Longfellow's Translation of Dante's Divina Commedia

IN the North American Review for March, 1809, we read of Cary’s Dante: “This we can pronounce, with confidence, to be the most literal translation in poetry in our language.”

“As to Cary,” writes Prescott in 1824, “ I think Dante would have given him a place in his ninth heaven, if he could have foreseen his translation. It is most astonishing, giving not only the literal corresponding phrase, but the spirit of the original, the true Dantesque manner. It should be cited as an evidence of the compactness, the pliability, the sweetness of the English tongue.”

If we turn to English scholars, we shall find them holding the same language, and equally ready to assure you that ytm may confidently accept Cary’s version as a faithful transcript of the spirit and letter of the original. And this was the theory of translation throughout almost the first half of the present century. Cary’s position in 1839 was higher even than it was in 1824. With many other claims to respect, he was still best known as the translator of Dante.

In 1839 Mr. Longfellow published five passages from the Purgatorio, translated with a rigorous adhesion to the words and idioms of the original. Coming out in connection with translations from the Spanish and German, and with original pieces which immediately took their place among the favorite poems of every household, they could not be expected to attract general attention. But scholars read them with avidity, for they found in them the first successful solution of one of the great problems of literature, — Can poetry pass from one language into another without losing its distinctive characteristics of form and expression ? Dryden, Pope, Cowper, Sotheby, had answered no for Greek and Latin, Coleridge for German, Fairfax and Rose and Cary for Italian. But if Mr. Longfellow could translate the whole of the Divina Commedia as he had translated these five passages, great as some of these names were, it was evident that the lovers of poetry would call for new translations of all the great poets. This he has now done. The whole poem is before us, with its fourteen thousand two hundred and seventy-eight lines, the English answering line for line and word for word to the original Italian. We purpose to show, by a careful comparison of test-passages with corresponding passages of Cary, what the American poet has done for the true theory of translation.

It is evident that, while both translators have nominally the same object in view, they follow different paths in their endeavors to reach it; or, in other words, that they come to their task with very different theories -of translation, and very different ideas of the true meaning of faithful rendering. Translation, according to Mr. Cary, consists in rendering the author’s idea without a strict adherence to the author’s words. According to Mr. Longfellow, the author’s words form a necessary accompaniment of his idea, and must, wherever the idioms of the twolanguages admit of it, be rendered by their exact equivalents. The following passage, from the twenty-eighth canto of the Purgatorio, will illustrate our meaning : —

“ In questa altezza che tutta è disciolta
Nell’ aer vivo, tal moto percuote,
E fa sonar la selva perch’ è folta.”


In this height which is all detached
In the living air, such motion strikes,
And makes the wood resound because it is thick.

Such are the words of Dante line by line. Let us now see how Cary renders them: —

“ Upon the summit, which on every side
To visitation of the impassive air
Is open, doth that motion strike, and makes
Beneath its sway the umbrageous wood resound.”

The fundamental idea of this passage is the explanation of the sound of the forest, and this idea Cary has preserved. But has he preserved it in its force and simplicity and Dantesque directness ? We will not dwell upon the rendering of altezza by summit, although a little more care would have preserved the exact word of the original. But we may with good reason object to the expansion of Dante’s three lines into four. We may with equal reason object to

“ which on every side
To visitation of the impassive air
Is open,”

as a correct rendering of

“che tutta è disciolta
Nell’ aer vivo,” —
which is all detached
In the living air.
“To visitation of the impassive air,”

is a sonorous verse; but it is not Dante’s verse, unless all detached means on every side is open to visitation, and impassive air means living air. Beneath its sway, also, is not Dante’s ; nor can we accept umbrageous wood, with its unmeaning epithet, for the wood because it is thick, an explanation of the phenomenon which had excited Dante’s wonder.

Here, then, we have Cary’s theory, the preservation of the fundamental idea, but the free introduction of such accessory ideas as convenience may suggest, whether in the form of epithet or of paraphrase.

