Contra i melanconij, contra i magon / rezipe, el me zion,/ rezipe i rimm del Porta (Against melancholy and anguish, / take, my dear uncle, take / the verses of Porta). So begins, with this sort of programmatic statement - almost a declaration of poetics -, one Delio Tessa's most significant poems, even if less cited, titled simply To Carlo Porta. Richly interwoven with quotations and echoes from Porta, the poem stands - despite what the title might lead one to believe - completely outside the usual cliches of encomiastic poetry, in order to reopen with the author of "Ninetta" a dialog which is both a looking back and a going forward.
This choice is anything but expected at the beginning of the century. Despite the authoritative comments of the Ticinese linguist Carlo Salvoni and Attilio Momigliano (who in 1909 devoted the first comprehensive critical study to him), Porta was then still little known even to the people of Milan. Even if not totally obscured, his fame was decidedly uneven after his death and remained so until the second half of the twentieth century, when the renewal of critical parameters led to a more suitable reappraisal of the experiences in dialect of past and present, and to the reevaluation, as a consequence, of the "hierarchies" of literary history.
It was after all Manzoni the real popular literary author in this region until a few decades ago Although inspired by a no lesser moral tension than that underpinning the work of the author of Promessi sposi, Porta's poetry has remained the province of the restricted circles of the intellectualized middle class.
On the other hand, whoever appeared on the Milan dialect scene at the start of the last century with the intent to go beyond the narrow and consolatory of vernacular hum-drum did not have many recent models to refer to or to look back to in order to continue the experience. In the second half of the eighteenth century, in fact, there was no outstanding figure capable of renewing the dialect tradition by adapting it to the political and moral tensions of the new Italy, just coming out of national unification.
Of a more documentary rather than literary interest, all considered, are the dialect works (at least partly foreshadowed by Giovanni Rajberti's experiments) attempted in a "scapigliatura" milieu, especially by Antonio Ghislanzoni, Vespasiano Bignami, Ferdinando Fontana. The most interesting results were to be found rather in prose and theater: on the one hand in the collection of short stories Milanin Milan by the novelist Emilio De Marchi, and on the other in the comedy El nost Milan by Carlo Bertolazzi. Within their limits, they are the ones who in that period were able to utilize dialect in the most convincing manner, as a living instrument, suitable to study a changing human and social realty, not divided by the broader context of the modernization process taking place.
Going back to Porta then, recognizing his mastery, in that situation meant strengthening the ties with a poetry having a strong ethical content and a great stylistic and expressive awareness. The direction indicated by Tessa is the one that would later give the best results of the twentieth century in Lombardy. It is through the mediation of the great author of "De là del mar" and "Caporetto 1917" that Porta's presence, if with repeated rifts or in a hidden or lateral position, remains very much alive in the dialect poetry of the twentieth century, much more than it was in nineteenth-century Lombardy.
What is taken from him is first of all his open-minded and multifaceted realism, to be understood not so much in the naturalistic sense of ambition to reflect phenomenological reality, often susceptible to violent grotesque or expressionistic deformations, but in a romantic sense of aspiration towards a literature able to understand the events of the human universe and examine in depth its contradictions.
Hence the preference, common to poets of several generations (from Tessa to Emilio Villa to Franco Loi to Piero Marelli), for a poetry sustained by a strong narrative bent which remains recognizable despite the most brutal tampering.
"Novelistic," hypotactic syntax, characteristic of Porta's tales, gives way to Joyce's elliptical and paratactic syntax., which proceeds by accumulating heterogenous material. Nevertheless, the Lombard line (a category which id to be understood in a broad sense, not coinciding perfectly with the geographical area) confirms - in dialect as well as in Italian - its fundamental inclination toward a poetry of things, veined with a plurality of humors and inhabited by more or less precisely delineated objects, figures, or characters.
One also finds this in poets more open to a thoughtful and intimate lyricism (such as Cesare Mainardi, Giacinto Gambirasio, Giancarlo Consonni, Franca Grisoni, Umberto Zanetti), nourished for the most part by the natural or urban landscape, although depicted without idyllic complacency.
