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Hinduism and the mystical aestheticism of Gabriele D'Annunzio: "Una sensualita rapita fuor de' sensi".


D'Annunzio's cult of Beauty--his attention to, and interest in, all things beautiful--is well known and has been widely discussed. Yet, the nature of the spirituality which infuses this aestheticism has not been adequately explored due to (mis)interpretations or even an outright rejection of D'Annunzio's religiosity. In discussing the relationship between Hinduism and D'Annunzio, this article reveals the relevance of Hinduism's aesthetics to D'Annunzio's, primarily in the shared concept of the artist's ability--through his or her heightened senses--to perceive the union of the self with the universal soul, or to experience what D'Annunzio calls "una sensualita rapita fuor de' sensi". While placing D'Annunzio in the cultural environment of Orientalism, and noting that he accessed Hindu ideas not only through secondary sources such as Schopenhauer, Romain Rolland, and Angelo Conti, but also through his reading of Orientalist scholars and primary sources (translated into French or Italian), this article demonstrates that in Hindu thought, D'Annunzio found support for, and confirmation of, his own mystic aestheticism.


beauty, Orientalism, religiosity, sensuality, universal soul

"La grande arte di D'Annunzio ha come motivo fondamentale il filtro dei sensi", writes Attilio Momigliano (1972: 606) in his Storia della letteratura italiana, and certainly D'Annunzio's heightened awareness of the beauties of the physical world is what moved him to write. D'Annunzio's name is in fact linked to his cult of Beauty, but the mystic character of his aesthetic experiences--the expressions of the Divine that are so often embedded in his writings about beauty--have been misunderstood or simply rejected. If Momigliano sees in D'Annunzio "l'espressione di un'ammirazione estatica per la bellezza", he also sees D'Annunzio's search for meaning in that beauty to be futile: "la ricerca vana del segreto che essa racchiude in se stessa" (Momigliano, 1972: 601-602). While noting D'Annunzio's "trasfigurazione della sensualita ... in una sfera magica" (Momigliano, 1972: 606), he remains unconvinced of the poet's sincerity: "quella fusione della nota sensuale e della nota religiosa, ... sempre e sembrata nella sua opera il frutto d'una sofisticazione cerebrale" (Momigliano, 1972: 608).

In questioning D'Annunzio's religious interpretation of his aesthetic experiences, Momigliano follows the line of thought of earlier critics, such as Alfredo Gargiulo (1941), Ugo Ojetti (1957), and Benedetto Croce (1947), and he joins the longstanding debate between those who consider D'Annunzio a materialist and a sensualist, and those who have found no conflict between his view of the world and a truly spiritual one. This debate is well articulated by Ferdinando Castelli:
Instancabile cercatore di Dio, e stato definito... E innegabile che in
non poche sue pagine ci s'imbatta in talune folgorazioni e rivelazioni
che costituiscono e riflettono una forte componente religiosa; come
pure sono avvertibili certi aneliti alla sfera del divino. [...]
Comunque sia, il Dio di D'Annunzio e un quid che si perde in sfondi di
panteismo, sincretismo, naturismo, vitalismo. [...] Il Dio di
D'Annunzio, dunque, e il dio-terra, il dio-istinto, il dio-ferinita...
Tutto, eccetto che Dio-persona. In questo arruffio ideologico ha
consumato la sua esistenza ed e approdato al nulla. (Castelli,

Like Momigliano, who judges D'Annunzio's search for spiritual meaning in his experiences of Beauty to be futile, Castelli--writing in La Civilta Cattolica and from a Catholic perspective--sees D'Annunzio's pantheistic search for God as ultimately ending in failure, noting that "gia presso alla morte, D'Annunzio si e definito 'mistico senza Dio'" (Castelli, 1991: 23).

Clearly D'Annunzio's religious beliefs, as expressed in his work, do not conform to those of Christianity. They do, however, mirror many Hindu beliefs, such as the unity of the material world with the spiritual world, the union of the individual soul and the cosmic soul, and--most importantly for the subject of this article--the concept that one can arrive at the knowledge of this union through a heightened sensuality, through an appreciation of life's beauty. In this article I will argue that D'Annunzio's mystic aestheticism--his spiritual interpretation of his sensorial experiences--is closely connected to Hindu aesthetic practices, and that the religious nature of his expressions of the Divine, so often embedded in--and a consequence of--his response to manifestations of beauty, becomes evident when viewed through the prism of Hindu thought. D'Annunzio's personal collection of books relating to India, which I will discuss later in this article, attest to his life-long interest in all aspects of that country: its religion, art, architecture, literature, history, and philosophy. The 'segni di lettura'--D'Annunzio's notes and underlining in many of these texts--show that he was struck by the connection he felt between his way of perceiving reality and Hindu ideas.

In 1903 the writer GA Borgese remarked upon the similarity between D'Annunzio's view of the world and that of Hinduism: "il Pan di Gabriele d'Annunzio", he states, "e collegato col Brahman o Atman degli Indiani" (Borgese, 1922: 45), referring to the Hindu terms for the all-pervading cosmic unity and for the incarnation in the individual of the essence or principle of life. "D'Annunzio sentiva... palpitare una vita universale entro tutte le cose, anche nelle cose che all'occhio comune appariscono insensibili, morte [...] Questa unita panica delle cose era fondamento di talune opinioni religiose degli Indiani" (Borgese, 1922: 29-30). The critic goes on to note that D'Annunzio "ha veduto nelle cose stesse viventi della terra la loro divinita" in the same way that the sacred Hindu texts, the Upanishads, "vedeano nelle selve, nei fiumi, nel mare, il grande Brahma, l'unita indefinibile di tutte le cose" (Borgese, 1922: 34).

A year later, the philosopher Benedetto Croce, while conceding that D'Annunzio had "una certa notizia di dottrine e religioni, che si spinge fino all'India e alle 'Upanishad'" (Croce, 1947: 26), disagrees with Borgese's view of D'Annunzio as perceiving the divinity in all things; rather he sees him as one who reduces everything to the material: "Che cosa e l'intuizione panica [...] se non sentirsi tutt'uno con la natura, spogliare l'umanita e agguagliare la propria spiritualita a quelle delle cose... Non e vita superiore... ma vita bassa e primitiva" (Croce, 1947: 45). Croce's influence is such that Borgese, in his 1909 book Gabriele D'Annunzio, reverses his earlier position; he now feels that "il panteisimo dannunziano ... rivela il piu franco materialismo" (Borgese, 1932: 203).

Ugo Ojetti, in his discussion of what he calls "l'irreligione di Gabriele D'Annunzio", unknowingly points out an important Hindu element in D'Annunzio's thought: the concept of the essential unity of man and God. Ojetti writes:
Se per i panteisti Dio penetra con uno slancio invisibile e
onnipresente tutta la natura, la natura e Dio. L'uomo che sente, come
veramente D'Annunzio senti fino dalla prima giovinezza... la propria
coesione e unita con la natura fatta Dio, non puo distinguere se
stesso da Dio, e percio non puo credere in Dio. (Ojetti, 1957: 325)

Unless, of course, he is Hindu. "The Upanishads", observes the Indian writer M Sircar (1974: 6), "do not observe the least difference between man and God, the human and the divine". "He who lives in man, He who lives in the sun, are one", says the Taittiriya Upanishad (Yeats and Purohit Swami, 1937: 8). D'Annunzio was struck by this concept: in his copy of a collection of essays on India by the philosopher Coomaraswamy (1922: 55), La danse de Civa, the Abruzzese poet underlined the following: '"Devam bhutva, devam yajet': pour adorer le dieu, deviens le dieu".

"Il fascino delli uomini e delle cose orientali"

Hindu ideas were in the air: they had become a component of the cultural landscape of 19th-century Europe, part of the newly discovered 'Orient', which encompassed not only the Far East--Japan, China, and India--but also Persia and the Arab lands. Victor Hugo wrote, in 1829:
On s'occupe beaucoup plus de l'Orient qu'on ne l'a jamais fait. Les
etudes orientales n'ont jamais ete poussees si avant. Au siecle de
Louis XIV on etait helleniste, maintenant on est orientalist...
L'Orient, soit comme image, soit comme pensee, est devenu pour les
intelligences autant que pour les imaginations une sorte de
preoccupation generate. (Hugo, n.d. [1829]: 5-6)

In letters of 1846, Flaubert mentions his enthusiasm for the beauties of the 'Orient'. In one letter we read: "Aujourd'hui j'ai fini Sakountala. L'Inde m'eblouit: c'est superbe. Les etudes que j'ai faites cet hiver sur le brahmanisme n'ont pas ete loin de me rendre fou" (Flaubert, 1926: 310). And in another:
Je m'occupe un peu de l'Orient pour le quart d'heure, non dans un but
scientifique, mais tout pittoresque; je recherche la couleur, la
poesie, ce qui est sonore, ce qu est beau. J'ai lu le Bagavad-gita, le
Nala, un grand travail de Burnouf sur le Bouddhisme, les hymnes du
Rig-Veda, les lois de Manou ... Si tu connais quelque bon travail
(revue des livres) sur les religions ou les philosophes de l'Orient,
indique-le-moi. (Flaubert, 1926: 313)

D'Annunzio himself, who covered the social and cultural events of the day in the journalistic pieces he wrote for La Tribuna, comments in 1885--on the occasion of the success of the Arab poet Sid Larbi--that "ancora dura nei popoli d'Occidente, e durera forse per molto tempo ancora, il fascino delli uomini e delle cose orientali" (Forcella, 1936: 234).

The aesthetic and seductive properties of India were not lost on the young poet. In a letter dated October 11, 1881, to Elda Zucconi, his first love, he addresses her as the lotus-eyed heroine of the Indian epic Ramayana, imagines himself as the hero, Rama, and feigns that the letter was written from "Bhagavapur, sulle rive del Verbudda" (see Figure 1):
'Mia Sita, o tu i cui begli occhi somigliano ai petali del loto ...'

