La Vita Nuova

Dante Alighieri, trans. from the Italian by David Slavitt, Harvard Univ., $18.95 (156p) ISBN 978-0-674-05093-8
Before he wrote the Inferno and the Paradiso, Dante Alighieri wrote some of the world's most famous sonnets, describing his love for the young, unattainable, and (eventually) deceased Beatrice. Dante then embedded these sonnets in fluent prose describing his "new life" of love, explaining how he wrote the poems and what they meant. The short book that resulted became a testament to his feelings, a monument to Beatrice's beautiful purity, and an influential proof that poetry written in Florentine Italian could hold its own in a literary world ruled by scholarly Latin. (A long, clear foreword, from Stanford professor Seth Lerer, explains as much, and more.) Though the verse may not quite hold up as poetry in English, Slavitt, a prolific translator best known for classical texts, has made a consistently readable, even colloquial version of Dante's poems and prose, without compromising his strange extremes of emotion. Beatrice is at once the object of Dante's yearnings and the chaste symbol of all good hopes: "A word, or even a smile" from her, one poem says, "the memory of which lasts only a while,/ makes for strange and miraculous changes, and these/ endure forever in heart and soul and mind." (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/28/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010
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