Richard Gotch Robinson, “Dante’s Commedia: An Unfinished Introduction”

“Who is there today who would dare bring out a book which covers virtually all aspects of life, and say – this is the way it all works? This is the nature of the universe in which we live, and this is the truth about some of the people in it, and what will happen to them when they die. And, by the way, I am going to show you the hidden structure of humanity and tell you just what your lives are all about. For this is what Dante Alighieri did some seven hundred years ago, when he wrote his great work the Commedia. The word commedia or comedy meant in those days just that it was a story with a happy ending as distinct from a tragedy. Later readers added the word divina, so that nowadays we speak of the Divine Comedy. […]”

See full text here.  See his poem “Dante” here.

Born Bristol, England 1930. In 1948, Robinson studied Dante with poet and Everest climber Wilfred Noyce, then Trinity College Dublin (Icarus Prize for Poetry). He spent thirty-five years publishing and bookselling in London (Robinson & Watkins), designed and published the first issues of Temenos for Kathleen Raine. Publications: Eternity, Time & The Soul (2005); Selected Poems (2009); Ventura County Beginnings (2011); Down to Earth – a novella (pending).

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

 

Will Brewbaker on Shane McCrae’s “Sometimes I Never Suffered”

sometimes-i-never-suffered-2020

“This act of holding together both heaven and earth pervades Shane McCrae’s Sometimes I Never Suffered, the prolific poet’s latest collection. Racial injustice, economic inequality, simple human cruelty — McCrae addresses all of these subjects, these facts of the world, head-on — while, like Dante, transposing the literal into the otherworldly.  [. . .]

“The final two poems in Sometimes I Never Suffered return explicitly to Dantean territory. Famously, the last word in each section of Dante’s Comedy is the Italian word ‘stelle,’ meaning ‘stars.’ In a sly parallel, McCrae makes this Limber’s last word, too. After describing meeting one of those souls who were ‘babies when they died […] [who] walk around in sailor hats with blank / Looks on their faces’ — another ingenious creation — Limber says:

… when I tried to talk to
Him it was like I wasn’t there
So    I peeked    in his mouth

and in his mouth was the whole sky and stars

“Not only does this final line offer a remarkably coherent cosmic scope, but it also serves as a segue into the book’s last movement — a multipage poem that returns to the hastily assembled angel’s story and finds the angel first building, then climbing the ladder to heaven.” [. . .]    —Will Brewbaker, Los Angeles Review of Books, October 13, 2020.

Read more of Brewbaker’s reviews here.

Illustration by Denis Forkas (2015)

“Study for Hypocrites (illustration for Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri/Inferno, Canto 23), after Francisco Goya after John Flaxman,” 2015

“We found, down there, a people painted bright.
Their tread, as round they went, was very slow,
weeping, worn down and seemingly defeated.”[. . .]   —
Study for Hypocrites, denisforkas.com, 2015

(trans. R. Kirkpatrick)

James Fenton on Mandelstam’s Dante

“The poet’s widow describes how, at a point when Mandelstam refers to Dante’s need to lean on authority, she refused to write his words down, thinking that he meant the authority of rulers, and that he condoned Dante’s acceptance of their favours. ‘The word had no other meaning for us,’ she says, ‘and being heartily sick of such authorities, I wanted no others of any kind.’ ‘Haven’t you had enough of such authorities?’ I yelled at him, sitting in front of a blank, grey-coloured sheet of paper, my hands defiantly on my knees. ‘Do you still want more?'”

“Mandelstam was furious with her for getting above herself. She was angry back, and told him to find another wife. But in due course she did what the circumstances required during the Stalinist persecution: she learnt the essay by heart, in order to ensure its survival. It wasn’t printed until three decades later, in 1967, when an edition of 25,000 copies appeared in Moscow and quickly sold out – the first of Mandelstam’s works to appear after the thaw.

“The argument about authority warns us to read Mandelstam’s essay not only for what it tells us about Dante but also as a reflection on our own times, and Mandelstam’s. [. . .]”   –James Fenton, The Guardian, 2005

See full article here.

Ying Zheng, poetry (2020)


Out of the Ante-Inferno
After Gustave Doré’s Charon, the Ferryman of Hell

Fear not the wrath of God!
Those who are beckoned here
Know better than to comply.

Below the sullen skies,
Where stars hardly survive,
Stand pale precipices

Guarding the dim muzzle
Of a deadly, sodden
Passage, and listening

To it ceaselessly burp,
Bellow, bawl, and belch
Out a whirl of white spume.

Forward! Forward! The oar
That no one can wrench free
From his grip grunts and gasps,

[…]

Read the full poem here, along with two others: “Inferno” and “Dante and Beatrice.”

Ying Zheng was born and grew up in Shanxi, China, where she received her first Master’s degree from Shanxi University, and has since been working for the English Department of Taiyuan Normal University. In 2019, she earned her second Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, England. While in Lancaster, she had the privilege of studying a module on “Visualising the Poem” under Professor Paul Farley. Under the guidance of Dr. Eoghan Walls, her first poetry tutor and mentor, she completed a portfolio of ekphrastic poetry mainly based on visual arts on the subject of Dante Alighieri and his Divine Comedy. Currently she is pursuing PhD studies at Renmin University of China, Beijing, China. In a recent national creative writing competition held by Sun Yat-Sen University, she won the second prize with her poem “The Heavily Armoured Eyes.”

