Hopkins Lectures 2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting points between English poet
Gerard Manley Hopkins
and Italian poet, Eugenio Montale

Lara Farrini

Lara Fe rrini examines influence of Italian poet, Nobel Prize Winner, Eugenio Montale on English Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Eugenio Montale, one of the greatest Italian twentieth century poets, won the Nobel prize in 1975 and worked as a literary translator. Poets he translated included Hopkins and Yeats. Montale was hugely influenced by the Anglo-Saxon tradition in general. Lara Ferrini examines the influence of Hopkins on this majory Italian poet.

Lara Farrini Italy

This paper examines the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins on the 20th century Italian poet Eugenio eugenio_montaleMontale (1896 - 1981). It focuses on sound which is the meeting point between the two. Many examples are drawn from The Occasions / le Occasioni, particularly the section called Motets/i Motetti. It also analyzes the poem The Balcony / Il balcone which is the incipit of the book, but ideally belongs to the Motets section.

Anyway I am here because I wrote poems, definitely useless goods, but almost never noxious - and that is one of their titles of nobility. But it is not the only one, poetry being a production and an endemic and incurable disease - Eugenio Montale. (1)

Of course you know who Hopkins is. So I do not need to introduce him. But, perhaps you know less about Montale. So I need to introduce him a little bit.

Eugenio Montale is one of the greatest Italian twentieth century poets. He won the Nobel prize in 1975 and worked as a literary translator. He translated many lyrics of the poets beyond the Alps amongst whom were included Hopkins and Yeats. Montale was hugely influenced by the Anglo-Saxon tradition in general.

In his Introduction to the Collected Poems of Montale the critic Giorgio Zampa, in writing about Montale's Book of Translations, speaks of a real elective affinity between him and the poets he translated.

Furthermore, Montale, likeT. S. Eliot, uses the objective correlative very much. His poetry wants neither to describe nor to portray, but rather to evoke.

Montale also wrote for the literary reviews Letteratura (Literature) and Campo di Marte (Field of Mars) which were the florentine reviews of the so-called literary movement of the Hermeticism.


Hermeticism

Hermeticism developed during the first half of the twentieth century in Italy. It includes all the poets between Ungaretti and Montale - even if the latter did not like the label of hermetic very much. Montale preferred to be considered born in the furrow of a poetic trend which can be approximately defined metaphysical. (3)

Furthermore, Hermeticism also dealt with all the Florentine writers, amongst whom Carlo Bo (rector of my University in Urbino) of the literary reviews Frontespizio (Frontispiece) and Campo di Marte (Field of Mars) itself. The word Hermeticism dates back to Ermete Trismegisto and to an esoteric, philosophical and religious doctrine whose name was Hermeticism and which arose in the Hellenistic age.


Features of Hermetic Poetry

First of all the language is obscure and difficult to understand - although in his collection of Speeches, Prefaces, articles, essays and reviews which is called Sulla Poesia (about poetry) Montale himself declares: I never tried to be obscure on purpose (4).

Another feature of Hermeticism is that poems are brief, bare and not prolix. In a way, they are like those of Imagism. Hermetic poetry is like a sort of pure one as Montale wrote: Poetry, [... ], has investigated (inquired into) itself, the rules of its own purity and it has sometimes gone so far as to draw direct inspiration from its selfconscience (5)

Poems of the Hermetic movement are also rich in analogies. Themes are negative, dealing with the sense of absence, of isolation, of existential problems and of waiting for something which will not come. These features are well represented in Montale's poem Spesso il male di vivere ho incontrato (I have often met the evils of Life.

In this poem, he uses special objective correlatives to describe the evil of life such as il rivo strozzato (the strangled stream), L'accartocciarsi della foglia (the curling up of the leaf) and il cavallo stramazzato (the dropped down horse). As we see again, later on, not only meaning, but also sound is very important for Montale. Montale himself, in speaking about his book, The Occasions, claims that Hopkins has influenced him very much. I quote from About Poetry:

Of course, in The Occasions the need for an objective expression grows while the romantic effusions decrease. The plot of rhymes and assonances is more compact and it is strange that nobody mentioned the name of Gerard Manley Hopkins. In my way I was looking for my sprung rhythm.


Montale's Le Occasione

Le Occasione is Montale's second book of poems. It was published in 1939, but its poems date back to the years between 1928 - 1939. The book is divided into four parts. It begins with a poem called Il balcone (The Balcony) which, because of its form, belongs, ideally, to the second section. In fact it is what Montale used to call a motet. By this, he meant a popular, short poem with a wealth of ideas in it. The second part of Le Occasione is made of motets only.

