1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

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LL.D., F.B.A., F.R.S.L.





SOME years ago I published a translation of the
Purgatorio in the metre of Marvell's Horatian
Ode to Cromwell; the first part of which (Cantos
i-xxvn) appeared in 1892, and the second part
(Cantos xxviii-xxxin) in 1899. This volume
completes the task I then set myself. In now
offering it to the public I desire to express my
thanks to Dr. Moore for permitting me to repro-
duce his revised text of the original, to Dr. Paget
Toynbee and many other friends for valuable sug-
gestions and advice, and especially to Dr. Mackail
for kindly writing the Introduction which follows.

C. L. S.

January 1915.



Per sentir piii dilettanza
Bene operando 1' uom di giorno in giorno
S' accorge che la sua virtute avanza.

" He that works his work aright
Learns day by day a fresh delight,

Knowing his worth from thence

Grown to new excellence."

IT is more than twenty years since the Provost
of Oriel published his translation of Canti i-xxvii of
the Purgatorio, followed, seven years later, by a sup-
plementary volume containing the translation of the
remaining six, the intermezzo of the Earthly Paradise.
During these years the study of Dante in England has
immensely increased, not only among scholars or
theologians, but in a wider circle. He has fully
secured his place, even in popular estimation, among
the great classics who are the common inheritance
of all peoples and languages. The Italian poets as
a whole do not bulk so largely in our reading as they
did a hundred years ago. Neither Petrarca, nor
Ariosto, nor Tasso is now accounted a part of the
ordinary reading of educated English men and women.


Guarini, once a common school-book among us, is pro-
bably only read now by professed students of literature.
Alfieri and Metastasio are spent fames. Leopardi,
a poet in whom not only the Italian risorgimento,
but the new European Renaissance of the earlier
nineteenth century, found an interpreter of unsurpassed
potency and beauty, has never reached a wide audience
among English-speaking readers. It is at once a sym-
bol and a consequence of this comparative neglect of
the Italian poets, that the Italian language itself has
ceased, in common estimation, to be a necessary part
of education, like French or German.

But in this disorientation, this shifting of the axis
of letters, the greatest of Italian poets has more and
more come by his own. When Italian classics occu-
pied a place in English reading only second to the
classics of France, Dante was not one of them ; or if
he was, it was only by courtesy and with a sort of
amused indulgence. His position as the fountain-head
of Italian poetry, like that of Chaucer as the fountain-
head of our own, had to be admitted. But it was
admitted perfunctorily. The Commedia was thought
of, loosely and ignorantly, as a poem remarkable
indeed for its time and containing many beauties, but
on the whole grotesque, insipid, and even barbarous.
It has taken many revolutions of the sun to reinstate
it, side by side with Homer and Virgil, as one of the
greatest achievements of human art and genius, as
a masterpiece of construction, as the voice of a whole


civilization, as one of the lights in the darkness of the
world. Just one hundred years have passed since
Gary completed the translation which first brought
Dante really within the compass of English readers,
and spoke in his preface of "the music of nobler
thoughts " amid which, for the years during which he
had been engaged upon it, other recollections had
been lulled and a new amplitude given to life. Since
then, and more particularly in the course of the last
half-century, appreciation of Dante's poetical greatness
has grown with study. That study, pursued individu-
ally or in concert by countless numbers of students, has
not indeed been confined to, or even chiefly centred
upon, Dante's work in its specific quality of poetry. As
with the Homeric poems, the Commedia has been
taken as a text for the study of the whole world in
which it was produced, of which it gives the pattern
and records the operative forces. It has been a
primary document for the history of life and thought
in the Middle Ages ; for their politics, their science,
their theology, their metaphysic. Nor was it possible
that these complex and exacting investigations should
not, in some measure, divert attention from the central
poetic quality of what is, first and last, a poem. But
that poetic quality reasserts itself through its own vital
energy. Poetry, as the pattern and interpretation of
life, is the ultimate expression of all thought and of
all knowledge ; as the expression of mankind begins
with poetry, so it ends on it ; and the great poet who


appears at intervals of many generations sums up or in-
terprets one might almost say, incarnates the whole
material, social, and intellectual movement of the race.
Poetry is not philosophy or history ; but it is, in a very
profound sense, the ideal which both history and philo-
sophy tend ("wish", in the Aristotelian phrase) to reach:
at any moment, the poetical value of any great poem,
while on the one hand it has the absolute quality of
art, is likewise on the other hand the integration of
all the knowledge and thought which went to make
it, or which have since accrued round it.

