Campana, Dino 1885–1932

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Campana, Dino 1885–1932

PERSONAL: Born August 20, 1885, in Marradi, Italy; died of septicemia, March 1, 1932, in Florence, Italy; son of Giovanni (an elementary school teacher) and Francesca (Luti) Campana. Education: Attended University of Bologna, 1903, 1905, 1912–13, and University of Genoa, 1913; also attended military school in Modena, Italy, 1903.

CAREER: Poet. Also worked a variety of jobs in South America, including as a toolmaker, triangle player in the Argentine navy, doorman in a club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, railway worker in Argentina, 1907–08, and as a miner, fireman, juggler, brothel pianist, coal man on a steamship, and rifle ranger worker.


Canti orfici (poems), Ravagli (Marradi, Italy), 1914, revised and enlarged edition published as Canti orfici ed altre liriche, edited by Bino Binazzi, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1928, 2nd revised edition published as Canti orfici, edited by Enrico Falqui, 1942, 3rd enlarged edition published as Canti orfici e altri scritti, edited by Falqui, 1952, abridged edition, 1960, new edition published as Canti orfici e altre poesie, edited by Renato Martinoni, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 2003, translated by I.L. Salomon published as Orphic Songs, October House (New York, NY), 1968, translated by Charles Wright as Orphic Songs, introduction by Jonathan Galassi, Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH), 1984, translated by Salomon published as Orphic Songs and Other Poems, edited by Luigi Bonaffini, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1991.

Inediti, edited by Enrico Falqui, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1942.

Taccuino, edited by Franco Matacotta, Amici della Poesia (Fermo, Italy), 1949.

Taccuinetto faentino, edited by Domenico de Robertis, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1960.

Fascicolo marradese, edited by Federico Ravagli, Giunti-Bemporad Marzocco (Florence, Italy), 1972.

Il più lungo giorno, two volumes, edited by Domenico de Robertis, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1973, new edition edited by Stefano Giovannuzzi, Le Càriti (Florence, Italy), 2004.

Opere e contributi, two volumes, edited by Enrico Falqui, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1973.

Taccuini, edited and with commentary by Fiorenza Ceragioli, Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa, Italy), 1990.

Opere, TEA (Milan, Italy), 1999.

Dino Campana sperso per il mondo: autgrafi sparsi, 1906–1918, edited by Gabriel Cacho Millet, L.S. Olschki (Florence, Italy), 2000.


Lettere: Dino Campana—Sibilla Aleramo, edited by Niccolo Gallo, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1958.

Le mie lettere sono fatte per essere bruciate, edited by Gabriel Cacho Millet, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1978.

Souvenir d'un pendu: carteggio 1910–1931 con documenti inediti e rari, edited by Gabriel Cacho Millet, Scientifiche Italiane (Naples, Italy), 1985.

Epistolario, Lombardi (Milan, Italy), 1985.

(With Sibilla Aleramo) Un viaggio chiamato amore: lettere 1916–1918, edited by Bruna Conti, Editori Riuniti (Rome, Italy), 1987, 2nd edition, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: "Dino Campana," wrote I.L. Salomon in his introduction to the 1968 translation of Canti orfici, "was the wild man of Italian poetry in 1914 on the eve of the Great War. He is as important to 20th century poetry as, say, Lorca or Mayakovsky." Campana's work combined some of the components of Italian futurism with elements from foreign writers (drawn from his extensive travels at the beginning of the twentieth century) and elements drawn from older Italian poets. "Campana," wrote Jonathan Galassi in Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry, "is a unique case in Italian poetry, comparable in some ways to what Rimbaud is for the French or Hart Crane for … [the American] tradition. As the critic Emilio Cecchi wrote, he 'passed like a comet' across the firmament of Italian letters, leaving it astonished, though finally more or less unchanged, so idiosyncratic and eccentric was his contribution."

"Campana," stated Edward Williamson in an appreciation of the poet's oeuvre published in Poetry, "was a personality in a way that later Italian poets—chiefly professorial and intellectual—have not been." Born in the town of Marradi in northern Italy to a schoolteacher and his wife, Campana found his writing career cut short by a slow slide into insanity, culminating in his permanent confinement in a mental institution outside Florence in 1918. He had demonstrated aberrant behavior in grade school and was expelled from the University of Bologna for it in 1907. "Campana's father, stern and somewhat distant, but fair and caring," according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Luigi Bonaffini, "was clearly unable to mediate between him and his mother, who was becoming so increasingly intolerant and so obsessed with religious practices that she convinced herself … that she had begotten the Antichrist."

Campana spent some time in different mental hospitals between 1903 and 1918—both in Italy and abroad—after having been committed either by his parents or by various police agencies in the countries he visited. His record as a mental patient also contributed to his sense of isolation and his perception of rejection by society. "Proud, sick, and restless as he was," wrote Eugenio Montale in The Second Life of Art: Selected Essays, "who could have calmed him and brought him peace?"

