Poems, by Giuseppe Ungaretti

Paul Klee, This Star Teaches Bending, 1940.


Considerations about the Italian poet’s anthology

poems, by Giuseppe Ungaretti, impresses with its aesthetics: hardcover, impressionist theme featuring craquelê technique on the cover and back cover, various shades of green, orange and white, orange front and back pages, 14 x 27 rectangular format, pearlescent coated paper . A beautiful and presentable book that fascinates the eye. The work is marked by paths, places, times and people that crossed his biography, transfiguring itself into a hermetic poetics.

In the Preface, Alfredo Bosi informs us that Giuseppe Ungaretti was a professor of Italian literature at the University of São Paulo (1936 – 1942). He reports that he keeps the syllabic rhythm in memory, staccato, who had to learn to read brief, intense sentences, with the suggestive force of each pause. He says: “Nothing in his verses is random, nothing intrudes on them as a separate or superfluous verbal exercise, as everything is saturated with meaning” (p. 10).

Staccato, or highlighted, designates a type of phrasing or articulation in which the notes and motifs of phrases (words or music) must be executed with suspensions and pauses between them. It is an instrumental or vocal performance technique that opposes the tied up, connected, which consists of joining notes or words successively so that there is no pause or silence between them (https://dicionario.priberam.org/)

Giuseppe Ungaretti, son of Italian parents from Lucca, was born in 1888, in Alexandria, Egypt and spent his childhood and adolescence there. His father, an engineer hired to work on the construction of the Suez Canal, died in an accident at the site. The family remained in Alexandria working in a bakery and he began his formal education in French at Ecole Suisse Jacot, being awakened to literature. In his youth, he became interested in poetry and became involved with literary groups and meetings of socialist and anarchist movements. He worked as a journalist and literary critic at Revista Risorgeteque, edited by the anarchist writer Enrico Pi, distancing himself from his Christian background and claiming to be an atheist.

In 1912, at the age of 24, Giuseppe Ungaretti moved to Paris, attended the Sorbonne and attended classes by Henri Bergson at College de France. He participated in literary groups and published in the magazine lacerba. In 1914, he returned to Italy, settling in Milan and voluntarily engaging as a soldier in the Infantry. In 1915, he was recruited to fight in the province of Trieste, in front of Carso, and then in Champagne, in France, during the First World War. At that time, he felt deeply affected by the suicide of a fellow pensioner, a combatant who died in absolute anonymity:


It was called
Moammed Sceab

of emirs of nomads
because there was no more

Loved France
and changed name

It was Marcel
but he wasn't French
and I no longer knew
to live
in your tent
where you hear the singing
from the Quran
enjoying a coffee

I did not know
tie off
the corner
of your abandonment

I followed him
together with the hostess
where we lived
in Paris
at number 5 rue des Carmes
squalid downhill alley

at Ivry Cemetery
suburbia that looks like
in day
decomposed fair

And maybe just me
still know
who lived (p. 39, 41)

He was deeply shaken by the harshness of the war and published Il port sepolto portraying moments of horror and pain:


There comes the poet
and then returns to the light with its songs
and disperses them

Of this poetry
I have enough
that nothing
of inexhaustible secrecy (p. 43)

Then he wrote Casa Mia, expressing the joy of someone who survived the tragedy of war and managed to return without hardening their feelings:


after so much
of this love

I thought I had dispersed it
around the world (p. 31)

In 1918, Giuseppe Ungaretti returned to Paris and worked as a correspondent for the Jornal Il Popolo d'Italia, by Benito Mussolini, with whom he felt fascinated and formed closer ties. In 1920, he married Frenchwoman Jeanne Dupoix, with whom he had a daughter, Ninon (1925), and a son, Antonietto (1930).

He returned to Italy in 1926, settling in Rome, working as a news writer for several foreign newspapers and joining the National Fascist Party. In 1928 he reconnected with Catholicism and began attending monasteries and liturgical groups, having signed the pro-fascist Manifesto of Italian writers.

In the 1930s he moved to the city of São Paulo and became a professor at USP, his first stable job. He lived painful experiences in Brazil with the death of his brother (1937) and his son Antonietto (1939) at just nine years old due to a serious attack of appendicitis. These episodes of loss and suffering inspired the work Pain, published in Milan, with the poems Giorno per Giorno (p. 197- 203), reporting the boy’s agony and Gridaste: soffoco (p. 244- 245) that brings something strange and cruel, the excessive blue of the São Paulo sky when he watches, deaf and impassive, the death of his beloved son.


