Carducci, Giosuè (27 July 1835 - 16 February 1907)
Giosuè Carducci (27 July 1835 - 16 February 1907)
Thomas E. Peterson
University of Georgia
BOOKS: Rime di Giosuè Carducci (San Miniato: Tipografia Ristori, 1857);
Della scelta di curiosità letterarie inedite o rare (Bologna: G. Romagnoli, 1863);
Levia gravia, as Enotrio Romano (Pistoia: Tipografia Niccolai e Quarteroni, 1868); revised as Levia gravia: 1861–1867, as Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1881; revised, 1888);
Poesie di Giosuè Carducci (Enotrio Romano) (Florence: Barbèra, 1871; revised, 1875)’comprises Decennali, Levia gravia, and Juvenilia;
Primavere elleniche di Enotrio Romano (Florence: Barbèra, 1872);
Nuove poesie di Enotrio Romano (Imola: Galeati, 1873);
Studi letterari di Giosuè Carducci (Livorno: Vigo, 1874);
Intorno ad alcune rime dei secoli XIII e XIV ritrovate nei Memo-riali dell’Archivio notarile di Bologna, studi di Giosuè Carducci (Imola: Galeati, 1876);
Bozzetti critici e discorsi letterari (Livorno: Vigo, 1876);
Odi barbare di Giosuè Carducci (Enotrio Romano) (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1877);
Satana e polemiche sataniche (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1879);
Juvenilia (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1880);
Tibullo, by Carducci and Rocco de Zerbi (Milan: Fratelli Treves, 1880);
Nuove odi barbare (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1882; revised and enlarged, 1886);
Giambi ed epodi di Giosuè Carducci (1867–1872), nuovamente raccolti e corretti con prefazione (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1882);
Confessioni e battaglie (Rome: Sommaruga, 1882); revised as Confessioni e battaglie. Serie prima (Rome: Sommaruga, 1883);
Confessioni e battaglie. Serie seconda (Rome: Sommaruga, 1883 [i.e., 1882]);
Ça ira. Settembre MDCCXCII  (Rome: Sommaruga, 1883);
Confessioni e battaglie. Serie terza (Rome: Sommaruga, 1884);
Conversazioni critiche (Rome: Sommaruga, 1884);
Petrarca e Boccacci (Rome: Perino, 1884);
Rime nuove di Giosuè Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1887; revised, 1889);
Il libro delle prefazioni (Castello: Lapi, 1888);
Lo studio bolognese: Discorso di Giosuè Carducci per l’ottavo centenario (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1888);
Jaufré Rudel: Poesia antica e moderna (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1888);
Opere di Giosuè Carducci, 20 volumes in 10 (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1889–1909)—comprises volume 1, Discorsi letterari e storici (1889); volume 2, Primi saggi (1889); volume 3, Bozzetti e scherme (1889); volume 4, Confessioni e battaglie (1890); volume 5, Ceneri e faville, serie prima, 1859–1870 (1891); volume 6, fuvenilia e Levia gravia (1891); volume 7, Ceneri e faville, serie seconda, 1871–1876 (1893); volume 8, Studi letterari (1893); volume 9, Giambi ed epodi e Rime nuove (1894); volume 10, Studi, saggi e discorsi (1898); volume 11, Ceneri e faville, serie terza e ultima, 1877–1901 (1902); volume 12, Confessioni e battaglie, serie seconda (1902); volume 13, Studi su Giuseppe Parini: Il Parini minore (1903); volume 14, Studi su Giuseppe Parini: Il Parini maggiore, con un appendice inedita (1907); volume 15, Su ludovico Ari-osto e Torquato Tasso studi (1905); volume 16, Poesia e storia, con una fototipia (1905); volume 17, Odi bar-bare e Rime e ritmi. Con un’ appendice (1907); volume 18, Archeologia poetica (1908); volume 19, Melica e lirica del settecento, con altri studi di varia letteratura (1909); and volume 20, Cavalleria e umanesimo (1909);
Terze odi barbare (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1889);
letture italiane, 3 volumes (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1890–1898);
Storia del «Giorno» di Giuseppe Parini (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1892);
Delle odi barbare di Giosuè Carducci, libri II ordinati e corretti (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1893);
Su l’Aminta di T. Tasso. Saggi tre di Giosuè Carducci, con una pastorale inèdita di G. B. Giraldi Cinthio (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1896);
Degli spiriti e delle forme nella poesia di Giacomo leopardi (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1898);
Rime e ritmi (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1899);
Poesie di Giosuè Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1901);
Prose di Giosuè Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1905);
Da un carteggio inedito di Giosuè Carducci, edited by Antonio Messeri (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1907).
Editions and Collections: Opere. Edizione Nazionale, 30 volumes (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1935–1940);
Giambi ed epodi, edited by Enzo Palmieri (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1959);
Odi barbare, edited by Manara Valgimigli (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1959);
Rime nuove, edited by Pietro Paolo Trompeo and Giambattista Salinari (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1961);
Rime e ritmi, edited by Valgimigli and Salinari (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1964);
Poesie e prose scelte, edited by Mario Fubini and Remo Ceserani (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1968);
Poesie, edited by Giorgio Barberi Squarotti and Mario Rettori (Milan: Garzanti, 1982);
Prose, edited by Giovanni Falaschi (Milan: Garzanti, 1987); Opere scelte, edited by Mario Saccenti (Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1993).
Poems of Giosuè Carducci, translated by Maud Holland (New York: Scribners, 1907);
Selections from Carducci: Prose and Poetry, translated by Antonio Marinoni (New York: William R. Jenkins, 1913);
Carducci: A Selection of His Poems, translated by G. L. Bickersteth (London: Longmans, Green, 1913);
The Rime nuove of Giosuè Carducci, translated by Laura Fullerton Gilbert (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1916);
A Selection from the Poems of Giosuè Carducci, translated by Emily A. Tribe (London: Longmans, Green, 1921);
From the Poems of Giosuè Carducci, translated by Romilda Rendel (London, 1929);
The Barbarian Odes of Giosuè Carducci, translated by William Fletcher Smith (Menasha, Wis.: G. Banta, 1939);
Twenty-Four Sonnets of Giosue Carducci, translated by Arthur Burkhard (Yarmouth Port, Mass.: Register Press, 1947);
Giosue Carducci: Selected Verse, translated by David H. Higgins (Warminster, U.K.: Aris & Phillips, 1994).
