Monday, April 08, 2013

Clive James on his new Dante

My translation of the Divine Comedy is here today because my wife, when we were together in Florence in the mid-1960s, a few years before we were married, taught me that the great secret of Dante’s masterpiece lay in the handling of the verse, which always moved forward even in the most intensely compressed of episodes. She proved this by answering my appeal to have the famous Paolo and Francesca episode in Inferno 5 explained to me from the original text. From various translators including Byron we can see what that passage says. But how did Dante say it? My wife said that the terza rima was only the outward sign of how the thing carried itself along, and that if you dug down into Dante’s expressiveness at the level of phonetic construction you would find an infinitely variable rhythmic pulse adaptable to anything he wanted to convey.
-- James, writing for Slate