While Montale's first book Ossi di seppia (Cuttlefish Bones) is based on the dimension of space, Le Occasione is based on the dimension of time. Its leitmotiv is memory. This can be the only safe way to stop the flowing of life and the blind negativity of existence.


Montale influenced by Goethe

Montale took the word occasion from Goethe. Here it is meant to be a sort of miraculous event and not only a simple occurence. In a sense the occasions are like Epiphanies, to borrow a Joycean word. They are like unexpected, sudden illuminations (inspiration). They remind us of past situations and/or of forgotten people as, in this case, feminine characters such as Gerti, Liuba and Dora Markus.


Montale and Gerard Manley Hopkins

The critic Oreste Macri claims that when Montale speaks about Hopkins's influence on Le Occasione, he certainly refers to the second section, the section containing the mottetti; to quote Macri, When Montale says[... ] that he was searching for it (the sprung rhythm) in particular, for The Occasions; he was of course referring to the genre of the motet, [... ] (7) The Motets were written between 1934 and 1939. They form the central part of Le Occasione. They form a whole unity because they all deal with a dialogue with an absent feminine character. The Motets are dedicated to Irma Brandeis, an American-Jewish woman whom Montale met in Florence. At the time of the racial persecution in Italy she had to go back to the U. S.A. so she left Italy and therefore Montale. The Motets are dedicated to her explicitly only from the edition in 1949.

Irma Brandeis is presented as Clizia like in the tradition of Provençal poetry. According to the myth, Clizia was turned into a sunflower. Here the poet refers to a sonnet by Dante adressed to Giovanni Quirini, where the poet declares his love for a dispietata a disdegnosa (pitiless and scornful) woman. He compares himself to quella ch'a veder lo sot si gira / e'l non mutato amor mutata serba, namely Clizia. Of course the reader can also find the myth in Ovid's Metamorphosis.

So Motets are a kind of canzoniere (a book of songs like Petrarca's famous one) dedicated to an absent woman. There is a sense of detachment, of parting, but at the same tune a desire for contact. The central theme is the absence of that woman, though the tone is not elegiac. That is why this section is considered so innovative. Love is treated in a new, interesting way.

Now, having introduced you to Montale and his work The Occasions, particularly the section of The Motets, at least a little bit, I want to answer the questions: "what do Hopkins and Montale have in common?" and " how did Hopkins influence Montale?" I think that what Hopkins and Montale have most in common is sound. In his book About Poetry Montale claims that poetry itself was born from the need to add a vocal sound (the word) to the hammering of the first tribal music. Later on only, word and music can be written down and be different(8)

Furthermore Macri, speaking of the innovative elements taken from Browning's technique and elaborated again by Montale, asserts that he (namely Montale) uses the language in a non-conventional way in order to motivate totally the sign which brings the sound (il significante). (9) Macri also writes that Hopkins influenced Montale from a technical and a musical point of view. (10) Macri demonstrates the importance of sound in Montale and the influence of Hopkins on him. The scholar Kunio Shimane also stresses the importance of sound in Hopkins as well. I quote from Shimane:

Every word, every technique in Hopkins' poetry is related, in one way or another, to sound effects that he laboured to achieve. (11) Why is sound so important for both Eugenio Montale and Gerard Hopkins? Maybe Jurij M. Lotman can answer that question :

The phoneme becomes not only an element which can distinguish the meaning, but also a bearer itself of a lexical meaning. Sounds are full of meaning (sono significanti). That is why the phonological approch becomes conceptual. (12)

As everybody knows, sounds put in a certain order bear a certain meaning. The task of the poet is to find the proper sound to express a certain meaning. Lotman claims that the relation between sound and meaning in poetry is never arbitrary, but due to precise reasons (motivato). That is what in poetry is called the iconicity (iconicita) of the poetic sign.

The Wreck of Deutschland is divided between two different and contrasting feelings: one of human sorrow and suffering, the other of the infinite goodness of God. A rhythm only like sprung rhythm can utter properly that contrast. So to represent that semantic assumption Hopkins used a particular technique made of assonance and dissonance which creates harmony in the whole. We can also call it disharmony in harmony. I think that is typical of modern art and modern poetry as well, which are both based on contrast, disorder and chaos as modern times are.

