Top positive review
165 people found this helpful
on April 2, 2013
I've read The Divine Comedy several times, in different translations, but I have always found Paradise a slog. I'm happy to report that Clive James has made even this abstract exploration of light and doctrine (and, I might add, occasionally smug self-righteousness on Dante's part) a fascinating journey. James has chosen an unusual verse form - quatrains, with an abab rhyme scheme - to translate this, but it works well: it moves quickly and smoothly, each line pulling you forward to the next. I'm sure the labor was intensive, but most of the time the word order, the rhythm, the rhymes all fall into place as if they just happened that way. It unfolds naturally. And James has extended the verse in places by filling in some of the oblique references Dante makes. You can read it without having to flip back and forth between notes, which is a good thing, because there aren't any.
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.)