Strongbox of Meanings

Strongbox of Meanings

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The term “hermeticism” refers to a particular poetic movement born in Italy at the end of the First World War. It deals with the idea of a poetry whose character is hermetically closed and complex, in order to represent the feeling of the post-war.

With the Hermeticism, the poetic word is freed from every realistic echo and become “pure poetry”, creating complicated analogies carrying meanings difficult to understand. There is no more any practical finality, nor an educative aim.

At the centre of the hermetic poetry there is a tension towards silent and absence, towards modern man’s loneliness, created by the destruction of all certitudes in life. The modern man lives in an incomprehensible world, shocked by war and disturbed by dictatorial governments. This is why the hermetic poets deprive the word of its communicative function, leaving its evocative power only.

The hermetic poetry becomes, then, poetry of feelings. Its task is to give a new sense to words, charging it with deeper meanings, and using it only when strictly needed.

Giuseppe Ungaretti was the founder of Hermeticism. Born in Alexadria of Egypt in 1888 by Italian parents, he lived a cosmopolitan youth, which led him to Paris for his academic studies. Here he had the opportunity to get in touch with French Symbolism and Decadentism, which will be part of his new poetics.

In 1915 he decided to volunteer in the Italian army, and left to fight in the WWI. This is the time when he started writing short poems on a small notebook, during the nights spent to wake at the front. The experience of war and death was then mixed with the use of analogies of symbolism, giving birth to a new kind of poetry, made up by very few words and short lines, but filled with deeper meaning and reflections on modern man’s life, death and feeling.

Here an example of one of his poems: Veglia (Wake), in which Ungaretti shows the atrocities of the front, describing the horror of the corpse of one of his mates destroyed by war. However, at the same time, being so close to death helps him found all the love and life he has within, and which he transfer on paper.




     Cima Quattro, 23rd December 1915

A whole night
thrown near
a massacred
with his mouth
facing the whole moon
with the congestion
of his hands
my silence
I have written
letters full of love

I have never been
attached to life
so much

(Transl. Fiamma Ferraro)

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