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  Hermetic is an adjective derived from the name of Hermes, the Greek god of deception who guided the souls of the dead to the Underworld. ‘Hermetic writings’ are those thought to contain hidden truths, usually of a cabbalistic or metaphysical kind. They are often in gibberish, or in codes accessible only to initiates. In medieval Arabia and Europe they were widely held to contain the secrets of all knowledge, and they and those who could understand them were regarded with almost superstitious awe. The prophecies of Nostradamus (15th century) are the most widely-known hermetic writings still to survive.

‘Hermetic poetry’ is something completely different. It was an Italian movement of the 1930s, whose practitioners attempted to use words on a page, and the spaces between and around them, for their own evocative sakes, without the distortions of logic, rhetoric or other externals. The idea was to take poetry beyond the reach of (especially Fascist) censorship, to tap into true feeling. The movement itself was of its period and short-lived, but its aesthetic influenced such poets of importance as Montale, Quasimodo and Ungaretti. KMcL



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