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Full text of "Gabriele d'Annunzio; poet of beauty and decadence"

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Altrocohi, Rudolph 
Gabriele d'Annunzio 



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GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

Poet of 
BEAUTY and DECADENCE 



GABRIELE DANNUNZIO 

Poet of 

BEAUTY and DECADENCE 



By 
RUDOLPH ALTROCCHI 




THE CHICAGO LITERARY CLUB 

1922 



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Copyright 1922 
The Chicago Literary Club 



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GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO is a man of medium size, out- 
wardly unimpressive, even cold and indifferent, all the 
more so when in cacophonous tenor he gives vent to a deliberate 
flow of rhetoric. He is totally balcT, with heavy bulging lines 
of dissoluteness beneath his fishy eyes, one of 'which was 
injured in the war. Yet there is in his frigid, non-committal 
countenance a contour of resoluteness, asserting itself near 
the mouth, and in his smooth-shaveuface furrows of suffering 
mingle with furrows of incontinence,vlashes of virility mingle 
with suggestions of temperament.) The mellowing sculpture 
of the years, cancelling some of the feebler facial lines, has 
now left in his expression the imprint o f indefatigable energy, 
of deep-seated intelligence, and a more rigid impression of 
meditation, harmoniously in keeping with his autumnal 
season. Such is the man as he appeared in Venice in Sep- 
tember, 1918, when, in the uniform of a colonel and not flaunt- 
ing one of his many medals, he received from the army the 
gift of an airplane. The sight of this man leaves one utterly 
disappointed; his work makes men at once idolize or hate 
him. Somewhere between these two feelings, both of which 
point to an extraordinary personality, lies the truth. Dis- 
liking him as a man and admiring him as a patriot, detesting 
him as a novelist and praising him as an artist, let us try, 
briefly and without prejudice, to sketch him as a poet, in his 
main quality and in his main defect, in his beauty and his 
decadence. 

5 



D'Annunzio was born in the Abruzzi, very near the 
birthplace of Ovid, in 1863. Since he is fifty-nine years old, 
may we not reasonably consider that, having left behind him 
the more impassioned lyricism of juvenile exuberance, though 
still in the prime of his Septembral season, he has now revealed 
the real significance of his life-message ? Not that he is no 
longer a poet. Only minor poets, like minor streams, grow 
dry in summer. Real poets, though necessarily shifting 
vision with the shifting perspective of the years, remain 
poets to their last breath. D'Annunzio always was and still 
is primarily a poet. The principal element of interest in his 
novels is his poetry, the charm of his dramas is his poetry, 
the unsavory prose of his private life is redeemed by th eepic 
poetry of his warlike deeds, and even his recent book, 
Notturno, though in prose, is a gorgeous symphony of 
poetry. Let us observe for a few minutes the two chiefs 
attributes of D'Annunzio's poetry and muse with enthusiasm 
and tolerance on their significance, in order to form a more 
just opinion of the poet himself, and also to attain a richer 
understanding of Italy and of our times. For t.frq po^f., in 
sing ing:, interprets: his parables of yesterday may be prophe- 
cies f or today jhis unique sensitiveness, attuned to influence s^ 
jrhifih most nf 1ia rc^g™ 7 ** hut are unable to express or even 
to detank may nryHfallizfl in wnrfo the character of a time 
y and. . the attitude of a . nation. Hence his mission and his 
responsibility. ; , 

D'Annunzio was still in school, a mere boy of sixteen, 
when he published his first poem, which, with characteristic 
audacity, he addressed to the King of Italy. In the same 
year, 1879, he published his first book of verse, which won him 
immediate recognition. This pvt rp.mft pTOnnqit v T obviously 
a native gift, affirmed also a distinct literary personality , and 
made it possible for him, after an apprenticeship remarkably 
brief, to create poems of a craftsmanship almost perfect. 
Even when his very youth precluded the creation of master- 

6 



pieces of though t^ his expression was masterly, and hia vninjng 
into verse of animal sensations uncannily be autiful. This 
b eauty of form and this spnsfriVp.n^ss r both tvpic^ attributes 
bTthe poet, he developed, as we shall see, even to excess, so 
that they are today the outstanding qualities of his 



ess, so 
work, 
of his J) 



be it a novel of sophisticated modern society or a tale 
native hills; be it an autobiographical story of libidinous 
meanderings or a turreted drama of the Middle Ages. For art 
is a personal thing, and, like a man's facial characteristics, 
asserts itself early and remains, throughout time and cir- 
cumstance, essentially individual. 

