Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 3 (Dante Alighieri)

The Inferno
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Alighieri, Dante
Ciardi, John
The Inferno

I suppose you could argue this belongs in either of two other sections of my library. Obviously, Dante's last name begins with "A" and so you might want to place it there. On the other hand, any translation of Dante into English is almost by definition the work of the translator, given the impossibility of translating both the sound and sense of this terza rima epic.

Being as my alphabetized library is organized as it is so I can quickly remember where things are, and since nobody calls Dante anything other than "Dante" and John Ciardi is one of the less memorable poets of the school of quietude, well, there you have it. Dante is filed under "D" and that is that.

I think I stole this particular set of the DC from my younger brother. Or, at the very least, I stole The Inferno and bought the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. However, I gave away the original to a high school student of mine in NYC and ended up replacing it a few years later with this one. Not sure when or where I replaced it, though I do recall having an incomplete set for several years before I did so.

I read the DC on my own one summer while I was in college. I basically spent the entire summer in my parents basement smoking cigarettes, playing guitar and reading everything I could get my hands on. I had just stopped drinking and taking drugs a few months earlier and was trying to keep away from anything that might remind me of the "good old days." When I went out of the house it was usually to go to an AA meeting or to 7-Eleven for a pack of Marlboros.

This translation, which actually attempts a a sort of "two-thirds" rima, was a good one for me to read first because it has useful introductions to each canto, extensive footnotes about all of the mythological characters populating the poem, and notes about numerology, astrology, and theology as animating principles in the structure of the DC as a whole. To say I knew nothing about any of this at the time I read the book would be to give my young self way too much credit!

From the opening Canto:

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 a shape to fear.

Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!
But since it came to good, I will recount
all that I found revealed there by God's grace.

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