Leggevo jeri mattina un passo del Ramayana, il gigantesco e fulgido
poema di Valmiki, e fantasticavo maravigliosamente di pagode nascoste
tra le palme e di tigri da' fianchi flessuosi striati, fantasticavo di
te, mia Sita. Mi pareva di vederti fra le braccia del tuo Rama, fre le
mie braccia, e di aspirare il soave profumo d'ireos esalante dalla tua
persona. Tu vedi che ad essere amate dai poeti ci si guadagna sempre:
se non altro si viaggia in India, in piena India, senza muoversi di
casa. Chi mi avrebbe levato di mente jeri mattina, per esempio, che io
fossi lo splendido vincitore di Ravana? E quando vennero a chiamarmi
perche la tavola era pronta, io scesi credendo in buona fede di
vedermi servito da fanciulle indiane da la pelle bronzina e dagli
occhi verdastri [...] Perche non dai retta al Re Djanaka? (N.B.
Indianamente e Ramayanamente parlando, il babbo sarebbe il Re Djanaka,
il babbo tuo; il babbo mio sarebbe Kekegi, il perfido Kekegi che mi
tiene in esilio).

Oh, se mi sentisse Valmiki! Mi farebbe impalare per Brama e Budda!
Addio dunque, o mia bella, o mia divina Sita! Ti bacio mille volte la
bocca profumata d'ireos. Addio addio!
Il tuo Rama (1)

In later years, D'Annunzio's interest in India and Hinduism was in all likelihood heightened by his exposure to French authors, for France was a major center of the explosion in Asian studies, and D'Annunzio was always attuned to the latest cultural and literary trends and ideas, ready to make use of them in his writing. Roncoroni, in his introduction to his anthology of D'Annunzio's poetry, says that a defining characteristic of D'Annunzio is his "intenso sperimentalismo" and "febbrile ansia di ricerca" (D'Annunzio, 1978: LXXVII). Romain Rolland compared him to a pike, "a predator lurking 'afloat and still, waiting for ideas'" (quoted in Hughes-Hallett, 2013: 11). And so, in 1885, D'Annunzio informs the readers of his column in La Tribuna of a new book: "un vero libro d'arte e quello di Judith Gautier, Poemes de la Libellule, libro unico, singolarissimo ... sono traduzioni squisite di Poesie giapponesi ..." (Forcella, 1926: 179). Two weeks later, on June 14, D'Annunzio's 'Outa occidentale', "perhaps the first European attempt to write verse in a Japanese meter" (Schwartz, 1927: 54), was published in the Fanfulla della Domenica; D'Annunzio would later include it in the collection La Chimera. (2) Other French writers who were interested in India included Pierre Loti, who was at one time married to Judith Gautier, with whom he wrote La fille du ciel, a Chinese themed drama. Loti was the author of travel books and novels set in 'exotic' lands, and D'Annunzio had 10 of his books in his library, one of which, L'Inde (sans les Anglais), became a source for the novel Forse che si forse che no. (3) Andre Gide, whom D'Annunzio met in 1895 (Tosi, 1981: 5), was so taken with the Gitanjali, prose translations of Bengali poems by Rabindranath Tagore, that he published a French translation, which can be found in D'Annunzio's library along with other works by Tagore in Italian translation.

In fact, the writers who made up D'Annunzio's literary world, both those whom he read and those with whom he was personally acquainted, can be seen as constituting a sort of web or network of Hindu influence. Shelley, often quoted by D'Annunzio, who calls him "divino Shelley" (Forcella, 1937: 407), is said by Indian scholars to "contain echoes of the Upanishads" (Bisoondoyal, 1976: 22). Tolstoy--whose influence is felt in D'Annunzio's novel L'innocente--was another author fascinated by Indian literature. (4) He corresponded with Gandhi and with Romain Rolland (Bisoondoyal, 1976: 64-66), the Nobel Prize-winning writer who played such a vital role in the diffusion of Indian ideas in Europe. D'Annunzio's relationship with Rolland is not easily defined; Hughes-Hallett (2013: 11), in her biography of D'Annunzio, calls Rolland "a friend who became an enemy".

Even before meeting Rolland, D'Annunzio had referred to his doctoral dissertation on the history of opera in Europe and had taken notes from it which he would later use in Il fuoco (Tosi, 1967: 133). The two formed a close friendship when they met in 1897, and they saw each other periodically over the next five years (Tosi, 1963). After 1902, however, D'Annunzio no longer saw his old friend. Rolland's disapproval of D'Annunzio's treatment of Eleonora Duse had caused the two writers to drift apart, and their differing views during the First World War had widened the gap (Rolland, 1947). They did, however, correspond, albeit sporadically, through the years. In a letter of 1910, D'Annunzio wrote: "Je n'ai jamais oublie nos belles heures d'amitie et de musique. Je vous ai suivi dans vos oeuvres plus hautes" (Rolland, 1947: 48). To the question "[D'Annunzio] ha riletto al Vittoriale, come ha fatto per le opere di molti suoi amici francesi, i libri di Romain Rolland?", Tosi replies: "Sembra di no. Non abbiamo trovato al Vittoriale opere di Rolland posteriori alla guerra" (Tosi, 1963: 519). Tosi is mistaken: not only is there a copy of Rolland's Mahatma Gandhi (1924) at the Vittoriale, but it bears a dedication to D'Annunzio in Rolland's own hand. The book shows many emphatic underlinings and marks made by D'Annunzio, indicating a close reading by the Abruzzese poet, who seemed to find correspondences with many of his own ideas. D'Annunzio underlined, for example, the passage which speaks of the kinship of all living things, as epitomized in the Hindu reverence for the cow, which brings one to "realise l'identite de l'homme avec tout ce qui vit", and transports one "au-dela des limites de son espece" (Rolland, 1924: 38). This concept was also embraced by D'Annunzio, who, especially in the poetry collection Maia, often voices the sensation of expanding beyond the boundaries of the human species. (5)

