Giuseppe Ungaretti was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1888, and lived in North Africa as a youth. He studied in Paris before serving in the Italian infantry during World War I. His poetry was influenced by the nomadic culture of North Africa, by the friendships he formed with the literary and avant-garde circles of Paris, and by his European war experiences.
Ungaretti's early poetry, written in the trenches of WWI, dealt with love and the precariousness of life. Later, when influenced by the French symbolists, he inaugurated the Hermeticism movement in poetry. He pioneered the Modernist movement in Italian poetry and is widely regarded as one of the leading Italian poets of the twentieth century. His poetry is sparse and intense, contains elaborate rhetorical structures, and is renowned for its powerful insights and emotions.
After World War II, Ungaretti's writing returned to the traditional meters of Italian poetry, and he wrote many erotic and religious poems. He also wrote essays and translated the works of Shakespeare, Racine, and others into Italian.
Ungaretti taught at the University of São Paolo in Brazil between the two world wars, then accepted a literary chair at the University of Rome in 1942. He died in Italy in 1970. His works are collected in twelve volumes under the title Vita d’un uomo (Life of a Man). A good English translation of his poetry is Allen Mandelbaum’s Selected Poems, published in 1975.
This mutilated tree gives
Me support, left in this pot-hole
It has the bitterness of a circus
Before or after the show.