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This article is taken from PN Review 96, Volume 20 Number 4, March - April 1994.

Italian Hours F.T. Prince

The Italian Element in Milton's Verse, published nearly forty years ago, is my only scholarly work which can claim to be 'a contribution to knowledge', and is the most visible result of my long prowl through Italian poetry from, say, Cavalcanti to Leopardi. The story of how I came to write the book, in my first years as a university teacher, is the only coherent episode I have to tell. It came late and had better be kept back until I have described my beginnings.

*

My title comes from Henry James's collected volume of travel sketches of Italy, and is not obviously right for a journey through language and literature. But I want to indicate the context, and that my total experience of Italy went far beyond reading, and has to be seen as a belated individual case of the English debt to Italy and the Italians from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century.

I began to teach myself Italian in my first year at Oxford, using the Temple Classics edition of Dante, in which the prose translation faces the Italian. T.S. Eliot's essay on Dante, first published in 1929, made me realise that anyone seriously interested in literature, and not least a would-be modern poet, should know the Divine Comedy (and if possible in the original). Eliot and Pound between them, in diverse ways and with quite different preoccupations, transformed the image of Dante and his predecessors, the poets of ...


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