A technique based on sprung rhythm is a revolutionary one also because it represents a way to renew the tradition by starting within it and by unhinging it on the inside. Not by chance Derek Attridge in his Poetic Rhythm - An Introduction includes Hopkins and his sprung rhythm in the chapter dedicated to free verse. He justifies his choice by claiming that Much later in the nineteenth century, Gerard Manley Hopkins was also pushing intense poetic language beyond the limits of metrical verse, developing his own idiosyncratic metrical mode [... ]. He called it sprung rhythm, and claimed that it could be scanned metrically. However, it often works best when read as a type of free verse. (13)

The so-called free verse does not mean anarchy. In fact as Chesterton asserts: free verse, like free love is a contradiction in terms (14)

Why is it like this? One wonders. Attridge suggests an answer :

The usual name for verse that does not fall into a metrical pattern is free verse, a name which derives in large part from thepropaganda of poets staking a claim for the merits of their own new practice, and one which should not be taken to imply that metrical verse is, by contrast, limited or restricted. A more accurate name would be nonmetrical verse, which, as a negative definition, has the advantage of implying that this kind of verse does not have a fixed identity of its own, whereas "free verse" misleadingly suggests a single type of poetry. (5)


The Modernity of Hopkins

This explains the modernity of Hopkins. Montale himself defines the new poetry as syncopated, broken and memory's enemy. (16) To go back to Montale's own words, particularly when he's referring to The Occasions, he speaks about a plot of rhymes and assonances like that, I add, used by Hopkins. So now I want to show how Montale used some of Hopkins's typical devices in some of his Occasions, particularly in his Motets. I know that very few of you know the Italian language, but I gave you some handouts for better understanding, if not of the meaning, at least of the sound. (N.B. these texts are included at the end of this lecture -ed.) Here I'm fixing my mind chiefly on sound which is mainly the meeting point between the two poets. First I consider the poem called Il Balcone(the balcony); first just listen to its musicality:

Il balcone

Pareva facile giuoco
mutare in nulla lo spazio
che m' era aperto, in un tedio
malcerto il certo tuo fuoco.

Ora a quel vuoto ho congiunto
ogni mio tardo motivo
sull'arduo nulla si spunta
1'ansia di attenderti vivo

La vita the dà barlumi
é quella the sola to scorgi.
A lei ti sporgi da questa
Finestra the non s'illumina.

In this text Montale employs the underlined back velar and close vowel, the back velar half-close /o/, the back velar half-open and the diphthong /uo/ very much. In his book The Poetry of G.M. Hopkins -The Fusing Point of Sound and Sense, Kunio Shimane writes It can generally be said that the front vowels are light and the back vowels are dark. According to that sentence, this poem must have a gloomy meaning because of the large use of the back vowels, particularly of the /u/ vowel which furthermore is not that frequent in the Italian language. In fact the poem has that dark meaning.

In the same way we can consider the 10 stanza of The Wreck where the nun fights against the storm. It is a very dramatic and gloomy moment. Therefore Hopkins uses many back vowels to express sorrow and sad feelings. I underlined all the back vowels of the stanza:

She drove in the dark to leeward (17)
She struck (18) - not a reef or a rock
But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
Dead to Kentish Knock;
And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:
The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;

And canvas and compass, (19) the whorl and the wheel
Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

In this stanza, we can also find an outstanding contrast between back and front vowels which mirrors in a sense the fighting between the nun and the storm. In an essay entitled The Origin of our Moral Ideas, Hopkins asserts the importance of dissonance and contrast in art:

In art we strive to realise not only unity, permanence of law, likeness, but also, with it,difference, variety, contrast. (20)

I consider the verse, ogni opera, ogni grido e anche lo spiro taken from the first motet of the section whose title is Lo sai: debbo riperderti a non posso. As you can see, there are the back half-close and half-open velar /o/ and the front close palatal /I/ in almost every word of that verse. This creates a strong alliteration. At the same time, the fact that the consonants change produces what the scholar Shimane calls dissonance in his book dedicated to Hopkins. Particularly the consonance of the first part of the verse between the words ogni and ogni contrasts with the dissonance made by the syllable /gr/ in the word grido and the syllable /sp/ in the word spiro which have in common the same vowels.

Another typical device of Hopkins is used by Montale. I'm speaking about the so-called expanded alliteration which is an alliteration between (I'm quoting fromShimane) consonants in the relation of fortis and lenis qualities.(21) I have chosen a line from the 7th. motet entitled Il saliscendi bianco a nero dei. The line is the following: balestrucci dal Palo. Another one is Mezzodi: allunga nel riquadro il nespolo. That line is taken from the motet Ti libero la fronte dai ghiaccioli.

