Giuseppe Ungaretti

Orfeas Katsoulis | Nov 18, 2023

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Giuseppe Ungaretti (Alessandria d'Egitto, February 8, 1888 - Milan, June 1, 1970) was an Italian poet, writer, translator and journalist.

He was one of the leading poets of 20th-century Italian literature. Initially influenced by French symbolism, his poetry was characterized in the early days by very short compositions, consisting of a few essential words and sometimes bold analogies, included mainly in the collection L'allegria (he then moved on to more complex and articulate works with conceptually difficult content. A third phase of his poetic evolution, marked by grief over the untimely loss of his son, included meditative works of intense reflection on human destiny. In his later years his poems mirrored the wisdom, but also the detachment and sadness of old age. He was also considered by some critics as a forerunner of Hermeticism.

The younger years

Giuseppe Ungaretti was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in the Moharrem Bek suburb to Italian parents originally from the province of Lucca. His father Antonio (1842-1890) was a laborer employed at the excavation of the Suez Canal, who died two years after the future poet's birth from dropsy, a disease contracted during the years of grueling work. His mother, Maria Lunardini (1850-1926), ran her own bakery, with which she managed to secure her son's education, so he could enroll at one of the most prestigious schools in Alexandria, Switzerland's École Suisse Jacot. To the mother figure he would dedicate the poem The Mother, written in 1930, four years after her death.

The love of poetry arose in him during this school period, intensifying through the friendships he made in the Egyptian city, which was as rich in ancient traditions as it was in new stimuli, stemming from the presence of people from so many countries of the world; Ungaretti himself had a wet nurse originally from Sudan, a Croatian maid and an Argentinian caregiver.

During these years, through the magazine Mercure de France, the young man became acquainted with French literature and, thanks to his subscription to La Voce, also with Italian literature. He thus began to read, among others, the works of Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Giacomo Leopardi, Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Baudelaire, the latter thanks to his friend Mohammed Sheab.

He also had an exchange of letters with Giuseppe Prezzolini. In 1906 he met Enrico Pea, who had recently emigrated to Egypt, with whom he shared the experience of the "Red Shack," a red-painted marble and lumber yard, a meeting place for socialists and anarchists.

He began working as a business correspondent, which he did for some time, but made some bad investments; he then moved to Paris to undertake his university studies.

The stay in France

In 1912, after a short period in Cairo, he therefore left Egypt and traveled to France. On the way he saw Italy and its mountainous landscape for the first time. In Paris, he attended lectures given by philosopher Henri Bergson, philologist Joseph Bédier and Fortunat Strowski for two years at the Sorbonne (presenting a paper on Maurice de Guérin with Strowski) and the Collège de France.

Coming into contact with an international artistic milieu, he met Guillaume Apollinaire, with whom he formed a firm friendship, Giovanni Papini, Ardengo Soffici, Aldo Palazzeschi, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Amedeo Modigliani and Georges Braque. Invited by Papini, Soffici and Palazzeschi, he soon began collaborating with the magazine Lacerba, publishing futurist-inspired poems between February and May 1915 (some of his lyrics directly recall Palazzeschi's verses).

In 1913 his childhood friend Moammed Sceab died, committing suicide in the rue des Carmes hotel room he shared with Ungaretti. In 1916, within the verse collection The Buried Harbor, the poem dedicated to him, In Memory, would be published.

In France, Ungaretti filtered his previous experiences, perfecting his literary knowledge and poetic style. After a few publications in Lacerba (16 poems), which occurred thanks to the support of Papini, Soffici and Palazzeschi, he decided to leave as a volunteer for the Great War.

