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About this poet

Eugenio Montale was born into a family of businessmen in Genoa on October 12, 1896. During World War I, he served as an infantry officer on the Austrian front. Orginially Montale had trained to be an opera singer, but when his voice teacher died in 1923, he gave up singing and concentrated his efforts on writing. After his first book, Ossi di seppia (Cuttlefish Bones), appeared in 1925, Montale was received by critics as a profoundly original and experimental poet. His style mixed archaic words with scientific terms and idioms from the vernacular. He was dismissed from his directorship of the Gabinetto Vieusseux research library in 1938 for refusing to join the Fascist party. He withdrew from public life and began translating English writers such as Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Herman Melville, and Eugene O'Neill. In 1939, Le occasioni (The Occasions) appeared, his most innovative book, followed by La bufera e altro (The Storm and Other Things, 1956). It was this trio of books that won Montale the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975 and established him as a founder of the hermeneutic school of Italian poetry.

In 1948 he moved from Florence to Milan where he became chief literary critic for Italy's primary newspaper, Corriere della Sera. In addition to writing poems, Montale was also a prolific essayist, writer of stories and travel sketches, distinguished music critic, translator, and amateur painter. He corresponded with Ezra Pound (despite Pound's Fascist sympathies), Italo Svevo, and Salvatore Quasimodo. In 1961, Montale was awarded an honorary degree at the University of Rome and shortly afterwards, at the universities of Milan, Cambridge, and Basel. In recognition of his work, as well as his courageous opposition to fascism, he was made a lifetime member of the Italian Senate in 1967. After a long break from writing poetry, Montale published four collections during the last ten years of his life: Satura (Miscellany, 1971), Diario del '71 e del '72 (Diary of 1971 and 1972, 1973), Quaderno di quattro anni (Notebook of Four Years, 1977), and Altri versi e poesi disperse (Other and Uncollected Poems, 1981). Eugenio Montale died in Milan in 1981 at the age of 85.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Altri versi e poesi disperse (1981)
Diario 1971-1972 (1973)
Finisterre (1943)
L'opera in versi (1980)
La bufera e altro (1956)
La casa dei doganieri e altre poesie (1932)
Le occasioni (1939)
Ossi di seppia (1925)
Quaderno di quattro anni (1977)
Quaderno di traduzioni (1948)
Satura (1971)

Prose

Auto da fé: Cronache in due tempi (1966)
Fuori di casa (1969)
La farfalla di Dinard (1956)
Nel nostro tempo (1976)

In the Greenhouse

Eugenio Montale, 1896 - 1981
The lemon bushes overflowed
with the patter of mole paws,
the scythe shined
in its rosary of cautious water drops.

A dot, a ladybug,
ignited above the quince berries
as the snort of a rearing pony broke through,
bored with his rub-down—then the dream took over.

Kidnapped, and weightless, I was drenched
with you, your outline
was my hidden breath, your face
merged with my face, and the dark

idea of God descended
upon the living few, amid heavenly
sounds, amid childish drums,
amid suspended globes of lightning

upon me, upon you, and over the lemons...

"In the Greenhouse" translated by Charles Wright, from Selected Poems, Eugenio Montale, Oberlin College Press © 2004. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

"In the Greenhouse" translated by Charles Wright, from Selected Poems, Eugenio Montale, Oberlin College Press © 2004. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale was born into a family of businessmen in Genoa on

by this poet

poem
Hear me a moment. Laureate poets 
seem to wander among plants
no one knows: boxwood, acanthus,
where nothing is alive to touch.
I prefer small streets that falter
into grassy ditches where a boy,
searching in the sinking puddles,
might capture a struggling eel.
The little path that winds down
along the slope
poem

We don't know if tomorrow has green pastures

in mind for us to lie down in beside

the ever-youthful patter of fresh water

or if it means to plant us in some arid

outback ugly valley of the shadow

where dayspring's lost for good, interred beneath

a lifetime of mistakes. We'll