Christine Boothroyd

Who were the Italian twilight poets? A feeling of mystery surrounds them. They wrote, in fact, in the first decade of the twentieth century and their writings are pervaded by an atmosphere of sadness and meditation. Their philosophy is a negative one in which they lament the end of an epoch with little to look forward to. The sun has set on the old world. Their subjects are those deprived or frustrated in some way, incapable of coming to terms with the present or the future and searching for something they can never achieve. The rhythm is irregular, expressing the uncertainty of the poet. As well as marking the end of an epoch it marks the reawakening of sentimental feelings towards the simple life.

The main 'poeti crepuscolari' were Guido Gozzano (1883-1916); Sergio Corazzini (1886-1907); Corrado Govoni (1884-1965) and Aldo Palazzeschi (1885-1975).
In the poems of Gozzano we see the poet's concentration on the simple pleasures of the middle classes, the inability to make contact, the acceptance of solitude and the fact that the poet will never be able to grasp those things for which he longs. He is preoccupied by feelings of inadequacy. As he says:

'Oh! this dream-like worthless life
Better the rough real life of a merchant
I am ashamed
That I am but a poet'

And again in a prose passage full of melancholy:

The small simple things of life say: we are being stifled by the shade in which we live. Our friend departed long ago and will not return. The windows and doors are closed; his step is heard in the silence of the long corridor where the sun is never seen, and in the distant pealing of bells; solitude spreads its green carpet and everything is at an end.'

Corazzini died of tuberculosis in 1907 at the age of 21 and his poetry contains an anticipation of his early death and both his acceptance of and struggle against the inevitable. He is unwilling to accept the title of poet. His best-known work it entitled The despair of a poor sentimental poet' and he writes:

'Why do you call me poet?
I am no poet
I am but a weeping child
I have only tears to offer to the silent world
Why do you call me poet?
My wretchedness is the wretchedness of everyman
My happiness was of the simple kind
So simple that I could only confess it
With embarrassment
Today I think of death
I am ill indeed
And each day I die a little
As do all things
So I am not a poet
Poets must lead a different life
But I can only die

Truly the poetry of despair. In another poem about the sun, which seems to start quite cheerfully -

'Sisters, come and see
The sun is here in the orchard...
Corazzini ends his poem with the words:
'What shall we do
if the sun does not return?
Then we shall die;’

Govoni and Palazzeschi do not perhaps entirely belong to the ‘twilight poet' category. They are linked to the later Futurist movement. Marinetti himself stated that Futurism was concerned with speed, aggression, courage and energy. This seems a far cry from the nihilistic attitude of the 'crepuscolari'.

In his early poems, Govoni writes of simple country life, but in common with the other twilight poets' his is a philosophy of despair and disenchantment. Combining his despair with the creation of an accurate and tangible picture of the countryside, he writes:

Those dose to me have gone, one by one,
Taking the path to the cemetery
Where they now sleep peacefully
Under the daisies and the dry hay
Cut down, heaped and burnt by the gravedigger in a quiet corner
And I am alive and believe in nothing.'

Aldo Palazzeschi's poetry dates from his early years (1904/14) as he subsequently turned to prose and only in his latter years returned to the verse form. From 1909 to 1914 he was very much concerned with Futurist ideas. In his poem Who am I?' we can see the similarities with the work of Corazzini, although the form and rhythm used to express the despair are dissimilar to those of Corazzini's 'Despair of a poor sentimental poet':

'Am I perhaps a poet?
Not at all.
The pen of my soul
Writes but one strange word
Perhaps an artist?
Not even that.
The palette of my soul
Has but one colour
A musician then?
Nor that.
The keyboard of my soul
Plays but one note
Who am I then?
The shadow of my own soul.'

The poems of the 'crepuscolari' are easily recognised by their negativism. In each case they are vehicles for the poet's dissatisfaction with his lot. These poems are very personal and one might say that the poets are incredibly self-centred. Life for them is the non-event which is their poetical theme.