OTHER: L’arpa del popolo. Scelta di poesie religiose, morali e patriottiche cavate dai nostri autori e accomodate all’intelligenza del popolo, edited by Carducci (Florence: Galileiana, 1855);
Antologia latina e saggi di studi sopra la lingua e letteratura latina, edited by Carducci (Florence: Galileiana, 1855);
Vittorio Alfieri, Satire e poesie minori di Vittorio Alfieri, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1858);
Alessandro Tassoni, La Secchia rapita e l’Oceano di Alessandro Tassoni, con note, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1858); republished as La Secchia rapita e altre poesie (Florence: Barbèra, 1861);
Giuseppe Parini, Poesie di Giuseppe Parini, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1858);
Vincenzo Monti, Le poesie liriche di Vincenzo Monti, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1858; revised and enlarged, 1862);
Alfieri, Del principe e delle lettere, con altre prose di Vittorio Alfieri, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1859);
Lorenzo de’ Medici, Poesie di Lorenzo de’ Medici, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1859);
Giuseppe Giusti, Le poesie di Giuseppe Giusti, con un discorso sulla vita e sulle opere dell’autore, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1859; revised and enlarged, 1861 and 1862);
Gabriele Rossetti, Poesie di Gabriele Rossetti, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1861);
Cino da Pistoia, Rime di m. Cino da Pistoia e d’altri del secolo XIV, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1862);
Monti, Canti e poemi di Vincenzo Monti, 2 volumes, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1862);
Angelo Ambrogini Poliziano, Le Stanze, l’Orfeo e le Rime di messer Angelo Ambrogini Poliziano, rivedute su i codici e su le antiche stampe e illustrate con annotazioni di varii e nuove da G. Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1863);
Lucretius, Di T. Lucrezio Caro Della natura delle cose, libri VI, edited by Carducci and Alessandro Marchetti (Florence: Barbèra, 1864);
Monti, Tragedie, drammi e cantate di Vincenzo Monti, con appendice di versi inediti o rari, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1865);
Dino Frescobaldi, Rime di Matteo di Dino Frescobaldi, edited by Carducci (Pistoia: Società Tipografica Pistoiese, 1866);
Poeti erotici del secolo XVIII, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1868);
Cantilene e ballate, strambotti e madrigali nei secoli XIII e XIV, edited by Carducci (Pisa: Nistri, 1871);
Lirici del secolo XVIII, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1871);
Benedetto Menzini, Satire, rime e lettere scelte di Benedetto Menzini, edited by Carducci (Florence: Barbèra, 1874);
Petrarch, Rime di Francesco Petrarca sopra argomenti storici, morali e diversi, edited by Carducci (Livorno: Vigo, 1876);
Strambotti e rispetti dei secoli XIV, XV, XVI raccolti da G. Carducci, per nozze Teza-Perlasca (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1877);
Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi, Lettere di F. D. Guerrazzi a cura di Giosuè Carducci, 2 volumes, edited by Carducci (Livorno: Vigo, 1880, 1882);
La poesia barbara nei secoli XV e XVI, edited by Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1881);
Alberto Mario, Scritti di Alberto Mario, edited by Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1884); enlarged by Carducci and Jessie White Mario as Scritti letterari e artistici di Alberto Mario (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1901);
Letture italiane scelte e ordinate a uso del ginnasio superiore, edited by Carducci and Ugo Brilli (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1885);
Monti, Scelte poesie di Vincenzo Monti, edited by Carducci (Livorno: Vigo, 1885);
Antiche laudi cadorine, edited by Carducci (Pieve di Cadore: Tipografia Berengan, 1892);
Letture del Risorgimento italiano, edited by Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1895; enlarged, 2 volumes, 1896, 1897);
Torquato Tasso, Teatro di Torquato Tasso, edited by Carducci and Angelo Solerti (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1895);
Cacce in rima dei secoli XIV e XV raccolte da G. Carducci per nozze Morpurgo-Franchetti (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1896);
Petrarch, Le Rime di Francesco Petrarca di su gli originali commentate da G. Carducci e S. Ferrari (Florence: San-soni, 1899);
Mario, Scritti politici di Alberto Mario, edited by Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1901);
Primavera e fiore della lirica italiana, 2 volumes, edited by Carducci (Florence: Sansoni, 1903);
Antica lirica italiana (canzonette, canzoni, sonetti dei secoli XIII-XV), edited by Carducci (Florence: Sansoni, 1907).
Giosuè Carducci’s poetry glorifies the era of the Italian Risorgimento—the lengthy struggle leading up to national unification in 1861. The “age of Carducci” coincides with a vigorous public commitment to the sacred ideal of the homeland and to the role of literature in advancing that civic ideal by defending human dignity. When Carducci was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on 10 December 1906 (less than three months before his death), C. D. af Wirsén, the secretary of the Swedish Academy, described him as “a poet who is always moved by patriotism and a love of liberty, who never sacrifices his opinions to gain favour, and who never indulges in base sensualism ... a soul inspired by the highest ideals.” As the major Italian poet of his age, Carducci represented in literature the national destiny of Italy over the final third of the nineteenth century. A robust and passionate man, he advocated a restoration of the classical heritage and a return to the civic and natural virtues it represents. Working in several literary forms, he exhorted the Italians to revitalize themselves and to honor the greatness of their ancient, medieval, and Renaissance civilizations. Carducci was commonly referred to as “l’ultimo scudiero dei classici” (the last shield bearer of the classics), and his focus on history spans the centuries and engages Italy’s heroes, from those of the newly formed state to those of antiquity. He embodied the classical figure of the vate, or poet-prophet, who sang of the glory of the civilization and natural landscape of Italy.
Carducci produced several highly structured and technically accomplished volumes of poetry, beginning with the 1857 Rime di Giosuè Carducci (Lyrics of Giosuè Carducci) and ending with the 1901 Poesie di Giosuè (Poetry of Giosuè Carducci). The bibliographical history of the works is complex, given the poet’s ongoing involvement in different collections at the same time and his habit of reworking poems over a period of many years. The years of composition of his major collections are: Juvenilia (1871), 1850–1860; Levia gravia (1868, Light and Serious Poems), 1861–1871; Giambi ed epodi (1882, Iambics and Epodes), 1867–1879; Rime nuove (1887, The New Lyrics), 1861–1887; Odi barbare (1877, Barbarian Odes), 1877–1889; and Rime e ritmi (1899, Lyrics and Rhythms), 1887–1899. Thus, Carducci organized his overlapping collections on a thematic and formal basis, not a chronological one. Aided by the poet’s copious self-documentation, scholars can date with confidence almost all of Carducci’s major poems; while each of the separate collections has its own character, they have in common the subject matter of poetry itself. Carducci is a radical stylistic innovator whose formal deviation from established meters and verse forms set a pattern for the poets of the twentieth century. During his forty-four-year career at the University of Bologna, Carducci gained fame as a lecturer and scholar, as the one genuine heir of Italian classicism as well as the major patriotic poet of the nation. At the same time, his career was full of contradictions and reversals as well as personal tragedy.
Born in Val di Castello (Pietrasanta) in northwest Tuscany on 27 July 1835, Giosuè Alessandro Giuseppe Carducci resided from 1838 to 1849 in Bólgheri, in the Tuscan Maremma near the Tyrrhenian Sea. Carducci’s mother, Ildegonda Celli, was a well-educated and liberal woman; his father, Michele Carducci, was a provincial physician who taught his son Latin and encouraged him to study the works of Virgil, Homer, Torquato Tasso, and Alessandro Manzoni. Giosuè had two younger brothers, Dante and Valfredo. Michele Carducci, also a member of the Carbonaria (Charcoal-burners), a secret society committed to ending the Austrian occupation, was imprisoned for his republican beliefs. Giosuè inherited his parents’ cosmopolitanism and his father’s political passion. He wrote his first satiric poem in 1846, and by 1850 he had expressed his anti-Romantic, proclassical sympathies in verse. When the family moved to Florence in 1849, his literary education expanded to include Giacomo Leopardi, Friedrich von Schiller, and George Gordon, Lord Byron.
From 1849 to 1852 he attended the school of the Scolopi friars in Florence, specializing in rhetoric and classical and Italian literature. In 1852 Carducci founded with a group of classmates the Academy of the Filomusi (Muse Lovers), a literary group that provided the forum for his delivery of two early speeches, “Su lo stato attuale della letteratura italiana” (On the Current State of Italian Literature) and “Della Italia” (On Italy). On 16 June 1855 he graduated from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa after writing a thesis on chivalric poetry. In the same year, he and some of his classmates founded a literary society, the Società degli Amici Pedanti (Society of Friendly Pedants), whose declared adversary was Romanticism, which they saw as an enervating and listless cultural tendency that had sapped the will of the Italians with its mysticism, dream states, and evasions of the political problems confronting the country.