During these early years D'Annunzio studied tirelessly 
and imitated unhesitatingly. And can we blame any 
ambitious youth, exploring the wonderland of literature, and 
especially of Italian literature, with all its wealth of varied 
p%$ection, for spontaneously coveting, in fervent emulation 
and Righteous desire, the craftsmanship of his masters ? ^He 1 

imitated f.hp p.lflssip.^ parfinnlgrly T^nraoP- hf. jffiJtSteJ ttjJJW 

poets from Dante and the Singers of the Sweet New Style to. 
the JQYJ ul strains of Lorenzo's Renaissance 1yrir»s and 
Politian's stanzas ; and T among his Italian contemporaries, 
Carducci. Voraciously from all sides he sought to learn, and 
was able so skilfully to absorb from others that he gave forth 
pnpms imprinted wi th his own manner — a manner tha t defi- 
nitely "dannunzianized" form and content into a new work of 
art^ <SRie form was as sculpturally chiseled as that of Cellini, 
bold and musically crystalline in deft manipulation of words, 
and ever lavishly glistening in imagery; the content was^c . * 

steeped in the analysis of physical sensations, sung even down K.^P^ ^ g 5 ^ 
to their lurid details, indeed with insistent emphasis on the \f 
foul. V 

Let us read three of his short early poems. In the first 
we have an almost perfect lyric. The English translation 
is given precedence for the benefit of those who do not 
readily understand Italian. The version is as good as can 

7 



be expected in the well-nigh impossible art of poetic 
translation. 

O sickle of moonlight declining 

That shinest o'er waters deserted, 

O sickle of silver, what harvest of visions 

Is waving down here, thy mild lustre beneath! 

Ephemeral breathing of foliage, 

Of flowers, of waves from the forest, 

Goes forth to the ocean; no cry and no singing, 

No sound through the infinite silences goes. 

Oppressed with its loves and its pleasures, 

The life of the world lies in slumber; 

O sickle declining, what harvest of visions 

Is waving down here, thy mild lustre beneath! 1 

Now listen to D'Annunzio's Italian, and even should you 
not understand it, the music of it, the rhythm, tfr g. exquisite 
alternation of vowp I sounds cannot fail to reach and charm 
you. 

O falce di luna calante 

che brilli su l'acque deserte, 

o falce d'argento, qual messe di sogni 

ondeggia a'l tuo mite chiarore qua giu! 

Aneliti brevi di foglie 
di fiori di flutti da '1 bosco 
' esalano a'l mare : non canto non grido 
non suono pe'l vasto silenzio va. 

Oppresso d'amor, di piacere, 

il popol de' vivi s' addorme ... 

O falce calante, qual messe di sogni 

ondeggia a'l tuo mite chiarore qua giu!* 

1 G. A. Greene, Italian Lyrists of Today, p. 8. London: Elkin 
Mathews and John Lane; New York: Macinillan and Company, 
1893. 

2 Canto Novo, ii, 10. 



.Merely a light, sensuous lyric of nature^ as you see, 
without message, without decadence, but of exquisite 
beauty. 

Here, on the other hand, is one of D'Annunzio's imita- 
tions. This time his model was no less a poet than Victor 
Hugo, whose Saison des SemaiUes, Le Soir, D'Annunzio 
surpassed, attaining indeed a sweep of grandeur and pastoral 
nobility quasi-Virgjlian, and one that our translation is barely 
able to suggest. 

