Poet's FuneralTIME Magazine
Monday, Mar. 14, 1938
Out the ornate gates of the Villa Vittoriale on the western slopes of Lake Garda one day last week rumbled a gun carriage bearing the body of Italy's poet, prince, lover, soldier and No. 1 eccentric, 74-year-old Gabriele D'Annunzio, Prince of Monte Nevoso, who had died two days before. Beside the carriage walked Premier Mussolini and the poet's estranged wife, the Duchesse of Gallese. Up the tortuous, winding road to Gardone di Sopra wound the procession, through lanes of mourners standing with upraised arms. In the little Church of San Nicolao the village priest imparted conditional absolution, although virtually all the poet's 80 volumes are on the Catholic Index as "obscene and blasphemous." All day the body lay on the prow of the battle cruiser Pulgia, which D'Annunzio had dismantled, then reconstructed in a cement bed on the villa lawn, while thousands of visitors trooped silently past.
D'Annunzio was born in Pescara in 1863, a son of well-to-do landowning parents. He went to Rome in 1881, a curly-haired, smiling, azure-eyed young man and immediately captivated the smart set with his poetry, but it was not until he turned to novels and the drama that his influence was felt outside Italy. His Italian was written in a flamboyant, often baroque, style, lush with passionate simile. He was in fact a Casanova, yearned to be a Napoleon. He carried on world famed affairs with Actresses Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt, Dancers Ida Rubinstein and Isadora Duncan, other Edwardian beauties. In 1909 his brutally frank description of his intimacies with Duse sent her into a twelve-year retirement. During this period he had also married an Italian, Donna Maria Hardouin, who soon after left him for Paris.
Politics. D'Annunzio had been elected Deputy from Ortona de Mare in 1897. Fellow legislators dubbed him "The Deputy of Beauty." He took his seat on the Right but one day the tumult and shouting from the Socialist benches impressed him. He stilled the Chamber. "I walk toward life," he announced, and in full drama crossed over to the Left. But he did not stay long, quit Socialism and politics in 1910.
War. During the war D'Annunzio's famed exploits were those of a 17th-Century Great Lover who was also a 20th-century ace, adept at machine-gunning troops from his plane in daring swoops and dives directly over the trenches. Romantic Venice was only a few minutes flight from the front, and Italian beauties got the greatest thrills of their lives, bedding in palaces beside the Grand Canal with a national hero who in fact flew off at dawn to fight the Austrians, returned for lunch or dinner at the latest—and so to bed.
Fiume. After the War only a crazy man or a genius would have thought of attempting to seize the Austrian port of Fiume with a few hundred Italian stalwarts, defying the Paris Peace Conference and high-minded Woodrow Wilson, who was at the zenith of his efforts to end seizures by force. For 15 months D'Annunzio ruled Fiume as its fantastic Dictator, among other things granted himself by decree a divorce he had been vainly trying to get for years. The Dictator of Fiume even issued a proclamation "declaring war on Italy," but delighted Italians knew it was his way of helping Rome tell President Wilson they were "powerless" to control this great Italian patriot. Eventually D'Annunzio, after an Italian warship had duly popped a few projectiles into Fiume, surrendered it to his native country and strutted home to be created a Prince, almost suffocated with adulation.
Peace. So many European beauties of all ages now clamored for his attention that D'Annunzio contrived a semi-monastic villa on Lake Garda where for years things have been made exciting but not too easy for his guests, male or female. The guestroom drawers brimmed with the finest silken lingerie in Europe, but the Genius, who was now well beyond three score, would often simply talk romantically all night.
Fascism. Naturally D'Annunzio was a Fascist—indeed he considered himself Fascist No. 1, having been Dictator (even though only in Fiume) before Mussolini Il Duce from the first saw that the Poet-Prince could never be a serious rival, encouraged him to burst forth on all occasions with poetic Fascism at its most passionate heat, loaded him with honors and finally last year made D'Annunzio President of the Royal Italian Academy (TIME, Oct. 4).
Splash. Soon presses in Rome, Paris, London and Manhattan will pour out selections from D'Annunzio's "thousands of love letters," for his will characteristically provides that, now he is dead, they are to be published at once to make the biggest possible splash.
This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran