Agostino d'Ippona by Kurt Flasch

By Kurt Flasch

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And in our breast a sickness | which mingles with this name. | Falls silent. | Falls silent on our face, and knows no sleep, [ . . ]. Falls silent. And asks nothing of the heavens, or the sea. ] These lines, constructed on the sense of hearing, are suggestive of the silence of the dead and of the whispers of an imagined presence at night, while the other siblings are asleep. The emphasis on ‘Tace’—through repetition and the fact that it is singled out as the only word of one line—as well as the whole imagery based on sound and voice, evokes D’Annunzio’s ‘La pioggia nel pineto’ [Rain in the pine grove], also rich in imagery of sounds, whose opening lines will suffice to exemplify: Taci.

We begin the exploration of the diverse genres through which Ortese shapes loss through an analysis of her first published text, ‘Manuele’,1 and two early autobiographical short stories ‘Pellerossa’2 and ‘Il capitano’,3 collected in Angelici dolori, which are emblematic of loss. These express bereavement within the family, together with the waning of adolescence. ‘Manuele’ and ‘Pellerossa’ are centred on the figure of Ortese’s brother Emanuele, whereas ‘Il capitano’ focuses on the severed bond with her twin, Antonio.

Her lines inevitably echo Petrarch’s ‘quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno’ [‘what the world loves is a passing dream’] (Canzoniere, i, l. , ‘Sogno d’ombra’ [‘Shadow dream’], ll. 9–10), which suggests, in Melotti’s interpretation, that life is ‘fleeting and vain like a hazy dream’,34 as in Ortese’s lines. Imagination is a smaller part of the larger dream disguised as life, and the poet expresses the awareness that fantasy and life are but a passing dream. The merging of life, dream, and imagination is a characteristic feature of Ortese’s works, such as Angelici dolori, L’Iguana, In sonno e in veglia, and Alonso e i visionari, and can be found in her earliest text, written as a response to loss.

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