As art pure and simple, poetry, like all other art, is
untranslatable ; in the process of translation, the work
of art ceases to be itself. Yet the instinct to translate
poetry is natural, and the translation itself need be
neither meaningless nor useless. Only it might be
well both in executing and in reading such work,
to replace or at least to supplement the term " transla-
tion " by the term " transvaluation ". For a translation
does not purport to replace its original ; hardly even,
in any real sense, to be equivalent to it. It gives so
much of the effect of the original on the translator's
intellectual and aesthetic perception as he is able to
re-condense within the limits of certain forms through
the operation of an art of his own an art secondary
indeed and subsidiary, but yet, like all art, creative.
In offering a translation of Dante to readers, what the
translator in effect says to them is this : Here I place
before you so much of what Dante means to me as


can be gathered and fixed in a single transvaluation
executed in accordance with a single artistic con-
vention : whatever more Dante means to me (and
that is much, it may be even infinitely much), he
means at least this.

The extended knowledge of Dante among English
readers, the increased domination which his genius
exercises over them as that knowledge ripens into
appreciative admiration, are reflected in the large
number of translations of the Commedia as well as
of Dante's other works, and of the Vita Nuova more
particularly which have appeared and continue to
appear in the present generation. Each of these
represents so much of the effective meaning of the
original to the translator as his own imagination
and craftsmanship have enabled him to project upon
the metrical pattern chosen by him as the fittest for
his purpose. They are not meant to compete with
one another, and need not be put into competition.
As often happens, the earliest adventurer had the
first success. However little idea of competition
there may be, succeeding translators are perhaps to
some extent hampered, the lines on which they work
restricted, by the mere existence of a predecessor.
After a century, Gary's dignified and sober rendering
(the defects and limitations of which it would be
irrelevant to discuss here) retains value and may be
read with pleasure ; the more so, no doubt, because
he had the good sense to reject the fatal allurements


of a line-for-line translation on which so many
attempts, with Dante as with other poets, have made
shipwreck. But the Miltonic blank verse which he
chose as his vehicle is essentially unsuited to the
purpose in two ways : not only is it a metrical form
which is beyond the compass of most artists, but it
ignores the formal quality of the Commedia as poetry ;
and in poetry, it cannot be too often repeated, the
form is not separable from the substance, for the form
is the substance.

The Provost of Oriel's rendering of the Purgatorio
won recognition among students of Dante, and among
lovers of poetry, as an attempt to solve the problem
of transvaluation on new lines and in a new medium.
He saw that this problem was one not merely of
vocabulary and diction, but above and beyond these,
of metrical form. He saw that the metrical unit, the
key of the pattern, in the Commedia, is not the line,
but the terzina or group of three lines. In the original,
these units are no doubt interlocked throughout by
the rhyming-system, and fastened off at the end of
each canto by a final line which converts the last
terzina into a quatrain. But it remains true that the
poem throughout is cast in the form of three-line
stanzas; and this form is emphasized by Dante's
management of the period. There is a strong pause
at the end of the stanza-unit so habitually that its
absence is a rare and marked exception; and the
more elaborate poetical ornaments, the " Dantesque


similes" and their equivalents, are normally so ar-
ranged as exactly to fill one or more stanzas.

