This enormous collection of five-hundred letters – donated by Martino Zanetti, a generous friend of Il Vittoriale – narrates the first and last great love in Gabriele d’Annunzio’s life. His first love is testified by 232 very long letters written by d’Annunzio between 1881 and 1882 to Giselda Zucconi (soon nicknamed Elda or Lalla). She was the daughter of Tito, a language teacher at boarding-school, a poet and translator of poetry who could boast of a Garibaldian past. Zucconi was the first one responsible for their predictable love story as he invited his esteemed pupil to his Florentine villa several times. The young woman, who was one year younger than d’Annunzio, had a sharp and sensitive intelligence that was combined with her no less seductive “large roaming eyes, as mysterious and deep as the sea” that lit up easily. Elda was the living muse that Gabriele needed for his poetry, even more than for his life. He wrote her hundreds of letters in a year and a half; most of them were from Rome, where he went from being a provincial college student to an enchanter of the world. It is a boundless and extravagant collection of letters, of confessions of love, sensual exaltations, promises of being eternally true to her, enthusiastic reassurances on the profoundness of such a unique and onetime love. All of these ingredients have been blended into letters that are poetical and sincere, exaggerated and romantic, rhetorical and impassioned all at once. The poet engaged his entire self in this first love, as he did with the following ones, whether complicated and authentic relations or simply involving senses and the flesh. Those were the first eloquent steps in the spectacularization of his life, which was still not sensational but already changed and turned sublime by this continuous outpouring of himself, of the euphoria and ecstasy aroused by actions and words, realities and imaginative fantasies. The results were that Giselda, although she was not a naive creature, was overcome by Gabriele’s torment in choosing her as his “much adored source of inspiration”.
In his letter dated 20 March 1882, d’Annunzio wrote about himself in this regard: “It is destiny that I must live this way, always in a fever pitch, in the throes of indescribable restlessness, thirsting with desire, with thousands of desires that are stranger than the next, torn to shreds by love, tortured by art, a mad dreamer bearing a beating heart amidst an impassive crowd, and inevitably find new torments in new things. I live in confusion and work with the same ardour with which I swing the sword, or laze about in long, exhausting and languishing torpors in the slow shadows of the parlour, and avidly drink in the immense air and shining light, unrestrained, extravagant, reckless, generous, tender, in love with you, sad, merry, from one hour to the next, indomitable and untamed.” These few words explain everything that Gabriele d’Annunzio wanted to be and would eventually be.
Their love lasted for a year and a half. Upon d’Annunzio’s return from his stay in Abruzzo, his love for Elda was gone. Other events and other women were awaiting the young poet, who was increasingly at ease in Umbertine Rome. We come upon Lalla once again, forty years later, married to a drawing instructor and with a son. Hoping to overcome some serious financial difficulties, she turned to her past lover (who was already living in Il Vittoriale) and implored his authorization to publish their love letters. In her last letter dated 1926, she wrote: “Why must we keep hidden and locked away like something forgotten this marvellous prose that, if it were made known, would add, if this were even possible, glory to your glory and give me a sense of ineffable pride? My existence filled with pain and resignation would perhaps have a final radiant spark. You gave me the first great joy of my life – let me have one more joy in the twilight of this wretched existence by giving your consent”. D’Annunzio did not give his permission, probably not believing that his early prose would add any prestige to his fame.
Prof. Giordano Bruno Guerri, President, Il Vittoriale degli Italiani
Rome, 6th Dec. 81
My good, my poor, Elda, my poor angel
I have just come back up home, among the other letters I looked for yours, I opened it with the emotion I always feel when I recognize the writing to be yours or that of papa, and I read it, and I felt really bad, I felt a pain in my heart.
You are so sad, and you say things that I understand too well and they tear me apart.
Why have you been underlining and punctuating certain words for the past few days?
Why? Do you doubt perhaps?
Oh, I beg you, I beg you with all my soul.
Elda, I beg you with all my soul not to torment me so ferociously. But do you not know that you make me desperate?
If I now, after you have suffered so much for me, after you have shed so many tears, after you have poured so much blood from your heart, if I now should come and say to you more or less covertly:= You are beginning not to love me anymore! = tell me, what would you do, Elda?
– I adore you adore you adore you forever, superhumanly, inexpressibly, and I suffer and fight and cry for you and want you to believe it, I do not want you to offend me any longer not even with the slightest hint of doubt.
– I will do anything you want me to, I will write to you every day, every hour as long as you give me a smile, as long as you say a cheerful, serene word to me …
I am yours, yours, only yours, forever, and ever, Elda farewell
Rome, Via Borgognona, 44 rosso, 4° piano
My my divine, my divine Elda!
