Our man in Ponte a Serraglio is now whiter than white in his resplendently cleaned-up Carrara marble nudity. Yesterday we passed him and had to put on our sunglasses to avoid being dazzled by his effulgent glory. I’ve mentioned the soldier in a previous post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/whiter-than-white/
To recap: the statue was sculpted by Alberto Cheli in 1923 and is in a markedly neo-classical style with leanings towards fascist grandiloquence. Its material is marble, and the steps are in pietra Serena.
Alberto Cheli was born in 1888 at Pieve Fosciana in the upper Serchio valley (where he also sculpted a war memorial). Cheli studied under Luccan Francesco Petroni. In 1932 he married Adalgisa Panconi, from whom he had twins, Giorgio and Lio. Among Cheli’s other monuments is one commemorating the poet Virgil in the Italian colony of Rosario Argentina (1930). He died in 1947 in Lucca.
It’s even more important today to preserve and conserve our war memorials for mankind has learnt nothing about the futility of war.
English war poetry is well-known to most of us. The patriotic myth of war as expounded by the likes of Rupert Brooke (If I should die, think only this of me; (…there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England etc,’) was largely demolished by the gritty realism of the verses of Wilfrid Owen so full of poignant ironies. g.g. in ‘Strange meeting”:
“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .”
But what about Italian war poetry of the same period? It’s clear the triumphal-heroic mode was elegantly expounded by the likes of D’annunzio (see my post on him at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/superman-or-satanist/ ). But was there anyone writing in Italy who approached the tragic reality of warfare in a way similar to that of Wilfrid Owen (who died just days between the armistice ended the greatest slaughter mankind has seen).
I can only think of Giuseppe Ungaretti who wrote disarmingly short poems, almost haiku like in form and sentiment, but which are full of cosmic resonances. Here’s one called ‘Soldati’ (soldiers).
Si sta come
(We are here
as leaves from
trees in autumn)
I wonder whether the restored statue at Ponte a Serraglio will be regarded in future years as a glorification of war heroism or as a poignant aspect of the greatest and most tragic aberration of the human psyche?