Of the English quatrain suggested to him by Marvell's
famous Horatian Ode and adopted by him as a near
equivalent in its total effect to Dante's terzina, the
translator has himself discoursed in the preface to his
rendering of the Purgatorio. It would be superfluous
to go over the ground again. The stanza has (like
any other conceivable form of verse) its own diffi-
culties and drawbacks. To problems of this kind
there is, and can be, no absolute solution. Of even
the best and most successful effort in poetical transla-
tion it has to be said, that

forma non s' accorda
Molte fiate alia intenzion dell' arte,
Perch' a risponder la materia fc sorda; 1

"oft our art's intent
Finds not its form's accomplishment,
The stubborn stuff we wrought
Answering not our thought:"

and the reader may now and then have to murmur to
himself, Ma non con questa moderna favella ! 2 But
the merits of this particular metrical form are great.
It has now been shown to bear surprisingly well the
test of continuous work on a large scale ; and with
the skilful management that has been applied to it,
it gives, in the judgement of the present writer, a
striking approximation to the colour and movement

1 Par. i. 127-9. 8 Par. xvi. 33.


of the original. The objection, if it be a real one, that
as a lyric form of verse it is unsuitable for a long poem
akin in nature to the epic, might equally well have
been made against Dante's own metre. In such
matters, a priori considerations count for little ; effective
success is the only real criterion. This metre, in con-
tinuous use, is structurally akin to Dante's ; it marks
the same unit, and carries on where necessary from
one unit to another without awkwardness or dis
continuity ; and by the brevity and succinctness of its
rhythms it keeps before the reader, as it imposes on
the writer, that quality of terse precision in which
Dante is supreme and unique among poets. The trans-
lator has invoked the spirit of Dante, somewhat as
Dante himself invokes the " Pegasean Goddess " :

Illustrami di te, si ch' io rilevi

Le lor figure, com' io 1' ho concette :
Paia tua possa in questi versi brevi. 1

"Fill me with thee, that so I may
After my power their shape display,
And let thy light supreme
On these brief verses stream."

And the invocation has not been left unanswered.

This was the feeling with which many readers of
Dante received the earlier rendering of the Purgatorio ;
it will be confirmed and enhanced by the present
rendering of the Paradise. This volume presents itself
as an accredited version. That it is so, may be

1 Par. xviii. 85-7.


sufficient justification for its author in having placed
the pleasant task of writing these introductory pages
in the hands of one who is in no sense a Dante expert,
and cannot claim to have read, much less mastered,
the enormous mass of comment and elucidation which
has grown up round Dante's work ; but to whom
poetry is, more and more, the pattern and interpreta-
tion of life, and Dante himself is one of the supreme

The lines which stand at the head of this introduction
apply to the work of the translator ; but they apply
also to the work of the poet. In the Paradiso, the
genius of Dante has its consummation. He moves in
it with a larger sweep of imagination, with a fuller
certainty of hand. His own words give the best
account of this :

Se fosse a punto la cera dedutta,

E fosse il cielo in sua virtti suprema,
La luce del suggel parrebbe tutta;
Ma la natura la da sempre scema,
Similemente operando alP artista
Ch' ha T abito dell' arte, e man che trema.
Per6 se il caldo amor la chiara vista
Delia prima virtu dispone e segna,
Tutta la perfezion quivi s' acquista. 1

"Were but the wax perfectly wrought;
Had Heaven its highest virtue brought ;
Then would the seal impressed
Its full light manifest.

1 Par. xiii. 73-81.


But therein Nature faileth ever,
As workman fails in his endeavour

With hand that trembles still

For all his practised skill.
Yet, if the fervent Love draw near
To range and seal the Vision clear

Of the first Power, 'twill all

To full perfection call."

Yet it is not through the Paradise, but through the
other two Cantiche of the Commedia, and most of all
through the Inferno, that Dante acquired, and retains,
his wide popular fame. It is "Dante of the dread
Inferno" who has most impressed himself on the general
imagination; just as, during his own life, he was pointed
at with awe, and spoken of in whispers, not as the man
who had been rapt into heaven and seen the Rose of
the Blessed, but as the man who had passed through
Hell and bore on his dark face the marks of its burn-
ing. For this partial, and even misleading, view there
are many reasons. The simplest is the mere fact that
the Inferno comes first, and is consequently read first.
Many readers, flagging in their interest, or repelled
by the difficulties of the poem and feeling that they
have " supped full with horrors ", never get beyond it.
But the Inferno also makes a more potent appeal to
the popular mind from its highly dramatic and if
one may use the word sensational quality. It dis-
plays, in a way that the other two Cantiche do not,
the more obvious side of romanticism as embodied in


