Summary · Giovanni Pascoli · The life of Pascoli · Pascoli's poems · The little child and critical essays · Themes and Style of Pascoli's Poems Articles

Giovanni Pascoli: life, works, poetics

The biography, writings and thoughts of the tamarisk poet

Together with, but unlike, D'Annunzio, Pascoli was the representative of Decadentism in Italy, the last great voice of Italian literature at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries before the advent of the crepuscular and avant-garde crisis. Pascoli's name was to be the signature of a long-lasting poetic legacy and teacher for most generations of poets and writers throughout the 20th century.

The Pascoli family

The life of Pascoli

Birth and father's murder. The fourth of ten children, Giovanni Pascoli was born on 31 December 1855 in San Mauro di Romagna. His happy childhood, spent on the Prince of Torlonia's estate of which the poet's father was the administrator, was abruptly interrupted by the murder of his father on 10 August 1867: a mystery that remained unsolved and forced the whole family, with the help of an annual economic support, to move elsewhere.

Family bereavements and early studies. Several other deaths followed his father's: in 1868 his elder sister Margherita and his mother died of typhus, three years later his brother Luigi died of meningitis, and in 1876 his brother Giacomo died of typhus. The remaining family members, already divided between relatives and boarding schools, dispersed and took different paths, including Pascoli: after graduating from high school in Cesena, a scholarship allowed him to continue his studies at the University of Bologna where he became a student of Giosuè Carducci.

Political commitment. Taking his first steps in politics, he immediately experienced its bitterness: for having taken part in the 1875 protest against the Minister of Education, his scholarship was revoked and he was forced to interrupt his university career; in 1879, on the other hand, his participation in an unauthorised socialist demonstration landed him in prison for a few months, an experience that oriented him towards a more humanitarian and solidarity-based political creed.

The start of his career. Through Carducci's intercession, Pascoli resumed his studies and obtained a degree in Literature in 1882, immediately starting to teach Latin and Greek and beginning to publish his poems in magazines. In 1884 he went to live with his sisters Ida and Maria, but the marriage of the first one in 1895 cut short the poet's hope of a reconstruction of the family nest, welding the relationship with 'Mariù' with whom he lived until his death (letting himself be enslaved by her, especially in love).

His last years and death. In the following years (1891-1903) he held teaching posts and literary publications that established his reputation as a professor and poet, alongside his critical work on the works of Dante and Leopardi and his commitment to composing in Latin. His last noteworthy events, before his death on 6 April 1912 in Bologna due to liver cancer, included succeeding Carducci in the chair of Italian Literature at the University of Bologna (1904) and delivering the famous speech La grande proletaria si è mossa on the occasion of the Libyan War (1911).

Pascoli in Castelvecchio, Italy

Pascoli's poems

Above all, Pascoli's name corresponds to a rich lyrical production, structured as an enormous macro-text in which each poem is a fundamental component, linked to the others by form and content.

Myricae. The debut collection, Myricae, accompanied the poet for most of his life (from its first publication in 1891 to its definitive edition in 1900). In it, the choice of singing the humble everyday life of the bucolic is realised in the realisation of rural visions full of meaning, in which every object - described with nominal exactitude - is noted as a symbol.

Songs of Castelvecchio. The Songs of Castelvecchio are very close to Pascoli's first work (published in 1903, but the result of an elaboration that took place between 1899 and 1912), in which he now prefers a more narrative organisation to the fragmentary style of Myricae, making the poetic whole - with motifs very similar to those of the previous collection - a veritable 'novel' marked by the cycle of the seasons.

Poems. The narrative path of the Canti (Songs) became the main guideline for the Poemetti (published in 1897, then divided into the Primi poemetti (First poems) in 1904 and the Nuovi poemetti (New poems) in 1909): the natural cycle of the peasantry here becomes the subject of an epic exposition dictated by the alternation of the dynamism of life and the inevitability of death, all united by the theme of violence. The chapters of this great poem include philosophical-pedagogical compositions in which Pascoli divulges popular wisdom.

The Convivial Poems and Civil Poetry. The milestones of this major triad are followed by other titles, mostly linked to the last phase of the poet's career: with the Poemi conviviali (1904-1905), 20 texts dedicated to myths and characters from the Greco-Roman and Christian worlds that he looked at with the disenchantment of contemporary man, Pascoli opened the way to the civil season of his poetry, marked by works such as the volume Odi e inni (1906), centred on the celebration of the protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento; the three - of the six planned - Canzoni di re Enzio (1908-1909), the Poemi italici (1911) and the Poemi del Risorgimento (posthumously).