THE SOWERS 1 

The sturdy peasants plod across the field 
Leading the oxen, slow and placid-faced; 
Behind them smokes the furrow, iron-traced, 
And open for the coming season's yield. 
Then with a flinging gesture of the hand 
The sower casts the grain; the agecl seem 
To lift to heaven all their prayers, and dream 
Of copious harvests — if the Lord command. 
Almost a pious human gratitude 
Today honors the Earth. In the faint light 
Of dusk the temples of the hills, snow-white, 
Arise at vespers, while men lift a crude 
Plain chant on high, and there is in their mien 
A sacerdotal majesty serene. 

If this poem should be compared with Victor Hugo's, 
one would surely hesitate to cry plagiarism, noting how 
adroitly D'Annunzio has succeeded in making the subject 
his own and creating a splendid poem. Thus unscrupulously 
acts at times the potency of a real poet. 

Many of D'Annunzio's lyrics, sonorously ejifihaPiJag, 
could be cited, and many excerpts from his novels, particularly 
beautiful in the author's numerous digressions from the 
unsavory v icissitudes of his victims ; and, finally, many pas- 
sages from his plays, in which there are pages and pages of 

1 Poet Lore, XXXIII (Spring Number, 1922), p. 137. 
9 



I 



exquisi te verbal j:hapsodie s, to prove again and again the 
unquestionable craftsmanship, the magic of this poet. Let 
us take at least one more poem, neither as beautiful as the 
first, nor imitated as the second, but in one way even more 
typically D'Annunziesque. Here, in describing a perfectly 
natural poetic mood, the author gratuitously thrusts into his 
imagery t he element of the foul. 

There murmur swarming through my drowsy head 
In this vast furnace of a summer day 
Relentless verses clamoring to be said, 
As beetles round a putrid carcass play. 

I search with open mouth and burning breath 
A little coolness on the shadowed sward, 
Beyond, the Adriatic, still as death, 
Shows dreadful dazzlings like an unsheathed sword. 

Far in the cloudless sky, malignly fair 
And motionless, the sea gulls disappear 
Without a cry in far-off whitish throngs; 

And now and then, through odors of salt air, 
Like voices of the ship-wrecked, dim with fear, 
Tremble the weary wings of dying songs. 

Even through a translation one may note the poet's 
ability to select the sensuous detail, the pictorial impression, 
to compress them into "a few telting phrases flowing with 
unerring rhythm and music. 

Two words, however, surprise ns: pirir>4 and mrnruat. 
Th ey are fwo of TV A np"" »"*'« » fo ^nri fa yphif»| ftfl pf jma gpryT 
Is it absurdly Victorian (according to certain contemporary 
poetasters the most opprobrious of terms!) to state that to our 
fastidious sensibilities those words ar e intrinsically repell ent, 
that they mar the effect of the poem, indeed actually defeat 
poetic purpose? Let us note that putrid signifies decayed 
and that decadence of course signifies decay, so that we may 
fairly say here th at D'Annunzio's choice , of imagery fa A&a s^. 
jtent; the rest of his verbal craftsmanship remaining a thin g 
of beauty. 

10 



It would take too long to follow D'Annunzio's emphasis 
on the foul throughout his works, in fact our findings might 
fill a large volume. Obviously, too, this peculiarity was one 
of the current symptoms of that naturalism that created and 
deformed so much of our late nineteenth-century literature, 
and whose god-father was Zola. What may be legitimate 
material for the novel, however, may, and at times must, be 
excluded from the more exalted realm of poetry. D'Annunzio 
went to still greater excesses in the verbal manipulation of 
filth in his novels, and somewhat also in his plays, all of which 
are, in spite of this blemish, brimming with poetry. For 
the sake of curiosity let us mention at least one of his plays 
or dramatic sketches, The Dream of a Spring Morning, for 
instance. Beneath so charming a title, suggestive at once 
of some delightfully pastoral idyl, we find the following 
scene: A young woman whose lover has been slain in her 
arms lies all night, bathed in his blood and clinging to the 
body of her beloved until, obsessed by blood, she goes mad. 
"gjpre,, fo o- the poetic is based on the horrible, on the fo ul. 
Though one would not for the world insult that unfortunate^ 
defunct lover by calling his frame a carcass, it is undoubtedly ^£> 
a corpse, and one, moreover, drenched in blood, the picture // 
being to all of us naturally repellent and therefore unpoetic,^* 
more fit for the morgue than for poetry. 

