Richard Wu's Reviews > Dante's Rime

Dante's Rime by Dante Alighieri
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it was amazing

No stronger case to learn Italian have I ever faced than this poetry collection, which I fully embrace, though it does refuse, as is its right—as it is right—any love unworthy of its bright and lofty heights. Watch Dante develop as the torch of love sets his mind and soul aflame, cleansing bit-by-bit all artistic impurities through its slow-burn immolation. Three decades see much trial and error; the stilted style of youth gives way to novel poetic form, invented just because no historical set of strictures could contain his growing expressive demands, as translator Patrick Diehl well hints in this volume’s introductory notes, and it is a sight to witness.

Diehl deals Dante here in verse, iambic verse, electric but at times eclectic verse—rhyming for instance “fuss” with “abacus” when the lines indicate neither, or “chatelaine” with “reign,” etc.—in service of semantic sense, which does not always hit the mark, but when it does, how shocking. What’s really going on, I think, is that Diehl wrote much of this to show other translators how clever he is, challenge them to do better perhaps, and not for laymen like me. If true, hilarious in its own right—read it and tell me if you agree.

Not necessarily does this do any disservice to the original work, which stands, as it must, separately. Diehl puts it like this:
Rigorists are wrong to say that “all” the original is lost in transmission; the scholars are wrong to ask that poetry play the role of a crib; the poets are wrong to expect the tang of native harvests in exotic hybrids.
That is, he gives himself license to dazzle—and astute observers of character can predict how, when the lines permit some flexibility, he will even try to surpass his material. Whether this ever succeeds I cannot in my ignorance judge, but the English is enjoyable enough. My favorites are 14, in which Dante lambasts his eyes for gazing at the Garisenda and thus missing sight of Beatrice, 23, 32, 41 (for sentimental reasons), 69, 77 and 78 for their imagery, 88, 89, and of course the contumelious sonnet skirmish 72-75, the tenzone which find Dante skewering Forese Donati over faults of impotence and gluttony (and vice versa over lineage and poverty), thus presaging the modern-day rap battle.

The Commedia looms—but first the feast.
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Reading Progress

August 5, 2018 – Started Reading
August 13, 2018 – Finished Reading
August 14, 2018 – Shelved

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