Latin poetry. After the author's death, he published his Carmina (1917), a collection of all the compositions in Latin with which he participated in the various editions of the Dutch Certamen Hoeufftianum, winning 13 out of a total of 30 texts submitted.

Pascoli's home

The little child and critical essays

Writings on Dante and Leopardi. Of the three legendary tables still located today in the house of Castelvecchio at which Pascoli used to work, one in particular was reserved by the poet for writing prose and the critical study of Dante's literary work, above all, to which he dedicated three essays (Minerva oscura, Sotto il velame, La mirabile visione, published respectively in 1898, 1900 and 1902) centred on an esoteric reading of the Commedia aimed at grasping its hidden meanings; and on Leopardi, with two writings (Il sabato of 1896, and La Ginestra of 1898) in which he does not hesitate to advance some reservations about Recanatese's modus operandi regarding the naturalistic precision of his poetic objects.

The little child. The heart of Pascoli's reflection remains the prose of The little child (first published in 1897, then in 1903 and 1907), the authentic manifesto of Pascoli's poetics. Starting from the psychological basis offered by James Sully's Studies of Childhood, Pascoli elaborates the figure of the poet as an 'eternal child', capable (like the man of the first age of the world) of looking at reality with the innocence of children and revealing the poetic spirit of things, even the most ordinary ones, becoming in this way a creator (he gives a name to the elements, rediscovering them in their essence). This quality, although indispensable to artistic activity, is not exclusive to the poet: it is inherent in each individual, even if not everyone proves capable of giving it a voice.

Villa Torlonia

Themes and Style of Pascoli's Poems

If the poet's approach to a wide repertoire of extra-literary sources plays a complex role in the formulation of his artistic vision, the influence exerted - on this level - by autobiographical events is no less important.

The nest, the hearth, death. The many bereavements that studded the history of Pascoli's family, the consequent dispersion of the survivors and the difficult reconstruction of the family nucleus re-emerge in the author's verses through the famous motifs of the nest and the hearth, emblems of the longed-for domestic unity and intimacy, developed with a great variety of images (the ornithological similes, the theme of the cradle and the idea of returning to the womb, the attachment to things present and nearby and the desire for their immutability, the claustrophilia of those who are terrified of what lies outside the known space) but always marked by the shadows of death, an obsessively recurring theme, and by direct contact with its dimension (through the intimate desire for annulment in the timelessness that preserves everything, through the frequent dialogue with the dearly departed).

Nature and the task of poetry. Nature is the constant protagonist of Pascoli's poems, no longer as an object of aristocratic celebration and artificial reconstruction, but rather as a small great presence, exalted both in its high preciousness and in the humility of its most common characters, seen as endowed with the same poetic dignity. Its contemplation, through the medium of poetry, which thus acquires a social and moral value, performs a consolatory function inspiring harmony between men.

Sounds and symbols. Pascoli's link with French Symbolism is strong: from the choice of rhetorical figures (analogy and synaesthesia in particular) to the attention paid to sound effects and phonosymbolic solutions (onomatopoeia, anaphora, iterations, alliteration). In general, however, he is in line with the most advanced European lyric poetry, while still favouring a solid classical base that can be traced back to both the Greek and Latin literary traditions.

Languages and experimentation. Nominal accuracy is probably the most important discriminating factor of Pascoli's poetics, as well as the main responsible for the author's expressive peculiarities: to indicate every object with extreme correctness means - for Pascoli - to have to include in his verses also unusual lexicons (such as sectorial lexicons) or lexicons that are not perceived as appropriate to the lyrical composition (dialects and everyday register). Almost paradoxically, this linguistic accuracy results in interesting phenomena of multilingualism and experimentalism, often pre- and post-grammatical.

By Vincenzo Canto
Giovanni Pascoli portrait
Pascoli and onomatopoeia

Thinking about Pascoli's poetry inevitably brings to mind a whole series of lyrical images of great visual and sound suggestion. But how the 'child poet' arrives at these extremely fine elaborations is a subject that is little discussed and, in reality, very important: the music of the words,

Dante Alighieri portrait
Dante Alighieri: curiosities, anecdotes and legends

Alongside the rich manuscript and critical tradition linked to the name of Dante, there is another equally copious one of a strictly anecdotal nature, which undoubtedly has the merit of contributing in the first place to increasing the already considerable importance of the figure of the Florentine Supreme Poet.

Emperor August's bust
Res Gestae by Augusto: the work of an emperor

September 23 is the anniversary of the birth of Emperor Augustus, which took place in 63 BC. C. Protagonist, together with his opponent Marco Antonio, of the tumultuous events that set Rome on fire after the Ides of March, he ended up marking the