I am writing to you, I am writing to you after a long while, I am writing to you with tears in my eyes, with a thousand suspicions in my heart, with indescribable anguish, with an ardent desire for your words of love, for your kisses, for your caresses.
– What are you doing, how are you? How are you, oh my poor Elda, oh my poor angel?
I have been here in Rome for about ten days, days of hell, without having been able to write a line, without having been able to tell you that I still adore you, I still adore you desperately, I always think of you, I still have you in my soul.
This doubt torments me atrociously now: who knows what sad, what dark fantasies have crossed your mind! Who knows what you have thought of me, of my love, who knows!
Perhaps, perhaps you are devastated now, you are ill.-
Oh, Elda, if you still love me, tell me tell me everything, tell me everything, do not hide anything!
14th January 82
My divine Elda!
Today is one of those days when I feel shipwrecked in an ocean of monotony and melancholy, in which I feel my solitude and distance from you even more, divine Elda!
I have always been here at home after having woken up very late; and here I have been unable to do anything except write a letter to Papa … I have started ten things, and have stopped immediately disgusted: I have sat there in the armchair in endless hours of sad inertia, thinking of you, quenching myself in desire without end…
Clearly, you see, it seems like I am missing something which is essential for my survival it feels like I am fading away slowly bit by bit […]
I have read your lyrics many many times today, your lyrics overflowing with love. I thank you, I thank you a thousand times, my angel, my light, my most divine Elda!
– But why, but why – I ask myself crying- but why must we be far apart? Oh, and being so far apart, why must we love each other so desperately?
Oh Elda, Elda, my Elda!
My goddess, my fairy!
What a strange creature are you? How do you manage, Elda, how do you manage to shake all the most intimate fibres of my heart so deeply?
You have an indefinable charm, a charm that draws me, that exalts me, that completely wraps around me and makes me cry out with passion, thrills of love, yearning for superhuman joy…
– What can I say about your letter of this morning?
Believe me, I am still under that overpowering impression and I cannot tell you anything, and I can feel that I am trembling all over
– I read it twenty times with ever-growing emotion ; I seemed insane; I went around all morning as if I were in a trance ,came back now, and reread your letter…
But did you put a fatal spell in it? I do not know. I will write to you tomorrow, I cannot now; now I can only repeat in a choked voice …
Divine, divine, divine, I adore you, I’m yours yours yours desperately eternally yours, divine divine divine!
Farewell, farewell. Forgive me, but I feel like I am fainting.
Rome, 27th March 82
My beautiful beautiful beautiful little girl, here is a kiss, so long and quivering and with a sound that will make mother lift her eyes smiling with her divine smile as if to say that we must change our ways…
Do not take any notice of your mother? Give me another hundred kisses and every one longer, warmer and louder than the one before.
– How happy I am about your bright little letter, my Elda! It seems like I can see you with your pale face lit up by those two big tawny eyes, illuminated by the indescribable laughter of your mouth, laughter that penetrates deep into my soul with its silvery tremor and its splendour like that of a blooming carnation.
Rome, 28th March 82.
You see, terrible little tigress, you see, when I read your crackling glittering dazzling lyrics and I intoxicated myself with your childlike joy and with your most divine love, you see, such a furious frenzy came over me, and such long, wild thrills ran through my veins and such a burning desire devoured my soul that if you had been there, to your misfortune, you would not have come out alive, I swear …
– What crazy things I thought! I would have wanted to be there with you, alone, in this splendid golden light of March, in an infinite green field sparkling with flowers; to follow you gasping, and reach you and set your body on fire with my kisses burning like the sun, and cover you with heaps of flowers, bury you in a fresh scented tomb, oh temptress, oh goddess, oh my supreme joy and my supreme torment!
My Elda, Elda!
I have been here thinking about you until now, divinely adoring you in my soul, trying to enjoy even an atom of that dizzying intensity of the memories for another moment; and then torturing my heart with anxiety, with the frightening fantasies, rereading the burning and desperate pages of your letter, and waiting for your answer to my telegram.
– It is three in the afternoon, I have just received the telegram from Florence, and I have calmed down a little…
– I do not know, everything belonging to you, everything that has a distant relationship with you, everything that reminds me of you, it all moves me deeply and indescribably, and makes me quiver like a leaf, and moves me to tears …
I held your telegram before my eyes for a long time, without ever having enough; I kept it on my lips for I do not know how long, and with my lips I eagerly looked for a sign of your fingertips, I searched for the smell of you with my nose, I was searching for you, you, you, always you-
What a terrible excitement in my whole being! I cannot, nor can I address you with my thoughts and not even for a very short brief moment … Yes, it seems to me that my love has grown frighteningly … And it was so great, and it was so deep even before !
