Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) is one of Italy’s most famous poets and a grandmaster of modernist poetry. From his early, groundbreaking Ossi di seppia (1925) to his late masterpiece Satura (1971), his was a voice that remained both distinctive and original, representing something of a watershed for Italian poetics. He was an Anglophile much influenced by (among others) T. S. Eliot and G. M. Hopkins, and was instrumental in presenting English speaking poets to Italian readers through his translations of such luminaries as Shakespeare, Eliot, Yeats and Emily Dickinson. Robert Lowell, who had “long been amazed by Montale”, featured him prominently in Imitations (1961). Winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Literature, Montale was an anti-fascist and a Senator in the Italian Parliament. His early love of music endured throughout his private and professional life, and he served as music critic as well as literary editor for the Corriere della Sera.
For all its brevity, Xenia is hugely significant in unlocking the many clues to Montale's wry genius. Described by F. R. Leavis as "the product of that exquisite and sure tact which is consummate art", Xenia paints a poignant acoustic portrait of 'Mosca', Montale's deceased wife. The Xenia poems are among Montale's most moving and essential work. They map the haunting intimacies of a world characterised by personal and cultural loss, dealing subtly with the existential issues facing Europe in the aftermath of two World Wars and mass industrialisation.