We can better understand now why Montale, referring to Hopkins's influence, spoke about a plot of assonances and rhymes. I would like to consider that aspect, namely the assonances and the rhymes, in the poem Il balcone. As you can see in the first stanza there is a rhyme in lines 1 and 4 : giuoco and fuoco. Than there's the same rhyme in the second stanza lines 1 and 3, but it is internal and imperfect (or half) because of the different consonants, I mean vuoto and arduo. The 2nd and the 3rd lines in the second stanza end with an assonance due to the words spazio and tedio. Furthermore in the first stanza line 4 there is also a derived internal rhyme between malcerto and certo. In the 2nd stanza lines 2 and 4 end with a rhyme between motivo and vivo and lines 1 and 3 end with the half assonance between congiunto and spunta. There is also an imperfect internal rhyme between tardo and arduo. The 2nd and 3rd lines in the second stanza end with the assonance due to the words spazio and tedio. Furthermore, in the first stanza line 4 is also a derived internal rhyme between malcerto and certo. In the 2nd stanza, lines 2 and 4 end with a rhyme between motivo and vivo and lines 1 and 3 end with a half-assonance between congiunto and spunta. There is also an imperfect internal rhyme between tardo and arduo. In the 3rd stanza, lines 1 and 4 end with the assonance between barlumi and illumina which have also in common a semantic aspect. There is also the half internal and external rhyme between scorgi and sporgi which is in a chiasmatic position towards the deitics quella (that) and questa (this). All those are only a few examples taken from Montale. Of course there are many more. Those one are only to demonstrate what Montale meant with his words

The plot of rhymes and assonances is more compact and it is strange that nobody mentioned the name of Gerard Manley Hopkins. In my way I was looking for my sprung rhythm.(22)

I have tried to explain in this essay what Montale and Hopkins have in common and how the latter influenced the former, particularly referring to sound, which is undoubtly the meeting point between the two. To conclude I would like to leave you with the words of both those great poets and the beautiful sound of the poem Pied Beauty and its translation in Italian language Bellezza cangiante:


Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatevever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.


La Bellaza Cangiante

Gloria a Dio per le cose the ha spruzzate:
i cieli bicolori, pezzati come vacche,
la striscia roseo-biliottata della
trota in acqua, il tonfar delle castagne
crollo di tizzi giovani nel fuoco
e 1'ali del fringuello; per le toppe
dei campi arati a dissodati, a tutti
i traffici a gli arnesi, a tutto ch'è
fuor di squadra, difforme, impari a strambo,
tutto the muta, punto da lentiggini
(chissà come?) di fretta a di lentezza,
di dolce o d'aspro, di lucore o buio.
Quegli le esprime - lode a Lui - ch'è sola
bellezza non mutabile.

Notes

1. Il balcone

Pareva facile
mutare in nulla to spazio
che m'era aperto, in un tedio
malcerto il certo tuo fuoco.

ra a quel vuoto ho congiunto
ogni mio tardo motivo
sull'arduo nulla si spunta
1'ansia di attenderti vivo

La vita the dà barlumi
é quella the sola tu scorgi.
A lei ti sporgi da questa
Finestra the non s'illumina.

2. The Balcony

She drove in the dark to leeward (i)
She struck (ii) - not a reef or a rock
But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
Dead to Kentish Knock;
And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:
The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;
And canvas and compass, (iii) the whorl and the wheel
Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

ogni opera, ogni grido e anche lo spiro

4. balestrucci dal palo

5. Mezzodi: allunga nel riquadro il nespolo".

6. Pied Beauty

7. Cfr. A.P. Cowie(ed.), The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989 pronounciation: "leeward /'li:wad or, in nautical use, `lu:ad / [...]".

8. Cf. Kunio Shimane, The Poetry of G.M Hopkins, p. 52: In Hopkins's day this (the nowdays central open velar was a kind of back vowel.

9. Cf. Ibidem.
Glory be to God for dappled things For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches'wings; Landscape plotted and pieced -fold, fallow, and plough; And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatevever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.

7. La Belleza Cangiante

Gloria a Dio per le cose the ha spruzzate: i cieli bicolori, pezzati come vacche, la striscia roseo-biliottata della trota in acqua, il tonfar delle castagne -crollo di tizzi giovani nel fuoco e Fali del fringuello; per le toppe dei campi arati a dissodati, a tutti i traffici a gli arnesi, a tutto ch'e fuor di squadra, difforme, impari a strambo, tutto the muta, punto da lentiggini (chissa come-) di fretta a di lentezza, di dolce o d'aspro, di lucore o buio. Quegli le esprime - lode a Lui - ch'e sola bellezza non mutabile.