Mr. Longfellow’s translation of this passage may also be accepted as the exposition of his theory : —

“ Upon this height that all is disengaged
In living ether, doth this motion strike,
And make the forest sound, for it is dense.”

We have here the three lines of the original, and in the order of the original ; we have the exact words of the original, disciolta meaning disengaged as well as detached, and therefore the ideas of the original without modification or change. The passage is not a remarkable one in form, although a very important one in the description of which it forms a part. The sonorous second line of Mr. Cary’s version is singularly false to the movement, as well as to the thought, of the original. Mr. Longfellow’s lines have the metric character of Dante’s precise and direct description.

The next triplet brings out the difference between the two theories even more distinctly: —

“ E la percossa pianta tanto puote
Che della sua virtute l’ aura impregna,
E quella poi girando intorno scuote.”
And the stricken plant has so much power
That with its virtue it impregnates the air,
And that then revolving shakes around.

Thus far Dante.

“ And in the shaken plant such power resides,
That it impregnates with its efficacy
The voyaging breeze, upon whose subtle plume
That, wafted, flies abroad.”

Thus far Cary.

Cary’s first line is a tolerably near approach to the original, although a distinction might be made between the force of power resides in, and power possessed by. The second line falls short of the conciseness of the original by transposing the object of impregnates into the third. This, however, though a blemish, might also be passed over. But what shall we say to the expansion of aura into a full line, and that line so Elizabethan and un-Dantesque as

“The voyaging breeze upon whose subtle plume ”?

In this, too, Mr. Cary is faithful to his theory. Mr. Longfellow is equally faithful to his : —

“ And so much power the stricken plant possesses,
That with its virtue it impregns the air,
And this, revolving, scatters it around.”

We have seen how Cary’s theory permits the insertion of a new line, or, more correctly speaking, the expansion of a single word into a full line. But it admits also of the opposite extreme, — the suppression of an entire line.

“ Ch’ io vidi, e anche udi’ parlar lo rostro,
E sonar nella voce ed io e mio,
Quand’ era nel concetto noi e nostro.”
For I saw and also heard speak the beak,
And sound in its voice and I and my,
When it was in the conception we and our.

Paradiso, XIX. 10.

There is doubtless something quaint and peculiar in these lines, but it is the quaintness and peculiarity of Dante. The I and my, the we and our, are traits of that direct and positive mode of expression which is one of the distinctive characteristics of his style. Do we find it in Cary ?

“ For I beheld and heard
The beak discourse ; and what intention formed
Of many, singly as of one express.”

Do we not find it in Longfellow ?

“For speak I saw, and likewise heard, the beak,
And utter with its voice both I and My,
When in conception it was We and Our.

It is not surprising that the two translators, starting with theories essentially so different, should have produced such different results. Which of these results is most in harmony with the legitimate object of translation can hardly admit of a doubt. For the object of translation is to convey an accurate idea of the original, or, in other words, to render the words and idioms of the language from which the translation is made by their exact equivalents in the language into which it is made. The translator is bound by the words of the original. He is bound, so far as the difference between languages admits of it, by the idioms of the original. And as the effect of words and idioms depends in a great measure upon the skill with which they are arranged, he is bound also by the rhythm of the original. If you would copy Raphael, you must not give him the coloring of Titian. The calm dignity of the “ School of Athens ” conveys a very imperfect idea of the sublime energy of the sibyls and prophets of the Sistine Chapel.

But can this exactitude be achieved without forcing language into such uncongenial forms as to produce an artificial effect, painfully reminding you, at every step, of the labor it cost ? And here we come to the question of fact; for if Mr. Longfellow has succeeded, the answer is evident. We purpose, therefore, to take a few test-passages, and, placing the two translations side by side with the original, give our readers an opportunity of making the comparison for themselves.

