Salvatore Quasimodo

The Italian poet, translator, and critic Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968) was one of the chief exponents of Italian hermetic poetry.

Salvatore Quasimodo was born on Aug. 20, 1901, in Modica, Sicily, where his father was a stationmaster with the Italian railroads. After several moves throughout Sicily, the family in 1908 settled in Messina, where Quasimodo finished his education and remained until 1919. Subsequently he moved to Rome to study engineering at the Politechnical Institute but did not complete his studies. For some time he worked in different jobs until he moved to Reggio Calabria in 1926 as an employee of the Civil Engineering Board. Through Elio Vittorini, his brother-in-law, he was introduced to literary circles during a visit to Florence in 1929. Among others he met Eugenio Montale and Alessandro Bonsanti, the editor of Solaria, which in 1930 published his first poetry.

In 1931 Quasimodo was transferred to Imperia and, after a short interlude in Sardinia, eventually was assigned to duty in Milan. There he left his job in 1938 to become editor of the weekly Tempo until he was named in 1941 professor of Italian literature at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory of Music. Quasimodo was the recipient of several literary prizes, such as the Etna-Taormina in 1953 and the Viareggio in 1958. In 1959 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Quasimodo died on June 14, 1968.

Quasimodo's poetics is characterized by a belief in the "magic of the word." Such an avowal eventually leads to the concept of an "absolute word" whose alliterative properties are stressed over its logical aspects. Quasimodo's later notion of the social potentialities of poetry does not necessarily indicate a break with his earlier manner but may be seen as a logical continuation, as he himself once said: "the words 'island' and 'Sicily' may be identified with my search for contact with the outside world." He refused to be associated with French symbolism, declaring that his work might better be seen in the tradition of "stilnovistic" poetry.

The goals of Quasimodo's poetics are already visible in his first collection of verse, Acque e terre (1930), in which the word no longer appears in a subordinate syntactic function but asserts its own immediate value. Òboe sommerso (1932), Odore di Eucalyptus ed altri versi (1933), and Erato e Apòllion (1936) are verse collections which are most characteristic of Quasimodo's hermetic approach, and it is here that his poetics of the absolute word is most clearly delineated and evident ("I divest myself by syllables, " Parola). The themes are autobiographical, those of an odyssey and the search for a lost paradise. The almost realistic aspects of Acque e terrehave disappeared; the technique of the analogies has become more daring; and the metaphors have become more tightened. The equilibrium between realistic and hermetic elements characteristic of the first collection is no longer existent.

Nuove poesie (1938) reiterates the old nostalgic feeling of Acque e terre for Sicily. Although retaining its hermetic aspects, the syntax has attained a higher degree of clarity, fusing with ease human elements with those of nature in a poised synthesis, as in the poem on Ilaria del Carretto. Ed è subito sera (1942), representing a stylistic and structural revision of all Quasimodo had written up to that time, arranged the poems in a chronological order and imparted the feeling of greater ease and of solutions that allowed a more detached attitude on the part of the reader.

The postwar collections Giorno dopo giorno (1947), La vita non è sogno (1949), and Il falso e vero verde (1956) seek a more direct relationship and dialogue with the reader, and Quasimodo himself referred to them as "poesia sociale." La terra impareggiabile (1958) is still oriented toward the social and dialogical approach, but it is somewhat weaker than the earlier collections.

Further Reading on Salvatore Quasimodo

A brief biography of Quasimodo is in Nobel Foundation, Nobel Lectures: Literature, 1901-1967, edited by Horst Frenz (1969). For general historical background see Carlo L. Golino, ed., Contemporary Italian Poetry: An Anthology (1962), and Eugenio Donadoni, A History of Italian Literature (1923; trans. and rev. ed., 2 vols., 1969).