Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Roma Nostra: The Poetry of Unification in the Sonnets of Cesare Pascarella

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Roma Nostra: The Poetry of Unification in the Sonnets of Cesare Pascarella

Article excerpt

Along with Alessandro Manzoni's attempt at literary unification through italianized Tuscan, the Risorgimento was to inspire a parallel resurgence of literature in different dialects. Even those authors who wrote in lingua--as did Giovanni Verga, Luigi Pirandello, Gabriele D'Annunzio (as well as Giosue Carducci and Giovanni Pascoli from the previous generation)--all captured aspects of their native dialect at the same time as they searched for a richly expressive national literary language. (1) The organic unification of a country that did not share a common language and was still culturally and politically fragmented began with military attempts at geographic expansion; soon, feelings of nationalism began to surface throughout the peninsula. Giuseppe Mazzini's Republican ideals, the struggle for independence from Austrian and French domination, and Giuseppe Garibaldi's Mille expedition, all culminated in the capture of Rome in 1870 and its establishment as capital city of the newly formed kingdom of Italy in 1871. The Roman poet and artist Cesare Pascarella (1858-1940) sought to express, through a crystallized Romanesco, the growing sense of national belonging and the development of an "Italian" patriotism: the conception of a unified country and the vision of its new capital through the eyes and voice of its inhabitants.

Beloved throughout Italy by his contemporaries, Pascarella expressed a trait that Antonio Gramsci calls "cultural nationalism":

[...] un carattere permanente del popolo italiano: l'ammirazione ingenua e fanatica per l'intelligenza in quanto tale, per l'uomo intelligente in quanto tale, che corrisponde al nazionalismo culturale degli italiani, forse l'unica forma di sciovinismo popolare in Italia.

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([...] a permanent characteristic of the Italian people: the naive and fanatical admiration for intelligence for its own sake, for the intelligent man for his own sake, which corresponds to the cultural nationalism of the Italians, perhaps the only form of popular chauvinism in Italy). (2)

In Gramsci's view, this peculiarly Italian patriotic sentiment is best expressed in Pascarella's poetry:

Per apprezzare questo nazionalismo bisogna pensare alla Scoperta dell 'America di Pascarella: il Pascarella e l'"aedo" di questo nazionalismo e il suo tono canzonatorio e il piu degno di tale epopea.

(1202)

(To appreciate this type of nationalism one must think of Pascarella's Discovery of America: Pascarella is the "epic poet" of this nationalism, and his mocking tone is the most fitting for such an epopee.)

Awareness of historical and civic issues and an ear for spoken language provide the foundation for the majority of Pascarella's work, from his earliest sonetti to his longer compositions, Villa Gloria (1886), which made him famous, to La Scoperta dell'America (1893), the most successful collection, to the unfinished Storia nostra, published posthumously in 1941. The sonnets can be described as theatrical monologs meant to be recited, as the author often did. (3) They are filled with sudden changes in tone, asides and the occasional response to a listener's question or objection. Eye-witness accounts of neighborhood and historical events are thus infused by the narrator's own linguistic and cultural frame of reference. The use of dialect endows even the most remote events with a new freshness, rescuing them from the "historical fatigue [...] left by the passing of time" (Cecchi, "Prefazione," Opere di Cesare Pascarella xvi).

Pascarella's unassuming style sets him apart from his contemporaries, most notably the highly stylized Gabriele D'Annunzio with whom he shared a lifelong friendship. (4) While Pascarella's writings celebrate the 19th century and the country's unification, and nostalgically sing of Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour as "Italian heroes," D'Annunzio, along with futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, would focus on the present, favoring Benito Mussolini's own nationalistic ideology as more congenial to their poetics: a nationalism that, in many ways, they had helped to shape. …

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