The Great War

When World War I broke out in 1914, Ungaretti actively participated in the interventionist campaign, later enlisting in the 19th Infantry Regiment of the "Brescia" Brigade when, on May 24, 1915, Italy entered the war. Following the battles on the Karst, he began to keep a notebook of poems, which were later collected by his friend Ettore Serra (a young officer) and printed, in 80 copies, at the Stabilimento Tipografico Friulano in Udine in 1916, under the title Il porto sepolto. He also contributed at that time to the trench newspaper Sempre Avanti. He spent a brief period in Naples in 1916 (evidenced by some of his poems, e.g. Natale: "Non ho voglia

In the spring of 1918, the regiment to which Ungaretti belonged went to fight in France, in the Champagne area, with General Alberico Albricci's II Italian Army Corps. In July 1918 he wrote Soldati, composed in the Courton woods. Upon his return to Paris, on November 9, 1918, he found the body of his friend Apollinaire, crushed by Spanish fever, in his Paris attic.

Between the two wars

After the war, Ungaretti remained in the French capital, first as a correspondent for the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia, edited by Benito Mussolini, and later as a clerk in the press office of the Italian embassy. In 1919, the collection of verses in French La guerre - Une poésie was printed in Paris, which would later be included in his second collection of verses Allegria di naufragi, published in Florence the same year.

In 1920 he met and married Jeanne Dupoix, by whom he would have three children: one born and died in the summer of 1921, Anna Maria (or Anna-Maria, as he used to sign, with the French hyphen) called Ninon (Rome, February 17, 1925 - Rome, March 26, 2015), and Antonietto (Marino, February 19, 1930 - São Paulo, Brazil 1939)

In 1921, he moved with his family to Marino, in the province of Rome, and worked in the press office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The 1920s marked a change in the poet's private and cultural life. He joined fascism, signing the Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals in 1925.

During those years, he carried out an intense literary activity in French (Commerce and Mesures) and Italian (in La Gazzetta del Popolo) newspapers and magazines, and made several trips, in Italy and abroad, for various conferences, obtaining in the meantime several awards of an official nature, such as the Gondolier's Prize. These were also the years of the maturation of the work Sentimento del Tempo; the first publications of some of the work's lyrics occurred in L'Italia letteraria and Commerce. In 1923 Il porto sepolto was reprinted, at La Spezia, with a preface by Benito Mussolini, whom he had met in 1915, during the campaign of the interventionist socialists.

In 1925, as mentioned, he was among the signatories of the Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals, drafted by Giovanni Gentile and published in the main newspapers of the time, in which fascism was extolled as a revolutionary movement projected toward progress. On August 8, 1926, at Luigi Pirandello's villa near Sant'Agnese, he challenged Massimo Bontempelli to a duel over a controversy that arose in the Roman newspaper Il Tevere: Ungaretti was slightly wounded in the right arm and the duel ended in a reconciliation.

Also in the summer of 1926, he moved to Marino Laziale (where he wrote the poem Stelle), made his new residence official at the registry office on July 21, 1927, first in an apartment located at house number 68 Corso Vittoria Colonna, then, from September 8, 1931, in a small villa on Viale Mazzini with house number 7, known as the Ghibellino, where he stayed until September 27, 1934 with his wife Jeanne Dupoix and daughter Anna Maria.

In 1928, however, he matured his religious conversion to Catholicism, as also witnessed in the work Sentiment of Time.

Beginning in 1931, the poet was commissioned as a special correspondent for La Gazzetta del Popolo and traveled, therefore, to Egypt, Corsica, the Netherlands and Southern Italy, gathering the fruit of these experiences in the collection The Poor Man in the City (to be published in 1949), and in its reworking The Desert and After, which would not see the light of day until 1961. By 1933 the poet had reached the height of his fame.

In 1936, during a trip to Argentina at the invitation of the Pen Club, he was offered the professorship of Italian Literature at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, which Ungaretti accepted; he then moved with his entire family to Brazil and remained there until 1942. In São Paulo, his son Antonietto would die in 1939, at the age of nine, from poorly treated appendicitis, leaving the poet in a state of acute grief and intense inner prostration, evident in many of his later poems, collected in Il Dolore, of 1947, and in Un Grido and Paesaggi, of 1952.

World War II and the postwar period.

