Being Called Quasimodo Is A Good Thing When You’re Salvatore

Like many Italian authors, Salvatore Quasimodo is frequently allowed to fall by the wayside in favor of Italo Calvino, who seems to be the primary representation of Italian literature for Americans. As a born and bred Sicilian, Quasimodo was exposed to tragedy early on in life, making him an ideal candidate for becoming an author/poet.

The stern look of Quasimodo
The stern look of Quasimodo
After going through the standard Italian educational rigmarole, including attending a technical college, Quasimodo found himself in Florence after being urged to move there by his brother-in-law, Elio Vittorini, a novelist in his own right. Upon moving to Florence, Quasimodo met fellow poets like Eugenio Montale, though these connections did not prevent him from being forced to work a day job that had nothing to do with his writing aspirations. While under the employ of Italy’s Civil Engineering Corps, he was often encouraged to write by friends and colleagues who recognized his talent. It wasn’t until the age of thirty-seven that Quasimodo devoted himself fully to writing, an endeavor that clearly paid off when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959. He would die just seven years later in Naples.
That time Salvatore got his face on a stamp
That time Salvatore got his face on a stamp
And, speaking of Naples, Quasimodo was very much a Southern Italian boy, with irrevocable allegiances to his origins in spite of living in the North. Case in point is one of his poems entitled “Lament for the South,” in which he comes to terms with letting go of a part of Italy that he knows is fundamentally flawed and non-functional. He writes, “Nothing any more will take me South. Oh, the South is weary of dragging its dead along the malarial marshes, weary of solitude, weary of chains with the curses of all the races who screamed death, to the echo of its wells, who drank the blood from its heart. That’s why its children take to their mountains…”
Receiving his crowning literary award
Receiving his crowning literary award
And so Quasimodo became one of those Southern children who fled to the mountains of the North, eventually returning to die–the pull of the land too great to ignore in favor of a metropolitan life. One would expect nothing less than this complex push and pull between jurisdictions from a hermetic poet.