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On Translating
the Divina Commedia

A series of four sonnets, published in The Atlantic Monthly in December, 1864, and July, September, and November, 1866

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


FIRST SONNET



In Poetry Pages:

"Dante & Co."
Dante Alighieri, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Robert Pinsky -- together in cyberspace.

"Recollecting Longfellow"
A selection of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow originally published in The Atlantic Monthly.


Also by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Santa Filomena (1857)
The Children's Hour (1860)
Paul Revere's Ride (1861)
Canto XXIII, from Three Cantos of Dante's Paradiso (1864)
Vox Populi (1871)
The Leap of Roushan Beg (1878)
The Chamber Over the Gate (1879)


More poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.

Oft have I seen at some cathedral-door
A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,
Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet
Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor
Kneel to repeat his pater-noster o'er;
Far off the noises of the world retreat;
The loud vociferations of the street
Become an undistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter here from day to day,
And leave my burden at this minster-gate,
Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
While the eternal ages watch and wait.

(December 1864)


SECOND SONNET

I enter, and I see thee in the gloom
Of the long aisles, O poet saturnine!
And strive to make my steps keep pace with thine.
The air is filled with some unknown perfume;
The congregation of the dead make room
For thee to pass; the votive tapers shine;
Like rooks that haunt Ravenna's groves of pine
The hovering echoes fly from tomb to tomb.
From the confessionals I hear arise
Rehearsals of forgotten tragedies,
And lamentations from the crypts below;
And then a voice celestial that begins
With the pathetic words, "Although your sins
As scarlet be," and ends with "as the snow."

(July 1866)


THIRD SONNET

I lift mine eyes, and all the windows blaze
With forms of Saints and holy men who died,
Here martyred and hereafter glorified;
And the great Rose upon its leaves displays
Christ's Triumph, and the angelic roundelays,
With splendor upon splendor multiplied;
And Beatrice, again at Dante's side,
No more rebukes, but smiles her words of praise.
And then the organ sounds, and unseen choirs
Sing the old Latin hymns of peace and love
And benedictions of the Holy Ghost;
And the melodious bells among the spires
O'er all the house-tops and through heaven above
Proclaim the elevation of the Host!

(September 1866)


FOURTH SONNET

How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!
This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves
Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves
Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers,
And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers!
But fiends and dragons from the gargoyled eaves
Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,
And underneath the traitor Judas lowers!
Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain,
What exultations trampling on despair,
What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,
What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,
Uprose this poem of the earth and air,
This medieval miracle of song!

(November 1866)




On Translating the Divina Commedia, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; as published in The Atlantic Monthly, December, 1864; July, 1866; September, 1866; and November, 1866.
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