Released on 18 July 2013.

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The Divine Comedy

and Dante Alighieri

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2014 Short-listed

Costa Poetry Award


‘Finally I realised that I had been practising for this job every time I wrote a quatrain . . . I had spent all this time – the greater part of a lifetime – preparing my instruments’

The Divine Comedy is the precursor of modern literature, and Clive James’s vivif translation – his life’s work and decades in the making – presents Dante’s entire epic poem in a single song.

While many poets and translators have attempted to capture the full glory of The Divine Comedy in English, many have fallen short. Victorian verse translations established an unfortunate tradition of reproducing the sprightly rhyming measures of Dante but at the same time betraying the strain on the translator’s powers of invention. For Dante, the dramatic human stories of Hell were exciting, but the spiritual studies of Purgatory and the sublime panoramas of Heaven were no less so.

In this incantatory translation, James – defying the convention by writing in quatrains – tackles these problems head-on and creates a striking and hugely accessible translation that gives us The Divine Comedy as a whole, unified, and dramatic work.

In the media

An excellent new version of Dante's masterpiece. Eschewing Dante's terza rima, he has opted instead to write in rhyming quatrains, but without spaces between them, so each canto is a solid block of text. James handles the rhythm with ease and assurance, using enjambment freely, and brings a colloquial tone to the translation.. .wonderfully conveys the strangeness and vastness of Dante's vision. An impressive work of scholarship, and of poetry in its own right
Fresh, impressive new translation of The Divine Comedy that is both easy-going and lucid
Sunday Times
Punchy, theologically serious and frequently funny verse.