But Romain Rolland's Mahatma Gandhi is only one of more than 70 books relating to India in D'Annunzio's personal library at the Vittoriale degli Italiani (Turoff, 1989: 5-6). These texts include Sanskrit plays, poems, and religious texts (in French or Italian translations); works on Indian philosophy, religion, and mythology; others on Indian art, architecture, and history; several books by modern Indian authors such as Tagore and Krishnamurti; and a handful of travel books by Europeans such as Guido Gozzano and Pierre Loti, who describe their experiences in India. Coomaraswamy's La danse de Civa bears a preface by Romaine Rolland; it was translated from the original English into French by Rolland's sister, Madeleine Rolland.

The many passages underlined by D'Annunzio, as well as the numerous folded-down page corners, provide us with a sort of road-map leading to those sites of Hinduism which most interested him. The poet was struck, among other things, by the Hindu belief in the essential identity of man and God, and the belief that the unity of all life annuls any distinction between the material and the spiritual. He was struck by the Hindu sense of aesthetics, its literary imagery, and its practice of asceticism as a path to power and to a state where one is beyond human concerns. D'Annunzio noted Hinduism's celebration of the sensual pleasures of this world, and its view that one means of reaching the Divine is through intense sensorial experiences: when the senses are heightened, the 'doors of perception' (6) are thrown open, and one is flooded with the infinite fullness of life. And so the poet underlines, in his copy of Coomaraswamy's La danse de Civa, the Hindu phrase: '"Devam bhutva, devam yajet': pour adorer le dieu, deviens le dieu" (Coomaraswamy, 1922: 55).

"To adore god, become god"

Even as an adolescent, D'Annunzio had felt the divinity to be present in all of creation. In 1881 in a letter to Elda Zucconi, his first love, he asks: "Chi siamo noi? dimmelo. non siamo iddii?" (D'Annunzio, 1982: 847). The poet, time and again, tells us that this knowledge of his own divinity results from his intense connection to the natural world: union with the Divine, for D'Annunzio, is reached through union with the natural world. His aestheticism serves a higher purpose; his adoration of Beauty leads beyond Beauty itself.

In his first collection of poetry, Primo vere (1878-1880), the teenaged poet, in a poem entitled 'Oblivia', describes his sense of liberation as his soul loses itself in Nature:
L'immensa solitudine secura
m'avvolge in sua magia;
ne '1 sentimento de l'alma Natura
la mia anima s'oblia,
e vola, vola per oceani ignoti
come candido augello a' piu remoti
lidi dell'oriente. (D'Annunzio, 1982: 18)

This type of sentiment, while not uncommon in poetry, is particularly Hindu in spirit. In Les Grands Inities, (7) two copies of which are found in D'Annunzio's personal library, Schure praises the Vedic hymns for their feeling of the divine in nature, and for their sentiment of "la grande unite qui penetre le tout" (Schure, 1889: 17). The great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, a contemporary of D'Annunzio, speaks of his longing to be one with nature as typical of the Hindu desire for "the expansion of consciousness" (Tagore, 1931: 174), and Maurice Parmelee (1928) notes that Hindu mysticism is characterized by the search for union with the universal consciousness or world soul, believed to be present in all things.

In D'Annunzio's next collection of poetry, Canto novo (1881), his connection to Hindu thought becomes clearer: the idea of loss of self in nature is joined with that of the divinity and unity of all creation, including the self. In 'Canto del sole, IV', the aesthetic delights perceived by the poet--trembling waters, trembling trees, jewel-like colors, enveloping winds--are experienced, and then, like elements of an alchemic brew, transformed into something new:
[...] ed io
scenda nel profondo mistero a congiungermi in gioia
con la Immortale, io fatto splendido come un nume.
ecco, e trionfa il sole ... O fremiti freschi de l'acque
riscintillanti d'ambre e di topazii!
fremiti novi de gli alberi su le colline
a l'alitare largo del maestral, vi sento
nel cuore palpitante, ne i nervi, nel sangue, e una strofe
e ogni fremito, una divina strofe
che vola a l'immenso poema di tutte le cose.
Io--grida entro una voce--non son io dunque un nume? (D'Annunzio,
1982: 143-144)

In 'Canto del sole, XII', the last of the cycle, D'Annunzio hears in nature the "immense voice of a thousand gods" and feels "the god" within himself:
[...] Balzami libero vivo nel seno
il cuore, al gran maggio, al gran selvaggio canto
che palpita al bosco, che palpita al mare, che sale
su da la verde messe, su da la vigna in fiore,
che immenso ondeggia pe' glauchi cieli diffusi,
nembi d'effluvii, turbine di pollini,
nel sole nel sole nel sole, esultante squillante
tonante immensa voce di mille iddii.
e non il dio e in me? Il palpito eterno del Mondo
questo non e, che il mio cuore mortale muove?
Non vivono forse i germi di tutte le vite
ne la mia vita umana? Sento il prodigio instare. (D'Annunzio, 1982:

