“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.