Rather the flaw, from which are not exempt even authors endowed with a greater awareness of their aims, consists in a sort of unintentional as well as paradoxical inverse rhetoric: in short a falling back on themes that go from the crepuscular to the minimalistic, born out of the overestimation of the degree of autonomy of everyday events, that is, from the unconscious belief
that they are capable of speaking by themselves and that it is enough to mention them in a diligent list on the page to obtain a poetry of things.
On the other hand, twentieth-century Lombard poetry owes Porta another important peculiarity: that it, the insistent and almost general linguistic experimentation. In portraying his comédie humaine, Porta had made use of a an extremely broad stylistic and expressive range, which, besides literary Milanese (already "purified" in the verses of Carlo Maria Maggi, Domenico Balestrieri, Carl'Antonio Tanzi, and Giuseppe Parini) and the different varieties of contemporary Milanese spoken by the various social classes, also included the other languages which interacted with dialect: Latin, Italian, French, Austrian German.
Twentieth-century authors follow this path even though they select a linguistic area very restricted geographically: the harsh speech of Verano Brianza by Piero Marelli, the airy Milanese of Verderio Inferiore Giancarlo Consonni, the Sirmionese by Franca Grisoni.
In any case, with respect to Porta's experience the plurilinguistic element tends to acquire another meaning in the twentieth century, changing from a phenomenon of the sociological context, to be represented narratively, to a problem of the self, to be analyzed lyrically. The reason for this lies in the fact that before and more than what happens elsewhere poetry in dialect in Lombardy is influenced by the process of erosion that affects local speech everywhere, forcing them to lose ground before the advance of standard Italian.
Before this process is concluded in the second half of the century with the widespread abandonment of dialect by the younger generations, the Lombard capital finds itself, however, - under the pressure of the powerful migratory waves that accompany the process of industrialization - playing host to a variety of accents of a diverse nature and origin, mostly southern, but with a conspicuous presence of the Veneto and Friuli areas.
Milanese does not disappear from spoken speech as a consequence, but (despite the cultured or folkloristic attempts at reclaiming it) is finally relegated to secondary roles or even degraded to the dimension of local sketch.
This, of course, only makes even more problematic the choice of dialect, which on the other hand gets its revenge in literature, thanks also to the stances taken by the avant-garde movements, that for many reasons here found very fertile ground, both in the maudit phase of the early century and the rationalistic phase of the fifties and sixties. In the new literary landscape that makes stylistic freedom its fundamental rule, dialect is legitimated as one of the many possible codes, constitutionally not inferior to any other.
Dialect is then really transformed into idiolect, a private and individual language that each author tailors to his expressive needs, often turning to the language of the past, a linguistic variety which no longer exists, but which for this very reason lends itself to being reinvented, or to the living language, actually spoken, but selecting the habits common to the more restricted areas, often with slang expressions almost foreign to urban or regional settings.
On the other hand, dialect poets display the same detachment manifested by poets in Italian as well toward the city and the materialistic morality that more an more characterizes it. Under the innovative thrust of a romanticism interpreted not in opposition but as a continuation of the Enlightenment, nineteenth-century poetry in dialect from Porta onward, along with the novel, had given voice to the hopes and aspirations of a growing modern middle-class, progressive minded even if politically moderate. It is the middle class that gives rise to the myth of Milan as capital of morality and work, that discovers the importance of a knowledge that has a concrete advantage for the community - economy, statistics, engineering, mechanics. It is the middle class that founds the Polytechnic, but it also establishes charitable societies, and it is interested in attenuating social conflicts and to take steps in order to correct the shortcomings of modernization and the free market.
In the twentieth century this propulsive force is irremediably lost. Milan fails in the attempt to become the ethical and cultural model for the entire country. The logic of interest gets the better of the work ethic, favoring the development of and entrepreneurial class which is less cultured and much more cynical than that of the nineteenth century, which tolerates and even facilitates fascism's rise to power, and which in the second half of the century embraces a dangerous ideology inspired by a coarse and unrestrained laissez-faire, grounded on technological and financial capitalism..
Like fiction, the poetry of the Lombards also reflects this state of things in a more or less direct manner, eschewing any manifestation of local pride (which is rather relegated to the vernacular idyll, which significantly finds its identity more in certain areas - Ticinese, Porta Romana - that in the urban setting as a whole) and expressing instead elements of collective and individual anxiety.