Shortly after starting a teaching job in the small Tuscan town of San Miniato in 1857, Carducci was twice warned by the archducal authorities that he might lose the job because of his strident prorepublican positions. Also in 1857 Carducci’s brother Dante committed suicide after a bitter argument with their father. Less than a year later, in 1858, their father also died. Carducci was then working in Arezzo as an instructor of Italian literature, rhetoric, and Greek. In 1859 he married his cousin Elvira Menicucci, and their first child, Beatrice, was born. The couple went on to have a son, Dante, and two more daughters, Laura and Libertà.
Carducci supported the annexation of Tuscany to Piedmont and publicly exalted the Savoy monarch, Victor Emmanuel II, for that reason. (With the Italian unification, Carducci began a decade-long distancing from the monarchy, based on what he saw as its denial of the patriotic ideals of the republican Giuseppe Mazzini and an unsavory alliance with the Catholic Church, which sought to impede the annexation of Rome and its territories to the new nation.) When Giuseppe Garibaldi liberated Sicily in 1860 and crossed over to the mainland with his expeditionary force of one thousand red-shirted soldiers, a jubilant Carducci wrote the ode “Sicilia e la rivoluzione” (Sicily and the Revolution), published in the poetry review Viola del pensiero in 1863. On 26 September 1860 Carducci was appointed to the chair of Italian literature at the University of Bologna, a position he held for forty-four years. His appointment was a defining moment in his life and career. In his inaugural lecture at this oldest of universities, he announced the renewal of Italian letters under the sign of the now unified Italian nation and the classical literary tradition. A consummate reader of the classic works of Latin, Greek, and Italian literature, Carducci saw the new state as the fulfillment of the promise of the republic of ancient Rome; this concept presupposed a classical ideal of humanity in harmony with nature.
Carducci’s early poetry is anti-Romantic and anticlerical in nature; it possesses a strongly classical and patriotic tone. The poems of the first book, Rime di Giosuè Carducci, were eventually reworked and given a definitive form in the 1880 edition of Juvenilia. Enrico Thovez refers to the fuvenilia as an “archaeological exhumation of Greek mythology and Roman rhetoric.” While this assessment is a fair one, it concerns the earliest work, when the poet was still experimenting with a variety of academic forms and maturing; in a more positive light, it suggests the extent of Carducci’s knowledge of philology, rhetoric, and Italian and Roman literary and political history. Carducci remained an inveterate experimenter and imitator of sources. His poems displayed a mastery of various metric and stanzaic solutions. Thus, the reader is rarely afforded the experience of a pure lyric. On a linguistic plane, the reader of Carducci’s poetry must gloss references from the historical matrices of ancient Rome, the medieval Italy of the communes, and the Risorgimento; the reader must also consider the poetic traditions of the classical period in Rome and Greece, the lyrical vocabulary of the dolce stil nuovo (sweet new style, designating courtly love lyrics) tradition, the language of the chivalric epics of the Renaissance, the moral odes of Giuseppe Parini and Vincenzo Monti, and the transition from neoclassicism into Romanticism.
Fiercely anticlerical in a country in which the Catholic Church long exercised considerable political power, Carducci combined his erudition with the secular progressive thrust of the Enlightenment. But rather than drawing on the political thinkers of the eighteenth century, he drew on its literary examples, especially the neoclassical poets Parini, Monti, Vittorio Alfieri, and Ugo Foscolo, and sought his political models in the distant past of republican and imperial Rome. The poetic results can be bookish, since the idealistic fervor the poet imputes to the past and its ability to inspire change in the present is unrealistic. His nostalgic dream and his desire that the future Italian state will overcome the crises that beset it after unification are charged with a monumental sense of gravity, which strikes the reader as somehow false. Yet, there is another Carducci, the poet of melancholy landscapes and the pastoral rhythms of the countryside, the exquisite love poet and the author of parodies and satires.
Carducci had many complaints about the new state, with its capital in Turin. He was skeptical of the monarchy of Victor Emmanuel and the ruling elite of the Liberal Party, which effectively dismissed the republicanism of Mazzini and marginalized Garibaldi. Carducci praises Garibaldi in “Dopo Aspromonte” (1864, After Aspromonte), an ode that recounts the Sicilian’s heroism, his being wounded at the battle of Aspromonte on 29 August 1862, and his subsequent arrest, all as part of the struggle against the absolutism of the reactionary governments of Europe. Carducci saves his most biting sarcasm for Pope Pius IX, who continued to resist the territorial unification of Italy by blocking the resolution of the Institutional Question (the annexation of papal Rome to the Italian state, which finally occurred in 1870).
In the two-hundred-line hymn “A Satana” (1865, To Satan), published under the pen name Enotrio Romano (a pseudonym he used frequently to denote his polemical side as a defender of the Roman heritage), Carducci exalts a life principle that is not Christian or otherwise dependent on religious dogma. The title of this tour de force should not be misunderstood: by “Satan” he intends the regenerative, creative forces of Nature and human Reason. Not only was Carducci unfazed about offending the clerics or the bourgeoisie, but he seemed to invite controversy, especially when he republished the poem on 8 December 1869 in the Bolognese newspaper Indipendente as a political protest against the Church on the occasion of the meeting of the Twentieth Vatican Council. In these lines he defends the moral validity of the temples torn down by the early Christians:
Che val se barbaro
Furor de l’agapi
Dal rito osceno
Con sacra fiaccola
O templi t’arse
E i segni argolici
A terra sparse?
(To what avail did
the barbarous Christian
fury of agape,
in obscene ritual,
With holy torch
burn down your temples,
Greek statuary? [translated by David H. Higgins])
This Satan, “bello e orribile / Mostro si sferra” (beautiful and awful / a monster is unleashed), is at once a destructive, devouring force that roams over the earth, and a figure of reason and the native human ability to achieve harmony in nature and construct a noble, just, and free civilization. Poetry is a primary means toward this end, and Carducci seeks to expand the number of its practical applications. On the one hand, he does so in order to evoke the majesty, equilibrium, and serenity of nature; on the other, he chastizes the indolent and corrupt, making of poetry a political vehicle.
Carducci’s Levia gravia includes poems “light and heavy,” as the title indicates. As Carducci wrote in a letter to Felice Tribolati on 24 September 1868, “Levia gravia vuol dire: fantasie di gioventù, e dolori ed esperimenti della vita: cose leggere per sentimento e per istile, mescolate ad altre gravi per le stesse ragioni” (Levia gravia means: the fantasies of youth, and the sorrows and experiments of life: things that are light in their feelings and style, mixed with others that are heavy for the same reasons). The poet understands the dichotomy of light and heavy as one of ease and difficulty, both of composition and comprehension. He is aware that the cult of the past that he proposes, which embraces the great figures of antiquity and the Italian tradition, goes against the grain of a certain literary taste and will seem ponderous and burdensome to many; he also knows that his incessant formal experimentation may be seen as frivolous or lacking in substance. From his perspective, the light and heavy are natural features of youth and memory; the memory of youth that comes forward in the collection includes the youth of the new country, remembered through the icons of its past poetical and historical greatness. In the opening lines to the sonnet “L’antica poesia toscana” (1866, Ancient Tuscan Poetry), the speaker is, in fact, the old Tuscan poetry:
Su le piazze pe’ campi e ne’ verzieri
d’amor tra i ludi e le tenzon civili
crebbi’ e adulta cercai templi e misteri,
scuole pensose ed agitati esili.