In 1942 Ungaretti returned to Italy and was appointed Academician of Italy and, "by clear fame," professor of modern and contemporary literature at "La Sapienza" University in Rome. In March 1943, Ungaretti gave a lecture at the University of Zagreb on "Leopardi the Initiator of Modern Lyric," as part of Mussolini's larger policies of cultural penetration of Italy into Croatia. Despite his literary and academic merits, the poet would fall victim to the purge that followed the fall of the Fascist regime: exactly from July 1944, when Education Minister Guido de Ruggero signed the decree suspending Ungaretti from teaching, until February 1947, when the new Education Minister Guido Gonella permanently reinstated the poet as a teacher. Testifying to his strenuous efforts to be reinstated is a letter, dated July 17, 1946, sent to then Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi, in which Ungaretti defended his cause, listing his many merits achieved in Italy and abroad. The poet would later retain his position as a university lecturer until 1958 and then, as an "out-of-tenure" professor, until 1965. Around his professorship were formed some of the intellectuals who would later distinguish themselves for important cultural and academic activities, such as Leone Piccioni, Luigi Silori, Mario Petrucciani, Guido Barlozzini, Raffaello Brignetti, Raffaele Talarico, Ornella Sobrero and Elio Filippo Accrocca.

Beginning in 1942, the Mondadori publishing house began the publication of Ungaretti's opera omnia, entitled Vita di un uomo. After World War II, Ungaretti published new poetry collections, enthusiastically devoting himself to those journeys that gave him a way to spread his message and obtaining significant awards, such as the Montefeltro Prize in 1960 and the Etna-Taormina Prize in 1966. He published an acclaimed translation of Racine's Phaedra and came close to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

In 1958 the poet suffered a serious bereavement: his beloved wife Jeanne passed away following a long illness.

The last few years

In his last years Giuseppe Ungaretti intertwined a romantic relationship with the Italian-Brazilian Bruna Bianco (fifty-two years younger than him), whom he met by chance in a hotel in São Paulo, where he was staying for a conference. Of their passionate love affair four hundred letters remain as testimony. In 1968 Ungaretti achieved particular success thanks to television: before the airing of Franco Rossi's television drama The Odyssey, the poet read excerpts from the Homeric poem, captivating the audience with his expressiveness as a declamator. Also in 1968, for his 80th birthday, Ungaretti was celebrated on Capitol Hill, in the presence of Prime Minister Aldo Moro; honoring him were poets Montale and Quasimodo.

In 1969 Mondadori inaugurated the Meridiani series by publishing Ungaretti's opera omnia. In the same year the poet founded the association Rome et son histoire. In November 1969 the record album La vita, amico, è l'arte dell'incontro by Giuseppe Ungaretti, Sergio Endrigo and Vinícius de Moraes was released. On the night of December 31, 1969, to January 1, 1970, Ungaretti wrote his last poem, L'Impietrito e il Velluto, which was published in a lithographic folder on the poet's 82nd birthday.

In 1970, a trip to New York, U.S.A., during which he was awarded a prestigious international prize by the University of Oklahoma, permanently debilitated his albeit solid fiber. He died in Milan, Italy, on the night of June 1-2, 1970, at the age of 82, from bronchopneumonia. His funeral was held on June 4 in Rome, in the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura, but no official representative of the Italian government attended. He is buried in the Verano Cemetery, next to his wife Jeanne.

Allegria is a key moment in the history of Italian literature: Ungaretti reworks in a highly original way the formal message of the Symbolists (especially the broken, punctuation-free verses of Guillaume Apollinaire's Calligrammes), combining it with the atrocious experience of evil and death in war. Associated with the desire for fraternity in sorrow is the desire to seek a new "harmony" with the cosmos that culminates in the aforementioned poem Morning (1917). This mystical-religious spirit will evolve in the conversion in Sentimento del Tempo and later works, where the stylistic attention to the value of words (and the recovery of the roots of our literary tradition), indicates in poetic verse the only possibility of man, or one of the few, to save himself from the "universal shipwreck." In Ungaretti's poetics, for example in the poems Vigil and Non Gridate Più, the common element in the poems is the desire to carry forward the "vital impulse" ("I have never been so attached to life" - Vigil) toward life itself that stems from the feeling of precariousness (see also Soldiers) and the vision of death through the helpless bodies of fellow soldiers. It is precisely this that allows one to appreciate life and thus give momentum toward the deeper meaning of existence and Creation.

