Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Inferno Translation

Nineteenth century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translates Inferno, featured in this 2013 book. More information about this translation can be found here.

Humanities Magazine’s “What’s the Best Way to Read the Divine Comedy If You Don’t Know Italian?”

humanities-magazine-tour-of-translation-2020-wikimedia“In comparing these two translations, the Sayers version seems to win out in two ways—it matches Dante in form and, to a degree, in content. By starting with ‘Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,’ she remains faithful to the starting point, ‘nel mezzo,’ while Mandelbaum pushes this to the middle of the first line. Sayers adds ‘bound upon’ (not, strictly speaking, in the original), which allows her to make the rhyme in the third line with ‘gone.’ But Mandelbaum is more faithful to the directness of the original, not stretching the meaning or introducing words to make the rhyme. His metered language often seems more natural than Sayers’ and more in keeping with the diction of Dante, which favored solid vocabulary and straight-forward syntax. Mandelbaum, will, in fact, interject rhyme if it’s not forced (as he does with way and stray). In spite of first impressions favoring Sayers, most readers who choose to make the entire journey from inferno to purgatory and finally paradise ultimately find the Mandelbaum translation more satisfying.” [. . .]    –Steve Moyer, Humanities: The Magazine Of The National Endowment For The Humanities, 2017


Guy Raffa, “Longfellow’s Great Liberators: Abraham Lincoln and Dante Alighieri” (2016)




“Living with Dante’s vision of the afterlife also gave Longfellow some perspective on the war. On May 8, 1862, soon after translating Paradiso, he reflected, ‘Of the civil war I say only this. It is not a revolution, but a Catalinian conspiracy. It is Slavery against Freedom; the north against the southern pestilence.’ The reality of this moral disease hit home when he visited a local jeweler’s shop. There he saw ‘a slave’s collar of iron, with an iron tongue as large as a spoon, to go into the mouth.’  ‘Every drop of blood in me quivered,’ he wrote, ‘the world forgets what Slavery really is!’ ”

[ …]

Guy Raffa, Not Even Past, January 18, 2016