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In Wonder, Love and Praise

Approaches to Poetry, Theology and Philosophy

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Edited By Martin Potter, Malgorzata Grzegorzewska and Jean Ward

This collection of essays explores poetry’s contribution to the expression of theological wonder, which can occur both in ordinary life and in the natural world or can arise in the context of explicitly supernatural mystical experience. Poets have a special role in capturing religious awe in ways beyond the power of discursive language. Some essays in this book approach the subject on a theoretical level, working with theology, philosophy and literary criticism. Others provide close readings of poems in which the engagement with a variously understood idea or experience of wonder is prominent, from the English-language tradition and outside it. Poets from culturally and historically different backgrounds are thus drawn together through the focus on the meaning of wonder.

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The Roots of Eugenio Montale’s “Saddened Wonder”

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Abstract: By recourse to philosophy, this essay explores the reasons for the unusual connection between the word “wonder” and the adjective “saddened” made by the Italian poet Eugenio Montale in his poem “Meriggiare” and in his masterpiece collection Cuttlefish Bones. The discussion hints at the possibility for the poet of overcoming this existential, metaphysical feeling of unhappiness, leaving hope for a positive kind of wonder.

Keywords: wonder, sadness, solitude, modernity, gift

The word “wonder” is usually related to positive meanings and emotions. We say, for example, that wonder allows us to investigate the reality and mystery of the universe, to see and appreciate beauty; we say that it enables us to start questioning and aids us in the search for wisdom. We also associate wonder with positive feelings, such as amazement, awe, admiration and delighted surprise, as well as with remarkable, extraordinary actions by gifted people, actions which go beyond ordinary human capacities and possibilities.

These positive associations, however, contrast strikingly with the unusual connection explored in this essay between the noun “wonder” and the adjective “saddened”. The expression “saddened wonder” (“triste meraviglia”) emerges from the last stanza of “Meriggiare”, one of the first and most celebrated poems of the Italian lyric poet Eugenio Montale. Written in 1916 and published eight years later, it is included in his first collection Ossi di seppia, or Cuttlefish Bones in the English translation by William Arrowsmith. This poem is to my knowledge the only one...

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