Italian Poetical Discourse Features At The Turn Of Xix-Xx Centuries


The article is devoted to study in the context of synergetic paradigm the evolution of poetical discourse of Italian poetry at the turn of XIX-XX centuries, the period of the diversity of poetry schools and trends. In the regard of the discursive evolutionism of Italian poetry of this period were allocated as basic its three phases: 1) D’Annunzio and Pascoli phase; 2) phase of “dusk” poets and futurists; 3) phase of “sealant” poets. The eccentric D’Annunzio was the first poet who opposed in Italia his poetry with elements of pathos theatricality and erotic content to the traditional classicism. Giovanni Pascoli, unlike the aggressive D’Annunzio, is melancholy, and his poetry renews the Italian poetic discourse with a pure, childish view of the world, a look of first impression. The second phase is marked by the pessimism of the “dusk” poets who violate the foundations of traditional metrics, introduce elements of prose into poetry. The Italian "futurists" radically advance the "principle of words in freedom", which destroys verbal images in general. A special turn in the development of Italian poetry occurs after the end of World War I, when Italy finds itself in a deep crisis. The formation of new poetics is due to the activities of Italian Hermetic school. The “Sealants” turn to the world of “pure poetry”, and to the theme of author’s loneliness.

Keywords: Poetic discoursesynergetic paradigmsymbolismsubjectivityhermetic poetry


In accordance with the synergetic paradigm as one of the directions of modern linguistics, the authors consider the poetic discourse from the point of view of the nonlinearity of the evolutionary process of forming a specific poetic language (poetry school) of a particular national literature (poetry) ( Asratyan, 2016; Komleva, 2016).

A number of definitions reflecting the modern discursive paradigm are taken as the basis for the formation of the concept of poetic discourse. One of them belongs to the Dutch researcher Van Dijk ( 1998), who views discourse as a completed or ongoing product of communicative action, including the product interpreting by recipients.

Another important for this study is the definition of discourse by Arutunova ( 2002), as a speech “immersed in life”, as a coherent text “in conjunction with extralinguistic, pragmatic, sociocultural, psychological and other factors” (p. 137).

Accordingly, on the basis of the above definitions, the poetic discourse, which is considered by the authors of this study as part of the discourse of artistic speech, is both the “finished product” of the author and the product “ongoing” in the mind of the recipient in the process of its perception and interpretation. It is also a product of a particular literary school, taking into account its philosophical-aesthetic and socio-psychological aspects. This study does not exclude that particular understanding of poetic discourse, which takes into account the art of poetry itself, namely, the consideration of its formative structures (rhyme, rhythm, sound configurations, and features of the poetic language) ( Popova, 2018).

In certain periods of the evolutionary development of poetic discourse as a specially organized type of art, its formative structures, despite a certain conservatism of form in contrast to dynamic content, in different historical and aesthetic periods, contribute to the formation of additional semantic associations and poetic meanings ( Popova, 2019). And this despite the aesthetic and poetic modifications and failures caused by the conditions of the external social environment.

We propose to consider the listed characteristics of the concept of poetic discourse on the basis of Italian poetry from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the period of particularly acute evolutionary fermentation of poetic thought and poetic form, not only in Italy, but throughout Europe. This is a period of a variety of literary movements, poetry schools and trends, a period of particularly sharp contrasting of the originality of new poetic trends with traditional poetic language and poetic art in general.

Problem Statement

It is known that traditional poetic art in Italy dates back to the work of Dante and Petrarch, as well as the “high” art of the humanist poets of the 15-16th centuries, who revived the culture of Antiquity and confirmed the canonicity of Latin poetry, both in Latin and in the Italian language “Volgar”. In the 17-18 centuries, high poetry was fixed by Italian classicism, a direction opposing a certain chaos of baroque aesthetics, and in the late 18th - early 19th centuries by the poetry of Italian romanticism.

The further evolution of Italian poetry came at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. This period is characterized by an active creative search within the framework of the so-called Decadence era, when literary schools and trends such as formalism, futurism, impressionism, symbolism, hermetism, surrealism, aestheticism, and minimalism appear and flourish throughout Europe. Poets are experimenting with the word, moving away from established rhythmic and metric patterns. Poems appear in which there is no rhyme, in which the verse lines are metrically blurred: they either hang, or break off or are transferred to another line arbitrarily and randomly.

