"Finally I realised that I had been practising for this job every time I wrote a quatrain ... I had spent all this time - the greater part of a lifetime - preparing my instruments"
The Divine Comedy is the precursor of modern literature, and Clive James's new translation - his life's work and decades in the making - presents Dante's entire epic poem in a single song.
While many poets and translators have attempted to capture the full glory of The Divine Comedy in English, many have fallen short. Victorian verse translations established an unfortunate tradition of reproducing the sprightly rhyming measures of Dante but at the same time betraying the strain on the translator's powers of invention. For Dante, the dramatic human stories of Hell were exciting, but the spiritual studies of Purgatory and the sublime panoramas of Heaven were no less so.
In this incantatory new translation, James - defying the convention by writing in quatrains - tackles these problems head-on and creates a striking and hugely accessible translation that gives us The Divine Comedy as a whole, unified, and dramatic work.
About the Author
Clive James is the author of more than thirty books. As well as verse and novels, he has published collections of essays, literary criticism, television criticism and travel writing, plus four volumes of autobiography. In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia, and in 2003 he was awarded the Philip Hodgins memorial medal for literature.
Clive James's new translation is wonderfully unstuffy and injects fresh life back into the poem. -- Mary Beard, Best Holiday Reads 2013 Observer 'An outstanding achievement ... He restores the sense of drama, the colours and music of Dante's vision ... Clive James has now given us a translation worthy of this and any other time; and a great piece of literature in its own right' - Robert Fox, Evening Standard 'an extraordinary verse-rendering - the fruit of many years' work - of Dante's The Divine Comedy. According to TS Eliot, this is the only book in the western tradition that surpasses Shakespeare. It is typical of James's chutzpah that he has not only tackled this Everest of translation, but has scrambled to the summit in triumph ... The result is a revelation. The reader is swept up in the drama of Inferno ... The tempo and texture of the poem has an inevitable majesty, but there is also a dancing levity that is suited to James and his "joking seriousness"' Robert McCrum, Guardian A triumph of great poetry and accessibility. Wonderful. -- Melvyn Bragg, Books of the Year Observer 'Clive James comes to the Comedy with two important attributes: many years study of the poem and an impressively accomplished verse technique' - Sean O'Brien, Independent Book of the Week 'Like most successful translations, there is a sense of the personal throughout... the poetry is certainly here, spurring the reader to learn more.' The Times Saturday Review 'This is the translation that many of us had abandoned all hope of finding. Clive James's version is the only one that conveys Dante's variety, depth, subtlety, vigor, wit, clarity, mystery, and awe in rhymed English stanzas that convey the music of Dante's triple rhymes. This book lets Dante's genius shine through as it never did before in English verse, and is a reminder that James' poetry has always been his finest work.' Edward Mendelson, Columbia University 'Clive James' translation of The Divine Comedy is a remarkable achievement: not a scowling marble Dante of sublime set-pieces but a living, breathing poet shifting restlessly through a dizzying succession of moods, perceptions, and passions. Under James' uncanny touch, seven long centuries drop away, and the great poem is startlingly fresh and new.' Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University, author of The Swerve Punchy, theologically serious and frequently funny verse. -- Mark Lawson, Books of the Year Observer For those who have never quite managed the reverence for Dante required of the well-read, there is at last a translation that makes The Divine Comedy everything it's billed: Clive James's version in quatrain. Suddenly the voice - from teasingly conversational to clangorously epic to tenderly lyric - is right beside you even when it's a talking beast ... Read it out loud in bed (softly). -- Simon Schama, Book of the Year Financial Times Fresh, impressive new translation of The Divine Comedy that is both easy-going and lucid -- Best Books of 2013 Sunday Times An excellent new version of Dante's masterpiece. Eschewing Dante's terza rima, he has opted instead to write in rhyming quatrains, but without spaces between them, so each canto is a solid block of text. James handles the rhythm with ease and assurance, using enjambment freely, and brings a colloquial tone to the translation. .wonderfully conveys the strangeness and vastness of Dante's vision. An impressive work of scholarship, and of poetry in its own right Independent