Giosue Carducci was the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel Prize has been awarded from the year 1901 and there have been six winners of Italian descent. The Nobel Prize in Literature is presented annually at a formal ceremony held in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10 the death anniversary of Alfred Nobel. It consists of a gold medal, a citation and a cash prize. The Swedish Academy awards this prize.
Birth and education
Giosue Carducci was born on July 27, 1835 in Val di Castello, a small town near Pisa, in the province of Tuscany, Italy. His father Michele Carducci was a physician who belonged to an old Florentine family. He was a member of the Carbonari and worked for the unification of Italy. Due to political circumstances the family had to move several times finally settling in Florence in 1949 where they remained for a few years.
As a child he began writing poetry. He was attracted to the works of Greek and Latin authors. He also studied the famous Italian classic writers like Dante, Tasso and Alfieri. He inherited his love for the classic poets from his father. He also read romantic poets like Byron and Schiller. In 1856 at the age of twenty he graduated with a degree in philosophy and letters from the Scuola Normale Superiore, University of Pisa.
He became a teacher in a provincial high school. For many years he taught at various schools. At Florence he even became a private tutor. He had to take on the family responsibilities when both his father and brother died. He had also got married and had a family to support. Although he faced many financial constraints this adversity brought out the best in him. He became a very popular and energetic teacher. In 1860 he became a professor at the University of Bologna. He was appointed to the Chair of Italian Literature at the University of Bologna. He was a popular lecturer at the University. He was a strong critic of society and of literature. He remained at this post till his retirement in 1904. He was a highly regarded literary figure in his time.
Although he had begun writing poetry from when he was a child he published his work much later. In 1855 he compiled an anthology of Italian verse L’Arpa del Popolo, scleta di poemi religiosi, morali e patriotici (The People’s Harp) to support himself. He also wrote articles in L’appendice becoming one of the leading writers of the journal.
He published his first collection of poetry Rime (Rhymes) in 1857. He published a collection of poems entitled Levia Gravia (Light and Heavy) in 1868. This collection made him the leading literary poet of the time. Both these collections reflect his enthusiasm for the classics as well as a strong revolutionary trend. He was fascinated by the restrained style used in Greek and Roman poetry. He imitates the classics in his own inimitable style. The style of the classic poets and Italian poets find an echo in his work.
In 1865 Carducci published a poem called Inno a Satana (Hymn to Satan). It is full of modern ideas and free though as well as inventions and revolutions. However it created a lot of controversy. This was written in the period when he adopted an anticlerical and rebellious attitude. It was republished in 1869 by Bologna’s radical newspaper Il Popolo to coincide with the 20th Vatican Ecumenical Council and to create more controversy as there was a battle raging between the republicans and the papacy.
In 1871 he published Decennali. This also became popular.
In 1873 he published Nuove poesie (New Poetry). This has been very highly rated and is considered among his best poetry. This is where his poetic form reached its peak performance.
In 1876 he published Alle fonti di Clitumno. This poem spoke of the history of Tuscany as well as its modern image.
From 1861 to 1887 he wrote poems that were collected as Rime Neuve. These poems tried to capture the spirit of the world of classics. This collection has some of his finest poetry.
From 1878-1889 he published three volumes of Odi Barbere (Barbarian Odes). These poems were written in metres imitative of the style of Horace and Virgil. This collection contains some of his greatest works.
In 1882 he published Giambi ed epodi (Iambs and Epodes). This was a collection of satiric verse of a political nature. It expressed his indignation against his compatriots.
In 1898 he wrote Rime a Ritmi (Rhyme and Rhythm).
He was a noted historian and orator. He researched every aspect of literature and in 1874 he published his findings in Studi letterati (Literary Studies). In 1876 he published Bozetti critici e discorsi letterari (Critical Sketches and Literary Discussions). He was a poet, a critic, a scholar and an orator.
Carducci was also a great translator. He translated book 9 of Homer’s Illiad into Italian. The lyrics of Goethe and Heine greatly influenced his own poetry and his style.
He was the last of the great classical European poets. Elsewhere in Europe and Britain romanticism and modernism were the language in the poetry of his contemporaries. He was opposed to romanticism and built a strong reaction to it based on classicism and realism. For him poetry represented the dignity of life. He spoke of balance, continuity and restraint. Although he is not as much read today his poetry has immense value. His poems may seem outdated as they speak of Italy’s place in the world. They also speak of Roman past, which does not seem to have as much relevance in today’s global scenario as it had in his time.
His shorter poems do speak from the heart. The poems, which deal with Tuscany and some others on personal loss, have poignancy, which is very appealing. He has fused contemporary situations with classical literature in a very interesting way.
His poetry was not merely conventional but also experimental. In the Barbaric Odes he tried to import Greco-Latin forms into Italian verse.
Influence of Sommaruga
In the 1880’s Sommaruga became a publisher of a group of young writers some of whom became good and some became great in their time. Sommaruga began a literary review called La Cronaca Bizantina. He asked Carducci who was living in Bologna for his patronage. Sommaruga’s activities had a profound influence on Carducci. Within the next few years he produced three new volumes Confessioni e Battaglie, the Ca Ira sonnets and the Nuove Odi Barbere. After this he evolved a new style with later style becoming similar to his classical poetry of his earlier days.
He also published a number of articles, pamphlets and essays, which form a major part of his literary work. In this period his lyrical production also seemed to reach a more perfect level. He also published a masterly edition of Petrarch.
In 1859 Carducci married Elvira Menicucci. They had three children.
Carducci led an active political life. His political views were mercurial. Some times he was pro and other times he was anti republican. He was named an honorary citizen of Bologna. In 1890 he was elected as a senate member. For a short time he served as deputy in the House of Representatives. In his later years he encouraged the expansionist plans of Italy.
The Nobel Prize
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in1906. He was the first Italian to receive this prestigious prize. He was awarded the prize for the creative energy, freshness of style and lyrical force, which characterized his poetic masterpieces. The Nobel committee also appreciated his deep learning and critical research.
His poetry inspired his fellowmen in the war for independence. He was a popular and widely admired poet. He was a great literary figure in the latter part of the nineteenth century. His work was classic in design encompassing a wide range of emotions. He became the unofficial national poet of a unified Italy.
The Carducci Museum
The Carducci museum is located in Piazza Carducci, Bologna. It is situated in the house he lived in from 1890 till his death in 1907. It was opened in 1921 to the public and serves as an important resource for students of Italian literature, school students and tourists.
The building overlooks a garden made in 1928 with a statue of the poet in the center. It is a beautiful example of a maison d’ecrivian functioning as a museum and a library.
There are about 45,000 items of immense historical and literary value. Books annotated by Carducci, pamphlets, periodicals, sixteenth century books and some rare manuscripts form part of this excellent collection. There are also some special collections of Italian literature of the nineteenth century.
The library is housed in a number of rooms in the poet’s apartment. It contains his original furniture, personal belongings, photos and portraits.
This museum and library is an excellent tribute to Carducci by Albano Sorbelli and his former students who have turned his life and works into a perpetual monument in honour of their beloved teacher and mentor Giosue Carducci.
In the beginning of the twentieth century Leonardo Bistofi sculpted a statue in Carrara marble in honour of the poet Giosue Carducci. There is a sculpture of the poet in a thoughtful pose in the centre of the complex. Behind the sculpture Bistofi carved poetical themes from his poems. The sculpture on the left represents nature while the one on the right represents the “sorrel steed of the song”.
Giosue Carducci died on February 16, 1907. His legacy lives on through his poetry and other works and the Carducci museum.