Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
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Cite as: Rebecca West, ‘Wives and Lovers in Dante and Eugenio Montale’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati, Fabio Camilletti, and Fabian Lampart, Cultural Inquiry, 2 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 201–11 <>

Wives and Lovers in Dante and Eugenio MontaleRebecca West

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia; productive reception; Italian poetry; women in literature; Montale, Eugenio

In the work of male poets, the love for a woman is often a pretext for the elaboration of their texts; that love can be seen both as a deeply felt personal inspiration and as the point of origin for stylistic adventures, which involve the less personal techniques of poetic art. The figure of the feminine poetic beloved abounds in the lyric tradition as muse, far-off or lost love, or cold-hearted belle dame sans merci; as the idealization of an idea of Woman, as imagined interlocutor, or as a symbol of something that transcends an embodied female presence; and it is typically read as one of a pair — the poet who loves and the feminine figure who is loved. It is thus that we think of Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura, Montale and Clizia. In these emblematic poetic couples the lady love is transcendent; in simple terms, she is dead and gone, or merely gone, and exists on a higher plane than that on which the yearning poet struggles to live and to find expression equal to her resplendence, moved by her absence to create the presence of poetry.


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