Special Feature
Back Special Library Search Home Help
Back Special Library Search Home Help

Italian War Poetry


This is a contributed item. Please direct your feedback concerning the contents of this item to the author using the e-mail link below. By all means let them know if you find it interesting. They enjoy hearing from you!

Attacking Bersaglieri

Contributed by Michael E. Hanlon (medwardh@hotmail.com)

Contributed by Michael E. Hanlon.

Mike is Website Editor for the ø The Great War Society. He has written extensively on the Great War and guided tours of the Western Front.

Annotations and biographical sketches have been contributed by Michael E. Hanlon. The translations are from the PENGUIN BOOK OF WORLD WAR I POETRY edited by Jon Silkin.


A literary minimalist, Giuseepe Ungaretti is considered by some critics the greatest Italian poet of the 20th Century. He served an infantryman on the lower Isonzo front with the 3rd Army from 1915 until early 1918. In the spring, he was transferred to the Western Front where Italian forces fought with distinction. In his most famous war poem, RIVERS, he alludes to his birth in Egypt, his youth in Tuscany and his service on both fronts during the Great War. Ungaretti's pure style was achieved by condensation to essentials and is in the tradition of the French Symbolists. His works are collected in the 2 volumes of LIFE OF A MAN portions of which are available in English translation.


A whole night long
crouched close
to one of our men
with his clenched 
grinning at the full moon 
with the congestion
of his hands
thrust right
into my silence
I've written
letters filled with love

I have never been
coupled to life
Cima Quattro, 23-Dec-1915


What regiment d'you belong to

Word shaking
in the night

Leaf barely born

In the simmering air 
involuntary revolt
of the man present at his

Mariano, 11-Jul-1916


Like this stone of 
San Michele

as cold
as hard
as thoroughly dried

as refractory
as deprived of spirit

Like this stone
is my weeping that can't
be seen

discounts death
Valloncello di Cima Quattro, 5-Aug-1916


Of these houses 
but fragments of memory

Of all who
would talk with me not
one remains

But in my heart
no one's cross is missing
My heart is
the most tormented country of all
Valloncello dell' Albergo Isolato, 27-Aug-1916


I am a poet, a unanimous
cry, am
a cleat of dreams

a fruit
of innumerable conflicting grafts
ripened in the hothouse

But the same earth bears
your people
as carries me


In this, the uniform
of your soldier, I rest
as if
it were the cradle
of my father

Cease murdering the dead.
If you hope not to perish, if you
Want sound of them again,
Stop crying out, cease
The crying out of it.

They have a barely heard whispering,
No more than the increase of grass,
Happy where no man passes.

This mutilated tree gives
Me support, left in this pot-hole
It has the bitterness of a circus
Before or after the show.
I watch
The quiet passage of
Clouds over the moon.

This morning I stretched
Myself in an urn of water,
Like a relic, and rested.

The Isonzo scoured
Me like
One of its stones.

I pulled my four 
limbs together,
And went, like an acrobat,
Over the water.

Crouched by my clothes
Fouled with war, I inclined
My head, like a Bedouin,
To receive the sun.

This is the Isonzo.
And it is there I 
Most see myself
In the universe
A compliant

My pain is
When I do not believe
Myself in harmony.

But those hidden
Hands give as they knead me
A rare joy.

I have relived
The stages of my life.

The Serchio: from
Which have drawn, perhaps
For two thousand years
My country people, my father, 
My mother.

This is the Nile
That has seen me be born,
And grow 
And burn in ignorance on
Extending plains.

This is the Seine; and I mingled
In that muddiness learning each
Part of all myself.

These are my rivers confluent
In the Isonzo.

This is my nostalgia
That in each
One shines through me, now
It is night, and my life seems
A budding
Off of shades.


Nobel Prize [1975] winning critic and poet. Served in the Trentino as an infantry officer 1917-18. The poetry of the Genovese-born Montale tends to be complex, pessimistic and somewhat obscure. His works appear in many volumes of prose and poetry avaiable in English.


...The time has come, now, to suspend the suspension
of every worldly deception -
wished for by you for me...

Living on memories - I can no longer.
Better the bite of the ice than your sleepwalker's
lethargy, O late awakener!

Scarcely emerged from adolescence,
for half my life I was thrown
into the Augean stables.

I did not find two thousand oxen,
nor did i see any animals - ever -
and yet in the pathways,
thicker and thicker with dung, 
walking was difficult,
breathing was difficult -
The human bellowing grew from day to  day.

Then from year to year - who counted the 
seasons any more in that thick mist? - a hand
feeling for the tiniest openings
worked in its memorial...until from the crevices
the fanning fire of a machine-gun pushed us back,
tired shovellers caught in the act
by the foreign police chiefs of the mud.

And at last the fall - beyond belief!

     What did that new mire mean?
and the breathing of other, but similar, stenches?
and the whirlpool-whirling on rafts of dung?
Was that the sun, that filthy grub from a sewer
over the chimney pots?

     ...(I think 
that perhaps you've stopped reading me.
But now you know all of me,
of my prison and my life afterwards;
now you know that the eagle can't be born 
of a mouse.)

Back Special Library Search Home Help
Back Special Library Search Home Help
Trenches on the Web © 1996,1997 Mike Iavarone, All Rights Reserved - Date of last maintenance: Wednesday, 14-Jul-99