Guido Gozzano‘s poems read like a celebration of commonplace characters bringing prose into the Italian poetry of the early twentieth century. The impact of Gozzano‘s poetry owes part of its strength to its difference from the Italian poetic tradition which had preceded it. This must have been especially evident to readers after decades in which the magniloquence of poets such as Gabriele D’Annunzio – the high-profile nineteenth-century personality of Italian poetry – had been taking the spotlight for themselves. From the author’s book The Talks (1911), The Ultimate Infidelity consecrates his eccentricity while emphasizing Gozzano’s farewell to sadness.
Sweet sadness, how you used to sit with him,
the pale schoolboy bent over tedious Greek
or picking at his food, with hand on cheek.
It hasn’t been so many years since then.
The ego of the unconventional lyric
The update Gozzano had made in the light of French poetry allowed him to carry out his revolution. At the end of the nineteenth century, it had borne its most innovative fruits with Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire. However, what makes Gozzano’s style unmistakable is the thin veil of irony that runs through each line. The Ultimate Infidelity does not stage farcical drama as in the poet’s most narrative and celebrated poems. On the contrary, in the argument and the adoption of the form of the sonnet, it is more in line with the lyrical tradition born with Francesco Petrarca. But the ironic grin is perfectly typical of Gozzano’s style, thus proving to be anything but conventional.
Gozzano had made innovative changes, in the light of the influence of French poetry, which allowed him to carry out his quiet revolution. By the end of the nineteenth century, changes in French poetry were most noticeable with Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire. However, what makes Gozzano’s style unmistakable is the thin veil of irony that runs through each line. The Ultimate Infidelity does not run along the line of farcical drama, as do the poet’s most celebrated narrative works. On the contrary, in the argument and the adoption of the form of the sonnet, it is more in line with the lyrical tradition born out of Francesco Petrarca. But the ironic grin is perfectly typical of Gozzano’s style, thus proving to be anything but conventional.
Now, even this sweet sadness has retreated
forever from my spirit, so defeated
that only a bitter, hollow laugh can linger,
an unrelenting grin that warps my face.
Ah, there is nothing now that can erase
this final sadness – to be sad no longer.
Gozzano’s farewell to sadness
The Ultimate Infidelity takes advantage of the sonnet structure, placing quatrains in the past and triplets in the present. The first two stanzas immortalize the poet’s past in two different poses. On the one hand, the child trudging through Greek texts, on the other the adolescent suffering from erotic desire. The triplets mark the poet’s transition to maturity: the time of abandoning that same sadness that had always been at his side. This loss is defined as “the final sadness”, the last loss. This reconnects to the idea of suffering as a form of wealth, a resource to learn from, a means of knowledge. It is the same concept Louise Glück will bring to the extreme, a century later, in Vespers – the third of ten poems from The Wild Iris with this name – where she identifies pain as a gift from God that makes men conscious of God’s existence.
The agony of indifference
But Gozzano does not reach these depths. In fact, the poem never mentions suffering: it confines itself to the superficial meaning of this feeling, that is sadness. Irony blocks access to a fuller meaning. The fault lies with that grin that appears at the end of the poem: it is the grimace of indifference and its torments. In this way, the poem collaborates in the demolition of the artist’s halo which had begun with Baudelaire. Not only is the poet an ordinary bourgeois person and not a heavenly messenger, but he no longer has the right to take himself seriously in any way. Thus, Gozzano deprives the poet of his tragic pose and gives voice to a new torment: the one which arises from indifference to one’s own life.