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This article is taken from PN Review 12, Volume 6 Number 4, March - April 1980.

Dante & the Modern Poet Henry Gifford
 
MONTALE'S 1965 centenary lecture "Dante Today and Tomorrow" (PNR 5) leads up to a necessary question about any poet of the past. "In conclusion," he says, "I must ask myself what Dante means to a modern poet. Has he left behind any lesson or heritage?" It will be recalled that Montale believes the heritage is by and large inaccessible- "the conditions for success in this area no longer exist"-though he takes away one very important lesson, that "true poetry is always in the nature of a gift and hence presupposes worth and dignity in him who receives it". This he regards as the greatest lesson from Dante.

Fifty or sixty years ago Montale made his aim that of creating, in his own words, "a centre of resonance which would allow poetry once more to constitute the dignity and pride of our country". For that purpose he turned instinctively to Dante. His own dealings with Dante should be related to the question he has asked himself. In tracing them briefly I shall rely on the excellent account given by Arshi Pipa in his book Montale and Dante (Minneapolis, 1968).

Since each of these poets was "a great innovator as well as a true son of his time", it follows that for Montale "a meeting with Dante" should have been "almost mandatory". Where else in Italian, or even in European poetry as a whole, could he hope to find such "a centre of resonance"? An Italian poet ...


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