Perhaps the most famous, and deservedly so, of D'An- 
nunzio's dramas is his Francesco, da Rimini. The story is 
taken, of course, from Dante's immortally perfect episode in 
the fifth canto of the Inferno. We do not complain if, in 
broadening the story from a brief, narrated episode to a five- 
act play, D'Annunzio filled it with details and actions which 
the inimitably compact original could not include, and we 
gladly admire the texture of the drama, the pictorial atmos- 
phere of the Middle Ages, and particularly the poetic aroma 
that fills it from beginning to end. But we note, with a mix- 
ture of surprise and dismay, that while in Dante the one 

11 



reaction from the tragedy is pity, infinite pity for the eter- 
nally condemned victims of passion, a pity so potent that, at 
the end of Francesca's words the poet, utterly overwhelmed, 
swoons and "falls as a dead body falls," in D'Annunzio 
the tragedy of love and pity has "become, according to 
his very words, dramma di sangue e di lussuria, a tragedy of 
blood and lust. Is not this a deterioration of poetic aim and 
of emotional values ? And as deterioration precisely signifies 
decadence, is not D'Annunzio's response to Dante's inspira- 
. tion that of a decadent? An d not a trace of sympathy or 
>/ pity do we find in D'Annunzi o. This statement is true not 
only of his Francesca but of all his works. The tre n d of all 
his fiction is tragic; in all the forms it has taken, tragedy is 
the recurrent burden. It is the tragedy o f fanaticisjrn^jit 
sickness, of insanity, of sensual pleasure driven to excess 
and culminating in crime, of pathological personages demolish- 
ing their victims and themselves to reach some mad goal of 
personal desire ; it IsTthe tragedy of adultery, of rape, of 
ihcest7~oT slaughter — and throughout this kaleidosco pe of 
horrors , set forth with unparalleled realism of detail and in 
unparalleled poetry of diction, never does the author manifest 
the slightest s ympathy, the slightest pity for his tortured 
characters. On the contrary, his insistent choice of such 
subjects and the details he gloatingly describes, point to 
h is deriving from these sufferings a crue l relish, a quasi- 
sensual plea sure. Nor is this illogical. Psychologists tell 
us, in fact, that extreme sensuality and cruelty are often 
closely related. The innermost reasons for this relation must 
be left obviously to scientific specialists. At first sight, how- 
ever, sensuality and cruelty both a ppear t.n na Hiqfj nfi t,]y a,s 
a ttributes of animality, hence of primitive men, that is to 
say, of h uman beings upon whom the moral restraints of civili- 
zation jiaye_n ot yet exerted a curbing influence. To a certain 
extent, of course, the brutal is still manifest in all of us, as 
episodes of our daily life abundantly attest. Peoples less 

12 



permanently influenced by the molding forces of refinement 
would then of course still more abundantly manifest their 
primitive impulses. The people of the Abruzzi, for example, 
from whose stock sprang D'Annunzio, living as they have 
lived for centuries in the mountain retreats of the south- 
eastern Appennines, aloof from the pressure of refining civili- 
zation, hardly know any restraints whatsoever, if we are to 
judge them from their literature, and especially from the 
extraordinarily realistic pictures made of them by their poet- 
interpreter, Gabriele D'Annunzio, in iiis collection of brutal 
stories, Le Novelle delta Pescara. Would that time permitted 
us to examine these stories, these poetically treated fragments 
of lurid physicality. Ten years ago, with Professor Wilkins, 
we edited one of these stories, the very tamest of all, in fact 
the only one printable in a college textbook, and every year 
students are horrified at its brutality. These attributes, 
then, of brutality, unrestraint, excessive sensuality and* 
fondness for the lurid, are part of D'Annunzio's heritage, not 
only because of his literary inheritance from the schools of 
naturalism and ultra-naturalism which were flourishing at 
the moment of his d6but in the literary world (and still are), 
but because of his geographical inheritance as well. The. 
land of his birth is an emphatically southern land, one, that 
is to say, in which the very sincerity and directness of solar 
heat make human beings warm-tempered and expansive; 
and a primitive land. Perhaps these observations will go 
far toward explaining the trend, atavistic and literary, of 
D'Annunzio's decadence. 

