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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

The Poetry of Cesare Pavese Dick Davis

PAVESE is perhaps best known in England as the novelist who committed suicide in a Turin hotel, shortly after having received the Strega prize for his trilogy La bella Estate. In Italy his reputation as a translator (in particular of Moby Dick and Moll Flanders) was for a long time higher than the reputation accorded him for his original work, as novelist or as poet. And yet his poetry is probably his most essential work; certainly his poetry reveals his essential attitudes to the world and to life more clearly than any of his other work except his diary, which is necessarily much less satisfactory aesthetically, as it is a dialogue with himself and not with the world.

A dialogue with the world is what his poetry sets out to establish and record, but it is the particular quality of Pavese's work to leave us, at the end of each poem, in doubt whether any dialogue has in fact occurred, or is even possible. Pavese's poetry is usually considered in two quite distinctive groups: first the poems published in 1936, when he was twenty-eight, under the title Lavorare stanca. These poems are normally considered forerunners of the style of Italian neo-realism which became popular in many branches of the arts, most spectacularly the cinema, after the Second World War. Their form is free and flowing, they employ dialect words, the people who populate them are usually village adolescents, manual workers, peasants. They are firmly rooted in a ...

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