Or dove son le donne alte e gentili,
i franchi cittadini e’ cavalieri?
dove le rose de’ giocondi aprili?
dove le querce de’ castelli neri?
(On the piazzas, in the fields and meadows
of love among the delights and civic battles
I grew up and as an adult sought temples and mysteries,
pensive schools and agitated exiles.
Oh but now where are the noble and graceful ladies,
the stalwart citizens and knights?
Where the roses of joyous Aprils?
Where the oaks of black castles?)
In Giambi ed epodi, the most satirical of Carducci’s poetic collections, aspects of his personal style emerge, in particular the penchant for polemic and melancholy. As the self-proclaimed spokesman of the “Third Italy,” he was disappointed when the new country did not prove to be the glorious thing he had hoped for; thus, he became a serious critic of the present. His political enemies at this time were the Italian monarchy, the Vatican, the feudalist aristocracy, the Historic Right of the Liberal Party, and the Romantics. His inspiration came from Mazzini and Garibaldi, the French Revolution, and the historical example of the age of the Italian communes (thirteenth-century city-states). The epode is a moral-satirical form made up of distichs (or couplets) in which the second line—the epodoò is shorter. Carducci’s main literary model in this regard is Horace, whose iambic epodes are largely satires inspired by Archilochus. Carducci believed that this type of acerbic poetry belongs justly to a limited period in one’s life—for him, it was a three-year period, 1867 to 1869 (though some works included in this collection, notably “II canto dell’amore” [1878, Love Song], were written much later).
The thirty-one poems of Giambi ed epodi include evocations of Italy’s past as mirrored in the geography; the poet frequently wrote poems based on visits to specific sites. For example, after an 1867 trip to the origins of the Tiber River in the Tuscan Appenines, Carducci wrote an ode to those new friends who had hosted him. In “Agli amici della valle Tiberina” (To Friends in the Tiber Valley), the Tiber River possesses the transcendent virtues of the Roman people, and nature is viewed as healthy and virtuous, so that the landscape itself takes on a metahistor-ical significance.
Giambi ed epodi is dominated by satires and invectives, appropriate subjects in the poet’s view for those classical verse forms; the targets are predominately the Italian middle classes, whose mediocrity Carducci denounces, comparing them (and their institutions, first among them the Catholic Church) negatively to the glories of republican Rome, as recounted by Livy and embodied by Mazzini, the subject of the 1872 sonnet “Giuseppe Mazzini”:
Qual da gli aridi scogli erma su ‘l mare
Genova sta, marmorëo gigante,
Tal, surto in bassi dí, su ‘l fluttuante
Secolo, ei grande, austero, immoto appare.
(Like Genoa, a marble giant standing
solitary above the sea on its barren reefs, so he too appears,
tall, severe, motionless, rising above the stormy
century in a time barren of greatness. [translated by Higgins])
Giambi ed epodi includes homages in the form of imitations of such poets as Victor Hugo and Heinrich Heine, whose work had helped Carducci grow as a poet. The structure of the book suggests an ascensional path, beginning with the “Prologue,” which announces the poet’s great sorrow over his deceased family members and his desire to endure this time of darkness, not simply in grief but in protest against “the false world” and the cowardice and fraud that that world adores. He concludes the book with “II canto dell’amore,” a hymn to universal love and a celebration of the Italian nation (seen in lofty panoramic views with its landscape figured as a woman cherished by her lover, the sun) as it moves forward in progress and under the sign of Libertà (Freedom).
Also in Giambi ed epodi are poems centered on civic virtues and vices, lofty patriotic ideals, and the highly personal emotions of regret, melancholy, and nostalgia. One example of Carducci’s satirical bent is the ironic epode “Canto dell’Italia che va in Campidoglio” (1872, Song of Italy on Its Way to the Capitoline), which documents the historic moment when Rome and its territories have finally been annexed by the Italian state and Rome has been named the capital, though the king has yet to pay a visit. The poem is an account of the king’s first visit to the capital.
With the Rime nuove, Carducci’s polemical voice is diminished, though not eliminated. On a personal level he is more introspective; on an historical level he is more retrospective. From the start, as a poet, he tended to control the overly subjective impulses with classical forms and derivations; but some things are genuinely beyond one’s control. Carducci was stricken by the death of his mother on 3 February 1870, and on 9 November 1870 his son, Dante, died at age two and a half. This event is recalled in several poems, primarily in the Rime nuove. In the first of these, “Funere mersit acerbo” (Plunged into Bitter Death), written on the day of the boy’s death, Carducci addresses the spirit of his brother who died thirteen years earlier, asking if he has heard the voice of little Dante, who has just now passed on. The title is a Virgil-ian hemistich (half a line of verse) from when Aeneas descends to the underworld and hears the weeping of the souls of dead children.
In the Rime nuove, the poet repudiates the contentiousness of his earlier persona, instead looking inward. Still, the historical passion remains strong. The sonnet form is revitalized by Carducci, who, in “Il sonetto” (1870, The Sonnet), inserts himself in the secular tradition among the greatest Italian lyric poets:
Sesto io no, ma postremo, estasi e pianto
E profumo, ira ed arte, a’ miei dí soli
Memore innovo ed a i sepolcri canto.
(Not sixth, but last, I bring to it new gifts of ecstasy
and grief and scent, of anger and of art,
as mindful of my solitary days and of our dead, I sing.
[translated by Higgins])
The poets alluded to in the final tercet are Dante (ecstasy), Petrarch (grief), Tasso (scent), Alfieri (anger), and Foscolo (art). Much of the Carduccian style concerns his cultivation and imitation of the poetic models of the past. Good taste and decorum are essential components of these models and are found lacking in the modern poetry of symbolism and decadence. The moderns, like the Romantics, eschew the old categories of distinction of levels; Carducci recovers them. The moderns, he claims, do not recognize the oratorical, rhetorical purpose of the division of form and content, or the value of imitation. Carducci maintains the division and engages in imitation as the one proper means to discover his own authentic voice. Carducci sees Romanticism and the poets of the nineteenth-century avant-garde scapigliatura (bohemianism) movement as mired in dream-like mysteries and uncertainties; if such poets sing of illness and physical degradation, he presents himself as a picture of emotional and intellectual virtue and health. He tends to ignore those aspects of Romanticism that represent a continuation of the neoclassical tradition, including the cult of beauty and the preference for the idyll, the hymn, and the elegy.
In “Classicismo e Romanticismo” (1869, Classicism and Romanticism), Carducci presents the opposition of these two currents in Italian culture as much more than a clash of aesthetics; rather it is a choice between the dignified and solar force of reason and heroism, of classical strength and virtue, versus the vainly spiritualistic, sentimental, weak, lunar, and enervated Romanticism:
Ma tu, luna, abbellir godi co ‘l raggio
Le ruine ed i lutti;
Maturar nel fantastico vïaggio
Non sai né fior né frutti.
(But thy delight, O moon, is adorning ruins
and tombs with thy rays;
yet in thy fabled voyage thou art helpless
to ripen either flower or fruit. [translated by Higgins])
Carducci was viewed as a wholesome bulwark against the Romantic decadence. His reputation and influence grew considerably in the 1870s and 1880s; his reputation as a scholar and orator contributed to his prestige as a poetic authority, and the acclaim with which his nuanced and technically accomplished books of verse were received added to his fame as a public figure.