mediaeval art ; it is not only a poem, but a thrilling
narrative of adventure ; it moves the cruder as well as
the nobler instincts. It has the fascination of horror ;
it excites the imagination through the nerves, through
the almost physical attraction exercised by all por-
traitures, from the Odyssey onwards, of a mysterious
subterranean world. Further, and as a consequence of
this quality, it lends itself more readily to pictorial
representation. Painters and designers have for the
last five centuries had continual recourse to the Com-
media for subjects ; it is from the Inferno that the
great bulk of them have been taken. Finally, it is
the Inferno which contains, with insignificant excep-
tions, not only all the heathen, that is to say, all the
great figures of the classical world whether in myth-
ology or in history, but also the men and women
of post- Christian history and romance who died
in sin ; and in it accordingly come the most famous
romantic or tragic episodes, those " show-pieces " which
stand out from their surroundings and are almost
universally known, like those of Francesca of Rimini,
of Count Ugolino, of the last voyage of Ulysses.

In passing from the Inferno to the Purgatorio, the
reader is transferred from that crowded and clamorous
realm to a world imagined and portrayed with the same
precision, but, in its unearthly stillness and beauty, less
immediate and less overpowering in its effect on those
who are first introduced to it. As Dante and his guide
ascend that strange mountain beneath those unfamiliar

* b


heavens, we follow them, with eager suspense, as if
through the breathless atmosphere of a dream. All
the souls in Purgatory are waiting ; and the sense of
waiting overcomes us likewise as the poet leads us up
and up among them. The key-note of the whole
Cantica is deliberately struck in the two highly elabo-
rated descriptions of dawn at the opening of the first
and second Canti, beginning Dolce color d* oriental
zaffiro and SI che le bianche e le vermiglie guance.
It is repeated, with extraordinary effect, in the twenty-
seventh, where Dante has passed through the fire and
is about to enter the Earthly Paradise :

Nell* ora, credo, che dell' oriente
Prima raggi6 nel monte Citerea . . .

E gik per gli splendori antelucani . . .*

"And in the hour when first, I deem,
Shone on the mount the orient beam
Of Venus . . ."

"The lights that usher in the dawn . . ."

Even in the Earthly Paradise itself there is the same
sense of troubled expectancy. In that " divine wood-
land ", among the long shadows of sunrise, the morning
blossoms and the morning songs of birds, 2 strange,
perplexing pageants pass. A harlot is seen seated
in the triumphal chariot ; the holy virgins, weeping,
intone the Psalm Deus, venerunt gentes, and Beatrice

1 Purg. xxvii. 94-5, 109. 2 Purg. xxviii. 2, 12, 16, 36.



herself, sospirosa epia, changes her beauty and becomes,
for a little, like Mary at the foot of the Cross. Only in
the very last lines of the Cantica does Dante drink of
Eunoe, and become ready for the ascent :

lo ritornai dalla santissim' onda

Rifatto si, come piante novelle

Rinnovellate di novella fronda,
Puro e disposto a salire alle stelle. 1

" Back turned I from that wave most blest
Fresh, as fresh plant with fresh leaves dressed,
Prepared, all clean from cares,
To mount unto the stars."

At the opening of the Paradiso, Dante speaks of
himself as " transhumanized " : a change has passed
over him "which cannot be signified by words". 2
A like change comes over the poem ; it moves hence-
forth in a more supernatural world. This of itself
is sufficient reason why the Paradiso should not
be " popular " to the same degree as the Inferno and
even as the Purgatorio. It is all at a higher tension,
and makes more exacting demands both on the in-
tellect and on the imagination. But for the charge of
monotony which has been made against it, and the
sense of monotony indistinctly felt by many readers
who have not formulated their impressions, there are
particular reasons which have to do partly indeed with
the nature of the subject, but partly also with Dante's

1 Purg. xxxiii. 143-5.


8 Par, i. 70.


handling of it, that is to say, with the quality of his
art as a poet.