In D'Annunzio's aesthetic appreciation of Beauty both natural and human--clouds of effluvia, whirlwinds of pollen, flowering vineyards, green harvests--all is ultimately subsumed into an immense and wild song: the voice of a thousand gods, pulsating over the sea and the woods. The poet's view of nature is closely aligned with the Hindu view of nature, such as he would have read of it in his copy of Louis Jacolliot's La Bible dans l'Inde, where the author tells us: "Le Gange qui roule [...] c'est Dieu; la mere qui gronde, c'est lui; les vents qui soufflent, c'est lui, la nue qui tonne, l'eclair qui brille, c'est lui" (Jacolliot, 1869: 56). In the same source, the Hindu prayer to the deity is invoked: "Viens a moi, que j'entende ta voix dans le fremissement des feuilles, dans le murmure des eaux du fleuve sacre, dans le petillement de la flamme de l'Avasathya (feu consacre)" (Jacolliot, 1869: 254).

This Hindu prayer will be echoed by D'Annunzio in 'L'Annunzio', first published in 1899 and then adopted as one of two poems which introduce the Laudi:
Cantero i tuoi mille nomi e le tue membra
innumerevoli, perocche la fiamma e la semenza,
l'alveare ed il gregge,
l'oceano e la luna, la montagna ed il porno
sono le tue membra, Signore. (D'Annunzio, 1984: 10)

If in 'Canto del sole' the poet had experienced his miraculous transformation into the divine--"Sento il prodigio instare"--in 'L'Annunzio' he describes the anticipatory sensation of awaiting that "prodigio", as his senses absorb the heat, the light, the aroma, the colors, and all is transformed into "l'Eterna Fonte":
Tutto era silenzio, luce, forza, desio.
L'attesa del prodigio gonfiava questo mio
cuore come il cuor del mondo.
La sostanza del Sole era la mia sostanza.
Erano in me i cieli infiniti, l'abondanza
dei piani, il Mar profondo.
e il dio mi disse: "O tu che canti,
io son l'Eterna Fonte...." (D'Annunzio, 1984: 9-10)

GA Borgese noted that the Pan celebrated in this poem is "piu grande e piu potente del caprino dio delle ecloghe"; he is "lo spirito uno delle cose diverse" (Borgese, 1922: 29), and as such, can justly be compared to "il grande Brahma, l'unita indefinibile di tutte le cose" (Borgese, 1922: 34). D'Annunzio responds to the manifestation of beauty which is the sun by going beyond that beauty to focus on its essence, and to feel his oneness with that essence. The verse "La sostanza del Sole era la mia sostanza" strongly echoes the Upanishadic aphorism: "He who lives in man, He who lives in the sun, are one." (8) The distinction between the phenomenon of the Sun and the noumenon of its essence, put into poetry by D'Annunzio, is also in this Hindu prayer, from the Isa-Upanishad, in G Pauthier's Les Livres Sacres de l'Orient (1842), a book which D'Annunzio had in his personal library: "O Soleil! [...] ecarte tes rayons eblouissants, retiens ton eclatante lumiere, afin que je puisse contempler ta forme ravissante, et devenir partie de l'Etre divin qui si meut dans toi!" (Pauthier, 1842: 330).

Returning to the concept of to adore god, become god', we note that in 'Canto del sole, XII', the poet moves from aesthetic appreciation of what is before him--beauty both natural and human-made--to a deification of the world, "selvaggio canto [...] immensa voce di mille iddii", and then to an appropriation of that deification. He arrives at a momentous realization, posed as a rhetorical question: is he not the mover of the World; is his life not the source of all life?
E non il dio e in me? Il palpito eterno del Mondo
questo non e, che il mio cuore mortale muove?
Non vivono forse i germi di tutte le vite
ne la mia vita umana? Sento il prodigio instare. (D'Annunzio, 1982:

D'Annunzio makes his own the words of the Brahman, reported in Jacolliot's La Genese de l'Humanite (a copy of which is in D'Annunzio's library): "Je suis moi-meme un Dieu [...] je entends que chaque etre sur la terre, si petit qu'il soit, est une portion immortelle de l'immortelle matiere" (Jacolliot, 1875: 339). In another book found in his library, Les religions et les langues de l'Inde, the Italian poet would have read of the Hindu belief that "chaque etre avait en lui-meme un germe de 1'Eternel" (Cust, 1880: 21). And in D'Annunzio's self-aggrandizement--"il palpito eterno del Mondo/ [...] il mio cuore mortale muove"--we hear the echo of the words of the sage Trisanku, who, in the Taittiriya Upanishad, realizing his identity with the Supreme, proclaims: "I am the mover of the tree"--the tree being a Hindu symbol for the World (Radhakrishnan, 1968: 537).