“No one, mom, has ever suffered so much…”
And your face is already erased
Although the eyes are still alive
From the pillow I returned to the window,
And the room was filled with sparrows
Pecking the crumbs that his father scattered
To distract the boy…

Now only in dreams can I kiss
Your trusting hands…
I talk, work,
I've changed little, I'm afraid, I smoke...
How is it possible that I can last so much night? …

The years will bring me
Maybe other horrors,
But if I felt you together,
You would have consoled me…


I love you, I love you, and the crying is endless! … (p. 197- 199)


I couldn’t sleep, you couldn’t sleep…
You screamed: Suffocate...
On your face, already reduced to a skull,
The eyes, which still shined
A moment ago,
The eyes dilated…. They lost….
I've always been shy,
Rebel, stubborn; but pure, free,
Happy, in your eyes I was reborn...
Then the mouth, the mouth
What would it seem, throughout your life,
Flash of grace and joy,
The mouth contorted in silent struggle...
A boy died…

Nine years, a closed circle,
As now, it was night,
And you gave me your hand, your fine hand...
Terrified I heard my voice saying:
This astral sky is too blue,
Too many stars crowd it,
And, to us, none are familiar….

Three years after the outbreak of the Second World War, Giuseppe Ungaretti returned to Italy, being received with honor by Giuseppe Botai, Minister of Education of the National Fascist Party, and was appointed professor of Modern Literature at the University of Rome. At the end of the war, after the fall of Mussolini, expelled from the teaching staff due to his connections with the fascist regime, he ended up being reinstated when his colleagues voted for his reinstatement. He remained there until 1958, the year of his wife Jeanne's death. He died in Milan in 1970, aged 82.

Geraldo Holanda Cavalcanti, translator of great Italian poets of the 9th century, with award-winning works in Brazil and Italy, says that Giuseppe Ungaretti was the poet who gave him the most work, as the translation should interpret the images of his poetry and adapt to the his syntax, straying as little as possible from his words and rhythm since his texts give the feeling that “the author does not accept being deciphered” (p. 17). Thus, he seeks to pursue the findings of words and rhythms, at the same time tracing an autobiographical itinerary through poetry. He understands that they are poems of a meditative nature with recurring themes such as time, life, death, being and nothingness (p. XNUMX). In this way, his poetry carries images of hopelessness and death inserted in the scenario of the illusion of consolation:


Between a flower picked and another offered
the inexpressible nothing (p. 25).

In this way, Geraldo Holanda Cavalcanti understands that images, music and, above all, rhythm structure the lyrical phrases that must be read aloud, giving relevance to the pause, to the moments of silence to deepen the perception of each unit of meaning, many of which are composed by a single word (p. 18). He suggests that the expression “the feeling of time” could name the entire work of Giuseppe Ungaretti.

And I end with:


In part
of the world
I feel
at home.

In each
what a meeting
I recognize
one day
I've been to him too

And I always let go of him

being born
back of times too

enjoy a single
minute of life

I'm looking for a country

Giuseppe Ungaretti studied at good schools and universities, participated in progressive cultural and political movements, was a journalist, literary critic and university professor. What intrigues me about his trajectory are questions posed by Theodor Adorno (2000) since Auschwitz: how could an educated, educated, sensitive intellectual and poet give in to the authoritarian potential of fascism?; how do social and psychological issues in modern societies constantly evoke repressed traits that promote aggression, brutality, blind manipulation of brains?; Why are bodily discipline, the ability to withstand physical pain and indifference to the pain of others linked to images that represent strength, security, virility, sadistic and destructive attraction?

Giuseppe Ungaretti was not the only case: Ezra Pound (1885- 1972), born Hailey, Idaho, in the USA, moved to Italy in 1924 and was one of the authors renowned for producing innovative literary work. Poet, literary critic and, alongside TS Eliot, became the main representative of the modernist movement. However, during the 1930s and 1940s, he became an apologist for fascism, an admirer of Mussolini and host of a radio program with strong anti-Semitic and anti-American content, even blaming the Jewish people for the advent of the Second World War.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894- 1961), French doctor and writer, had his novel Late night trip Critically acclaimed for his consistent use of slang and vulgar language, he nevertheless published anti-Semitic pamphlets, collaborated with the Nazi occupation of France, and supported the Vichy government and the Third Reich.

Umberto Eco (2013), discussing the role of universities in the globalized world, points out that they persist as one of “those few places where a rational confrontation between different world views is possible” (p. 3) and that “history in us showed that people can love Brahms or Goethe and, at the same time, be capable of organizing extermination camps.

But these same people, before consummating their final solution, had to persecute the universities, one by one, and subjugate all critical minds” (p. 3). Thus, despite cases such as Ungaretti, Pound and Céline, the university, education, school, culture and literature remain antidotes against any type of dictatorship.

* Deborah Mazza She is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences in Education at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Paulo Freire, culture and education (Unicamp Publisher). [https://amzn.to/48uJdfS]


Giuseppe Ungaretti. poems. Translation: Geraldo Holanda Cavalcanti. Bilingual edition. São Paulo, Edusp, 2022, 272 pages. [https://amzn.to/3rp7KlU]


ADORNO, Theodor W. Emancipation Education. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2000.

ECO, Umberto. Why universities? Bologna, 2013. Original text available at http://www.disf.it/files/eco-perche-universita.pdf. Translation Marco Aurélio Nogueira. Available: https://marcoanogueira.blogspot.com/search?q=umberto+eco.

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