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The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso) Paperback – May 27, 2003
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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.
“Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them—there is no third.”—T.S. Eliot
“Ciardi has given us...a credible, passionate persona of the poet, stripped of the customary gauds of rhetoric and false decoration, strong and noble in utterance.”—Dudley Fitts
“A sensitive and perceptive translation…a spectacular achievement.”—Archibald MacLeish
“I think [Ciardi’s] version of Dante will be in many respects the best we have seen.”—John Crowe Ransom
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Here is the entrance to Hell: FROM NOW ON, EVERY DAY FEELS LIKE YOUR LAST
FOREVER. LET THAT BE YOUR GREATEST FEAR.
YOUR FUTURE NOW IS TO REGRET THE PAST.
FORGET YOUR HOPES. THEY WERE WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE. (Page 15)
No longer "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here". In fact his reading alters the meaning of Hope slightly (I was going to say "a shade" but feared the resulting groans).
My favorite Dante is Pinsky's but he only did Inferno. Hollander is particularly good for the scholarly footnotes and the accuracy of the verse. Ciardi remains the most poetic for the entire Commedia. And I continue to have a fondness for Sayers, despite the just criticisms, as she was my "first" and you never forget the first time with Dante. But James honorably joins the team of wonderful Dante translators and since the explanations are built into the verse, he remains the most readable of them all. He is an excellent guide to this great poem - almost as admirable as Virgil himself.
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.)