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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

by Dante Alighieri (Tr. H.W. Longfellow)

Terms

Contents

Preface

CANTO 1

CANTO 2

CANTO 3

CANTO 4

CANTO 5

CANTO 6

CANTO 7

CANTO 8

CANTO 9

CANTO 10

CANTO 11

CANTO 12

CANTO 13

CANTO 14

CANTO 15

CANTO 16

CANTO 17

CANTO 18

CANTO 19

CANTO 20

CANTO 21

CANTO 22

CANTO 23

CANTO 24

CANTO 25

CANTO 26

CANTO 27

CANTO 28

CANTO 29

CANTO 30

CANTO 31

CANTO 32

CANTO 33

CANTO 34

Notes

Essay

Chronology

 

 

Preface

Editorial Note

A lady who knew Italy and the Italian people well, some thirty years ago, once remarked to the writer that Longfellow must have lived in every city in that county for almost all the educated Italians "talk as if they owned him."

And they have certainly a right to a sense of possessing him, to be proud of him, and to be grateful to him, for the work which he did for the spread of the knowledge of Italian Literature in the article in the tenth volume on Dante as a Translator.


The three volumes of "The Divine Comedy" were printed for private purposes, as will be described later, in 1865-1866 and 1877, but they were not actually given to the public until the year last named.

Naturally enough, ever since Longfellow's first visit to Europe (1826-1829), and no doubt from an eariler date still, he had been interested in Dante's great work, but though the period of the incubation of his translation was a long one, the actual time engaged in it, was as he himself informs us, exactly two years. The basis of the work with its copious, information and illuminating notes, expositions and illustrations was his courses of Lecutre on Dante given in many places during many years; in these Lecture it was his early custom to read in translation, the whole or parts of the poem chosen for his subject, with his notes, expositions and illustrations interspersed. With what infinite pains and conscientious care the work was done, and how thoroughly he was penetrated with the thought and expression of the poet, his Diaries, his Life and his Letters abundantlyu show, and the work as it stands is a Masterpiece of scholarly and sympathetic rendering, interpretation and exposition.

When at last the task of translating, revising and re-revision, weighin and re-weighting, criticising and re-criticising every phrase, every possible interpretation, and every allusion was done,--first in the seclusion of his own study, and then with the sympathetic aid of his friends, Charles Eliot Norton, James Russell Lowell and others, the work was sent to the printer in 1864. Ten copies of "The Inferno" were privately printed in 1865 in time for one of them to be sent to Florence for the celebration of the six hundredth anniversary of Dante's birth. The seconds volume was printed in the following year in like manner and the third in the year after. In that year (1867), as we have already said, the whole work was given to the public as it is now presented in this edition and substantially as it appeared in the privately printed copies.

So thoroughly has Longfellow done the work of elucidating his version of the text of Dante, that there is absolutely nothing left for other commentators to do.--Every biblical and every classical allusion is annotated and referenced, every side light that can possibly be needed is thrown upon the work all through; and his "footlights of the great comedy" as he himself called his notes and illustrations are illuminating it for all time.

We have however added to his notes the arguments prefixed to the Cantos by the Rev. Henry Frances Carey, M,.A., in his well-known version, and also his chronological view of the age of Dante under the title of What was happening in the World while Dante Lived.

Charles Welsh

Oft have I seen at some cathedral door
A laborer, pausing int he dust and heat,
Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet
Enter, and cross himself, and ont he floor
Kneel to repeat his paternoster o'ver;
Far off the noises of the world retreat;
The loud vociferations of the street
become an undistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter her from day to day,
And leave my burden at this minster gate,
Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
While the eternal ages watch and wait. 1

1 This and the following sonnets were originally printed in the volume entitled "Voices of the Night."

How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!
This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves
Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves
Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers,
And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers!
But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves
Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,
And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers!
Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain,
What exultations tramplin on despair,
What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,
What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,
Uprose this poem of the earth and air,
Thsi mediaeval miracle of song!

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