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This review is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

SWEET NEW STYLE GUIDO CAVALCANTI, Complete Poems, trans. Anthony Mortimer (Oneworld Classics) £10.99
The Selected Poetry of Guido Cavalcanti, trans. Simon West (Troubador Italian Studies) £13.99
DANTE ALIGHIERI, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, trans. J.G. Nichols (Oneworld Classics) £9.99
Living Classics: Greece and Rome in Contemporary Poetry in English, edited by S.J. Harrison (Oxford University Press) £60

It is good to have not one but two translations of the poetry of Guido Cavalcanti (1250/9-1300). Cavalcanti was a particular favourite of Ezra Pound for his part in bringing the lyric style of the Provençal Troubadours into the mainstream of Italian poetry through the invention of the dolce stil novo, the 'sweet new style'. Relatively little is known of Cavalcanti's life and only 52 of his poems survive, all of which are reproduced in Anthony Mortimer's translations and 23 of which appear in Simon West's selection. Cavalcanti enjoyed a problematic friendship with Dante. According to La Vita Nuova, they met after the older man wrote a response to Dante's sonnet 'A ciascun' alma presa', recounting a dream that he asked other poets to interpret. Cavalcanti's response was the best and Dante referred to him as his 'primo amico', his best friend. Cavalcanti might have appeared in the Divine Comedy, but the date of the start of Dante's journey into the underworld is set at the spring equinox (21 March) 1300 and Cavalcanti died on 29 August, probably from malaria. It is perhaps just as well that he did not feature in Dante's plans: by the time of his death, the two men do not appear to have been on speaking terms, perhaps because of Cavalcanti's supposed atheism, and he might have appeared in one of the circles of hell, like Dante's former teacher, Brunetto Lattini, damned for sodomy, and placed in the third ring of Hell. Dante's description ...


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