We consider this period from the point of view of synergetic as a bifurcation period of nonlinear processes of creative search for Italian poetic art at the turn of the centuries, which is substantially rethought in the name of a fundamentally new aesthetics in new historical conditions. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the traditional system of genres was exhausting itself, its poetic language, which had developed in the days of Petrarch, was exhausting its capabilities. From the point of view of synergetic as a theory of self-organization of open nonlinear systems, not only a bifurcation diagram arises (from the English fork - fork), a branching out of several new directions, different from the previous ones, is planned. According to the figurative expression of Mozheyko ( 2002), a “cascade of bifurcations” arises, “revealing a whole fan of the possible paths of the evolution of the system” (p. 682). That is, at the turn of the century in Italy a whole “fan” of poetic trends emerged, opposing traditional classical and romantic poetry, traditional Italian poetic language.

As part of the systematization of the poetic directions of the period under review, we identified three main phases of the Italian poetic discourse: 1) D’Annunzio and Pascoli phase; 2) the phase of “dusk” poets and futurists; 3) the phase of “sealant” poets.

Research Questions

The general statement of poetic discourse problem implies that some particular issues should be studied in the research context of Italian poetry discourse at the period of the late 19th - early 20th centuries. They are as follows:

  • The phase of poetry of the Decadence in opposition to the traditional poetic art of classicism and romanticism in Italy;

  • The phase of rejection of poetry of the "high" style, the introduction of the colloquial style of speech in poetry, freedom of speech in the aggressive ideology of futurism;

  • The phase of deep depression and flight into poetic hermeticism.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the research is to consider Italian poetic discourse as a completed and ongoing product of communicative action (Van Dijk) and as a synergistic model of self-development, using the creative principle of order and the dissipative structures of chaos (Mozheiko). The poetry of the late 19th - early 20th centuries in Italy is the poetry of numerous poetic tendencies as possible directions of development. It is a system undergoing changes in response to changes in external conditions associated with the political, ideological, cultural crisis in Italy.

Research Methods

To solve the problems posed in the study, a number of research methods were used. There are theoretical methods (a classification and systematization method, a generalization and systematization method, a comparative method, forecasting, modelling); empirical methods (an observation, method of experiment, a method of expert evaluation, evaluation and analysis of products of activity, study and generalization of pedagogical experience).


D’Annunzio and Pascoli phase

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the leading literary and poetic direction in Italy became decadence, which is expressed in the need for an in-depth analysis of the smallest movements of the soul, subtle manifestations of the unconscious. Poets seek these qualities in archaic myths and mysteries, which they seek to revive through the musicality of the poetic rhythm and poetic images that immerse the listener or reader in a dream state. The key figures of Italian decadence are Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938) and Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912).

Gabriele D’Annunzio is a bright, handsome, shocking bearer of a romantic spirit with deep inner pain, a true singer and lyricist who even builds his life as a work of decadent art. He was the first to recognize the need for change and boldly contrast his poetry with traditional classicism. In his poetry, antique reminiscences acquire "evocative, sometimes erotic, physicality" ( Potapova, 1994, p. 266). Already in the first collection of poems “Primo vere”, with his respectful treatment of ancient rhythms and meters, a new decorative and theater element is emphasized, and the theme of love is interpreted clearly in a decadent style. In his next poetic collection of poems (1881), “Song of the Ninth” (Canto novo), one senses the desire to catch the “sacred language” of Nature in the spirit of impressionistic and symbolic tendencies: reality passes through a dream, the poet’s impressions add up to a sound configuration and color symphony. The Italian poet seems to seek to recognize the symbolic essence of things, the "riddle" of their soul.

Further, in the poetic cycle of Lauda (Laudi del cielo del mare della terra e degli eroi), (1903), D'Annunzio demonstrates the mesmerizing musicality and metric plasticity of the verse. This is especially evident in the poem Alcione, in which sensory experience of nature is organically synthesized, verses are filled with hermetic motifs of the correlation of Nature and Art based on ancient myths ( Čekalov, 2017). A series of ballads comparable to Verlaine's verses is endowed with the art of describing a landscape rich in associations against a background of a variety of metric variations:

O falce di luna calante

                  che brilli su l’acque deserte,

                             o falce d’argente, qual messe di sogni

                             ondeggia al tuo mite chiarore qua giu!

