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001: The Divine Comedy, Part 1: Hell (Penguin Classics) Paperback – June 30, 1950
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Critic extraordinaire James (Cultural Amnesia, 2007) is also a poet (Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 2008), and he has been working his way to this daring project ever since he was in Florence in the mid-1960s while studying at Cambridge, as he explains in his rousing introduction. His companion, whom he would soon marry, the future Dante scholar Prudence Shaw, revealed to him the “great secret of Dante’s masterpiece,” the fact that it possesses both “interior intensity” and propulsion. How, James wondered, could a translator re-create this dynamic? Deciding that Dante’s terza rima is too strained in English, he uses robust, rollicking quatrains. He also avoids footnotes, which so rudely interrupt the flow and drama of this defining classic, by working necessary explanations into the poem itself. James’ revitalizing translation allows this endlessly analyzed, epic, archetypal “journey to salvation” to once again stride, whirl, blaze, and sing. Anyone heretofore reluctant to pick up The Divine Comedy will discover that James’ bold, earthy, rhythmic and rhyming, all-the-way live English translation fulsomely and brilliantly liberates the profound humanity of Dante’s timeless masterpiece. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“The English Dante of choice.” –Hugh Kenner
“Exactly what we have waited for these years, a Dante with clarity, eloquence, terror, and profoundly moving depths.” –Robert Fagles, Princeton University
“A marvel of fidelity to the original, of sobriety, and truly, of inspired poetry.” –Henri Peyre, Yale University
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There are risks in bringing notes into the verse itself: some references in the poem are ambiguous; which do you pick? James tries to stick close to scholarly consensus, where there is any. For example, the "one who made the great refusal" is identified in the verse as Pope Celestine: if you have to pick one among many, that IS the closest to a scholarly consensus; but purists would argue against closing off other possibilities. If that bothers you, this is not the translation for you. But if you've never read Dante before, I would definitely recommend starting here.
My one complaint is that the quatrains are not separated by a space. I don't know whether this was James's decision or the publisher's. I suppose it was an effort to increase the forward momentum and call less attention to the formal structure. Just a personal preference on my part; in no way does it detract from the readability of the poem.
(In case this review floats around, the way they sometimes do on Amazon, I should clarify that I'm describing the 2013 translation by Clive James.)
Just wanted to make it clear what exactly is being offered for download here as it is NOT clear.
The 99 cent version is the Longfellow translation which you can prove by downloading a free sample.
I think you get what you pay for.
It's a beautiful, solid, and for the whole Divine Comedy, compact volume. I bought it because it is the finest quality construction of a translation I've loved since I was sixteen. Only the Italian in a side by side comparison would improve it; and seems a curious oversight for a luxury printing.