Carducci’s hostility to the current of verismo (regionalist realism) that arose in the 1880s reflected his increasingly aristocratic and elitest political ideology. He sang the praises of the Risorgimento, recasting its political and military leaders as heroic patriots. He composed celebratory verses on the anniversaries of battles and conquests, creating in the process a gap between the heraldic and idealized version of events and the often mediocre reality. While the actual unification that resulted in the “Third Italy” was accomplished by a distinct minority and through feats more diplomatic than military, the poet preferred to mythologize and glorify the new nation, endowing it with the aura of the earlier two imperial Italys, that of the ancient Roman Republic and that of the Renaissance popes. As Carducci came to recognize the severity of this gap between the ideal and the real, his emotional distress began to mount.
In the gap between the ideal and real there emerges another Carducci: the melancholic whose intimate strains of amorous passion and nostalgic evocations of the desolate landscape of the Maremma result in a newly modern form of the idyll. In “Idillio marem-mano” (1872, Maremman Idyll), the poet evokes the distant memory of a ladylove from the Maremma. Written as a capitolo— an amorous or satirical poem written in Dantean terza rima—the melancholy idyll is tinged with regret:
Oh come fredda indi la vita mia,
Come oscura e incresciosa è trapassata!
Meglio era sposar te, bionda Maria!
Meglio ir tracciando per la sconsolata
Boscaglia al piano il bufolo disperso,
Che salta fra la macchia e sosta e guata,
Che sudar dietro al piccioletto verso!
Meglio oprando oblїar,
Questo enorme mister de l’universo!
(Oh how cold has my life been since,
how dark and tedious has it sped away!
To marry you would have been the better course, my fair-
Better far to range through the desolate
thickets of our plains, tracking down some lost steer,
which leaps amongst the scrub, pauses and watches,
Than to sweat after puny poetry!
Better far to labour, and forget this vast mystery of the uni-
than to question it! [translated by Higgins])
In 1874 Carducci declared an end to the writing of epodes and began working on more objective odes, and with them returned to a purer and more serene art. In the ode “Davanti San Guido” (1874, completed in 1886, Outside San Guido), the poet travels back to his childhood home in the town of Bolgheri near Pisa. It is a confessional poem that alternates between dream and reality, youth and adulthood. Its dominant motifs are the figure of Carducci’s grandmother and a double row of cypress trees who recognize the poet and speak to him. The poem is a prime example of Carducci’s ability to include a broad variety of themes and emotional tonalities within a still coherent overall structure. As translator David H. Higgins writes, “These are the trees which, in the poem, vainly invite Carducci to stay and pick up the threads of his happy childhood and adolescence. The offer is debated at length by Carducci, but declined: it is too late.” The poet addresses himself to the trees, which represent a purer time and way of thinking than the poet now enjoys in his late middle age.
In response to the crises in his own life and that of the nation, and in harmony with his readings of Charles Baudelaire, Carducci’s poetry grew less nominal and more verb-centered. The increased motion and movement in his verse occurs in an imaginary space that is remote from the historical situation he had invoked with such optimism in his earlier patriotic poems. As he recognizes the inertia and stasis of the Italian nation, he enters into that situation of crisis on a wholly personal plane, providing a new dynamic variously described as sentimental, nostalgic, and melancholy. “Davanti San Guido” serves as an example of this fundamental stylistic change, as does the poem “Pianto antico” (1871, Grief of Ages), written on the death of his son. The sonnet contrasts the perennial life cycle of a budding pomegranate tree in the household garden to the abrupt and absolute cessation of the innocent life on which the poet had placed so much hope:
Sei ne la terra fredda,
Sei ne la terra negra;
Né il sol piú ti rallegra
Né ti risveglia amor.
(Thou art in the cold earth,
thou art in the darkling earth;
nor doth the sun cheer thee,
nor love awake thee more. [translated by Higgins])
Carducci strikes a new depth in brief elegies and laments such as “Pianto antico.” Walter Binni labels Carducci a “poet of the contrast of earthly existence,” as one who deals with the feelings of vitality and of death translated into light and darkness, sound and silence, the green earth in its springtime fertility and the black tomb-like earth of winter. The rhyme scheme of “Pianto antico” is also found in the celebrated “Tedio invernale” (1875, Winter Tedium) and “San Martino” (1883, Saint Martin’s Day).
In 1872 daughter Libertà was born to the poet and his wife. Also that year, Carducci wrote the sonnet “II bove” (The Ox). This best known of Carducci’s poems concerns the virtue and piety of the ox, a simple beast of burden. It is reminiscent of the sonnet to Mazzini, in which the central figure was also a giant, alone. Though modern critics have belittled the humanization of the ox, “Il bove” lays down a simple and irrefutable truth in a distinctive manner reminiscent of the realistic Italian landscape painters of the late nineteenth century. The impact of the final tercet concerning the ox’s dignified gaze is heightened by the use of hypallage, the rhetorical figure of radically altering the natural word order: “E del grave occhio glauco entro l’austera / Dolcezza si rispecchia ampio e quїieto / Il divino del pian silenzio verde” (Whilst in the sweet severity of your solemn, glaucous eye / is reflected, broad and calm, / the divine silence of the green plain [translated by Higgins]).
In July 1871 Carducci received a letter of admiration from the Milanese socialite Carolina Cristofari Piva, the wife of an army officer and mother of seven children. Her connection to the writer was through a common friend, the poet Maria Antonietta Torriani. Carducci quickly responded to Cristofari Piva’s letter, and the two began a poetically amorous correspondence even before their first meeting, in April 1872. The relationship grew into an intense love affair that provided the inspiration for some of Carducci’s most remarkable love poetry. Piva is referred to as Lina (and sometimes Lidia) in these poems. In “Primavere elleniche (II. Dorica)” (1872, Hellenic Springtimes [II. Dorian Mode]), she is praised in the ideal landscape of an imagined and archaic Sicily, saturated with the figures of Greek myth. This divine beauty is able to administer a draft of nepenthe and other sacred balms to her hero— the poet—just as Helen of Troy was empowered in classic times. She is endowed by oreads and dryads with bouquets of flowers and the ability to understand the glorious and woeful tales they tell.
The love affair with Piva lasted for several years and provided the sentimental material for many powerful poems. In a farewell letter to Piva (who died in 1881), Carducci wrote on 15 July 1878:
Amami dunque ancora; e ricòrdati, con benevolenza, del bene; e oblia, con pia indulgenza, i miei torti. Io ricordo e amo e desidero con molta mestizia, ma non senza una speranza di conforto e di gioia. Addio, dolce amore. Io ti amo ancora come nei primi giorni che mi ti desti. E non voglio avere altri ricordi tristi e affannosi.
(So love me still; and remember, with benevolence, the good; and forget, with pious indulgence, my faults. I remember and I love and I desire with much sadness, but not without a hope of comfort and joy. Farewell, my sweet love. I still love you as I did in the first days when you gave yourself to me. And I do not wish to have any other sad and troubled memories.)
Carducci had other dalliances—including Annie Vivante, Adele Bergamini, Dafne Gargiolli—who, in addition to Piva, played an important part in the history of his poetry.