Now to some these symptoms, which may not incorrectly 
be called decadent, may be pleasing and admirable. They 
cannot, however, be lovable. Even the most rabid among 
Italian partisans of D'Annunzio's manner, lifting it with 
exaggerated loyalty to supreme heights, ought to admit that, 
however they may admire it, they cannot love it . This 
fact leads us to venture a generalization upon literature. 

13 



** 



/J 



Those of us who spend our lives among literary masterpieces, 
who read them, re-read them, study them, draw from them 
day by day our spiritual and aesthetic sustenance, find that 
there are writers we love: Horace, Dante, Moliere, Dickens, 
Fogazzaro; that there are others whom we admire rather than 
actually love: Petrarch, Corneille, Flaubert, Fitzgerald; 
that there are others again whom we sometimes despise and 
sometimes love: Rousseau, Byron, Verlaine, Edgar Allan 
Poe. In which of these arbitrary categories would we put 
D'Annunzio, novelist, dramatist, poet ? Perhaps most aptly 
in yet a fourth division, that of authors whom we must both 
admire and despise, but whom we can never love. Now 
what is it in D'Annunzio, in this man who has made it his 
life-vocation to present, clad in exquisite artistry, such a 
v aried collection of sensations and violent emotions , that 
fails to move us ? The question may be answered in a very 
few simple words. He arouses no love because he gives no 
love. Never was this author known to laugh or weep with 
his characters or his readers. The laughter which is the 
envoy of humor, of that humor that laughs not at but with 
the frailties of mankind, with the contrasts dramatic or ludi- 
crous arising from contacts and temperaments and incidents — 
this laughter D'Annunzio never knew. Boccaccio, Chaucer, 
Shakespeare, told splendid stories of questionable morality, 
but there was a merry twinkle in their eyes. Their silent 
laughter makes even gross pornography excusable, because 
not morbid. D 'Annunzio's tragic erotic is m offends and 
naus eates us, and makes us wish at once to adopt the gruffly 
wise manner of our far western cowboys, and peremptorily 
shout to him: "When you say that, damn you, smile!" 

Nor did he ever know tears, the tears that are envoys of 
compassion, of sympathy for our fellow-beings, for the suffer- 
ings so often futile, undeserved, which prey upon human 
relations, crushing individuals and their lofty cravings. Such 
tears D'Annunzio never was able to shed. Manzoni, the 

14 



greatest of Italian novelists, and his disciple, Fogazzaro, 
fashioned scenes of tremendous power, scenes of supreme 
anguish, but even though they tried to maintain a spirit of 
objectivity, one can feel between the lines a deep, throbbing, 
compassionate understanding. D'Annunzio has genius, 
ample learning, extraordinary sensitiveness, artistic crafts- 
manship — what does he lack ? He Indira decorum, t o he fiiire; 
yes, and more than decorum, what he most lacks is a spi ritual 
norm, in short, a conscien ce. 

Another proof o^this spiritual vacuum in D'Annunzio's 
poetic make-up might be adduced by showing that % now]ifir£. 
in his fiction and poetry does he espouse a great humane 
cause^"The only great joys and sorrows," says Carrere, 1 
^arepublic joys and sorrows." In fact, looked at in this 
light, the numberless libidinous bickerings of fatuous para- 
mours with which D'Annunzio fills thousands of pages seem 
utterly" petty . Thfi_intimate aberrations of personages 
exceptional and subnormal do not contain that universality 
of appeal and significance that one always finds and should 
find in permanently great works of art. The poet must be 
the sponsor of humanity. This brings us back to what was 
merely mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, namely, 
the mission and the responsibility of the poet. 

