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About this poet

Eugenio Montale was born into a family of businessmen in Genoa, Italy, 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 established him as a founder of the hermetic 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). In 1975 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions." Montale died in Milan in 1981 at the age of 85.


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)

The Lemon Trees

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 plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.

Perhaps it is better
if the jubilee of small birds
dies down, swallowed in the sky,
yet more real to one who listens,
the murmur of tender leaves
in a breathless, unmoving air.
The senses are graced with an odor
filled with the earth.
It is like rain in a troubled breast,
sweet as an air that arrives
too suddenly and vanishes.
A miracle is hushed; all passions
are swept aside. Even the poor
know that richness,
the fragrance of the lemon trees.

You realize that in silences
things yield and almost betray
their ultimate secrets.
At times, one half expects
to discover an error in Nature,
the still point of reality,
the missing link that will not hold,
the thread we cannot untangle
in order to get at the truth.

You look around. Your mind seeks,
makes harmonies, falls apart
in the perfume, expands
when the day wearies away.
There are silences in which one watches
in every fading human shadow
something divine let go.

The illusion wanes, and in time we return
to our noisy cities where the blue
appears only in fragments
high up among the towering shapes.
Then rain leaching the earth.
Tedious, winter burdens the roofs,
and light is a miser, the soul bitter.
Yet, one day through an open gate,
among the green luxuriance of a yard,
the yellow lemons fire
and the heart melts,
and golden songs pour
into the breast
from the raised cornets of the sun.

Permission from Handsel Books (an imprint of Other Press LLC) to reprint "The Lemon Trees" from Montale in English Copyright © 2002, 2004 Harry Thomas is gratefully acknowledged.

Permission from Handsel Books (an imprint of Other Press LLC) to reprint "The Lemon Trees" from Montale in English Copyright © 2002, 2004 Harry Thomas is gratefully acknowledged.

Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale was bornin Genoa, Italy, in 1896. He served as an infantry officer in World War I and published his first book of poetry in 1925. Montale, who received the 1975 Nobel Prize in Literature, died in 1981.

by this poet

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

poem
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