And it is no coincidence that we also hear Schopenhauer, who was much taken with the Vedas and the Upanishads. The German philosopher writes that one can become so absorbed in the perception of nature that one becomes the object contemplated, and, "as purely knowing subject, becomes in this way immediately aware that, as such, he is the condition, and hence the supporter, of this world and of all objective existence, for this now shows itself as dependent on his existence". Schopenhauer then goes on to refer to the Upanishad as a means of illustrating his point:
He therefore draws nature into himself, so that he feels it to be only
an accident of his own being [...] [He will] be moved by the
consciousness of what the Upanishad of the Veda expresses: "Hae omnes
creaturae in totum ego sum, et praeter [a] me alliud (ens) non est."
(Schopenhauer, 1958: 180-181)

The translation given of the Latin text is "I am all this creation collectively, and besides me there exists no other being". Further on, Schopenhauer turns to another Hindu phrase to support his belief in the essential unity of all life:
We see in it [nature] the manifest grades and modes of manifestation
of the will that is one and the same in all being [...] if we had to
convey to the beholder, for reflection and in a word, the explanation
and information about their inner nature, it would be best for us to
use the Sanskrit formula which occurs so often in the sacred books of
the Hindus, and is called "Mahavakya," i.e., the great word: "Tat tvam
asi," which means "This living thing art thou." (Schopenhauer, 1958:

Andrea Sperelli, protagonist of Il piacere, convalescing in the country after a duel, uses these very words of Schopenhauer to describe the mystical state he enters into:
il suo spirito [...] diveniva aperto alla pura conoscenza, disposto
alla pura contemplazione; attirava in se le cose, le concepiva come
modalita del suo proprio essere, come forme della sua propria
esistenza; si sentiva inline penetrato alla verita che proclama
l'Oupanischad dei Veda: "Hae omnes creaturae in totum ego sum, et
praeter me aliud ens non est." Il gran soffio d'idealita che esalano i
libri sacri indiani, studiati e amati un tempo, pareva lo sollevasse.
E tornava a risplendergli singolarmente la formula sanscrita chiamata
Mahavakya cioe la Gran Parola: TAT TWAM ASI," che significa: "Questa
cosa vivente, sei tu." (D'Annunzio, 1988: 132)

This mystical state is arrived at through Sperelli's aesthetic experiencing of Nature, through his intense empathetic response to manifestations of Beauty:
Andrea Sperelli si riaffacciava all'esistenza in conspetto del mare.
Poiche ancora in noi la natura simpatica persiste e poiche la nostra
vecchia anima abbracciata dalla grande anima naturale palpita ancora a
tal contatto, il convalescente misurava il suo respiro sul largo e
tranquillo respiro del mare, ergeva il suo corpo a similitudine de'
validi alberi, sereneva il suo pensiero alla serenita degli orizzonti.
(D'Annunzio, 1988: 132)

Hindu aesthetics and "Una sensualita rapita fuor de' sensi"

It is worth noting here that Hinduism recognizes at least two types of mysticism (Sircar, 1974). In the Vedas, the forces of nature are felt to be living and powerful, and the Divine is revealed through them. D'Annunzio has expressed this type of mysticism in much of his work; I have called it 'aesthetic mysticism', for it depends upon an intense aesthetic appreciation of the material world. The Upanishads, on the other hand, teach that truth is found through transcendent intuition, based on the inward search of the soul, not on external phenomena. This higher level of mysticism is marked by the realization of identity ("Tat tvam asi"--"This living thing art thou"); in it the "ordinary polarity of consciousness is denied" (Sircar, 1974: 36). Once one has arrived at that transcendental state, "the subtle joys of life are lost in the timeless focus of existence. The truths of relative existence [...] vanish" (Sircar, 1974: 44). D'Annunzio approaches this level of mysticism at certain moments throughout his work, as in, for example, the passages quoted from Il piacere, in certain passages of the novel Il trionfo della morte, and in poems such as 'Dal Monte Pincio', from the collection Elegie romane, and--as we see below--in 'Purificazione', included in the 1884 edition of Intermezzo di rime. For D'Annunzio, however, the attainment of this mystical state depends on his intense sensorial experiences of the natural world.
Quando le cose ne l'ardore intenso
alenanti si accasciano, e spietate
versono le cicale per l'immenso
ozio un rio d'inni a la profonda estate,
io mi rendo a la terra. Unico il senso
de l'essere le membra dilatate
mi regna: io piu non soffro, io piu non penso,
io son libero al fine, divino apate.
La terra madre mi conservi! Io viva
ne la mia forza inconsciente,
godendo il sole, come un vegetale.
M'infastidisce omai questa cattiva
commedia che tien vigile la gente,
questa commedia del bene e del male. (D'Annunzio, 1982: 339)

We all, of course, perceive the world through our senses, but poets, it can be argued, pay more attention than most. And D'Annunzio feels his senses to be not only unusually sharp--writing in Prose di ricerca II that "la mia visione e una sorta di magia pratica che si esercita su i piu comuni oggetti" (D'Annunzio, 1962: 41)--but also instruments which lead him to a meaning within all that he perceives. He notes this more than once; in 1929 he writes of "l'estrema acuita de' miei sensi: la vista, l'udito, il palato, e gli altri sensi, e quelli di la dai cinque [...] il bisogno di esprimere tutto quel che mi appare per segni" (9) (emphasis in the original). In the Libro segreto, he speaks of "una sensualita rapita fuor de' sensi" (D'Annunzio, 1962: 878) and, in a section entitled 'Lo splendore della sensualita', in La seconda amante di Lucrezia Buti, he grants a place of privilege to his sensuality, saying it is "all'origine di tutta la mia prole spirituale" (D'Annunzio, 1962: 379).

