feelings. A tragic vision of the world as a dry, barren, hostile wilderness not unlike T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land inspired Montale's best early poems.

The works that followed Ossi di seppia included La casa dei doganieri e altre poesie (1932; "The House of the Customs Officer and Other Poems"), Le occasioni (1939; "The Occasions"), and Finisterre (1943; "Land's End"), which critics found progressively more introverted and obscure. Montale's later works, beginning with La bufera e altro (1956; The Storm, and Other Poems), were written with increasing skill and a personal warmth that his earlier works had lacked. His other collections of poems include Satura (1962), Accordi e pastelli (1962; "Harmony and Pastels"), Il colpevole (1966), and Xenia (1966), the last work a gentle and evocative series of love poems in memory of his wife, who died in 1963. Diario del '71 e del '72 was published in 1973. Montale published three volumes of collected Poesie in 1948, 1949, and 1957.

Montale was considered in the 1930s and '40s to be a Hermetic poet. Along with Giuseppe Ungaretti and Salvatore Quasimodo, he was influenced by French Symbolists such as Stephane Mallarme, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Valery and sought to convey experiences through the emotional suggestiveness of words and a symbolism of purely subjective meaning. In his later poetry, however, Montale often expressed his thoughts in more direct and simple language. He won many literary prizes and much critical acclaim, and much of his poetry has been translated.

In addition to translating his own poetry, Montale translated that of William Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as prose works by Herman Melville, Eugene O'Neill, and other writers. He collected his own stories and sketches from Corriere della sera in La farfalla di Dinard (1956; The Butterfly of Dinard).

Jared Becker, Eugenio Montale (1986), introduces Montales' life and works. Critical studies include G. Singh, Eugenio Montale (1973); Rebecca J. West, Eugenio Montale: Poet on the Edge (1981); and Glauco Cambon, Eugenio Montale's Poetry: A Dream in Reason's Presence (1982).


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