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A New and Indignant Italian Poet by W. W. C.

1878

Mrs. Leo Hunter's selection of an "Expiring Frog" as a subject for poetical composition has lately been surpassed by a new Italian poet. The latter, Signer Giovanni Rizzi, has just published at Milan a small volume of sonnets, chiefly ironical in character, in which he gives vent to his disgust at the positive and materialistic tendencies of the present day. The theme of the three most remarkable among these productions is that useful but not very ├Žsthetic animal, the hog.

Signer Rizzi is the professor of literature at the military school and the high school for girls in Milan. Not long ago his three sonnets to the hog—or, more literally, the boar (maiale)—appeared in an Italian journal called Illustrazione Italiana, prefaced by a letter to the editor, in which the author stated that as apes, toads and caterpillars have now been triumphantly introduced into literature, he no longer felt any hesitation about bringing forward in the same way his esteemed friend the boar. These three pieces, together with others of the same form and character, have now been published as a book under the title of Un Grido. This work begins with an address to the reader, in which the poet laments the prevailing tendency of public opinion, and protests against what he considers a determined war on all old and honored beliefs and feelings, and a substitution therefor of a vague and revolting materialism. Then come five sonnets to Pietro Aretino, the witty poet and scoffer of the Renaissance era. Aretino is invited to reappear among men, for the world, says Rizzi, has again become worthy of such a man's presence. Leaving Dante to Jesuits, and Beatrice to priests, it has made Aretino its favorite model, and has, consequently, said farewell to everything resembling shame. In the last of these five sonnets the poet addresses his beloved thus: "And we too, O Love! do we still keep holy honor, home, faith, prayer, truth and noble sorrow?"

After the five sonnets to Aretino come the three to the boar (Al Maiale) which have already been mentioned. Here the author enters into a mock glorification of that animal, and declares himself ready to give up all pretensions to any superiority over it. He proceeds to "swear eternal friendship" with it, and offers it his hand to solemnize the compact; but, suddenly remembering that such old-fashioned practices must be very distasteful to his new friend, he immediately apologizes for having conformed to such a ridiculous old prejudice. He does not expect his "long-lost brother" to make any effort to elevate himself or to change his swinish nature in any particular, but thinks we should all bring ourselves down to the boar's mental and physical level as soon as we can. The closing verses of the third sonnet may be freely rendered as follows:

And when, at last, the grave shall close above us,

No solemn prayer our resting-place should hallow,

No flowers be strewn by hands of those that love us.

But if, at times, you'll come where we are lying,

O worthy friend! upon our graves to wallow,

That thought should give us joy when we are dying.

The last piece in this little collection is addressed to "The Birds of my Garden" (Agli Uccelletti del mio Giardino). Though inferior to the others in boldness and originality of conception, it is much more graceful and attractive, and shows that the writer is by no means deficient in elegance of style and delicacy of treatment.

Signor Rizzi may, it is probable, be taken as a type of a large class among his countrymen, to which the iconoclastic tendencies of our time seem strange and horrible. Indeed, it is possible that he is one of the earliest heralds of a widespread reaction in opinion and feeling throughout his native land. At any rate, his poems can hardly fail to become popular, and to produce some effect among a people so susceptible to the influences of witty and sarcastic poetry as are the Italians even at this day.

W. W. C.