Campana's most influential work—and the only one published during his lifetime—was Canti orfici—translated into English as Orphic Songs. The work, a combination of poems, prose poems, and short pieces of prose, grew out of a pilgrimage Campana made to the monastery at La Verna in 1910. "He published a few poems in student magazines in Bologna in 1912," wrote Galassi, "and, under the influence of futurism and Rimbaud, began to write the Canti orfici in Marradi." He finally turned the only existing copy of the manuscript over to Giovanni Papini, the publisher of the magazine La voce, who passed it on to his associate Ardegno Soffici. Soffici promptly lost the manuscript, and Campana had to reconstruct the book from his memory and his notes. "This was a devastating experience for Campana," explained Bonaffini, "and marked his complete break with contemporary Italian literature and literary institutions—the 'Florentines' (Papini and Soffici) and Lacerba and La voce in particular."

"The loss of the original manuscript contributed considerably to Campana's legend," Bonaffini continued, "prompting more than one critic to consider the final product, Canti orfici, somehow unfinished, not completely realized, a work in progress, while lamenting as a calamity the disappearance of Il più lungo giorno [the title of the lost manuscript], whose supposed perfection Canti orfici had not been able to recapture." This was not the case, critics later agreed; the manuscript of Il più lungo giorno was recovered by the Soffici family and was edited and published in the 1970s. It proved to be a much-less seminal work that the final version of Canti orfici that Campana saw published in his own lifetime. "Canti orfici, far from paling in comparison, is in fact a decidedly superior work," Bonaffini concluded. "It would be difficult to disagree with Neuro Bonifazi when he says that, while the loss of the original manuscript was undoubtedly a personal tragedy for the poet, it represented on the other hand a great fortune for Italian literature."

Canti orfici went through a number of variations even during the poet's own lifetime. Some purchasers of the book found that their copies had been personally edited by the poet himself. "Campana … attended personally to the sale of his book, in a way that has become legendary," explained Bonaffini. "There are several eyewitness accounts, including Soffici's, of how Campana would sell his book among the customers of the café, but only after carefully sizing up each prospective buyer and then tearing out the pages he believed would not be understood. Soffici also says that [Filippo Tommaso] Marinetti [the acknowledged leader and founder of the futurist movement in Italian literature] received just the cover of Canti orfici, all the pages having been torn out by Campana."

Canti orfici has, since its original publication, been acknowledged as a classic of modernist literature. It has been translated into many different languages, and Campana's work has found an appreciative audience outside of his native Italy. The English translation of the work, declared Choice contributor R. West, "captures the disturbing cadences and obsessive melodies of Campana's verse and allows the English-speaking reader entry into a compelling poetic universe." "The Orphic Songs," explained Maria Rosaria Vitti-Alexander in Modern Language Journal, "is an oneiric voyage of a life consumed in unconfessable passions and a lucid, ever aspiring longing of the spirit toward truth and hope." "It is a certain measure of the vitality of Campana's work," concluded Bonaffini, "that it has been able to generate so much attention … centering on the mystery of a text that is one of the shortest imaginable as justification of a lifetime, but whose infinity can still jar modern and postmodern sensibilities."



Burnshaw, Stanley, and others, editors, The Poem Itself, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (New York, NY), 1960, pp. 297-299.

Campana, Dino, Orphic Songs, translated and introduced by I.L. Salomon, October House (New York, NY), 1968, pp. 13-22.

Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry, edited by James McCorkle, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1990, pp. 248-252.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 114: Twentieth-Century Italian Poets, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992, pp. 18-33.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 407-408.

Golino, Carlo L., editor, Contemporary Italian Poetry: An Anthology, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1962, pp. vii-xxi.

Montale, Eugenio, The Second Life of Art: Selected Essays, edited and translated by Jonathan Galassi, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1982, pp. 61-74.

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 20, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 81-90.


Choice, May, 1985, R. West, review of Orphic Songs, p. 1339.

Italian Quarterly, summer, 1958, Fredi Chiappelli, "An Introduction to Dino Campana," pp. 3-15.

Lettere Italiane, April, 1980, Giovanni Cecchetti, "Sulla poesia associativa di Campana," pp. 248-254.

Modern Language Journal, spring, 1987, Maria Rosaria Vitti-Alexander, review of Orphic Songs, p. 110.

Modern Language Review, October, 1983, Caroline Mezey, "Dino Campana's Return from Belgium: Four Unpublished Documents," pp. 830-837.

Nuova Corrente, Volume 78, 1979, Antoinetta Acciani, "La 'gaia' poesia. Appunti di Dino Campana," pp. 113-136.

Poetry, December, 1951, Edward Williamson, "Contemporary Italian Poetry," pp. 159-181.

Translation Review Supplement, December, 1999, review of Orphic Songs, p. 21.


IL Club, (November 15, 2005), Olivia Trioschi, "Dino Campana."

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Campana, Dino 1885–1932

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