(1) Cfr. Eugenio Montale, E ancora possibile la poesia, in Zampa (a cura di), Sulla Poesia, 1997, Milano, Mondadori, pp. 5-14, p. 7: In ogni modo io sono qui perche ho scritto poesie, un prodotto assolutamente inutile, ma quasi mai nocivo a questo a uno dei suoi titoli di nobilta. Ma non a il solo, essendo la poesia una produzione o una malattia assolutamente endemica a incurabile.

(2) Cfr. Giorgio Zampa, Introduzione, in Giorgio Zampa (a cura di), Eugenio Montale - tutte le poesie, 1984, Milano, Mondadori, pp. XI-LIV, p. LIl.

(3) Cfr. Eugenio Montale, Dialogo con Montale sulla poesia, in Giorgio Zampa (a cura di), op. cit., pp. 577?586, p. 581, passim

(4) UK Eugenio Montale, Parliamo dell'ermetismo, in Giorgio Zampa (a cura di), op. cit., pp. 558-561, p. 558: Non ho mai cercato di proposito 1'oscurità.

(5) Ibidem, p. 559: La poesia, per limitarci a questa, ha ricercato se stessa, le leggi della propria purezza, è giunta talora a trarr diretta ispirazione da questa raggiunta autocoscienza.

(6) Ibidem, E. M. Poesie, pp. 87-91, p. 89: Certo, nelle Occasioni cresce il bisogno di un'espressione oggettiva a sono diminuite le effusioni di carattere romantico. Più serrato è1'intreccio delle rime a delle assonanze ed è strano the nessuno abbia fatto il nome di Gerard Manley Hopkins. A modo mio cercavo il mio sprung rhythm.

(7) Cfr. Oreste Macri, Lo <<sprung rhythm>> nella poetica di Montale, in Studi Italiani , 111, 1, gennaio-giugno, 1991, pp. 95-109, p. 104: Tornando allo <<sprung rhythm>>, Montale dice - come abbiamo letto - di averlo cercato con maggiore intensité a partire dalle Occasioni, di certo riferendosi al genere del << mottetto>>, the si riflette ..."

(8) Eugenio Montale, È ancora possibile la poesia, in Giorgio Zampa (a cura di), op. cit., pp. 5?14, p. 7, passim: Per mio conto, se considero la poesia come un oggetto ritengo ch'essa sia nata dalla necessità di aggiungere un suono vocale (parola) al martellamento delle prime musiche tribali. Solo motto più tardi parola a musica poterono scriversi in qualche modo a differenziarsi.

(9) Cfr. Oreste Macri, Lo < sprung rhythm> nella poetica di Montale, cit.p. 96.

(10). Ibidem, passim, p. 102.

(11). Kunio Shimane, The Poetry of GM.Hopkins - The Fusing Point of Sound and Sense, 1983, Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, p. 19.

(12). Jurij M. Lotman, La struttura del testo poetico, Milano, Mursia, 1972, p. 153.

(13) Dereck Attridge, Poetic Rhythm - An Introduction, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 168.

(14). Gilbert K. Chesterton quoted in Jurij M. Lotman, La struttura del testo poetico, Milano, Mursia, 1972, p. 128.

(15).Dereck Attridge Poetic Rhythm - An Introduction, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 168.

(16). Eugenio Montale, Sulla Poesia, p. 466.

(17). Cfr. A. P. Cowie (ed.), The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989: "leeward /'li:wad or, in nautical use, `lu:2d / [...]".

(18). Cfr. Kunio Shimane, The Poetry of G.M Hopkins, p. 52: In Hopkins'day this (the nowdays central open velar /n/ was a kind of back vowel.

(19) Cfr: Ibidem. 20 Ibidem, p. 128.

(21) Cfr. Kunio Shimane, The Poetry of G.M. Hopkins, cit., p. 116.

(22) Ibidem, E. M. Poesie, cit., pp. 87 - 91, p. 89.

Links to Hopkins Literary Festival 2000

St Augustine and Gerard Manley Hopkins || Creativity in Hopkins World || Czech Perspective on Hopkins Poetry || Eugenio Montale and Hopkins Poetry || German Perspective on Hopkins Poetry || Heraclitus and Hopkins ||
GM Hopkins in Kildare
|| Hopkins and the Resurrection || Spansih Perspective on Hopkins Poetry ||