Giosuč Carducci (1835-1907) revived Petrarch's vision of poet as vates, and became the unofficial national poet of a unified Italy, receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1906. He was born in Val di Castello in Tuscany, where his father was a doctor and a member of the Carbonari that advocated unification. Politics obliged the family to move several times in Giosuč's boyhood, but in 1856 the young man received his Ph.D. from Pisa University, and took a teaching job at a provincial high school, bringing out his first collection of poetry, Rime, the following year.

Until appointed professor of Italian literature at Bologna, Carducci had many financial difficulties, however. He became the head of the household upon the deaths of his father and brother, and his marriage to Elvira Menicucci in 1859 soon produced a family to support. But Carducci turned himself into an energetic and popular lecturer, an uncompromising literary critic and then a leading opponent of church power. His Jacobin verses created many controversies in the 1860s and 70s, though he had settled into supporting the monarchy by 1890, when he was made a senator for life. In his last years, Carducci was active in politics, proselytising for Italian influence and territorial expansion.

Though only a small part of Carducci's output was verse (4 in 30 volumes of collected works), those poems and translations are Carducci's claim to significance. Lyrics in traditional form appeared in Levia gravia (Light and Heavy: 1861-71), Giambi ed epodi (Iambs and Epodes: 1867-69) and Rime nuove (New Verses: 1861-87). He was not merely conventional, however: in Odi barbari (Barbaric Odes: 1877-89), Carducci tried to import Graeco-Latin forms into Italian verse. Much now appears very dated: Carducci's oratory, the passionate declamation on Italy's place in the world, the Roman past. He is the last of the great classical European poets, very different from his contemporaries (Tennyson and Swinburne in England, Baudelaire and Mallarmé in France, and certainly Bécquer in Spain) where late Romanticism was developing into Symbolism and the Modernist concerns of the twentieth century.

Carducci was opposed to the Romantic solipsism of Leopardi, and built a vigorous reaction based on classicism and realism. He believed in the dignity of life, and strove for a poetry that was sane, virile and strong-willed. Inevitably that led to his becoming linked with D'Annunzio and Fascist opinion, and to pouring out homilies that have not worn well. But Carducci's optimism is not false, only oversimple to a century disgraced by war and genocide, one to which Montale — the only modern Italian poet to rival Carducci in popularity — appealed more movingly with his dark view of the agony and solitude in human beings. Classicism celebrates balance, continuity and restraint, and Carducci is not much read today. But he is worth the effort. Many of his shorter pieces do speak poignantly from the heart, particularly those dealing with personal loss and nostalgia for his native Tuscany and other haunts, and those which fuse contemporary situations with their rendering in classical literature.

Recommended translations of Carducci include those by G.L. Bickersteth (1913), M. Holland (1927), W.F. Smith (1939), A. Burkhard (1947) and D.H. Higgins (1994). Italian poetry anthologies usually have a few poems by Carducci, and more material can be found in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature (1980), S.E. Scalia's Carducci (1937) and J.C. Bailey'sCarducci: The Taylorian Lecture (1926). For recordings there are Golden Treasury of Italian Verse, ilnarratotore and liberliber.

Suggestion: Oxford Book of Italian Verse St. John Lucas. O.U.P. 1952. $14.95.

Carducci does not generally feature on student reading lists, and translations tend to be dated and/or out of print. This survey of Italian poetry from the 13th to 19th century is an old book, but still very dependable: good selections in an attractive setting. Prose translations follow the Italian text.

Learning Italian

Italian can be learnt from books, tapes, courses and CDs, available at multilingual, worldlanguage, arthur lynn, rosetta stone, language quest, pimsleur and unforgettable languages.

Free lessons and material are at about, italianfor you, bbc and search language.

Other works, dictionaries, etc. can be ordered through grant and cutler, bestbookbuys, abebooks and alibris.

Italian-English-Italian online dictionaries are at multilingual books, and lexilogos.

Machine translation can be helpful, though you will need some grammar to correct the rendering: omnilang, free translation, google, babelfish, worldlingo, and reverso.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Italian Poetry

Anthologies can be found at ebay and alibris.

Recordings include the ilnarratotore.


Information on Dante is at encyclopaedia britannica, dante on the web, dante project, medieval sourcebook and lieberknecht.

A useful guide is A Concordance to the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1965) by Edward Sheldon and Alain White. Poets should try: Dante the Maker by Charles Anderson (1980) and The World of Dante: Essays on Dante and his Times (1980) by Cecil Grayson.


For information on Leopardi, try <, infoplease and argus.

Italian speakers will find ilnattore useful.

Leopardi's poetry has been much translated — recent renderings include those by Vivante, Marinelli, Rexroth, Kline. For books consider: De Sanctis/Redfern's History of Italian Literature (1968), J.H. Whitfield's Short History of Italian Literature (1960) and Leopardi's Canti (1962)


Useful sites for Carducci include geometry net, fordham, nobel, church of satan, and .

Recommended translations of Carducci include those by G.L. Bickersteth (1913), M. Holland (1927), W.F. Smith (1939), A. Burkhard (1947) ad D.H. Higgins (1994). Poems by Carducci nd more material can be found in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature (1980), S.E. Scalia's Carducci (1937) and J.C. Bailey Carducci: The Taylorian Lecture (1926).


C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.