Eugenio Montale was born into a family of businessmen in Genoa, Italy, on October 12, 1896. During World War I, he served as an infantry officer on the Austrian front. Originally, Montale had trained to be an opera singer, but when his voice teacher died in 1923, he gave up singing and concentrated on writing.
After his first book, Ossi di seppia [Cuttlefish Bones], appeared in 1925, Montale was received by critics as a profoundly original and experimental poet. His style mixed archaic words with scientific terms and idioms from the vernacular. He was, however, dismissed from his directorship of the Gabinetto Vieusseux research library in 1938 for refusing to join the Fascist party. He withdrew from public life and began translating English writers such as Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Herman Melville, and Eugene O’Neill. In 1939, Le occasioni [The Occasions] appeared, his most innovative book, followed by La bufera e altro [The Storm and Other Things] in 1956. It was this trio of books that established him as a founder of the hermetic school of Italian poetry.
In 1948, Montale moved from Florence to Milan, where he became chief literary critic for Italy’s primary newspaper, Corriere della Sera. In addition to writing poems, Montale published essays, short fiction, travel sketches, music criticism, and translations. He was also an amateur painter.
Montale corresponded with Ezra Pound (despite Pound’s Fascist sympathies), Italo Svevo, and Salvatore Quasimodo. In 1961, Montale was awarded an honorary degree at the University of Rome and, shortly afterwards, at the universities of Milan, Cambridge, and Basel. In recognition of his work, as well as his courageous opposition to fascism, he was made a lifetime member of the Italian Senate in 1967.
After a long break from writing poetry, Montale published four collections during the last ten years of his life: Satura [Miscellany] in 1971; Diario del ‘71 e del ‘72 [Diary of 1971 and 1972, 1973]; Quaderno di quattro anni [Notebook of Four Years] in 1977; and Altri versi e poesi disperse [Other and Uncollected Poems] in 1981. In 1975, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions.”
Montale died in Milan on September 12, 1981, at the age of eighty-five.