Sbarbaro, Camillo 1888-1967

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SBARBARO, Camillo 1888-1967

PERSONAL: Born January 12, 1888, in Santa Maria Ligure, Italy; died October 31, 1967, in Savona, Italy; son of Carlo Sbarbaro. Hobbies and other interests: Botany.

CAREER: Poet and translator. Employed by Ilva industrial conglomerate, Genoa, Italy; taught Greek and Latin; translated from French and Ancient Greek; botanist. Military service: Italian Army Infantry; officer during World War I.


Rèsine, Caimo (Genoa, Italy), 1911.

Pianissimo (title means "Very Softly"), La Voce (Florence, Italy), 1914, revised edition, Neri Pozza (Venice, Italy), 1954.

Trucioli (title means "Wood Shavings"), Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1920, enlarged edition, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1948.

Liquidazione, Ribet (Turin, Italy), 1928.

(Author of introduction) Pierangelo Baratono, Il beato Macario, Formiggini (Rome, Italy), 1929.

(Author of notes) Raffaello Franchi, L'equilibrista, &lsqb:Vallecchi, Italy], 1934.

Rimanenze (title means "Remnants"), All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1955.

Fuochi fatui (title means "Will o' the Wisp") All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1956, enlarged edition, 1958.

Primizie, edited by Vanni Scheiwiller, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1958.

Scampoli, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1960.

Poesie, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1961, revised and enlarged, 1971.

Autoritratto (involontario) di Elena De Bosis Vivante da sue lettere, Stamperia Valdonega (Verona, Italy), 1963.

Gocce, edited by Vanni Scheiwiller, All'Insegna della Baita van Gogh (Milan, Italy), 1963.

Il "Nostro" e nuove Gocce, edited by Vanni Scheiwiller, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1964.

Contagocce, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1965.

Bolle di sapone, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1966.

Vedute di Genova 1921, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1966.

Quisquilie, edited by Vanni Scheiwiller, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1967.

Licheni: Un campionario del mondo, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1967.

Ricordo di Giorgio Labò, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1969.

Poesie e prosa, edited by Vanni Scheiwiller, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1979.

L'opera in versi e in prosa, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1985.

The Poetry and Selected Prose of Camillo Sbarbaro, edited and translated by Vittorio Felaco, Scripta Humanistica (Potomac, MD), 1985.

Contributed to various literary journals, including La Voce.


Gustave Flaubert, Salambò, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1943.

Sophocles, Antigone, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1943.

Joris-Karl Huysmans, Controcorrente, Gentile (Milan, Italy), 1944.

Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle), La certosa di Parma, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1944.

Jules Supervielle, La figlia del mare aperto, Gentile (Milan, Italy), 1945.

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, Le diaboliche, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1945.

Guy de Maupassant, Il porto ed altri racconti, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1945.

Gustave Flaubert, Tre racconti, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1945.

Auguste Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Storie insolite e racconti crudeli, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1945.

Euripides, Il Ciclope, Genovese Lettere e Arti (Genoa, Italy), 1945.

Honoré de Balzac, La pelle di zigrino, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1947.

Henri Poulaille, Il pane quotidiano, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1949.

Aeschylus, Prometeo incatenato, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1949.

Roger Martin du Gard, I Thibault, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1951.

Émile Zola, Germinale, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1951.

Euripides, Alcesti; Il Ciclope, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1952.

Henry de Montherlant, Malatesta, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1952.

Julien Green, Varuna, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1953.

Fernand Commenlynck, Teatro, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1957.

Pythagoras, I versi d'Oro, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1958.

Henry de Montherlant, Il cardinale di Spagna—Port Royal, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1961.

Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard e Pécuchet, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1964.

Joris-Karl Huysmans, A rovescio, All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro (Milan, Italy), 1968.

Translations published in periodicals, including Sipario.


Cartoline in franchigia, Vallechi (Florence, Italy), 1966.

La trama delle lucciole, edited by Domenico Astengo and Franco Contorbia Marco dei Giustiniani (Genoa, Italy), 1979.

Letters published in periodicals, including L'Osservatore politico letterario, Resine, and Strumenti critici.

