December 2, 2012

Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale [Italy]

The youngest of six boys, Eugenio Montale was born in Genoa on October 12, 1896. His father was a chemical product trader. As the youngest son, Montale was, as he put it, “released from the task to keep up the family’s name.

      In 1915 he worked as an accountant, but was allowed a great deal of free time to frequent the public libraries and to attend his sister Marianna’s private philosophy classes. He studied opera with Ernest Sivori.

     In the war of 1915-1918, Montale became an infantry officer, but with the death of Sivori, he turned to literature, devoting himself to poetry. In 1921 he contributed to Primo Temp, demonstrating what the Nobel committee has described as “a rare critical talent through his acuteness and independence of conventional patterns.” Montale also contributed to the newspaper, Corriere della Sera, and wrote a large number of essays on literature, music, and art, including a foreward for an edition of The Divine Comedy.

     His first collection of poetry, Ossi di seppia (1925, Cuttlefish Bones) quickly became one of the major works of contemporary Italian poetry. Critics praised its interlinking poems, which created a sense of a continuous narrative not unlike a novel.

     In 1928 Montale moved to Florence, becoming the director in the Gabinetto Vieusseux library. During this period, her contributed to the magazine Solaria and frequented the literary café Le Giubbe Rosse (Red Jackets). An anti-fascist, he refused to join the party then in power, and was dismissed from his job.

    Now hindered with financial difficulties and having to face the conservative demands of the authorities, Montale still found a way to publish one of his most important collections, Le occasione (1939, The Occasions). Having developed a close relationship with the Jewish-American Dante scholar, Irma Brandeis, he represented her several times in that collection, as a mediatrix figure not unlike Dante’s Beatrice.

     Throughout World War II and immediately after, Montale continued to publish new works, often however in small print runs, including Finisterre (1943), published in Lugano, translations, Quaderno di traduczion (Milan, 1948), and a book of poetry criticism, La fiera letteraria (1948).

     In 1956 the poet published another collection poems, La bufera e altro (The Storm and Other Things) in Venice. A collection of stories, Farfalla di Dinard was printed privately that same year.

     In 1961, Montale was awarded an honorary degree at the University of Rome, and soon after, similar degrees from the universities of Milan, Cambridge, and Basel. Appointed in 1967 as a senator for life “in recognition of his distinguished achievements in the literary and artistic fields,” Montale was freed from his daily writing chores as music critic at the Corriere della Sera. Throughout this period, he was able to publish a wide range of poetry (Satura, 1962; Xernia, 1966; and his collected poems in 1977), as well as travel writing, cultural criticism, and other works.

     In 1975, Montale received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

     He died in Milan in 1981.


Ossi de seppia (Lanciano: Carabba, 1925); La casa dei doganieri e alter poesie (Florence: Vallecchi, 1932); Le occasioni (Turin: Einaudi, 1939); Finisterre (Lugano, Collano di Lugano, 1943); La bufera e altro (Venice: Neri Pozza, 1956; reprinted as a larger edition: Milan: Arnaldo Mondadori, 1957); Satura (Verona: Oficina Bodoni, 1962); Xenia (private edition, 1966); Il colpevole (Milan: V. Scheiwiller, 1966); Satura (1962-1970) (1971); Diario del ’71 e del ’72 (Milan: Mondadori, 1973); Tutte le poesie (Milan: Mondadori, 1977); L’opera in versi (1980; reprinted as Altri verse e poesie disperse Milan: Mondadori, 1981); Tutte le poesie, ed. by Giorgio Zampa (1991)


Poems, trans. by Edwin Morgan (Reading, England: University of Reading, 1959); Poesie: Poems, trans. by George Kay (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1964); Selected Poems, trans. by Glauco Cambon (New York: New Directions, 1965); Provisional Conclusions: A Selectionof the Poetry of Eugenio Montale, trans. by Edith Farnsworth (Chicago: Regernery, 1970); Xenia, trans. by Ghan Singh (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1970); Motetti: The Motets of Eugenio Montale, trans. by Lawrence Kart (Grabhom Hoyem press, 1973, reprinted Minneapolis: Gray Wolf Press, 1990); Selected Poems (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975); New Poems, trans. by Ghan Singh (New York: New Directions, 1976); Xenia and Motets, trans. by Kate Hughes (Agenda Editions, 1977); It Depends: A Poet’s Notebook, trans. by Ghan Singh (New York: New Directions, 1980); Otherwise: Last and First Poems, trans. by Jonathan Galassi (New York: Random House, 1984); The Storm and Other Things, trans. by William Arrowsmith (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986); The Occasions, trans. by William Arrowsmith (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987); The Coastguard’s House: Selected Poems, trans. by Jeremy Reed (Tarset, Northumberland, England: Bloodaxe, 1990); Cuttlefish Bones: 1920-1927 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992); Collected Poems: 1920-1954, trans. by Jonathan Galassi (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997); Collected Poems, trans. by Jonathan Galassi (Manchester: Carcanet, 1999); Collected Poems: 1916-1956, trans. by Jonathan Gallasi (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997); Collected Poems: 1920-1954, trans. by Jonathan Galassi (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998); Selected Poems, trans. by Jonathan Galassi, Charles Wright, and David Young (Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College Press, 2004)

For a small selection of 7 poems by Montale, click below:



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