The Story of my Life

Written by  Sergio Raimondi
A literary will, written by the poet in 1958 for the goliards of his home town, Copparo.
I was born in the countryside around Ferrara between the Volano and the Po, in a village of less than two thousand inhabitants rejoicing in the poetic and biblical name of Tamara, meaning "palm", although some believe that the name derives from the tamarisk, the tough salt-resistant evergreen shrub which once covered the coastal region from the site of Ferrara to the lost Etruscan town of Spina above Comacchio. I was born on 29 October 1884, in the family home which was numbered 37 in the village, near the school mistress and exactly by the red kerbstone bearing the number 13. Much may be explained by this unlucky number 13.

I came of a well-to-do family of farmers and millers. In my distant youth I too spent several years successfully farming the fifty hectares of my land, a task for which I had a strong natural gift. And would that I had carried on in that wonderful healthy business; for today, instead of being reduced - at my time of life - to begging a little, to hard work and to running after literary prizes, I would certainly own thousands of acres of top quality land. I would be a millionaire, living a life of ease surrounded by my handsome, prosperous, safe children. But my leaning towards poetry, which was and still is a curse, won the day over farming, leading to my ruin and that of my poor family.

Economic difficulties, family trials and adversity all dismayed me, whilst I pursued the beguiling and illusionary dreams of poetry from my native village to Ferrara, from Ferrara to Milan and the Ligurian Riviera, then back to Ferrara, suffering from nostalgia and home sickness, and unluckily settling at last in Rome, where, alas, I now seem to have put down my final roots: the sacred human roots of the poor, tragically departed.
I began to fall in love with poetry - terrible, inexorable poetry - when I was just a boy; and alas, I am still in love with it today, though I loathe and detest it too.

My first volume, Le Fiale (Florence) was published in 1903, as was the second, Armonia in grigio e silenzio. Both may be considered as the first authentic examples of the new movement in poetry which was to be known and valued as crespuscolismo. The second book contained the first daring complete example of free verse to appear in Italy. Between then and today [1958] I have published countless volumes of poetry: at least twenty, with many thousands of copies distributed and now impossible to find. This does not include the still unpublished collection Conchiglie sul quaderno, which won first prize at the Lido di Roma in 1948, or the volume I canti del puro folle, also unpublished, which includes the lyric I campioni sbagliati del vivente nulla from which the lines reproduced here are taken.

I also regard as a poem in prose the three-volume novel Uomini sul Delta, the first part of which is about to appear. This is set, as the title makes clear, in the lowlands near Ferrara and concerns the eternal bitter struggle between labour and capital during the period between the First World War and the anti-Fascist resistance movement. I believe that few Italian writers have remained so faithfully attached, in both poetry and prose, to the interests, entreaties and influence of their native soil; although my own region and people have never considered me worthy of any particular gratitude, not even mere moral indebtedness.
And what, you may ask, do I think of my poetry?
I must admit that I have the highest possible opinion of it, because it seems to me that it perfectly meets the two fundamental requirements for any artistic poetic representation, providing a violent shock to the senses, and a breathtaking shock to the heart. Not to mention the power of the imagination, the charm of the music and the rich, original, inexhaustible fantasy.

Leaving aside, of course, the very bitter thought that it would be rather better to live and enjoy poetry and nature egotistically, rather than experiencing it through the torment of art for the enjoyment of others - and often, alas, for the hostility, indifference, derision and even hatred of others. And what do I think of the poetry of my contemporaries and other living writers, after Carducci, Pascoli, D'Annunzio and Gozzano, all more or less contemptible academic poets.

Frankly, I must admit that I have no respect at all for any of today's self-styled Italian poets over the age of forty (Shelley was much more severe when he commented that anyone who has not produced his best work by twenty-five should give up hope of ever doing so). And if I have ever uttered words of praise for some of them, words dictated by friendship and pity, I withdraw them unreservedly, bitterly regretting my weakness and unforgivable foolish kindness.
I despise them all profoundly, each and every one of them without exception. They are totally mediocre, dull, cold poetasters, constitutionally incapable of creativity, ghastly corrupt and rotten nonentities in the world of literature, utterly devoid of a single spark of original imagination or inspiration, whom you could not even call decent rhymesters, in either traditional metre or free verse.

It matters not if, with the help of their pack of dishonest friends among the critics, academics lacking any modern sensibility and ignorant of the most passionate statements and achievements of poetry throughout the world today, they have succeeded in deceiving and dazing - if not quite convincing - Italian readers, who through their own innate bad taste and despicable intellectual laziness form so scanty, ignorant, poorly or belatedly informed a public, by passing themselves off as no less than the legitimate heirs and successors to the most distinguished French poetry (and I shall make no mention of their monstrous and obscene claim that they have profited from the reading of Petrarch or Leopardi) of which they will never succeed in digesting more than the most insignificant scraps and leftovers.

Because, even if we were to assemble and distil all their overworked self-styled poetry, even down to the syrupy drops squeezed from the virgin cellulose on those incredibly broad margins, it would not be remotely possible to put together a single reasonable lyric vibration capable of belying or disproving the terribly negative judgement of Benedetto Croce or André Gide or even worthy to boast of the most tenuous and feeble of relationships with pure masterpieces of poetry such as Mallarmé's "Apres-midi d'un faune", Rimbaud's "Bateau ivre" OR Valéry's "La jeune Parque".
In my view the true essence of poetry, in all places and at all times, can be summarised in the following characteristics.

Poetry is the art or ability to transfer the representation of human experience and natural phenomena to an ideal transfigured level with dazzling clarity and immediacy, to irresistible emotional and communicative effect, by means of the most extraordinary dynamic, innovative and penetrating expression. I am convinced that such art or ability (originality, freshness, a supreme imagination, rich powers of suggestion, strong emotion) is entirely hereditary and is passed on to the poet like any other intellectual, physical or mechanical gift, even though it may always be improved, refined and enhanced by circumstances, practice, training and nurturing.

When the receiving and transmitting apparatus of the poet, therefore, is in a constitutionally perfect state, he will be incapable, throughout his working life, of producing any expression, whether faint and delicate or strong and overpowering, which is not always worthy of the native gifts of that apparatus, appropriate to and in harmony with its characteristic voice and its individual spirit and qualities.

The true poet is thus a fortunate or unhappy conduit, bringing the message of pure beauty, goodness and love or of pain and despair which has been entrusted to him by those mysterious hands which touch and inspire first his heart and thereafter his mind.