Before their affair ended, Piva accompanied Carducci on an 1878 visit to Trieste and the former seaside retreat of the Austrian archduke Maximillian, Miramare. The sapphic ode “Miramar” (1889) is an homage to that leader, whom Napoleon III had named emperor of Mexico in 1864 and who was slain by rebels loyal to Benito Juarez on an 1867 mission to Mexico with his wife, the Empress Charlotte. After the slaying, Charlotte went insane. In Carducci’s view, these events are a manifestation of Nemesis, the paying of an historical debt incurred by one’s ancestors. The poem is remarkable for its setting and for the generous attitude of the poet toward a man who had been the resident leader (in Lombardy and Venetia) of Italy’s occupier and its primary enemy during the Risorgimento. Also in 1878, Carducci wrote an ode to the queen of Italy and was named the official poet of the House of Savoy.
From the 1880s forward, Carducci’s poetry was extolled by academic and nonacademic critics alike as the embodiment of a fresh neoclassicism, elevated in its mythic virtues above the baseness of daily life, combined in its essence with the spiritual reclamation of the Italian countryside and its agriculturally based virtues. The countryside is viewed as a primitive landscape compatible with the myth of infancy—both the infancy of the individual (as in Carducci’s memorialistic evocations of his childhood) and that of the Italian culture. While the critic Thovez in 1926 accused Carducci of a false and brittle archaism based on outdated rhetorical models, far more important was the earlier praise by Benedetto Croce, who extolled Carducci in 1920 as the “poet of history,” a vital and wholesome voice of civic and heroic inspiration to his countrymen.
In the Rime nuove, Carducci’s historical and anthropological research emerges in a way reminiscent of the Romanticists’ exploration of popular folklore, legends, and verse forms. In fact, the poet who had polemically opposed Romanticism now dedicated a celebratory ode to Shelley: “Presso l’urna di Percy Bysshe Shelley” (1884, By the Funeral Urn of Percy Bysshe Shelley). Preoccupied with death, Carducci writes of an Elysium shared only by the great poets: “la bella / isola risplendente di fantasia” (that blessed / island of the imagination), and of his final doubts about immortality.
In his celebrated sonnet “Traversando la Maremma toscana” (1885, Crossing the Tuscan Maremma), Carducci evokes a by-now-familiar sentimental landscape, but with irony toward himself and toward the code of courtly love. Stricken by melancholy upon seeing the landscape of his youth, acknowledging the vanity of his efforts, he finds solace in the landscape:
E dimani cadrò. Ma di lontano
Pace dicono al cuor le tue colline
Con le nebbie sfumanti e il verde piano
Ridente ne le pioggie mattutine.
(And tomorrow I shall fall. But from afar
your hills speak peace to my heart,
as the mists rise and sunlight plays upon your green plain
amongst the morning showers, [translated by Higgins])
“San Martino” is another Anacreontic ode in four quatrains like “Pianto antico.” In it, a hunter stands at the threshold of a stone house, turning a spit and watching in the sunset the migration of birds. The landscape is depicted with the minimalist techniques of the impressionists or the Italian macchiaioli (blotchnadas;painters), the equivalent being a swift application of colors and sounds to reflect passing climatic phenomena and other sensory impressions.
Among the fortynadas;seven sonnets in Rime nuove are the twelve of Ça ira (1883, It Will Pass), a sequence initially published as a pamphlet in praise of the spirit of the French Revolution. Inspired by his reading of Jules Michelet’s Histoire de la Révolution française (1847–1853), Carducci proposed the French Revolution as a heroic model to his countrymen; and when several legislators, journalists, and educators objected to his sonnet series, accusing him of Jacobin tendencies, he responded with Ça ira (Prosa), a lengthy polemic divided into ten chapters, in the third series of Confes-sioni e battaglie (1884, Confessions and Battles). When the final sonnet closes, the French have defeated the Prussians at Valmy, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has the final word, as he attests to the monumental import of the current events: “Al mondo oggi da questo / luogo incomincia la novella storia” (Events you witness here today / Chart new horizons for the human race [translated by Arthur Burkhard]). Here and throughout his poetic production Carducci writes of man in history, not of man in the cosmos. His frequent recourse to irony is necessary because of the persistent force of Nemesis, or the reality of vendettas and retributive justice in human history: “Ahimć tutta la storia umana è un orribile marea di sangue” (Alas, all of human history is a horrible tide of blood). Herein lies the progressivist and ultimately positivist orientation of the poet. In Ça ira the notion of Nemesis is the revenge of the French populace against centuries of monarchical abuse. While such a blind force works for the good in this instance, in others it does not; what Carducci dreams of is a final victory over Nemesis by Reason.
Plutarch was a major inspiration for Carducci, representing the ability to isolate the particular human essence within a given historical context, and to mirror the national glory. In this spirit, the final poem of the Rime nuove,“Congedo” (1873, completed in 1887, Envoi), presents the figure of the poet as a blacksmith whose arduous work is centered on the forge: investing all his skills and memories, his artistry and intellect, into the poem, the craftsman yields up the final product of “uno strale / D’oro” (a golden shaft) that he casts to the sun, desiring no more.
The first edition of Odi barbare was followed by editions in 1882 and 1889. In this ambitious project Carducci aims to recreate in Italian verse the quantitative verse forms of classical Greek and Latin poetry. He seeks modern versions of the hexameter and pentameter line forms set into imitations of the classic elegy and such strophic forms as the Alchaic, the Archilochean, and the sapphic. At the same time he does not impose the metric stresses those forms would dictate, but allows for their natural, grammatical accenting in Italian. The “barbaric” verse is not a scientific re-creation on Carducci’s part but an intuitive one; his knowledge of classical Greek meter was mediocre, so he was free to approximate and not get bogged down in unnecessary philological details. Even those scholars who are expert in the classical verse forms he adopts will not necessarily recognize them because of the impracticality of adapting a language in which rhythms are generated by tonic accents to a language in which rhythms are determined by the length of vowel sounds.
Odi barbare begins in light and moves toward darkness, the inverse of the ascensional pattern of Levia gravia. Carducci designated these works as “barbaric” or “pagan” in order to indicate the foreignness of their sound to the classical poets, should they hear the adaptation of their strophic poetic forms into Italian. One of the effects of this ongoing experiment is a novel sense of the beauty of words, and by extension of the calm and repose that is generated by their use in this highly skilled and anachronistic compositional format. The themes are those of separation from the world of struggle and harking back to the landscapes of one’s childhood and youth.
By creating an alternative to the qualitative “parisyllabic” verse of the Italian lyric and epic tradition, Carducci created an opening for the entry of free verse in the poetry of coming generations. Since parisyllabic verse tends to be rhythmic and repetitive, by going against it and suppressing rhyme, one creates a less melodic, more severe, and more elevated metrical space. If traditional Italian verse lends itself too easily to musical harmonies and facile sentimentality, Carducci’s pursuit of a neutral ground with precedents in the dignity and sobriety of the classical past suggested new, more modern, tonalities to his poetic successors.
One of Carducci’s best-known barbaric odes, “Alle fonti del Clitumno” (1876, At the Springs of the Clitunno), maps the historical-mythic itinerary of the Clitunno (Clitumnus) River from its source near Spoleto in Umbria as it proceeds downstream. The thirtynine sapphic quatrains are mostly unrhymed, though the poet is free to rhyme if he wishes. By invoking the tutelary river god of the Umbrians, Etruscans, and Romans and referring to Virgil’s evocation in the Georgics of this site and the bleaching in the sacred water of the coats of livestock intended for rituals, the poet imagines a living historical record that might again serve as a model for cultural prosperity. The conceit of the river’s mythic correspondence to ancient history allows the poet to evoke the various distant cultures (in contrast to what he saw as the mystical fanaticism of Christianity) in order to praise the fertility and abundance associated with the god Pan and the pagan religions of the indigenous pre-Roman cultures. The poem ends with the poet’s praise of Italy in its natural beauty as it renews itself. Carducci’s positivistic conviction that secular civilization is progressing is complicated by the evocation of ancient religions, beliefs, and the expression of piety found in classical and earlier indigenous myths. In the final stanza, “il vapore” (the steam engine) is depicted as a symbol of Italy moving forward to meet the challenge of industrial civilization, together with the ancient virtues and fecundity symbolized by the river.
