Umberto Saba cultivated poetic individuality to such a paradoxical extreme that his poems often read as though written by an anonymous author. Aspiring to be simply “a man among men,” he yet found himself lapped in continual ripples of singularity. Perhaps this was one reason why, in Stephen Sartarelli’s new translation,[1] he could speak of

a sudden yearning to be outside
of myself, to live the life
of everyone,
to be like every

In actuality, Saba was a Jew married to an “Aryan” wife in a Catholic country; menaced by both fascists and Nazis, he remained in Italy, often in hiding, through- out the war years. He was a homosexual who reveled in and celebrated conventional married life. A city dweller to his fingertips, he loved the country and ...

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