                             Aneliti brevi di foglie,

                             sospiri de fiori dal bosco

                             esalano al mare non canto non grido

                             non suono pe vast l vasto silenzio va ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 45).

(O waning crescent of the moon, // which is reflected in the desert surface of the water, // o silver crescent whose dream cornfield sways in your narrow reflection here below! // Quivering breaths of petals, // gasps of flowers in the forest // carry away to the sea singing, not a cry, // not a sound, but the endless silence of the landscape.)

                             Oppresso d’amor, di piacere,

                             il popol de ’vivi s’addorme.

                             O falce calante, qual messe di sogni

                             ondeggia al tuo mite chiarore qua giu! ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 45).

( Tired of life and joys // all living things fall asleep. // O waning crescent of the moon, the field of dreams of which // is sensitively dozing in your faint reflection here below !)

In the poetic work of D’Annunzio, the influence of symbolism is felt: his poetry is not important in everyday life, but in “need” for dreams and dreams. This is evidenced by his article in 1892, "Necessità di un sogno."

Giovanni Pascoli, the exact opposite of the eccentric D’Annunzio, quietly completes the poetic revolution of this period, determining to a large extent the further development of Italian poetry. G. Pascoli fills with new content many of the traditional motives of Italian lyric poetry ( Potapova, 1994). In his poetry, one feels a connection with the French decadents: a sense of the inevitability of death, melancholy, indifference to social topics. Although the hopelessness of the French decadents is more likely alien to his worldview, his lyrics contain childish impressions of the world. And the poetical impressionism, as mentions Khrenov ( 2016), reflects the mood as an allusion. According to Pascoli, it is necessary to try to see the poetry of the world as a child with the freshness of the first impression:

Gemmea l’aria, il sole cosi chiaro

Che tu ricerchi gli albicocchi in fiore,

E dei prunalbo l’odorino amaro

Senti nel cuore ... ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 67)

  ( Pearl air, the sun is almost clear, // you are trying to remember apricot blossoms, // hawthorn bitter taste, in your heart ...)

The phase of “dusk” poets and futurists

Parallel to Pascoli’s lyrics in search of lyrical, simple and natural expression is developed the poetic work of poets, called “dusk” poets. This is the poetical work of poets S. Corazzini, M. Moretti, F.-M. Martini and C. Chiave, marked with a pessimistic sense of world, soft colors and intonations.

The “dusk” poets refuse large-scale topics, turning their eyes to everyday life. The place of the poet in the modern world is among ordinary people, the poet does not see things inaccessible to the ordinary person, does not have special eyesight, special sensations. Even the poetic style of Pascoli close to them at first glance is rejected by them. Continuing to reject the classical experience, the representatives of “dusk” poets oppose to high style the conversational style, style of everyday life. The dusk poets ruin the traditional metric, introduce poetic transfers and prose elements into their poetry.

For example, Marino Moretti reveals his lyrical mood in a conversational style of speech, using the everyday vocabulary ( I, away, throw it away, only, for sure ), unexpected poetic transfers (via // tutto; tutto ciò // ch'è), repetitions (leggero leggero; come il vento, come voi):

Rondini, io getterò via

tutto ciò che amai, tutto ciò

ch'è inutil peso, terrò

soltanto l'anima mia ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 30).

(Swallows, I will throw away // all that I loved, all that // that is a vain load, I'll take // Only my soul .)

Rondini, è certo che poi

senza l'ombra d'un pensiero

sarò leggero leggero

come il vento, come voi ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 30)

( Swallows, it’s absolutely certain that then // without a shadow of thought // I will be easy-easy // Like the wind, as you ).

The dusk poetry school is being replaced by more radical futurists. By its name, futurism points to the future and a complete break with tradition - both classical and romantic. The cultural revolution of futurism is associated with death: the deadening inertness of classicism and the lifeless lethargy of romanticism. The “intersection point” of both traditions is the image of the cemetery as a symbol of the outdated past. Death, praised by the futurists, is associated with dynamism, violence and war, with destructive power.