In one of D'Annunzio's dramas, La Gioconda, a quiet 
little story of adultery, suicide, dereliction, and bloody 
mutilation, he attempts to prove that all merely conjugal 
and paternal bonds should by all means be sacrificed by an 
artist in the supreme pursuit of his art. If this thesis were 
true, then art would indeed assume a superiority which would 
in turn place upon it new and heavy responsibilities. And 
poetry, with its appeal more definite and all-pervasive, would 
have to bear an even greater share of such responsibility 

1 Jean Carrere, Degeneration in the Great French Masters 
(Les Mauvais Mattres), p. 135. Translated by Joseph McCabe. 
New York: Brentano, 1922. 

15 



than her less universally articulate sister-arts. Little did 
D'Annunzio suspect when, in 1898, he penned his dramatic 
thesis, that it might go forth, and as a boomerang return to 
point at its father's delinquency, and call him verily a bad 
master. Let us here adopt the very words of that eloquent 
diatribe against Bad Masters by Jean Carrere: 

By a bad master, a source of degeneration, I mean one who, 
gifted with the power to seduce men by the charm and wealth 
of his imagination, by his skill in weaving harmonious and 
captivating phrases, instead of urging himself toward heroism 
and drawing toward it the souls which he influences, surrenders 
himself in his writings to all the weaknesses of passion and all the 
seductions of a life of ease, uses his talent for the exaltation of 
mean pleasures and gross desires, and on that account becomes, 
for those whom he has enchanted, a teacher of weakness, egoism, 
cowardice, and cupidity. 1 

Severe as such an indictment seems, it applies to D'An- 
nunzio in all but two details. As a matter of fact, nobody 
can justly accuse him of having quite led a life of ease. 
On the contrary, his activity has been prodigious. That 
artistic creation happened to be, in his life-quest of pleasure, 
one of his greatest pleasures, cannot in justice be held against 
him. His very latest book, it is said, was composed, proof- 
read and published in one month — a phenomenon which indeed 
shows in this old roui, a youthful buoyancy of inspiration and 
a power of toil which are enviable. Nor can we accuse him 
of not having exal ted heroism. His best poetic work is in 
four large volumes entitled, Praises of Sky, Sea, Earth and 
Heroes. His patriotic poems, plays, essays, and speeches 
are numerous, eloquent, unquestionably sincere, have had an 
incalculable influence on his countrymen, and one that goes 
far to offset the pernicious influence of his lascivious devia- 
tions. Let us remember that when, early in 1915, Italy, 
though convinced of the righteousness of the Allied cause, 

1 Op. cit., p. xvii. 

16 



stood hesitantly neutral, it was the fire of D'Annunzio's 
speeches that gave the final impetus to the Italian people and 
government. To few poets throughout the ages was it ever 
given so influentially to wield their art. Furthermore, what- 
ever we may think of his philosophy of sensuality, let us 
gladly admit that D'Annunzio may be accused nf fl,nythin ffl 
but n ot of cow ardice . The epic of his record during the war 
must, we repeat, redeem, in the sight of all, his previous lyric 
and moral shortcomings, and prove, besides, that they had 
not fatally undermined his virile stamina. His patriotic 
poems, his war speeches, . and his war record make him a 
national figure, a national poet. 

Thpn too hft i s nation al in another sense. His extreme 
eagerness for beauty of form and his extreme skill i n achieving 
i t are, we should sav. typically Italian. If it is true, and we 
believe it to be as true as any generalization can be, that 
perhaps the most recurrent element in English literature is a 
certain didacticism, and in French literature, clarity, then 
in Italian literature the recurrent element is a perpetual 
striving for beauty of form. Italian churches are dazzling 
with sunny, multi-colored marbles on the outside, they have 
beautiful domes and campanili, and are ultra-decorative in 
their facades, though the inside may be, and frequently is, 
bare. Italian churches lack the sombre spirituality of 
English cathedrals, the perfect structural significance of 
Notre Dame, but have, on the other hand, a joyous human- 
ity of color and light. I talian poetry, having as its feli- rG^J^s* 
citous vehicle the /most musical of languages, ^ finds an 
infinite and quite understandable zest m manipulating it. y 
sometimes with a careless disregard for spiritual content.) 
D'Annunzio, by emphasizing in all his work this national 
characteristic, appears again as characteristically national, 
as a national interpreter and poet. 

