Only in the last section of this collection does the great Italian master (who died in 1981) speak about his own poetry--always with care, sometimes almost diffidently. But Montale's sensibility--one of the most acute artistic intelligences of the century--is manifest throughout this impeccably translated and edited essay-collection: whether the subject is opera, T. S. Eliot, Braque, Stravinsky, or ""hermeticism,"" Montale's own viewpoint is always that of the artist who has (as he says of Donizetti) ""the capacity of the authentic talent to play with an open hand."" Throughout, then, Montale writes about great artists while also, implicitly, describing his own artistry. The artist, he says, must maintain a certain ego-diminished watchfulness (a quality, in fact, of much Montale poetry). ""One needs to live his own contradictions without loopholes, but also without enjoying it too much. Without making it into polite gossip."" And thus the man who makes art finds that art--in a circular fashion--is ""the form of life of the man who truly doesn't live: a compensation or a surrogate. Which is not to justify a deliberate ivory-tower attitude: a poet mustn't renounce life. It's life that undertakes to flee from him."" Who are these great artists for Montale? They include--in startlingly, relaxedly brilliant essays--Dante, Verdi, a few of the English poets, and (in a magisterial, nearly archaeological piece) Italo Svevo. Ezra Pound, too, receives deeply original illumination: ""The search for a frame adequate to contain the latticework, to cover an abundant series of morceaux-choisis. An epic-pretext, in short. . . . For him sociology and economics became an ever more obsessing Dada."" And, throughout, Montale--one of the rare poets to be genuinely unafraid of criticism--proves himself to be a guide to lyrical art matched only perhaps, in this century, by Mandelstam: ""The objective looks for a justification in the subjective which it implies, in the spirit; the impurity, if it is shooed away from the door, reenters through the window."" For serious students of the philosophy/psychology of the poetic arts: a mandatory volume.