The idea that the creative process entails both a forgetfulness of the self and an expansion of the self is basic to Indian aesthetics. The merging of the self with the object of contemplation is identical, states Coomaraswamy, philosopher and art historian, in the worshipper, the artist, and the practitioner of yoga: the Hindu mind considers "l'exercice de l'art comme une forme di yoga et identifie l'emotion esthetique avec celle que l'on ressent lorsque le moi percoit le Moi" (Coomaraswamy, 1922: 49). The artist uses the techniques of yoga in contemplating his/her subject, and the intense level of concentration required necessitates, says Coomaraswamy--in a sentence underlined by D'Annunzio--that the artist "doit travailler dans la solitude ou quand un autre artiste est present, jamais devant un profane" (Coomaraswamy, 1922: 60). Romaine Rolland, who was so influential in the diffusion of Indian culture, spoke of this Hindu view of the artist as particularly sensitive to the mystic possibilities of nature. He writes of the Bengali poet and mystic Rabindranath Tagore (some of whose works can be found in D'Annunzio's library): "Tagore, traitant de Fart en general, insiste sur l'incessant communion de l'artiste indien avec la nature, sur l'esprit cosmique dont il est penetre" (Rolland, 1968: 110). Tagore himself says:
There was a longing in me when young to run away from my own self and
be one with everything in Nature. This mood appears to be particularly
Indian, the outcome of a traditional desire for the expansion of
consciousness. (Tagore, 1931: 174)

Angelo Conti, "buddista propagatore del verbo di Schopenhauer" (Guabello, 1948: 17), provided an earlier exposure to Hindu aesthetics. The two met in 1882 and became close friends and intellectual partners: for D'Annunzio, Conti is "l'aggiornato interprete delle nuove tendenze mistico-estetiche circolanti in Europa", as Pietro Gibellini writes in his introduction to the 2000 edition of Conti's La beata riva (Conti, 2000: xii). Gibellini concisely explains the intimate connection between Conti's book and D'Annunzio's novel, Il fuoco, both of which were published in 1900:
Cade quest'anno il centenario della pubblicazione della Beata riva, la
piccola bibbia dell'estetismo italiano fin de siecle. L'editore Treves
la mise in commercio il 1 marzo 1900 insieme al Fuoco di Gabriele
d'Annunzio, come se le due opere componessero un dittico: nel romanzo
[...] erano riversate, sotto forma di colloquio fra il poeta Stelio
Effrena e il critico Daniele Glauro, le discussioni sull'arte che i
due amici avevano fatto passeggiando lungo la Riva degli Schiavoni;
nel trattato, quegli stessi discorsi erano trasformati in dialoghi di
stile platonico fra Ariele e Gabriele. (Conti, 2000: ix)

The Hindu philosophy contained in the Vedas, along with the ideas of Plato, Kant, and Schopenhauer, are at the core of Conti's aesthetics, as he emphatically states in the second chapter of the treatise:
Ma se i gradi d'intuizione o di conoscenza del mondo possono essere
infiniti, uno solo e il punto di vista dal quale e possibile essere
pittore, scultore, poeta; ed e quello della filosofia dei Veda, di
Parmenide, d'Empedocle, di Platone, di Emmanuel Kant e di Arturo
Schopenhauer. (Conti, 2000: 20, emphasis in original)

The ability to conceive of the union of the individual soul with the cosmic soul, a basic goal of Hinduism, is understood by Conti to be the gift of the true artist, who is able to see past what the Hindus call Maya, the veil of appearances, to the essence of reality:
Ottenuta adunque la calma perfetta che il dolore da un lato, e la
contemplazione e l'emozione estetica dall'altro, donano allo spirito,
l'uomo e la natura si trovano in contatto immediato, e la parola che
la natura dice, l'uomo puo ascoltare senza che nessun rumore
dell'esistenza ne alteri o ne veli il suono e la significazione.
(Conti, 2000: 12)

L'artista e un'anima la quale [...] puo mettersi in relazione con
l'anima delle cose. Diremo anzi, per maggiore esattezza, che
l'artista, durante la contemplazione estetica, e un'anima singola, la
quale gradatamente si perde nell'anima universale; diremo ch'egli e
una volonta la quale gradatamente s'annulla in una volonta piu vasta e
piu profonda. (Conti, 2000:11)

We have seen D'Annunzio express this sense of loss of self and expansion of self in poems such as 'Canto del Sole' and 'L'Annunzio', as well as in Il piacere. It is in fact a theme which surfaces throughout his work, as Mario Ferrara has noted, referring to the Upanishadic Tat tvam asi ('This living thing art thou'):
E dell'intuizione conclusa nel "tat twam asi"--fondamento di tanti
altri testi vedici--D'Annunzio variera la modulazione fino all'ultimo
suo libro--dove la formula e esplicitamente ripresa--dopo averne
toccato nell'alcionio "Meriggio" la piu perfetta espressione lirica
[...] In Alcione quell'intuizione si traduce e realizza in piena
concretezza lirica--cosi come nelle prose piu mature dalle prime
Faville alla Licenza delta Leda si esprimera in consapevole e sofferta
meditazione. (Ferrara, 1981: 69)