A moment ago D'Annunzio's philosophy was mentioned. 
Of what does it consist ? ft consists of a deliberate and ^Jw-^-Wj 

17 



unrestrained search for pleasure, which he considers the 
very best means to wisdom, and one that will reveal endless 
manifestations oTb eauty. This beauty he is impelled to 
record in artistic form. The symptoms, then, of what we 
call decadenc e, which we find so abundantly in his work, are 
jiot _the mere manifestations of his senses, thev are also the 
expressions of his creed. A very facile ^creed^ by the way, 
which, unlike creeds in general, presupposes no discipline 
whatsoever L jind consists in slipping down the line of leasT 
resistance with a maximum of speed and pleasure, recording 
the while-.one's^eiisaiiQnsin musical verbosity. To be sure 
his time was one of materialistic reaction. After the heroic 
years of the Risorgimento, Italy, like all countries which have 
gone through a heroic crisis, settled down to enjoy a crass, 
bourgeois materialism. The times were, then, so far as moral 
restraint is concerned, all against him. But making allow- 
ances for all circumstantial decadence, there yet remains in 
his philosophy a fundamental fallacy. Leaving alone the 
application of such a philosophy to his personal life, which 
does not concern us in the least, and examining it only in so 
far as it affects the poet, we find tVm.f JVAnmmzio has, in our 
jndfrmftnt,, mismp ceived the function of poetry . Just as 
literature is not fashioned merely for entertainment, poetry 
also is not merely a musicalizing of any and all the haphazard 
sensations-flL an egomaniac. Though, as Mr. Neilson says, 1 
the artist's appeal is sensuous rather than intellectual; and 
though the artist must be given his freedom, with the essential 
limitation that he be true to art, namely, to real beauty, 
poetry has the higher, nobler function of re-creating ecstasy, 
exaltation, inspiration. This is the ideal mission and the 
responsibility of the poet. The air pilot who takes us in his 
airplane will give us more ecstasy of sensation than a 



1 W. A. Neilson, Essentials of Poetry, p. 39. Boston and 
New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912. 

18 



chauffeur, but he has also a more perilous responsibility, for a 
fall from the heights is sure to change a beautiful experience 
into a repulsive catastrophe. 

Poetry should certainly be ready to plant its feet solidly 
on the soil of fact. Not for that, though, need it clip its 
wings forever and grovel in the mud. It is perhaps not with- 
out symbolic significance that the most lyric of animals is the 
winged bird: the worm does not sing! 

Was it not Balzac, himself a realist, who said that the 
mission of the artist was also to raise the beautiful to the 
level of the ideal? Only patriotically has D'Annunzio 
shown idealism. 

Because, therefore, D'Annunzio has never achieved, and 
never even admitted in any of his varied compositions, the . 

supreme function of poetry, we must continue to dislike him 
as a man while admiring him as a patriot, to detest him as a 
novelist while praising him as an artist, and, finally, in his 
poetry, while hurling ceaseless maledictions at this perpetual i 

panegyrist of blood and lust, irresistibly bless him as the 
master-wielder of beauty in modern Italian literature. 





19 






THIS PAPER WAS WRITTEN FOR THE CHICAGO 
LITERARY CLUB AND WAS READ BEFORE THE 
CLUB ON MONDAY EVENING, NOVEMBER THE 
SIXTH, NINETEEN HUNDRED AND TWENTY- 
TWO. EDITION, FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY 
COPIES, PRINTED FOR MEMBERS OF THE 
CLUB IN THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, NINE- 
TEEN HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO. 



Printed By 
The University of Chicago Press 



fr 



 



Altrocohi, Rudolph 
Gabriele d'Annunzio 



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UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO LIBRARY