Even in certain experiments with historical aims, such as Franco Loi's, tending toward a modern epos, and with an oneiric-expressionistic style that fragments the narrative structure, what prevails in any case is the propensity to "interiorize" the elements of crisis, and to foreground the self rather than society and, at any rat, to represent society in a way that emphasizes the consciousness of the individual.
In a strictly literary sense, this leads to the introduction in dialect poetry of expressive material from the most diverse contemporary traditions and currents: from a certain disposition toward dadaist divertissement to the adoption of models of verbal estrangement inspired by Joyce, Montale, Eliot, Pound, Beckett.
Along this path, the link with the local tradition becomes complicated, but it is not severed. What is reaffirmed instead is the substantial trust in a realism, which presents itself as a shared sensibility or collective vision of life rather than as an actual poetics or program. It is this very particular kind of realism that keeps the authors of the "Lombard line" from attempting to escape, forward as well as backward.
There is no nostalgia for the premodern or pre-bourgeois past in this poetry, not even in Franca Grisoni's, born in the outlying areas of the metropolitan center, or in Giancarlo Consonni's, which is nevertheless open to a painful dialog with his rural roots. On the other hand, there are no
socialist undertones, except in certain passages of Loi's early work, but in any case outside ideological orthodoxy. If there is any criticism, it comes from inside Milanese modernity: as if by showing mercilessly the signs of decay, one really wanted to keep alive its most innovative product, that work ethic that in its original formulations constituted a valuable meeting ground for different classes.
Anthologies and Dictionaries
G. Gambirasio, ed., Antologia di poesie bergamasche, Bergamo: Ed. San Marco, 1969.
F. Cherubini, Vocabolario milanese-italiano, Milan: Dall'Imperiale Regia Stamperia, 1893-1943; Milan: Rusconi, 1983
C. Arrighi, Dizionario milanese-italiano, Hoepli 1988.
G. Bezzolo, ed., Poesia milanese dell'Ottocento, Milan: Viennepierre, 1994.
Poeti milanesi contemporanei, edited by S. Pagani Milan:: Ceschina, 1938
A. M. Pizzagalli, A la scoeula de lingua del Verzee.- studi di lingua e letteratura milanese, Milan: Editoriale italiana, 1944
L. Medici, La letteratura milanese dagli albori ai nostri giorni, Milan: Editoriale italiana, 1947
G. Gambirasio, "Sguardo alla poesia vernacola bergamasca," in Atti dell'Ateneo di Bergamo, Bari, 1960-61
F. C. Farra, Il Parnaso dialettale milanese contemporaneo, Milan: Edikon, 1966
F. C. Farra, Poeti e scrittori lombardi: contributi di studi, Milan: Ceschina, 1970
F. C. Farra, Letteratura dialettale milanese, Milan: Città di Milan: 1970
A. Lorenzi, Milano: il nostro secolo: letteratura, teatro, divertimenti e personaggi del '900, Milan: Bramante, 1969
S. Pagani, Ciao Milano: appunti di letteratura milanese, Milan: Virgilio, 1978
U. Zanetti, "La letteratura dialettale bergamasca del nostro secolo," in Bergomum, January-June 1978
G. Bèzzola, "Ieri e oggi: aspetti culturali del dialetto lombardo," in Otto/Novecento, IV, 3-4, 1980
G. Bezzola, Florilegio di poesie milanesi dal Seicento a oggi, Milan: Garzanti, 1986
C. Beretta, Letteratura milanese: itinerario antologico critico dalle origini a Carlo Porta, Milan: Meravigli, 1982
P. Gibellini, L'Adda ha buona voce: studi di letteratura lombarda dal Sette al Novecento, Rome: Bulzoni, 1984
D. Isella, I lombardi in rivolta. Da Carlo Maria Maggi a Carlo Emilio Gadda, Turin: Einaudi, 1984
F. Brevini, in Poeti dialettali del Novecento, Turin: Einaudi, 1987
F. Brevini, in Le parole perdute, Turin: Einaudi, 1990
F. Brevini, in La poesia in dialetto: storia e testi dalle origini al Novecento, Milan: Mondadori, 1999
G. Spagnoletti and C. Vivaldi, in Poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento a oggi, Milan: Garzanti 1991