We The Italians | Great Italians of the Past: Giuseppe Ungaretti

Great Italians of the Past: Giuseppe Ungaretti

Great Italians of the Past: Giuseppe Ungaretti

  • WTI Magazine #90 Apr 14, 2017
  • 221

The poet of the pure word, sought for a long time, essential, perfect in its uniqueness and drama is without a doubt Giuseppe Ungaretti. Famous for his compositions, often very short and intense, Ungaretti was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in the suburb of Moharrem Bey, on February 8, 1888. His father, Antonio Ungaretti, was a factory worker, employed in the digging of the Suez Canal, who died two years later the birth of the future poet.

The love of poetry arose in him during the school years in Alexandria, thanks to his intensified friendships with people from the Egyptian city, so rich both of ancient traditions and of new stimuli. Fundamental for him was also the presence in his life of people from many different countries of the world. The poet himself had a nanny from Sudan, a Croatian colf and an Argentine caregiver.

In 1912, after a brief period spent in Cairo, he left Egypt and traveled to France. During this trip, he saw Italy and its mountain landscape for the first time. In Paris, Ungaretti entered into an international arts scene and had the chance to meet Guillaume Apollinaire, with which he formed a solid friendship; but also Aldo Palazzeschi, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Amedeo Modigliani, and Georges Braque.

In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, Ungaretti was active in the interventionist campaign, and later enlisted as a volunteer. In the spring of 1918, his regiment went to fight in France, in the Champagne area. On his return to Paris, on November 9, 1918, in his penthouse in Paris, he found Apollinaire's body, died from Spanish flu.

In 1921, he moved with his family to Marino, in the province of Rome, and worked as a contributor to the Press Office of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In those years, he had an intense literary activity on French and Italian newspapers and magazines such as "Commerce" and "La Gazzetta del Popolo", traveling for a long time in Italy and abroad for many conferences, and getting in the meantime various official recognitions, such as the Gondolier Prize.

These were also the years of work maturation of "Sentimento del Tempo". In 1936, during a trip to Argentina, invited by the Pen Club, he was offered the chair of Italian literature at the University of Sao Paulo, which Ungaretti accepted. He then moved with the whole Family to Brazil, where he remained until 1942 to escape the Fascist regime, which he opposed.

His last trip was to the United States in 1970, where he received a prestigious international award from the University of Oklahoma. The poet died in Milan in the night between June 1st and 2nd, 1970.

The poetic power of Ungaretti resides in the original reworking of French symbolism, conjugated with the atrocious experience of death and suffering in war. The desire for fellowship in pain is associated with the desire to seek a new "harmony" with the cosmos. This mystical and religious spirit evolves in a change of religious beliefs in "Sentimento del Tempo" and in the successive works, where the stylistic attention to the value of the word will crown the poetic verses as the only possibility, or one of the few possibilities for man to save himself from a ''universal shipwreck".

After creating an initial sense of disorientation in the Italian intellectual community, Ungaretti's poetry entered into the hearts of the literary world when it was realized that this man had formally and deeply renewed the direction of the Italian poetry. By then, Ungaretti will be considered a beacon to which other great poets as Eugenio Montale and Umberto Saba will look, the precursor of a simple and profound poetry, the true founder of the "pure" poem.