As Gibellini points out in his excellent footnotes to La beata riva, much of Conti's aesthetic philosophy is to be found in D'Annunzio's Il fuoco. Stelio Effrena, its protagonist, is a famed poet and aspiring playwright who has made his art the purpose and mission of his life. He is aware of the Hindu doctrine of Maya, that "veil of deception" which is the phenomenal world (Schopenhauer, 1958: 8), and he is aware that there exists a level of reality beyond it. His friend and fellow aesthete Daniele Glauro, the fictional representation of Angelo Conti, tells him:
Nessuna sensualita e piu ardente della tua; ma i tuoi sensi sono cosi
acuti che godendo delle apparenze penetrano fin nel piu profondo e
incontrano il mistero [...] La tua visione si prolunga oltre il velo
su cui la vita dipinge le sue figure voluttuose nelle quali tu ti
compiaci. (D'Annunzio, 1942: 600)

Stelio, although sensitive to the mysterious essence beyond appearances, nevertheless glorifies the splendid, beautiful, and voluptuous aspects of the phenomenal world. This is not contrary to Hindu philosophy, which--unless one has chosen the path of asceticism--allows for the enjoyment of earthly pleasure.

And this sensual aspect of Hinduism--an aestheticism not mystical, but very much of this world--greatly appealed to D'Annunzio. He would have appreciated, in his copy of Bhartrihari's Stances erotiques, morales et religieuses, the following: "Il faut se reposer dans les eaux du Gange qui lavent les souillures du peche, ou sur les seins ravissants et ornees de colliers de perles d'une toute jeune fille" (Bhartrihari, 1875: 10). In his copy of La litterature Sanscrite, the poet known for giving his paramours new names of his own design marked the following proclamation, from the Laws of Manu, the ancient Hindu legal code: "Le nom d'une femme doit etre facile de prononcer, doux, clair, agreable, il doit se terminer par des voyelles longues, et ressembler a des paroles de benediction" (Frilley, n.d.: 55). Jacolliot uses an image to describe the oppression of India that brings to mind D'Annunzio's San Sebastien, condemned by the Emperor to die smothered by flowers--and the passage is, in fact, marked by D'Annunzio: "Un peuple souriant avec indifference sous la main de fer qui le tue, se couronnant de fleurs aux jours de famine, pour mourir avec grace comme l'athlete romain" (Jacolliot, 1869: 9).

And yet, there is still that aspect of the Hindu appreciation of Beauty which can lead to mystical knowledge. This is an aestheticism to which our Abruzzese poet can relate, as he shows when he underlines this statement in his copy of La danse de Civa: "L'Inde n'a jamais pu echapper a la conviction que l'amour sexuel a une profonde signification spirituelle" (Coomaraswamy, 1922: 189). Or this passage from Jacolliot's La Bible dans l'Inde, where the author tells us that God is to be found not only in the sacred Vedas, but in the beauty of life as well: "J'ai entendu les poetes chanter [...] et l'amour, les parfums, les fleurs et la beaute, leur donnaient, eux aussi, des enseignements divins" (Jacolliot, 1869: 8).

D'Annunzio's discovery of Hindu art, literature, religion, and philosophy enriched and confirmed his aesthetic and sensual view of the world. His deep interest in India can be seen in his personal collection of more than 70 books on all aspects of that country, and in the many Hindu themes that appear, like bright threads in a bolt of fabric, throughout his work.


(1.) This letter, numbered 32288, can be found at the archives of the Vittoriale degli Italiani. When I was doing research there, the letter was very kindly indicated to me by Mrs Vera Mariano, who had undertaken the task of organizing D'Annunzio's letters.

(2.) For D'Annunzio's complicated relationship with Japanese culture, see Turoff (2005).

(3.) Turoff (1990) argues that D'Annunzio's religiosity is best understood when one becomes aware of his readings in, and exposure to, Hindu ideas. Thus, it provides a basis for this article's discussion of Hinduism and D'Annunzio, but it does not focus on, or discuss to any extent, the connection between Dannunzian aestheticism and Hindu aesthetic ideas.

(4.) See D'Annunzio (1942: 423, 438-440) for instances of this influence.

(5.) Valesio (1992: 112) notes that in the interpretations of the title 'Maia,' one should "include the component of Eastern mythologies and religions, to which D'Annunzio dedicates much attention [...] In Hinduism, Maia (Sanskrit maya) is the world as beautiful but mutable and having an illusory appearance, like a multicolored veil".

(6.) I adopt the phrase from the title of Aldous Huxley's essay, The Doors of Perception, published in 1954. The epigraph of this book is a quote from William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."

(7.) D'Annunzio had two copies of this book: one with the publication date of 1889 and the other dated 1912. The earlier edition has no 'segni di lettura'--D'Annunzio often underlined passages or folded down page corners in his books--but bears the following handwritten dedication: "Al mio carissimo amico Angelo Conti", signed 'Marius de Maria'. The later edition has numerous 'segni di lettura'.

(8.) Quoted earlier in this article.

(9.) September 11, 1929, Archivio personale del Vittoriale, ms 14501. The quote can also be found in Andreoli (1984: 1) and Oliva (1992: 93).

Barbara Turoff

Pratt Institute, USA

Corresponding author:

Barbara Turoff, Humanities and Media Studies, Pratt Institute, 200 Willoughby Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11205, USA.



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Barbara Turoff

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Corresponding author:

Barbara Turoff, Humanities and Media Studies, Pratt Institute, 200 Willoughby Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11205, USA.

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