Ned Denny’s B (after Dante) – The Brooklyn Rail

Ned Denny
B (after Dante)
(Carcanet Press, 2021)

The coincidence of the publication of the translation of Ned Denny, winner of the 2019 Seamus Heaney Poetry Prize B (after Dante) by Dante Divine Comedy, and the 700th year since the poet’s death in the fall of 1321, proves suitably momentous. Coincidence, because Denny embarked on his “long labor” at the age of 40, “nel mezzo del cammin” (di nostra vita), six years ago, without thinking about the birthday; and long before the suitably medieval and hellish plague conditions in which it was published, Dante having died of malaria.

TS Eliot described Dante as “the greatest religious poet”, his masterpiece the divine comedy expressing “everything emotional, between the despair of depravity and the blissful vision, that man is capable of experiencing”. Comedyas taking “the form of another poem”, it is not a cop but faithful to the original. A Nobel laureate, Eugenio Montale, wrote that the English translations concoct Dante in their own way and were right to do so. Dante made a new poem inspired by the Aeneid, Book 6 whose author Virgil descends into hell guided by the Sibyl. In Dante’s similar journey, his first guide is Virgil, his poetic ancestor. But instead of Virgil’s Latin, he dared to use everyday language to make his poem understandable to more than an educated elite; and he placed it in the present – ​​even the concept of purgatory was not officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church until his lifetime. The use of the vernacular immortalized him as the “father” of the Italian language, his example quickly establishing vernacular literature as the norm across Europe.

Denny renames his Comedy ‘B’renaming Dante’s three books for emphasis: Flambé (Hell), Bathe (Purgatory)Happiness (Paradise), which wins from the start over attempts to update other translators. The refusal to observe poetic precedent is compounded by its new strike in every line. The result is convincing. In form too, Denny provides a scriptural “living equivalent” to Dante’s spiritually numerological original of the early Renaissance, when the universal perfection of mathematics, bridging the old world and the new, justified the order divine of creation. Each of the BThe 100 stanzas of are printed as a block, six long rhyming couplets about 12 words wide, reminiscent of the “foursquare” duodecimal dimensions and details of the radiant “holy Jerusalem descending from God’s heaven” (Revelation: 21:10). Verse length varies, but each stanza is 144 syllables, celebrating the 144,000 “redeemed from the earth” and singing “a new song” before “the throne of God” (Revelation: 14, 1-5); and “the hours of the six days of Creation (and thus the end and beginning of sacred time)” (Genesis 1:31, 2:1-2). Denny connects each canto with a single opening and closing line, giving a round total of 11,000 lines. The book is dedicated to the “Maestro”, in recognition of the appearance of Christ as divine maestro (therefore in capital letters) of Dante in Paradiso/Felicity, evoking the Logos as the supreme “conductor” of Creation.

In the 2017 anthology To hell and back of 70 modern English translations (after 1782) of Hell, which includes Denny among 18 post-2000 translators, he is the only one to honor the original with such witty fidelity – a vital distinction in the secular present. The majority, including Dorothy Sayers in her beloved version, opt for Dante’s original terza rima. For many this may prove a limitation, as Denny’s syllabic counting affords him the freedom to keep pace and rhyme his verses with wit and even humor, as God with thud.

After declaring his revitalizing intentions by renaming the titles of the books, Denny’s new strike begins with the famous opening lines. In Longfellow’s famous translation of 1867, these are:

Halfway through life’s journey
I found myself in a dark forest
Denny’s version opens in one line:
In the middle of the ride of this life some call good
and carry on
I came to myself in a corpse-colored wood,
Having strayed or abandoned the straight path.

Its modernity is clear but never shocking:
…and not only that, but a hail of golf balls
hang in ice the dregs of a shit bucket
thundered on the miasma of the ground. (Flambé6:1)

Contemporary allusions can be perfectly discreet:
Scattered like day trippers across the gentle plain

again I approached my faithful companion,
without whose stern direction, how would I have followed –
or even discerned – the long and winding road? (Bathe3:1)

As its preface explains,B‘ represents a digit for the Comedythe all-encompassing association: from Beatrice, too obvious to enumerate, to Bella, Dante’s mother, “who died when he was young, and the bell that calls the sleeping spirit to God”. The shows above B are also for the Beatles.

the Hell is usually as far as modern drives from Comedy obtain, satisfy a taste for sensationalism made more essential as daily life speeds up and attention spans shorten. But at the same time Flambé is suitably hellish, Denny’s Bathe and happiness prove equally convincing for the refresh of the revision; and not just Dante, as shown in this reworking of a natural wonder, The Singing Ascent of the Lark, the inspiration for some of England’s most popular poems. With typical novelty, he marvels at the bird’s no less dramatic silent descent:

“Now he testifies to the grace of God in the way that you go astray
Earth can’t understand, though even he
I can only see so far into this infinity.
Like a lark climbing a pale blue sky, first
singing then silent as overflowing with the last
wild phrase – too mysterious even for itself –
so seemed to me this mark or imprint of the Self.
The eternal joy whose unfathomable desire
we arrive at the right time to be who we really are; (Bliss: 20.5)

Virgil cannot lead Dante into the paradise promised by the risen Christ because he was a pre-Christian Roman pagan. It is Dante’s second guide, the beatrice Beatrice, promise of divinity but in earthly reality the object of his courteous and spotless love (in real life he has only seen her twice), who guides him. of Bathe (Purgatory) in happiness (paradise) where, in the beautiful and last words of Denny, the intellect, the will and all the desires are held by the Love that moves the sun and the unspeakable stars.

B is the spectacular confirmation of the talent revealed in Ned Denny’s first award-winning collection, Supernatural toys.

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