According to futurists, Italy, once the cradle of European culture, should become the basis of a new futuristic civilization ( Golubtsova, 2018). Futurists advocate the participation of Italy in the First World War, and many of them participate in it. A futuristic manifesto announcing the emergence of new Italian avant-garde art of the early 20th century, published in France in the newspaper “Figaro” in February 1909, author of the poet Filippo Tomaso Marinetti (1876-1942). It stated in an aggressive form the dominance of the ideology of individualism, violence and war, the need to search for new pictorial means corresponding to the current state of culture, society and a new civilization ( Potapova, 1994). Italian futurism advances the "principle of words in freedom", thereby destroying the verbal image of the word, instead of which appear onomatopoeia, variation in the graphic spelling of letters, mathematical formulas placed randomly with drawings. The ideology of futuristic poetry is exhaustively indicated by the headings of several texts attached to the manifesto of Marinetti: “Battle. Heaviness + Odor”, “Destruction of syntax. Wireless imagination. Free words”, etc.

After the end of World War I Italy was in a deep economic and political crisis. The war turned into a chain of defeats for Italy, bloody losses, the collapse of hopes and ideals sung in the works of triumphant D'Annunzio and in the poster poetry of warlike futurists. D’Annunzianism and Futurism with their aggressive manifestos lose their relevance in an environment of depression, devastation and poverty.

The fase of “sealant” poets

In the formation of new poetry of the early 20th century, a large role was played by the “Voche” and “Ronda” magazines. Such poets as W. Saba, C. Sbarbaro, K. Rebora, D. Ungaretti, G. Apollinaire and others were published in the “Voche” magazine. After the futurists' aggressiveness, their verses amaze with frankness, sensuality ( Saprykina, 2016). The poetry “Voche” becomes a bridge to the formation of the poetry of Hermeticism - a direction within which the Italian poetic discourse takes on a lyrical scope of world significance.

The historical context of the hermetic poetic discourse is the period of the regime of fascist dictatorship, the period of severe socio-economic crisis, ideological crisis. The desire of poets to leave reality in an artificially created poetic world leads to the search for new, often encrypted, ways of poetic expression. There is a natural craving for the so-called “Pure art”, to exclusively lyrical poetry, addressed to the inner world of man. Bright representatives of Hermeticism as a elitist and unclear phenomenon were Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, Salvadoro Quasimodo, Mario Lutzi, Alfonso Gatto and others.

Hermetic poetry proceeds from the fact that the most important and true spiritual value is the individual perception of the world. It is no accident, therefore, that the problem of human loneliness becomes the main theme of hermeticism. Hermetic poets deliberately go into the narrow world of the personal "I". The basic principle of the poetics of Hermeticism is a complicated analogy with the transfer of one series of perceptions to another. The analogy method at maximum distance one series of perceptions from another makes the poetic discourse vague, incomprehensible, “hermetic”. The metaphor formed on its basis is poetically even more imaginative. Thus, sophisticated analogy and metaphor underlie the discourse of hermetic poetry. As an example, consider the complex functioning of metaphors in the poetic work of Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970) and Eugenio Montale (1896-1981).

The functioning of the hermetic metaphor on the example of the poem by Giuseppe Ungaretti “Il tempo è muto” ( silent time ) seems quite indicative:

Il tempo è muto fra canneti immoti ...

Lungi d’approdi errava una canoa ...

Stremato, inerte il rematore ... I cieli

Già decaduti a baratri di fumi ... ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 96)

( Silently time in motionless reeds // A canoe swims far from the pier // A tired rower is motionless ... Heaven // Already collapsed into smoking abysses ...)

Proteso invano all’orlo dei ricordi,

cadere forse fu mercé ... ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 30)

( Edge stretched in vain of memories // may fall like a deceased as a sign of mercy )

The name already of the poem contains the metaphor “Il tempo è muto” ( silent time ), the time as an abstract category is endowed with specific anthropomorphic properties. Giving to the time the characteristic of silence, the poet assigns him an audio modality as its absence, because if the time is silent, therefore you can hear it or no. This silence reigns "in the motionless reeds", peering into the silhouette of a distant boat.

