Dino Campana, Poète Maudit

The tragic case. The artist apart. Mixing dreams with metaphors of wandering in and out of dreams. Mixing ancient, primal scenes, Mediterranean blood, the gods and goddesses of our imagination with the teeming cities and futurism of the early 1900s. Never able to quite express it. Never able to stay fully enough in the moment to be rationally, carefully mad. Rationally, carefully behind the words as the world engulfs you. Because of the world. Because of woman.

Dino Campana is one of the most remarkable poets of the 20th century. His Canti Orfici ranks with Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Rilke’s Duino Elegies for visionary, hallucinatory power. All of these lyric poets were inveterate wanderers, almost at home with homelessness, able to get close enough to the Other without destroying it or losing it . . . except for Campana. He finally succumbed to the Other in 1918 and was permanently confined in an asylum. He died of septicemia in 1932.

Campana was heavily influenced by Rimbaud, Poe, Whitman, Nietzsche and the futurists. He regretted not studying literature in college, instead opting for chemistry. He said literature might have saved him. He needed saving. The Italian countryside, Tuscany, Florence, Bologna, off to Argentina, back to Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, back to Italy, wandering, being forced into sanitoria. Wandering. Freedom and confinement. Dreams, escape from and into dreams. Then harsh realities all too often. Art from extremis.

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From my point of view, his prose poems were stronger than his verse. Like Rimbaud, he may have needed the extra room to breathe through extended sentences, paragraphs, pages. Some critics think he may have developed his verse if he had worked at it longer, if he had not succumbed to a kind of madness that put him forever in the sanitorium. The wanderer needed less development on his poetic prose.

Will try my hand at retranslations of some of his work in my next post or soon after . . .

*Charles Wright translated Campana’s Canti orfici as Orphic Songs, in 1984.


Dino Campana, Poète Maudit
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