“Dante’s Vita Nova

“Frisardi has chosen to present his Vita Nuova as Dante’s readers encountered it—as a single book in a single language. In 1861, Dante Gabriel Rossetti made the same monolingual choice, but subsequent translations have usually been bilingual ones (or ones that gave the prose in English but the poems in both Italian and English). Frisardi wishes to offer us the Vita Nuova (which he calls, borrowing Dante’s introductory Latin, Vita Nova) in “contemporary American English”: we sink or swim in an American text. (An appendix reproduces the poems in their original Italian, with literal prose translations.) The monolingual page is the outcome of an understandable decision: few American readers would be much helped by a facing page in thirteenth-century Italian. And, after all, most foreign authors are offered to us in “straight English”—Herodotus, Cervantes, Pascal.

[. . .]

Poems such as those in the Vita Nuova (whatever the continuing efforts to translate their sentiments) entirely lose their function as poems when their constituting sound-chains, their word-notes, are made to disappear. The Vita Nuova has left many rhetorical and thematic legacies to Western poetry—the disturbances and vacillations of possessive love, the eye as the erotic organ par excellence,the refinement of the mixed genre of prose and poetry, the symmetry of the arrangement of the poetic sequence, the drama of direct address to a beloved, the power of simplicity in language in poems of complex interiority—and for all these bequests the Vita Nuova will continue to be remembered and debated. In their original Italian, the poems will be memorized, pondered, and loved. Andrew Frisardi—through his translation, introduction, and generous annotation—enables us to revisit this decisive step in the invention of the Western psyche, and reminds us, by the very difficulties of his attempt at rendering Dante’s verse in English rhyme, of the existence of one peculiar but fundamental species of poetry—ear-fixated, insistent, repetitive, hypnotic—that is resistant even to paraphrase, and, in the end, fatally insusceptible to translation.”    –Helen Vendler, The New Republic, October 5, 2012

Check out Andrew Frisardi’s translation, Vita Nova, on Amazon.