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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Giuseppe Ungaretti

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To purchase Allegria

Title: Allegria
Author: Giuseppe Ungaretti
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1919, rev. 1931 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 198 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Allegria - US
Allegria - UK
Allegria - Canada
Die Heiterkeit | L'Allegria - Deutschland
L'allegria - Italia
directly from: Archipelago Books
  • Italian title: L'allegria
  • This translation is of the 1931 edition; Ungaretti published numerous revisions of the collection
  • Translated and with Afterthoughts by Geoffrey Brock
  • Many poems from the collection have been previously translated
  • This is a bilingual edition, with the Italian originals facing the English translations

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Our Assessment:

B+ : strong wartime poetry, a fine edition

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Winter/2021 Graziano Krätli
Die Zeit . 5/10/1990 Peter Hamm

  From the Reviews:
  • "Written between 1914 and 1919, during Ungaretti's active service on the Italian and the western fronts, most of these poems burn like sparks of emotion, flashes of understanding, splinters of insight. However, despite their diaristic form, intensified by the horrors of war in the trenches, there is nothing fragmentary or unfinished about them; on the contrary, they aim to represent the totality of experience in the infinite and fathomless details of its unfolding, and they are carved and polished like the Karst Plateau on which they were originally crafted." - Graziano Krätli, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Allegria is a collection of poems that Giuseppe Ungaretti wrote between 1914 and 1919. They were first published, in a larger collection, as Allegria di naufragi in 1919; Ungaretti winnowed it down to 74 poems for the 1931 edition, published as Allegria, and, while he: "continued to tweak and revise some of these poems for many years", translator Brock finds: "It is this 1931 edition that, in my view, best captures his early genius". The Archipelago edition is bilingual one of the 1931 edition, with the Italian originals facing Brock's translations.
       Divided into five sections, the collection begins with 'Furthest', poems dated 'Milan 1914', the poems among the most compact in a collection notable for its short, tight pieces. The first two poems are titled 'Eternity' and 'Boredom'; the first reads, in its entirety:

Between one flower picked and the other given
the inexpressible nothing
       Throughout, the poems give a sense of reaching for the "inexpressible nothing". In one we read: "Fog is blotting us out", in another of: "Endless black space dropping / from this balcony / to the graveyard". If the middle three sections are written immersed in war -- the place and time where the soldier-poet jotted down each of the poems in these then individually noted --, these first ones, while already set in an unmooring world, describe only the sense of uncertainty rather than being more directly immersed in the physical reality of it. There's even still the possibility described in 'Home':
Surprised by love
after so long
to visit me

I had thought I had scattered it
out in the world
       The heart of the collection then is the wartime poems, written from the front(s), where:
I hear the night raped

The air is riddled
like lace
by the gunshots
of the men
in trenches
like snails in their shells
       It is a world where, as the war progresses, he finds: "I see myself / adrift / in the infinite"; unsurprisingly, he concludes: "In the end things tend towards chaos." In 'Pilgrimage' -- where he is: "Hunkering / in these bowels / of rubble", he encourages himself:
man of pain
all you need for courage
is one mirage
       The reality of war and the war-experience is all too close and overwhelming, however. Well into the war, he can sum up:
My wretched
stretches on
ever more fearful
of itself
       The final section, dated 'Paris-Milan 1919', is the only one in which the poems are not presented with the almost hacked-off quick succession of lines of the rest of the collection, as if the poet can finally take a breath and elaborate. There is even some sense of hopefulness here, of what is to come. The notion of shipwreck and being lost is found repeatedly in the collection, with the middle section titled 'Naufragi' ('Shipwrecks') -- and, as noted, the entire collection originally presented as Allegria di naufragi --, and Ungaretti closes the collection with one final variation:
Allow me Lord to be shipwrecked
at the first cry of that new day
       The sequence of poems is strong, the verse compact but not terse. It is wartime poetry, crisply conveying the feel of both battle and the uncertainty beyond it. A sense of the man documenting his experiences also comes together nicely across these poems -- not least in his summing up:
I am a poet
a unanimous cry
I am a clot of dreams
       Brock's translations mirror Ungaretti's pared-to-the-essence verse -- though arguably could have stood being even tighter. It all makes for a strong collection in a nice edition -- the Italian originals helpfully printed facing the translations --, an impressive example of wartime poetry from the First World War.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 June 2021

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Allegria: Reviews: Giuseppe Ungaretti: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian-born Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti lived 1888 to 1970.

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© 2021 the complete review

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