In December 1876 Carducci wrote “Alla stazione in una mattina d’autunno” (At the Station, One Autumn Morning), a poem that characterizes the strength of his more melancholy later poems. Carducci’s later poetry grows pessimistic and anticipates, with a proliferation of autumnal and wintery images, his own decline. In response to the crisis of this perceived twilight, the poet seeks an escape into dream and memory. The vision of autumn alludes to the autumn of his own life, when literature and myth no longer offer solace and consolation: metaphors of death abound, the primary one being that of the monstrous train whose arrival marks the final separation between the poet and his beloved. With the lover’s departure, the dream of love itself departs. The image of the train has a wholly different resonance from the steam engine in “Alle fonti del Clitumno”:
Già il mostro, conscio di sua metallica
anima, sbuffa, crolla, ansa, i fiammei
occhi sbarra; immane pe ’l buio gitta il fischio che sfida lo spazio.
Va l’empio mostro; con traino orribile
sbattendo l’ale gli amor miei portasi.
(Already the monster, aware of its metallic soul,
puffs, shudders, pants, glaring flames;
huge in the darkness it whistles
challenging the empty air.
The monster departs, pitiless;
with flapping wings it bears off my beloved in its awful
train, [translated by Higgins])
A nostalgia for the classical world now permeates Carducci’s poetics, a vision born from books and a disdain for the mediocrity of the current day. “Dinanzi alle Terme di Caracalla” (1877, By the Baths of Caracalla) is a pastoral symphony in various movements; in it Carducci deplores the touristic indulgence in monuments and ruins. If Italy had become a musty museum for the arid and self-involved perusal of curiosity seekers, Carducci exhorts his countrymen to reinhabit the greatness of the past and to be satisfied with nothing less in the present.
The Canzone di Legnano (1879, Song of Legnano) is an epic song projected in three parts, of which only the first, “Il parlamento” (The Parliament), is complete. It first appeared in the periodical Rassegna settimanale (30 March 1879) and was subsequently included in Rime nuove. It is concerned with the truthful evocation of the free commune of Milan in the Middle Ages and the resistance against the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who devastated Milan in 1162, a fact that led to the formation of the Lombard League, an armed coalition of cities that defeated Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano in 1176, thus regaining the cities’ autonomy. Such an historical theme is intended to praise the current nation and glorify its struggles. Despite Carducci’s dedication to civic poetry, the lower class is conspicuously absent from his treatments of Italian society, and the middle class is the target of much criticism. Rather than addressing the urgent economic and educational needs of the nation, as had been done by Mazzini or the Federalist Carlo Cattaneo, Carducci looked to literature for his model of the nation, to the classic Roman republic. Unimpressed by the recent discoveries of classical philology and archaeology, he preferred to filter his classicism through the eighteenth-century Enlightenment myths, in particular the idealism of serenity and beauty, and the view of poetry as a heroic act. In the early 1890s his scholarship focused on Parini, culminating in the publication of Storia del «Giorno» di Giuseppe Parini (1892, History of the “Day” of Giuseppe Parini).
In the poems of Rime e ritmi it is clear that Carducci’s days of poetic genius are past; yet, some remarkable poems are produced nonetheless, such as the twelveline elegy “Ad Annie” (1890, To Annie). Carducci met the twenty-year-old Annie Vivante, then an aspiring writer and opera singer, in 1889; she became the amorous presence in this final book of poems. In “As Annie” the poet adopts the form of the Horatian paraclausithyron, the song before the woman’s closed door:
Batto a la chiusa imposta con un ramicello di fiori
glauchi ed azzurri, come i tuoi occhi, o Annie.
Vedi: il sole co ‘1 riso d’un tremulo raggio ha baciato
la nube, e ha detto-Nuvola bianca, t’apri.
(I knock at the closed shutter with a branch of flowers
sea-green and blue, like your eyes, oh Annie.
See: the sun with its tremulous smiling ray has kissed
the cloud, and said: “Open up, white cloud.”)
Good taste and decorum are essential components of classical poetry, and thus of Carducci’s. These elements are absent from modern poetry, which, starting with Romanticism, tends to dismiss the oratorical, rhetorical purpose of poetry and the classical division of form and content. Two stylistic registers in particular are prevalent throughout Carducci’s work: the noble and dignified classical diction, and the day-to-day language of satire, journalism, and populist polemics. While Carducci believed in the function and specific properties of genres—the ode to celebrate, the iambic to polemicize, the sonnet to lyricize, the ballad for romantic narration, and the elegy to solemnize—he knew that this faith in fixed genres belongs to an earlier time. He knew that, in the modern era, any reliance on them would be a reminiscence, and to that extent ironic. While Carducci tended to ignore the poetry of Symbolism, which focuses on the unconscious motivations and mysteries of the poet’s psyche, ultimately his exploration of the self leaves the greatest imprint on the modern reader, more than the heraldic verse.
Luigi Baldacci has stated that Carducci is “il piú centrifugo dei poeti italiani” (the most centrifugal of Italian poets), resistant to categorization. One does not find abrupt transitions in the work but rather a slow evolution in response to changes in the outside world and the poet’s personal life. There are many internal references within the poems, and also a self-referential tendency that includes the occasional lament of the poet’s inability to truly master his medium, or of the inability of poetry to measure up to the demands of a tragic and disordered reality.
The first great critic of Carducci’s poetic opus was Croce, the authoritative founder of the journal La critica. According to Croce, Carducci’s “historical reconstructions” in verse are successful because “the sentiment of the poet doesn’t gloss the event, but permeates it.” Moreover, Carducci’s love is “voluptas in the elevated meaning of the word, the joy of one’s entire being, of one’s eyes and one’s imagination.” Writing in 1920, Croce contrasted Carducci’s “pure and sober poetry ... in which the fundamental and essential lines are always drawn with confidence” to the other literature that had dominated Europe over the previous fifty years, “the nausea of all that impressionism, symbolism, sensualism, verism, vaunted as superrefined art.”
Later generations were less impressed by Carducci’s “religion of letters” and his wholesome and heroic “human dignity.” In the aftermath of World War II, Natalino Sapegno labeled Carducci a “minor” poet, reflecting the taste of the era; but this judgment itself has waned as Carducci’s critical fortunes have risen once again, in particular regarding the derivations of twentieth-century poets from the stylistic novelty of his work. Sapegno also writes that Carducci exhibits “an ingenuous ability to ignite and give himself over to the sung rhythms of his fantasies, in the bursting energy of his plastic imagination.” This strength of imagination and willingness to venture into the unknown distinguished Carducci’s writings during his own lifetime—an historical period when Italians had few things to celebrate and much to be disappointed about—and guarantees his continued relevance.
