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This review is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

HARPING ON HELL Dante in English, edited by Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds (Penguin, Poets in Translation) £16.99

In 1873, Rimbaud issued the imperative to be 'absolutely modern... no more canticles'. The reference is to canticles in the religious sense of hymns of thanksgiving, and surely no reader could project such an edict onto the cantiche of the Divine Comedy. For while Wallace Stevens, in this anthology, is quoted as saying 'the time will come when poems like Paradise will seem like very triste contraptions', the existence of such a book as Dante in English is testament to the poet's enduring hold over the Anglophone imagination in a now secular society.

Oxbridge academics both, Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds published their anthology in 2005, since when it has attracted the interest of numerous reviewers, among them Helen Vendler. Although her criticism of it in the London Review of Books received a terse rebuttal from Griffiths through the Letters pages, it was yet reflective of the controversy surrounding the collection. A curious hybrid text, halfway down that path between expert and novice reader, it seems neither for the newcomer to Dante nor for his scholars. It is however, an interesting addition to the Dantean corpus, and provides a good companion piece to The Poets ' Dante, edited by Peter S. Hawkins and Rachel Jacoff (2001).

The anthology comprises translations and borrowings from Dante by poets writing in English, with four categories distinguished: poems which translate or derive from Dante; poems ...


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