– It is only one day since we were together: it seems like infinity to me. They ask me: When did you return? I hesitate to answer: Yesterday.
I feel like I am telling a lie, I feel like I have been here, in this great fiery loneliness, for months already, and still with a fierce desire for you, to see you, to kiss you, to hold you, as if I would never see you again, never embrace you again, never kiss you again!
– Last night, as I folded the letter I felt great pain; I do not know, I felt unable to distance myself, I wanted to write, again, continue writing, to fool myself, to believe I was talking to you … who knows !
Pescara, 12th July, morning
My my my my my goddess!
I suffocate you with kisses, I bite you, I let your hair down, I twirl it around my neck like snakes, I lift you in my arms and run, carrying you like a child, while you cry out, while you laugh, covering you in wild kisses blindly, not caring where they fall, on your face, on your breasts, on your legs, on your hands, everywhere –
– But who teaches you, tell me, who teaches you to write these letters? Who teaches you these spells, this magic, these charms that lead me to madness, that tear supreme cries of love and desire from me, that make me tremble and cry, that make me forget everything else, tell me, who teaches you? –
– Yesterday I could not tear myself away from those pages, I read them, reread them without ever having enough, I drank them, let me say so!
– Oh, that dream, that dream, that unforgettable dream!
– You cannot imagine, Elda you cannot imagine what I felt, reading: I must have been as pale as a corpse, but lightning must have flashed from my eyes.
– My my my kind, my beautiful, my brilliant, my holy, my divine, immortal lover!
And, you know!, do not ever tell me again: no! it is not true!, when I speak to you this way, do not ever say so again because you hurt me, because you make me feel irresistible urges which burned my soul – Yesterday you wrote: No, I am not beautiful; I alone, there, like a lunatic, shouted :
– Yes, yes, yes, beautiful as a fairy, beautiful as my goddess, beautiful as my most beautiful dream as a poet ! And I repeated those words, trembling, choking with my tears.
’82. 6th August – Francavilla.
My goddess! I have here your little letter of today, a fervent lyric of love and desire: but where is the one of yesterday?
You do not mention it, therefore it is certain that you wrote as usual. Maybe it has been lost, in some way; maybe the address was not correct; who knows?
– I was really most sorry, and I am still sorry. Who knows how many lovely things you told me! Who knows how many sweet words!
– I, rather than lose a letter of yours, would lose forever the most beautiful of my odes, even a whole book on which I had worked for an entire year with great fatigue
– Your letters, these wonderful extremely delicate blossomings of your soul, these little poems which are stupendous in their harmony and passion, are sacred to me, they are relics, amulets which I would like to keep forever in my heart –
Here there is all of you, all of you is here with your irresistible force, with your deep melancholy, with your tears, with your sobs, with your long desires, with your lengthy dreams, with your deep sensual desire, with your virginal modesty; here there is all of you.
That huge sheaf of papers, which I have on my writing desk at home, is my intimate poem, that is what I call it; and it truly is a poem, a fascinating and musical and extremely luminous and human poem.
When we are husband and wife, with what intense joy and with what strange beating hearts will we reread those pages that sometimes seem to be written in the blood of our hearts!
Pescara, 11th September ‘82
My goddess, my goddess, my goddess
Your pale blue letter so full of love and gentle kindness has done my soul unspeakable good. I have read and reread it, and carried it around with me, close to my heart, all day.
– Thank you, thank you for Mama and Papa’s sweet words too. Give them a kiss from me, kiss them with tender strength, and tell them that I felt tears come to my eyes while reading and I ardently desired to feel their kisses on my faded brow –
– Now I feel much better, much better.
Villa, 9th October ‘82
My sorceress, it is a cold and grey winter morning. Yesterday the harvest sun flooded the countryside and the sea, and warmed me all the way along road. What a splendid ride in the mild and very clear afternoon, towards the divine and clement Adriatic.
– This morning the sky is ashen-grey, there is a bothersome humidity in the air which penetrates the bones.
– What are you doing? Are you happy? Is it sunny?
– You ask me insistently if I will come to Florence this month. Who knows? The best thing to do is not to make any promises or fixed arrangements, so there will be no worries or upsets.
– They will probably make me spend the whole month of October here; when I am in Rome, I will try to come, but I am not promising anything, I am not arranging anything any more, any more –
– You know that an intense desire for you torments me. I will do everything possible to try to see you again, as soon as I can.