restricted access "For Having Slept Much the Dead Have Grown Strong": Emanuel Carnevali and William Carlos Williams
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"For Having Slept Much the Dead Have Grown Strong":
Emanuel Carnevali and William Carlos Williams

Near the end of Tale One of his autobiographical memoir, A Hurried Man (1925), Emanuel Carnevali proclaims:

I'm as light as a rubber ball. I'm a butterfly and no tragedy has shaken the light dust from my wings, no tragedy will. . . . I'm on a journey beyond you and your things, you and your colors and words. On the mountains, over this city and that, I am the bird that has no nest, I am the happy stranger, I'm sailing under the sun.


At the time that he wrote these words, Carnevali was likely unaware of the debilitating illness that awaited him. Projecting for himself a grand adventure beyond the limits of language and society, he embraces his lack of communal ties and affiliation. Celebrating a self-imposed exile, he imagines himself soaring above social obligation and responsibility, rushing from place to place wherever the winds might blow him. His epic journey would take him from Italy to the United States and back again: from Florence where he was born in 1898 to Turin, Bologna and Venice, to New York City and Chicago, and finally back to Italy, Bazzano this time, where he would migrate between hospitals and sanatoriums until his death in the early 1940s. The time he spent in the United States was relatively brief—he arrived in 1914 and returned to Italy in the early 1920s after being diagnosed with encephalitis lethargica.1 And yet, as Carl Sandburg so eloquently put it: "His writings are the record of a personality that burned with twentieth century [End Page 137] flames, and that was marvelously alive to the intensities and contrasts of American life" (AEC 19).2

Despite his comparatively short stay in the United States, Carnevali found himself at the center of early twentieth-century American poetry in the years between World Wars I and II. His poems and prose were published in Poetry, Others, and The Little Review, three important venues for modernist art and literature. His work appeared alongside contributions from Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Williams described Carnevali as one of "two prominent one-book men about New York in those days who promised great things" and dedicated the final issue of Others to Carnevali in July of 1919 (A 266). He likely saw Carnevali as an ally in the celebration of a uniquely American literary tradition and appreciated the young writer's zealotry, and was not alone in his appreciation of Carnevali's enthusiasm and dedication to literature. In fact, Carnevali befriended a number of other members of the early twentieth-century American literati including Sherwood Anderson, Kay Boyle, Robert McAlmon, Harriet Monroe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, and Ernest Walsh. That many of these writers, including Williams, would go to great lengths to help publish his writing and support Carnevali's medical care towards the end of his life underlines his importance in the American poetic scene in the early 1920s.

More recently, calling Carnevali "an almost Mythological figure," Dennis Barone remarks, "Anyone who knows anything about poetry written in English between the two World Wars knows the name Carnevali, but almost no one knows the words of the wonderful work he wrote" (87). Mario Domenichelli agrees, arguing that Carnevali was "more than a poet" and was the "embodiment of the late-Romantic myth of the poet in which life and poetry . . . take one and the same shape" (83). And yet, despite the vitality and vigor of Carnevali's contribution to American letters, he has faded almost into oblivion, and his work has vanished from the canon of modern poetry. This essay will explore Emanuel Carnevali's role in early twentieth-century American literature and his relationship with Williams in an effort to explain why Williams not only dedicated the final issue of Others to Carnevali, but also sent him regular monetary gifts until the start of the Second World War. In short, Williams likely saw Carnevali as a kindred spirit: a fellow firebrand who embraced the American language and was eager to help build an American...