SIDELIGHTS: A childhood marked by his mother's death from tuberculosis and his father's ill health framed Camillo Sbarbaro's acute sense of alienation. The slim volume of verse Pianissimo, for which Sbarbaro is best known contains the lyric, "Taci, anima stanca di goder" ("Be still my soul, weary of pleasure"). The lines reflect a conflict between a longing for beauty and joy and the dismay that man is imprisoned within his own consciousness.

Sbarbaro published his first poems in 1911 while he was working as a clerk for the Ilva industrial conglomerate, having left school to support his family. This situation, and his pessimism, paralleled that of Franz Kafka, who just then was slaving away as a clerk in Prague. The sense of isolation, resentment toward his family and job entrapment led Sbarbaro to seek escape in Genoa's taverns and brothels. Shying away from literary circles, he did remain close to certain lifelong friends, including poet Angelo Barile, who helped Sbarbaro publish his work. The appearance of Sbarbaro's first volume of poetry was followed by contributions of verse and essay for La Voce and Lacerba, two prominent periodicals of the day.

Rosetta Di Pace-Jordan wrote in Dictionary of Literary Biography that during this time "the Italian cultural and literary scene was divided into two camps: the passive cerpuscolari (twilight poets) and the hyperactive futurists," with poet, novelist, and dramatist Gabriele D'Annunzio in the middle. Unlike the rather languid crepuscolari, Sbarbaro, through unsentimental self-analysis, confronts an acute crisis of dislocation. His insistence on accurate, impartial observations suggests a connection with his lifelong interest in botany. Sbarbaro achieved an international reputation for studying and collecting lichens, which he purchased extensively in Europe and America. In his poetry he shows an interest in understanding and accepting what drives human behavior.

An Encyclopedia of World Literature critic noted that "some of Sbarbaro's most convincing moments occur in connection with the themes of familial relationships (his father and sister)." In poem seventeen of Pianissimo, Sbarbaro expresses heavy guilt toward his father; Pace-Jordan wrote, "the urge to confess it [points] to the fact that his anger has an element of repression in it, something other than the acknowledged reason of the father's age and infirmity." Typically, Sbarbaro uses guilt, according to Pace-Jordan, "to torment himself" and to expose "above all his need to suffer." His attitude toward women in his writing conveys similar repression and anger. "All his poems that deal with women," Pace-Jordan said, "are either about sexual encounters with prostitutes or of bereavement for an absent, idealized woman." Sbarbaro's inability to form lasting relationships with women shows in his obsession with communication in his work, and the Baudelairean "insurmountable abyss" that prevents meaningful connection to others. Pianissimo is sprinkled with references to lonely nocturnal walks through an oppressive urban world of apathy and alienation. Pianissimo earned Sbarbaro a niche in twentieth-century Italian literature and also distinguished him from his contemporaries, the Ligurian poets of the literary journal Riviera Ligure, whose introversion he shared but whose self-consciousness and worldliness he rejected.

Sbarbaro, the Encyclopedia of World Literature writer noted, "was never a full-time man of letters." After Pianissimo, he joined the Red Cross and served as an infantryman and officer in the Italian army during World War I. Afterward, he settled in Genoa to teach Greek and Latin and began several important translations of French and classical authors. His postwar writings include the volume Trucioli, favorably reviewed by Ligurian poet Eugenio Montale, who may have influenced his work. Sbarbaro's refusal to carry a party card earned him the censure of the Fascists, who suppressed later volumes of Trucioli. It also cost him a teaching job at the Jesuit Istituto Arecco in Genoa. His Fuochi fatui, his most significant works during this period, exhibits a tragic vision which continued to isolate him. He remained in seclusion during most of Mussolini's fascist regime, writing and studying botany. His poems abound with sensual delight in the colors of a seascape, or the "perennial spring of the olive trees." Contemplating nature enabled Sbarbaro to unite, at least temporarily, with the outside world. Through this meditation he could express, in the words of author Gianni Pozzi, "un interiorita poetica che era nell/aria" ("the lyrical self of his time").



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

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.*