The metaphor, “i cieli già decaduti a baratri di fumi” ( heaven has already collapsed into smoking abysses ), takes the lyrical hero from the silence of the reeds into the sky, smoking in abyss. That is, it relates us to the visual modality: the heavens, as a high and elevated phenomenon, fall into " smoking abysses ." The metaphor “Proteso invano all’orlo dei ricordi, cadere forse fu mercé” ( The edge stretched out in vain of memories may fall to the deceased as a symbol of mercy ) moves the reader into the realm of kinesthetic modality. The lyrical hero, as it were, physically feels the spatial characteristics of the fall into the abyss of memories.

In this poetic picture, the categories of space and time are intertwined through the transmission of visual, sound, tactile and kinesthetic sensations at the same time.

Eugenio Montale is one of the few poets whose work historically falls on the First and Second World Wars. Montale was an active fighter against fascism, was in an illegal situation and published his poetry abroad. Montale's poetic work is popular and in demand in Italy and other countries. E. Montale was able to create a new “bitter style” (amaro stile nuovo) by analogy with the “sweet style” (dolce stile nuovo).

The early period of Montale's creativity fully reflects the hermetic orientation of Italian poetry, which was determined by the historical context of fascist ideology in Italy. Montale's “pessimism” of the hermetic period was noted by many researchers, mentioning at the same time, “that the poet does not capitulate to despair, but continues to search for his poetic and life path” ( Trubina, 2019, p.114).

The inner freedom of the poet is, as it were, reflected in his full approval of the free verse. The poet sought to free himself from the poetic rhythm “imposed” by tradition; rhyme, in his opinion, also interferes with the poet’s unity with the world ( Feigina, 2018, p. 500). According to O.B. Trubina, the classical tradition in Montale’s poetic work does not disappear, it “becomes a solid foundation that does not absorb his personality, but creates a form of expression of his author’s authentic idea. Montale’s poetic space is both enormous and intimate individual” ( Trubina, 2019, p. 115).

As an example, consider the famous poem by Eugenio Montale “I often met evil in my life”:

Spesso il male di vivere ho incontrato

era il rivo strozzato che gorgoglia

era l'incartocciarsi della foglia

riarsa, era il cavallo stramazzato ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 98).

(I often met evil in my life // this is a strangled stream that wheezes // this is a curled leaf // dry, this is a exhausted horse )

Bene non seppi, fuori del prodigio

che schiude la divina Indifferenza:

era la statua nella sonnolenza

del meriggio, e la nuvola, e il falco alto levato ( Torno & Vottari, 1999, p. 98).

( I didn’t know good, apart from the miracle // hiding the divine Indifference in ourselves // it was a sleepy statue, // and a cloud, and a falcon soaring high ).

The poem clearly senses the poet’s pessimistic spirits, his desire for hermetic isolation. The evil that the poet met in his life is represented in the image of a stream strangled to a wheeze, a dry leaf, and a exhausted horse. In principle, these are drafts or strokes of the process of dying. In the second stanza, the lyric hero notes that although he did not know the good in his life, he believes in miracles. And miracle is a divine Indifference.

The hermetic metaphorical content of the poem is unexpectedly enough supported by a rhyme, which the poet seems to intend to ignore. The hermetic closure function is performed by the covering rhyme on - ato: incontrato (met ) - stramazzato ( exhausted ) - alto levato ( high soaring ). Paired rhymes inside the poem gorgoglia ( wheezing ) = della foglia ( leaf ), Indifferenza ( indifference ) = sonnolenza ( sleepy state ) emphasize the poet's extremely melancholy state in his pessimistic hopelessness.


Our study of Italian poetic discourse from the late 19th - early 20th centuries showed that this is a complex cultural, linguistic and social phenomenon. The identification of the three phases within the framework of the study poetic discourse period gives an orderly view of the sharp declines and sharp rises in poetic thought in Italy, associated with the difficult cultural and political life of the country. At the same time, this scheme confirms the open, nonlinear and nonequilibrium nature of the poetic discourse of the analyzed period, including all bifurcation discrepancies within each phase. The poetic system of antiquity in its classical and romantic expression seems to have reached perfection as a “threshold of stability” ( Grechushkina, 2017, p. 78). Nevertheless, the emergence of several possibly holistic directions in the development of poetic discourse in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries confirms the multiplicity of “scenarios” in the future of Italian poetic discourse. The creativity work of Ungaretti and Montale, past the period of hermeticism, can be considered a qualitative result of the development of the Italian poetical system as a whole.


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