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This review is taken from PN Review 45, Volume 12 Number 1, September - October 1985.

COUNTER-ELOQUENCE Otherwise: last and first poems of Eugenio Montale, translated by Jonathan Galassi (Vintage Books) $8.95

Modern Italian poetry has known no career so 'concentrated' in character as that of Eugenio Montale, the figure who epitomized its excellence. Sixty years before his death, as early as 1921 in other words, Montale identified his unwavering concern with 'the thread which unwound might finally place us/in the midst of a truth'; in spite of a growing conviction that such a truth could scarcely solace us, he continued to unwind whatever threads might lead to its attainment. To this end he renounced all claims to eloquence, preferring to find himself guilty of whatever 'counter-eloquence' survived this gesture of refusal. Montale's strict fidelity ('adherence' in his own words) to the 'occasions' when truth and poetry were conjoined, not unnaturally inclined him to be 'powerful' rather than 'prolific', and to see these attributes, like Leopardi before him, as mutually exclusive. In an age of unrestrained prolixity he remained, at least until his wife died and he himself was nearly seventy, the author of only three books of poetry, all sooner or later recognized as of classic status. The threat of 'eloquence' and the weather-eye open for 'counter-eloquence' are clearly a very effective constraint upon a patient, implacable and in every respect unappeasable temperament.

Otherwise, without requiring us to modify our view of the temperament involved, reminds us that in old age Montale cast off the chains that had guaranteed him immortality. He became quite astonishingly prolific by his own standards and demonstrated that as the pursuit of truth ...


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