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A white dove has landed me
among headstones, under spires where the sky nests.
Dawns and lights in air; I've loved the sun,
colors of honey, now I crave the dark,
I want the smoldering fire, this tomb
that doesn't soar, your stare that dares it to. --Eugenio Montale
Opera's loss was poetry's gain. Eugenio Montale, the 1975 Nobel Prize winner in literature and one of Italy's greatest poets, originally aspired to be an opera singer. Born in Genoa in 1896, Montale was a delicate child, his health precluding him from getting a formal education; instead, he spent his youth reading philosophy, literature, and Italian classics, and training as a baritone. World War I found him serving as an infantry officer on the Austrian front. Upon his return to civilian life, Montale took up singing again, but after the death of his voice teacher in 1923, he abandoned his operatic hopes. Just two years later, he published his first collection of poetry, Cuttlefish Bones. Over the next 50 years, Montale would produce many poems in between his work as a journalist; Jonathan Galassi's Collected Poems 1920-1954, however, concentrates on three collections that are, arguably, his masterpieces: Cuttlefish Bones (1925); The Occasions (1948); and The Storm, Etc. (1956).
In addition to Galassi's excellent translations, two other things stand out about this book: one is that both Italian and English versions can be read side by side; the other is that Galassi has thoroughly annotated these poems, placing Montale's challenging work in its historical, cultural, and personal context. We are told, for example, that "Leaving a Dove" is, in part, about the poet's abandonment of an old lover for a new one. Such information adds piquancy to the imagery and depth to the reader's appreciation. --Alix Wilber
The work of Montale, the great modern Italian poet and 1975 Nobel prize winner, swarms with musical imagery and many-layered wordplay. One of many translators (William Arrowsmith, Cuttlefish Bones, LJ 7/93, is another), Galassi presents a hefty bilingual edition that contains translations of three works: Cuttlefish Bones (1920-27); The Occasions (1928-39); and The Storm and Other Things (1940-54). Galassi argues that Montale's later work is "secondary" and that poetry from Cuttlefish Bones to The Storm "describes a complete arc, one of the greatest in modern literature." Galassi's edition provides copious critical annotation, a painstaking attempt to explicate Montale's "collage of borrowings." Identifying allusions (the Holocaust, Stalin's purges), influences (Browning, D'Annunzio), sources (Dante, Debussy), and themes ("Crowds in Montale always carry infernal associations"), Galassi's linguistic-textural analysis unravels many elements of the poet's voice: "a sinuous, constantly transforming series of metaphors spiraling around an elusive central core." This marriage of creative literary research and inspired poetic scholarship helps make Montale accessible to English-speaking readers. With a thorough chronology; an insightful essay, "Reading Montale"; and an index of titles and first lines; highly recommended for all major poetry collections.?Frank Allen, North Hampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.