“NSUI pays Tributes to Nasir Khan”

“NSUI and Congress state president Kuldeep Rathore paid tributes to student leader Nasir Khan on his 32nd death anniversary on Tuesday. The office-bearers and workers of the Congress, the Youth Congress and the NSUI wore black bands and observed a two-minute silence. Khan was assaulted in his hostel at Himachal Pradesh University, and was fatally injured. He died at the PGI on this day in 1988, and ever since the NSUI observes August 11 as ‘black day’.

[. . .]

A session on ‘The Writer’s Choice’ was organised by Belletristic, the literature society of the Department of English, at Shoolini University. Renowned Indian poet and author Keki Daruwalla spoke about Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Cantos of Inferno and also read out some of his own poems. He had imagined his recent Naishapur to Babylon, published in 2018, to be his last poetry book, but the pandemic-induced lockdown compelled him to write verse again. Prof Manju Jaidka, HoD, said this had helped re-discover the classics of literature, spread awareness and love for literature, particularly among youngsters, who have strayed away from books and authors because of many distractions.”    —The Tribune, August 12, 2020

“Dante Alighieri and the World”

“There was the endeavour to untangle knots — truth and lie, sin and redemption, piety and lust. There was always the goal to risk all for truth. Take this tercet from Dante Alighieri:

‘When truth looks like a lie,
a man’s to blame
Not to sit still, if he can, and
hold his tongue,
Or he’ll only cover his
innocent head with shame.’

“Scribes and great TV anchors, who can give a spin to any development, should heed the lines. We need to take sides when truth stares you in the face. In Canto III, some angels did not take sides when Satan revolted, but timorously sat on the fence. They were placed lock, stock and barrel in Hell. The colourless mediocrities most of us are, get short shrift. He talks about the ‘sorry souls who won neither praise nor blame for the lives they led’. Of course, the first words we learnt of Dante’s Inferno, as students, were ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here’, the inscription on the gates of Hell. During the lockdown, I thought that the three translations of Dante I possess should be put to good use. One hoards books and never reads them, though 20 years back I had read Dorothy Sayers’ fine translation of Inferno my father had left me. Michael Palme’s translation is better. What Dante did was mind-boggling. The entire European civilisation was placed before the reader, from Greek legends onwards. You have a full canto on the Dis, which is his word for the underworld. The river Lethe, Acheron the boatman who herds the souls who drop: ‘So from the bank there one by one drop all… As drops the falcon to the falconer’s call.’ The eighth circle gets flatterers (half our political parties would be in trouble, praising the 8 pm lockdowns, or the two-line denunciations by Rahul G). There are also soothsayers in the same circle (good grief, our Chandraswamis with red tilaks and rudraksh malas!). Actually, you can’t honestly exclude we Indians from any inferno you can devise.”    –Keki Daruwalla, The Tribune, August 2, 2020

“Dante, Near and Far”

“There is much strange in La Vita Nuova, the libello or ‘little book’ that Dante composed fifteen or so years before starting in on the Divine Comedy. Take, for starters, the form of the book, an alternation of prose and poetry that produces effects as dizzying as any in Williams’s Spring and All. Or take the central narrative, which describes a love—young Dante’s, for the slightly younger Beatrice—so intense that it causes the poet to faint in public and forces him, poor lad, to write lying love poems to the donne dello schermo, the ‘screen ladies’ he uses to hide the real object of his affection. Take even Beatrice herself, who begins the book as a girl in a girdled dress only to reveal herself not long after as a miracle made flesh.

[. . .]

That night Dante has a dream, and—perhaps predictably, dreams being dreams—this is where things get weird. In his sleep the poet sees uno segnore di pauroso aspetto emerge from a fiery cloud. Despite his fearful aspect the lord is happy, very possibly because he is carrying in his arms a naked woman asleep beneath a crimson drape. After Dante realizes that the woman is Beatrice, the lord holds up a burning object and tells the dreaming poet, in Latin, Behold your heart. At that moment the lord wakes Beatrice and starts to force-feed her Dante’s flaming heart. With understandable reluctance, Beatrice eats the thing until the lord’s happiness mysteriously turns to grief and he carries her away, presumably to heaven.

[. . .]

Here, too, we get the chance to meet Dante at his most queasily familiar: not as a prodigy reveling in the warm validation of his peers, but as a callow poetaster hearing harsh words from a poet he respects. It’s probably too easy to admire da Maiano’s sonnet for its precocious snark, but I appreciate his poem even more for the rare gift it affords: the chance for once to meet Dante outside the glare of his own genius.”    –Robert P. Baird, The Best American Poetry, January 9, 2012

Amiri Baraka, “A Chase (Alighieri’s Dream)” (1967)

The following is an excerpt from Amiri Baraka’s 1967 prose poem “A Chase (Alighieri’s Dream),” the first piece in a collection of short stories called Tales.

“Place broken: their faces sat and broke each other. As suns, Sons gone tired in the heart and left the south. The North, years later she’d wept for him drunk and a man finally they must have thought. In the dark, he was even darker. Wooden fingers running. Wind so sweet it drank him.

“Faces broke. Charts of age. Worn thru, to see black years. Bones in iron faces. Steel bones. Cages of decay. Cobblestones are wet near the army stores. Beer smells, Saturday. To now, they have passed so few lovely things.”

Read more at Akashic Books.

See also Dennis Looney, Freedom Readers: The African American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 165-166.