After the First World War, Italian poetry was characterized by two different movements: Novecentismo or Hermeticism, and Anti-novecentismo. The first one was interested in emotional introspection, about concentrating the poem in a few words with great allusive power, while the second one focused on daily life with a more narrative tone. Given this,  Hermetics would have never chosen to write about topics like, for example, a job. Let alone the tireless work of a housewife, as the anti-novecentista Giovanni Giudici did in the poem The Best Hours (Le ore migliori), written in 1965 and published in the collection Life in Verse (La vita in versi) the same year.

Giudici lived in Milan, a city that was at the time the symbol of the Italian economic boom. As the director Michelangelo Antonioni explored the discontent of people who were supposed to benefit from the economic boom in movies like The Adventure (1960), Giovanni Giudici wanted to let the reader into a middle-class married couple’s life in order to show the mediocrity that hid behind the door of supposed well-being.

Behind the door

The entire poem relies on the contrast between appearance and reality, where the reality is always less brilliant and harsher than it looks. The contrast is visible since the first line, which is addressed to the poet’s wife:

Your best hours… but they are not for me.

The woman doesn’t spend her best hours with him because of her endless domestic work. From the very beginning, the poet demolishes the idea of perfection that society associates with a common middle-class family.

In fact, through the verb ellipsis in the first part, the woman’s best hours seem to represent a painting hanging on the wall, a fixed image of happiness. After the ellipsis, however, the adversative conjunction “but” seems to suggest that the previous image does not correspond to the reality. On the contrary, a sense of loneliness is already present between husband and wife.

In the following lines, Giudici shifts the focus to the contrast between the harshness and repetitiveness of the domestic work and the lack of recognition by society, as if that work was invisible or, even worse, owed:

They’re the domestic work hours,
which is too unimportant reality
to be worthy of History. In fact,
History progresses, but your work simply
starts again and finishes.

Even the family components do not seem to appreciate the woman’s efforts, as they eat “too avidly, to Even the members of the family do not seem to appreciate the woman’s efforts, as they eat “too avidly, to be quick.” It is remarkable as speed and repetitiveness are connected to distance among people, as if to indicate that the productive time of a wealthy and productive society leads to dehumanized relations.

If life becomes waiting for life

Giudici associates the domestic work with any other work, as well as with his own. His aim is to show that the hours people spend more energy in are the best of a day. Since these hours are the working hours, Giudici and his wife have no hours left for idleness, amusement, happiness. That is why, when it comes to starting working, Giudici writes:

I go, at my office, hoping
not to provide me, but my work, before the night comes,
to enjoy the left light and, being
my own man, some extra hours.

In The Best Hours, Giudici’s family represents an average middle-class family with no economic problems, living in the boom of prosperity. However, happiness is not possible. The only possible thing is to desire happiness, as when they were young, Giudici says, and they were waiting for better days. Or when they used to read books that contained promises of joy as a reward for virtue. Or, finally, as they do nowadays, waiting for the time to face the best hours together. However, the truth is that hope is just a way not to see how life is wasted in a capitalistic society, where the recognition of a person is based on their work.

so you don’t recognize the deceit
of those who made us to serve.