In addition to his work as a poet, Carducci’s gifts as a public speaker were considerable. On 4 June 1882 he gave an extemporaneous speech on the death of Garibaldi two days earlier. He spoke publicly at Arqua to memorialize Petrarch and at Certaldo on Boccaccio. When the monument to Dante Alighieri was dedicated in Trent on 13 September 1896, Carducci delivered a celebratory poem for the occasion. In 1890 he was named a senator just as the first of two terms of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi (1887–1891, 1893–1896) was about to end. When the Italian Socialist Party was formed in 1892, Italy was facing the growing phenomenon of class struggle, including strikes by newly formed labor unions and peasant uprisings. Carducci, a member of the Liberal Party, opposed the Socialists and defended the imperialistic politics of Crispi, whose government was unresponsive to the problems of the Italian laborer and farmer, particularly in the south, where the problems of ignorance, poverty, and a subsistence-level agricultural economy were aggravated. Carducci ultimately came to believe that his own role as vate, or prophetic bard, was best served by his embrace of the existing monarchy. Under his guidance, the Facoltà di Lettere (Department of Italian Lit erature) at Bologna grew from a small to a large program; his regular lectures were heavily attended by students from around the university and by the general public, especially women. Carducci’s fame was such that after 1880 he was generally considered as the national authority on matters of Italian literary scholarship.
There is in Carducci the scholar a positivistic use of the historical method. His critical thought endures in two major areas. One is the literary history he assiduously pursued from his adolescent years forward with major studies of Dante, Parini, Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, and especially Petrarch, in the form of his commentary in an 1899 edition of Petrarch’s Rime. As a literary historian his work is distinguished by the clarity and equanimity of his judgments, even as regards a figure such as Manzoni, whom he criticized in verse. The second area is represented by the three volumes (or “series”) of Confessioni e battaglie, texts of a more cultural flavor. This prose has a familiar character, including many colorful polemics and personal reminiscences. The quintessentially Tuscan character of the man and his language forms a link between the region and the nation as between the entire range of the social classes, from the popular to the aristocratic.
While Croce valued the poetry highly, he undervalued Carducci’s prose. This oversight is significant, given Croce’s enormous influence during the first half of the twentieth century. In fact, Carducci is the greatest nineteenth-century Italian critic after Francesco De Sanctis. As his critical prose matured, Carducci’s best essays were not the highly synthetic ones—typically celebratory, nationalistic, and moralizing—but rather the analytic, keenly insightful, and technical examinations of texts, such as his studies of Politian, Petrarch, and Leopardi. In this area of literary analysis he surpasses De Sanctis. Carducci provides as close to an exhaustive representation of the Italian literary patrimony that one can find; there are few periods or masters in the Italian literary canon he did not treat. He has also incorporated into his readings the contributions of the major literary historians of the previous two centuries. The technique of this “poor laborer of literature,” as he called himself, was to reconstruct the historical times and context of an author by a close textual and linguistic analysis of individual works. Thus he provides in the composite a rigorous history of the literary institutions and of Italian literary forms.
Carducci suffered a paralytic attack to his right arm and hand on 25 September 1899; a debilitating hemiplegia was the long-term result. In 1901 he lost most of his ability to write because of increased weakening from the attack two years earlier. He was forced to dictate most of his works.
In 1904 he was awarded a pension for life by the Italian Parliament, as had been done only for Alessan-dro Manzoni. In December 1904 he retired from teaching and soon afterward hired a personal nurse who assisted him until the end of his life. His temperament grew even more restless and melancholy. While he received many homages and honors, he avoided public gatherings and preferred whenever possible (even against doctors’ orders) to travel to his favorite spot in the Lombard Alps, Madesimo.
When on 10 December 1906 the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to Carducci, he was too frail to travel, but a celebratory event was held at his home in Bologna at the same hour. (Earlier in 1906, Carducci’s home had been purchased for the nation by the queen.) Vittorio Puntoni, the rector of the University of Bologna, had been nominating Carducci for the prize since 1902; but these efforts were unsuccessful until a member of the Academy, Baron De Bildt, made the nomination. The baron was present in Bologna for the personal conferral; Carducci mustered the strength to gesture positively to the small group in attendance—including his wife and three daughters—and then, after the baron’s speech, which extolled the poet’s exaltation of the ideals of country, freedom, and justice, managed to utter a few words: “Salutatemi il popolo svedese, nobile nei pensieri e negli atti” (Please send my greetings to the Swedish people, noble in their thoughts and their actions).
Carducci did not have much opportunity to enjoy the prize or to spend the money; he died on 16 February 1907. Certainly the fact that Carducci was the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature enhanced his reputation; but in Italy, Carducci’s fame was already considerable. The effect of the award was perhaps more important internationally, as it informed the world that the first poet laureate of the relatively new Italian nation had been conferred with this high honor.
The general tendency of twentieth-century criticism has been to ignore Carducci’s philological novelty and rigor and to consider the challenge of his poetry as a fact of the past. Yet, this view is a misreading of the Tuscan poet’s insistence on historical and practical matters in combination with an archaic lexicon and anachronistic reliance on classical forms. In the seeming incongruities lies his true contemporaneity to later poets and scholars. Carducci unknowingly set the benchmark for free verse; he also perfected a form of secular contemplation in verse that seeks to confront death honestly in the sphere of the immanent. In his oratory and prose he emerged as the most dignified and respected spokesman of his age; he was called on to memorialize and eulogize, to make sense of the changing tides of the modern world. In addition, he gave an increasingly literate Italian public a dignified vision of its national narrative, which combined past, present, and future. As he wrote in “Il canto dell’amore,” from Giambi ed epodi:“Il mondo è bello e santo l’avvenir” (The world is beautiful and holy is the future).
Lettere. Edizione Nazionale, 22 volumes (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1938–1968).
Giovanni Papini, L’uomo Carducci (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1913);
Mario Biagini, Giosuè Carducci (Milan: Mursia, 1976).
Luigi Baldacci, “Carducci,” in his Secondo Ottocento (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1969), pp. 55–73;
Walter Binni, Carducci e altri saggi (Turin: Einaudi, 1973), pp. 3–83;
Benedetto Croce, Giosuè Carducci. Studio critico (Bari: Laterza, 1920);
Cesare De Lollis, Appunti sulla lingua poetica del Carducci (1912), in his Scrittori d’ltalia (Milan ’& Naples: Ric-ciardi, 1968), pp. 539–570;
Mario Praz, Il classicismo di Giosuè Carducci (1935), in his Gusto neoclassico (Milan: Rizzoli, 1974), pp. 359–374;
Luigi Russo, Carducci senza retorica (Bari: Laterza, 1957);
Giambattista Salinari, “Giosuè Carducci,” in Storia della lettertura italiana, VIII: Datt’Ottocento al Novecento (Milan: Garzanti, 1968), pp. 627–729;
Mario Santoro, Introduzione al Carducci critico (Naples: Liguori, 1968);
Natalino Sapegno, Storia di Carducci (1949), in his Ritratto del Manzoni e altri saggi (Bari: Laterza, 1961), pp. 205–225;
Renato Serra, Per un catalogo (1910), in his Scritti, I, edited by G. De Robertis and A. Grilli (Florence: Le Monnier, 1938), pp. 71–100;
Raffaele Sirri, Retorica e realtà nella poesia giambica del Carducci (Naples: Il Tripode, 1965);
Enrico Thovez, il pastore, il gregge e la zampogna: dall’Inno a Satana alla laus vitae (Naples: Ricciardi, 1926).
The “Casa Carducci” in Bologna is the center of Giosuè Carducci studies; it houses an archive of the poet’s books and manuscripts and maintains a comprehensive catalogue of studies of his work.