The most dramatic moment in the journey of this life of a man (this is how, like a "diary," the author defines his overall work) is surely recounted in The Sorrow: the death in Brazil of his little son Antonio, which definitively marks the poet's weeping inside even in later collections, and which will never cease to accompany him. Only brief interludes of light are allowed to him, such as his passion for the very young Brazilian poet Bruna Bianco, or his childhood memories in The Old Man's Notebooks, or when he evokes the universe gazes of Dunja, an elderly nanny whom his mother had taken in their Alexandria home:

Ungaretti's poetry created some disorientation from the first appearance of The Buried Port. It won the favor of both the intellectuals of La Voce and French friends, from Guillaume Apollinaire to Louis Aragon, who recognized in it the common Symbolist matrix. There was no shortage of controversy and lively hostility from many mainstream critics and the general public. They did not understand it, for example, the followers of Benedetto Croce, who condemned its fragmentism.

Recognizing in Ungaretti the poet who had first succeeded in formally and profoundly renewing the verse of the Italian tradition, were above all the poets of Hermeticism, who, in the aftermath of the publication of Sentimento del tempo, hailed in Ungaretti the master and forerunner of their own poetic school, initiator of "pure" poetry. Since then Ungaretti's poetry has experienced uninterrupted fortune. To him, along with Umberto Saba and Eugenio Montale, have looked, as an indispensable point of departure, many poets of the second half of the twentieth century.


The Giuseppe Ungaretti fund is kept at the contemporary archives "Alessandro Bonsanti" of the Gabinetto Vieusseux, donated in April 2000 by Anna Maria Ungaretti Lafragola, the poet's daughter. The fund, which comes gathered in 46 folders, contains the poet's correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts of his poetic, critical and translator production, newspaper clippings with his texts or with articles and essays dedicated to him.

An Airbus A320-216 of ITA Airways, code EI-DTM, is dedicated to Giuseppe Ungaretti.


  1. Giuseppe Ungaretti
  2. Giuseppe Ungaretti
  3. ^ a b Venne registrato all'anagrafe come nato il 10 febbraio, e festeggiò sempre il suo compleanno in quest'ultima data.F. Del Beccaro, Alle origini di Ungaretti, in «Rassegna lucchese», 49, 1970, p. 10.
  4. ^ Ettore Allodoli, Giovanni Buti, Storia della letteratura italiana, Sandron, Firenze, 1963
  5. ^ Francesco Flora, La poesia ermetica, Laterza, Bari, 1936
  6. ^ Intervista presso la Rai di Ettore Della Giovanna, 1961
  7. F. Del Beccaro, Alle origini di Ungaretti, in «Rassegna lucchese», 49, 1970.
  8. Walter Mauro (Vita di Giuseppe Ungaretti, Camunia, Milano 1990).
  9. Maria Grazia Di Filippo, Chiara Smirne, Poesia italiana del Novecento, De Agostini, 2011.
  10. Lettere a Giuseppe Prezzolini, a cura di M. A. Terzoli, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Roma 2000.
  11. a b Giuseppe Ungaretti, Vita d'un uomo - Saggi e interventi, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Segrate, 1974, p. 681. ISBN 978-88-04-11459-8.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Picchione & Smith, p. 204
  13. ^ Giuseppe Ungaretti, Vita d'un uomo – Saggi e interventi, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Segrate, 1974, p. 681. ISBN 978-88-04-11459-8
  14. ^ Payne; Picchione & Smith, p. 204
  15. ^ Payne; Picchione & Smith, p. 204-205
  16. Luzi, Mario (2003). Daquela Estrela a Outra - Lucia Wataghin (org.). Cotia: EDUSP. p. 217. ISBN 8574801585

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