Dante’s The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy

“Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them–there is no third.”   T.S. Eliot

Before the New Year, I finished reading Dante’s poetic tour-de-force, The Divine Comedy, a bilingual (Italian-English) edition translated by John Ciardi.  About ten years ago, I struggled through the Harvard Classic’s translation which left me with a headache after I finished reading the final cantos in a single, determined sitting one afternoon.  A few years after that, I didn’t fair much better with Robert Pinsky’s translation of The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition (English and Italian Edition)""“>The Inferno (bilingual, Italian-English with illustrations by Michael Mazur) in which he tried to maintain the terza rima pattern in English using what he refers to as “Yeatsian ” or consonantal rhymes. Interesting that he never went on to translate the other two books.  But this time around, I thoroughly enjoyed Ciardi’s annotated poetic translation (using what he calls a “dummy” terza rima–keeping the three-line unit but rhyming  only the first and third lines).  To give you an idea of how the two translations differ, the following are the opening passages from the two translations:

“Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost.  To tell
About those woods is hard–so tangled and rough
And savage that thinking it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well  (tr.  Robert Pinsky)
“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood.  How shall I say
what wood that was!  I never saw so drear,
so rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives shape to fear.”  (tr. John Ciardi)
In spite of not being able to read or speak Italian (instead of asking for wisdom like Solomon, I would ask for the ability to speak and read all languages), I still was able to get a feel for the rhythm and rhyme with the facing page in Italian.

Dante’s Mystic Rose (illustration included in the appendix) uncannily resembles the two-dimensional rendering of the Gosset Polytope 421 representing the E8 root system.

Secluded behind these four walls,
Enduring summer’s heat and winter’s bitter cold,
Laboring day after day armed only with a pen,
Seeking to find the path through a tangled wood,
With no wise Virgil to lead me by the hand
Through the abysmal circles up to Paradise
Where neither a Beatrice nor a laurel wreath awaits.
Yet I will continue to plod up that steep ascent
Towards the mist-obscured pinnacle looming ahead,
Not knowing if I will ever reach that distant summit
To glimpse the Truth and Beauty that lay beyond.
© 2011 All rights reserved

About poeticmeditations

A 19th-century romantic poet living in the 21st-century. The Romantic poets, nib pens, candlelight, waistcoats, and pocket watches are a few of my favorite things.
This entry was posted in Poetry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s