Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Ungaretti's Critical Writings on Petrarch and the Renewal of the Petrarchan Tradition

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Ungaretti's Critical Writings on Petrarch and the Renewal of the Petrarchan Tradition

Article excerpt

Giuseppe Ungaretti e uno dei poeti che, nell'ambito di quella modalita poetica del primo Novecento che va sotto il nome di Ermetismo, ha portato nuova linfa alla linea lirica petrarchesca. In Ungaretti l'accostamento alla poesia di Petrarca si accompagna all'allontanamento dall'esperienza delle avanguardie parigine e dalla filosofia di Bergson verso un recupero delle istanze della classicita rappresentate da Petrarca, appunto, e poi da Leopardi nell'ambito della tradizione letteraria italiana, e da Platone nell'ambito della riflessione filosofica. Il saggio ripercorre le tappe di questo cammino poetico e gnoseologico di Ungaretti, fotografandolo in tre momenti importanti, definiti dal rapporto che la poesia ha con concetti come quelli di rivelazione, memoria ed oblio.

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Giuseppe Ungaretti is the poet and critic who, in the fist half of the twentieth century, is most responsible for an influential reading of Petrarch's poetry. (1) Ungaretti's writings on the poet of Laura are crucial in setting some of the firm tenets of Petrarch's poetry as well as for the understanding of Ungaretti's own poetry. The importance of memory, the identification of poetry and absence of the desired object, the refinement of the poetic language at the risk of obscurity: these are some of the main elements that through the work of the poet of Sentimento del tempo pass on to Petrarch's literary criticism as well as to the poets of the following generation, especially Piero Bigongiari, Mario Luzi and Andrea Zanzotto. (2) One needs only to keep in mind the role played by Giuseppe De Robertis as a critic of Ungaretti and Hermeticist poetry as well as critic of Petrarch in order to have a sense of the contiguity of interests between the two poetic projects; furthermore, in reading De Robertis' studies on Petrarch, one cannot overlook the heavy influence that Ungaretti's own readings of the poet must have had on his friend and critic. (3)

One of the debates that run through modern Italian poetry involves the referential tradition of the lyrical mode. As the poetic expression increasingly softens the difference between epic and lyric, the borders of the two becoming ever more imperceptible, Dante and Petrarch reemerge as the models of a poetry that aims at transcending the constraints of the genre. If epic poetry as such is not considered possible any more, lyric poetry tends to assume some of the tenets of epic. Thus, already Leopardi chooses a Dantesque title for his poems, in which, however, the Petrarchan lesson is unmistakable. Moreover, the title Canti becomes to him what oeuvre is to Mallarme: the identification of a poietic project engaging the entire life span of the author. By the same token, both Pascoli and D'Annunzio, in quite different and often opposite modes, proposed the intersection of epic and lyric poetry according to strategies that often betray the Dantean bias.

It is not by chance that the heir of these often contradictory tensions in nineteenth-century Italian poetry, Hermeticism, is the most striking example of the attempt to satisfy at once the two tensions of epic and lyric poetry in the twentieth century. Indeed, telling statements by those poets confirm, among other aspects, this merging of lyric and epic. Thus Ungaretti gathers all his poetic and critical works under the title Vita d'un uomo, suggesting the epic of the individual hero who through the form of the fragment gives way to the lyric and yet builds the journey not only within each collection, but indeed throughout the several books of poems, now understood as steps of the journey itself. (4) To be sure, the decision to give such a title to his oeuvre may be referred to many influential precedent examples that Ungaretti kept in mind throughout his life, the main one being probably Mallarme and his notion of the Livre. (5) However, the notion of the unity of writing and living is already familiar to Petrarch, as the Canzoniere and several passages of the Familiares letters testify. …

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