One of the dangers which beset all artists is the
overdoing of a successful device. The device of
repetition is one of the most potent instruments in
the conduct of a large-scale poem ; and it is also
one which has to be most sedulously limited by
instinctive tact. In the Paradiso, as two thousand
years earlier in the Odyssey, though both poems are
miracles of construction, this particular device is pushed
up to, perhaps a little beyond, its limit. Much, perhaps
most, of the impression of monotony which beginners
feel in the Paradiso is simply due to the reiteration
by Dante of his incapacity to describe the experience
he is recording. This is done by him (with great skill
and immense effect) twice in the first and no less than
four times in the last Canto ; but between them it is
repeated over and over at comparatively short intervals
(see, for instance, Canti x, xiv, xviii, xxiv, xxx). In
this, as in other matters, an artist is apt to be taken at
his own valuation.

Similarly, his insistence on the increasing beauty of
Beatrice, designed to be felt as a key-note through-
out, is reiterated so often that it comes perilously near
overshooting its mark. The scale begins so high that
its upper notes are all but inaudible. Between the
" Goddess beloved of the First Lover " of the fourth

O amanza del primo amante, o diva!


and her who has " the joy of God in her face " in the

Che Dio parea nel suo volto gioire

we have been told, again and again, how she has been
becoming more beautiful : La donna mia ck* io vidi far
piii bella La sua sembianza vinceva gli altri e F ultimo
solere La belle zza mia piu s* accende i 1 yet at the end
we seem to be just where we were at the beginning.
Nor in truth is this the end ; for from this the poet
still strains to soar upwards :

Se quanto infino a qui di lei si dice
Fosse conchiuso tutto in una loda,
Poco sarebbe a fornir questa vice.

La bellezza ch' io vidi si trasmoda

Non pur di la da noi, ma certo io credo
Che solo il suo fattor tutta la goda. 2

" If all that can of her be told,
United in one word were rolled,

Its measure scarce could reach

Due praise aright to teach.
The loveliness which there would glow
Surpasses all that we may know :

I deem such joy alone

Is to its Maker known."

In the lines which immediately follow he elaborates
this thought ; they are also the lines in which he
speaks most explicitly of the range and limits of his
own art :

1 Par. viii. 15 ; xviii. 56-7 ; xxi. 7-8. 2 Par. xxx. 16-21.


Dal primo giorno ch* io vidi il suo viso
In questa vita, infino a questa vista,
Non m 1 e il seguire al mio cantar precise;

Ma or convien che mio seguir desista
Piu dietro a sua bellezza poetando,
Come all' ultimo suo ciascuno artista. 1

"From the first day when unto me
'Twas granted in this life to see

Her face, was nought that ever

Could my song's course dissever :
Henceforth no further may I seek
Of her fair countenance to speak :

Even as Artist will

Be foiled for all his skill."

The ideal of art, like all ideals, is unattainable ; it
always remains ahead of any actual achievement. But
this truth is one rather to be present to the mind of the
artist than to be expressly stated, with all the emphasis
of reiteration, in the work of art itself. It is sufficiently
indicated by the single word eirofci, " set to make ", in
the signatures of Greek artists. It is of the essence of
Paradise, as Piccarda explains to Dante, 2 that through
its ascending spheres there is no unsatisfied desire.
Ogni dove in cielo Paradiso, " Heaven everywhere is
Paradise " ; E la sua volontate nostra pace, " and His
will is our peace ". But it is likewise of the essence of
art that it cannot transcend its own limits, and can
only project upon the human material in which it

1 Par. xxx. 28-33. 2 Par. iii. 70-90.


works an imperfect image of the eternal qualities which
it apprehends. 1

To the increasing subtilization of beauty then, in
words no less than in lines and colours, there is
a limit put not merely by the man che trema, the
faltering touch of the artist, but also by the cera di
cose generate, the finite material on which he has to
work. In Botticelli's magnificent designs for the
Commedia, the whole of the thirty drawings for the
Paradiso are filled by the repetition of what is in
effect a single subject, the two figures of Dante and
Beatrice, with " white upturned wondering eyes",
ascending and ascending from where they leave the
tree-tops of the Earthly Paradise, through the Nine
Heavens, to where they appear against a background
of the Paradisal Rose, unfolding and distinguishable at
last as the " clear-ranged unnumbered " figures of the
blessed, or as a strange flowerage in which each flower
is also a winged soul. The repetition is not idle ; in

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