Poetry: Divine Comedy | clivejames.com
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Divine Comedy

Ever since, in Florence in the mid-1960s, my wife introduced me to the miracle of Dante's versification in the Divine Comedy, I wondered how an English translation might get near transmitting the momentum of the original. There were hundreds of different translations that transmitted the historical details, but the way the verse danced inexorably forward was, in my view, part of the subject. Decades went by and finally I thought I had found a way. The actual work took me several years before I fell ill in early 2010, and then afterwards it took several more years to prepare the manuscript for the presses both in New York and London. During that second, long period of reading proofs and fiddling with punctuation, I can remember thinking that it would be a pity to vanish before the book came out. So Dante joined a whole raft of pills and treatments in the task of keeping me alive.

Then, in 2013, the book was published in the US, Australia and the UK. On the whole I can't complain about its critical reception. I thought one or two of the critics were too keen to demonstrate that they, too, knew something about Dante, but I couldn't blame them for feeling proprietorial. Dante is a gigantically great poet but everyone who reads him feels that he is writing for them alone. My only real problem with the book's reception was that I felt anxious about whether or not my publishers would make a return on their investment. Nobody knows how many copies a book consisting of more than fourteen thousand lines of English verse is supposed to sell. One's best hope, surely, was to catch the next generation of students. Failing that,however, there was still the satisfaction of having done one's utmost. I can only hope that my translation has some of Dante's best writing in it, but I am fairly sure that it has some of the best of mine.

Reviews of Divine Comedy
Quadrant The Australian
Fairfax Papers Evening Standard
Dublin Review Cleveland Plain Dealer
Truthdig First Things
New York Times NYT By the Book
NPR National Post
West Australian Barnes & Noble
People Independent
Guardian Melbourne Review
Channel 4 News RTE
Irish Times TLS
Herald Scotland