25 Merwin, W. S. “Manuscript notes and translations for the Purgatorio.”

Sample page of Merwin's draft translation of the 'Purgatorio'
Item 25. 9–8–424

The three leaves of original manuscript materials exhibited here testify to the creative and scholarly processes involved in Merwin’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio (see Item 32). Drafts of the book’s foreword and canto 25 bear extensive changes and corrections; notes to canto 20 attempt to interpret its rich symbolism and historical references. Characteristically, Merwin composed drafts of the Purgatorio on the backs of sheets of his correspondence.

Shelf mark: Merwin 4:9–8–379; 9–8–380; 9–8–24

26 Dante Alighieri. La Comedie de Dante: De l´Enfer, du Purgatoire et Paradis. Translated by Balthasar Grangier. 3 vols. Paris: George Drobet, 1596–1597.

Balthasar Grangier published the first complete French translation of the Divina commedia in the late 16th century. Despite the praise of Christine de Pisan (1364–1429), Dante enjoyed little acclaim in France during the centuries immediately following his death. This translation apparently did nothing to improve the poet’s reputation among the French.

Shelf mark: 851D23 Od.Fg

27 Dante Alighieri. Peklo [Inferno]. Translated by Otto F. Babler. (Monumenta genii humani, 4). Prague: Printed and published by Jaroslav Picka, January 1949.

This scarce book includes illustrations by Czech artist Jan Konůpek (1883–1950), initials and title page by Czech type designer Karel Dyrynk (1876–1949), and an initial illuminated by Karel Dudešek. This copy is numbered 30 and signed by Konůpek. The first complete Czech translation of the Divina commedia was completed by the poet Jaroslav Vrchlickỷ (Prague: A. R. Lauermann, 1879–1882). Vrchlickỷ’s translation helped to introduce Dante to Czechs in the nineteenth century, while Babler’s translation became popular during the twentieth century.

References: Pejovic: Tchécoslovaquie 13
Shelf mark: SRB Q.851D23 Oi CZb

28 Carlisle, Frederick Howard, Earl. Poems, Consisting of the Following Pieces, Viz. I. Ode Written upon the Death of Mr. Gray. II. For the Monument of a Favourite Spaniel. III. Another Inscription for the Same. IV. Translation from Dante, Canto xxxiii. 2nd ed. London: Printed for J. Ridley, 1773.

The fifth earl of Carlisle, Frederick Howard was born in 1748 and spent much of his life as a politician, serving in the House of Lords, and as a diplomat charged with brokering peace between Great Britain and the new American republic in 1778. Carlisle’s translation of Inferno 33:1-75 appeared in three editions in 1773 along with three of his own poems and was among the first translations of Dante’s works into English. While his poetry may not be of great literary value, Carlisle is most often remembered for becoming Lord Byron’s guardian in 1799, when the poet was eleven years old.

References: DNB: 28:346–349; ESTCT42611
Shelf mark: 821 C194 1773

29 Dante Alighieri. A Translation of the Inferno of Dante Alighieri in English Verse with Historical Notes, and the Life of Dante, to which is added, A Specimen of a New Translation of the Orlando furioso of Ariosto. Translated by Henry Boyd. 2 vols. Dublin: Printed by P. Byrne, 1785.

The Irishman Henry Boyd (ca. 1749–1832) published his verse translation of the Inferno in 1785 in both London and Dublin. Boyd’s translation is only the second English rendering of a complete part of the Divina commedia, following by three years Charles Rogers’s Inferno of 1782. Boyd went on to publish other translations as well as his own poetry and, in 1802, his translation of the entire Divina commedia appeared in three volumes. Boyd’s rendering remained the standard for much of the nineteenth century until it was eclipsed by Cary’s translation (see Item 30).

References: Cunningham 1:14–16; DNB: 7:33; ESTCT129133
Shelf mark: 851D23 OiEb

30 Dante Alighieri. The Inferno of Dante Alighieri. Translated by Henry Francis Cary.
2 vols. London: Printed for James Carpenter, 1805–1806.

Henry Francis Cary (1772–1844) began his influential blank verse translation of the Divina commedia in 1797. His Inferno was published in two volumes, together with the Italian text, seven years later. The translation received mixed reviews and did not sell well at first. This initial poor reception created difficulty for Cary in finding a publisher for his complete translation of the Divina commedia, which he finished in 1812. After publishing the work at his own expense in 1814 under the title The Vision, or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri, Cary drew the attention of prominent literary figures such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Ugo Foscolo. Three more editions of the translation appeared in Cary’s lifetime, the final one issued just months before his death. Throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, The Vision was published in hundreds of editions, often with illustrations by John Flaxman or Gustave Doré, and introduced Dante to countless speakers of English.

31 Dante Alighieri. Dante’s Inferno: Translations by Twenty Contemporary Poets. Edited by Daniel Halpern. Hopewell, N. J.: Ecco Press, 1993.

This fine press book is a work of art as well as an interesting approach to translation. The letterpress printing for this volume was carried out by Michael and Winifred Bixler of Skaneateles, New York. Fittingly, the text was set in Monotype Dante, a typeface based on designs by Giovanni Mardersteig (see Item 19) for his edition of Boccaccio’s Trattatello in laude di Dante of 1955.

The idea of having twenty modern poets interpret the Inferno came about “over a notable Sangiovese from Dante’s Tuscany” as Daniel Halpern tells us in his preface (p. vii). This collaborative effort produced a fresh look at the Inferno and made it accessible to a late twentieth-century audience. Major poets, including Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinksy, and W. S. Merwin, each contributed a translation of a canto. Printed in an edition of 125 copies, the volume features an original etching by Italian artist Francesco Clemente (b. 1952) and signatures of each of the translators.

Shelf mark: Merwin Q.851D23 Oi:E 1993a

32 Dante Alighieri. Purgatorio. Translated by W. S. Merwin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

The American poet W. S. Merwin (b. 1927) is widely known as a translator of works ranging from Asian and Spanish poetry to Arthurian legends to French and Greek drama. He remarks in the foreword to his Purgatorio, “Translation of poetry is an enterprise that is always in certain respects impossible, and yet on occasion it has produced something new, something else, of value, and sometimes, on the other side of a sea change, it has brought up poetry again” (p. ix).

Portions of Merwin’s translation of the Purgatorio appeared in various journals throughout the 1990s. This edition represents the culmination of a lifetime of his reading, teaching, and translating of Dante.

Shelf mark: Merwin 851D23 Opu:Em 2000

Next Chapter  »