Giuseppe Ungaretti was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father was working on the Suez Canal, into a family from the Tuscan city of Lucca. Ungaretti’s formal education began at Alexandria’s Swiss School where he became acquainted with Symbolist poetry, in particular with Baudelaire, Mallarme and Rimbaud. He made his debut as a journalist and literary critic with pieces published in Risorgete. In 1912 he moved to Paris, attended lectures at the College de France and University of Paris and befriended Guillaume Apollinaire who was to have a significant influence on his work.

On the outbreak of the First World War Ungaretti supported his country’s intervention on the side of the Entente Powers. He enrolled in the Brescia Brigade of the 19th infantry in December 1915 and saw action in the Northern Italian theatre where he served in the trenches and became appalled by the realities of war. In 1917 he published his volume of free verse Il porto sepolto (The Buried Port) largely written on the Karst Front.

Although depicting the hardships of war life, his celebrated L’Allegria was not unenthusiastic about its purpose (even if in the poem ‘Fratelli’, and in others, he describes the absurdity of the war and the brotherhood between all the men); this made Ungaretti’s stance contrast with that of Lost Generation writers, who questioned their countries’ intents, and similar to that of Italian intellectuals such as Soffici, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Piero Jahier and Curzio Malaparte. David Forgacs, ‘Twentieth-century Culture’, in George Holmes (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, p.300

By the time the war ended in 1918 Ungaretti was again in Paris working as a correspondent for Benito Mussolini’s paper Il Popolo d’Italia and in 1919 published La Guerre (The War), a volume of poetry in French. He died in 1970.

Giuseppe Ungaretti’s Poems

Resources for Giuseppe Ungaretti

Peter Popham writes on Ungaretti’s great awakening as a poet on the Independent website

Ian Brinton reviews ‘The Sunken Keep: a version of Il Porto Sepolto, translated by Andrew Fitzsimons