First, however, let us remind the reader that, if it were possible to convey an accurate idea of Dante’s style by a single word, that word would be power. Whatever he undertakes to say, he says in the form best suited to convey his thought to the reader’s mind as it existed in his own mind. If it be a metaphysical idea, he finds words for it which give it the distinctness and reality of a physical substance. If it be a landscape, he brings it before you, either in outline or in detail, either by form or by color, as the occasion requires, but always with equal force. That landscape of his ideal world ever after takes its place in your memory by the side of the landscapes of your real world. Even the sounds which he has described linger in the ear as the types of harshness, or loudness, or sweetness, instantly coming back to you whenever you listen to the roaring of the sea, or the howling of the wind, or the carol of birds. He calls things by their names, never shrinking from a homely phrase where the occasion demands it, nor substituting circumlocution for direct expression. Words with him seem to be things, real and tangible ; not hovering like shadows over an idea, but standing out in the clear light, bold and firm, as the distinct representatives of an idea. In his verse every word has its appropriate place, and something to do in that place which no other word could do there. Change it, and you feel at once that something has been lost.

Next to power, infinite variety is the characteristic of Dante’s style, as it is of his invention. With a stronger individuality than any poet of any age or country, there is not a trace of mannerism in all his poem. The stern, the tender, the grand, simple exposition, fierce satire, and passionate appeal have each their appropriate words and their appropriate cadence. This Cary did not perceive, and has told the stories of Francesca and of Ugolino with the same Miltonian modulation. Longfellow, by keeping his original constantly before him, has both seen and reproduced it.

We begin our quotations with the celebrated inscription over the gate of hell, and the entrance of the two poets into “the secret things.” The reader will remember that the last three triplets contain a remarkable example of the correspondence of sound with sense.

“ Per me si va nella città dolente ;
Per me si va nell' eterno dolore;
Per me si va tra la perduta gente ;
Giustizia mosse ’l mio alto fattore :
Fecemi la divina potestate,
La somma sapienza e 'l primo amorc.
Dinanzi a me non fur cose create
Se non eterne, ed io eterno duro :
Lasciate ogni speranza voi che ’ntrate.
Queste parole di colore oscuro
Vid’ io scritte al sommo d’ una porta ;
Perch’ io : maestro, il sense lor m’ è duro.
Ed egli a me, come persona accorta :
Qui si convien lasciare ogni sospetto,
Ogni viltà convien che qui sia morta.
Noi sent venuti al luogo ov' io t' ho detto
Che vederai le genti dolorose
Ch’ hanno perduto il ben dello ’ntelletto.
E poichè la sua mano alla mia pose
Con lieto volto, ond’ io mi confortai,
Mi mise dentro alle secrete cose.
Quivi sospiri, pianti ed alti guai
Risonavan per l’ aer senza stelle,
Perch’ io al cominciar ne lagrimai.
Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
Parole di dolore, accenti d’ ira,
Voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle,
Facevano un tumulto il qual s’ aggira
Sempre ’n quell’ aria senza tempo tinta,
Come la rena quando ’l turbo spina.”

Inferno, III. I - 30.

“ ' Through me the way is to the city dolent ;
Through me the way is to eternal dole ;
Through me the way among the people lost.
Justice incited my sublime Creator ;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.
Before me there were no created things,
Only eterne, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, ye who enter in ! ’
These words in sombre color I beheld
Written upon the summit of a gate ;
Whence I : ‘Their sense is, Master, hard to me!'
And he to me, as one experienced :
‘ Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,
All cowardice must needs be here extinct.
We to the place have come, where I have told thee
Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
Who have foregone the good of intellect.’
And after he had laid his hand on mine
With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,
He led me in among the secret things.
There sighs, complaints, and ululatjons loud
Resounded through the air without a star,
Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
Accents of anger, words of agony,
And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,
Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
Forever in that air forever black,
Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.” —Longfellow.
‘ Through me you pass into the city of woe :
Through me you pass into eternal pain :
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved :
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’
Such characters, in color dim, I marked
Over a portal’s lofty arch inscribed.
Whereat I thus : ' Master, these words import
Hard meaning.' He as one prepared replied :
‘Here thou must all distrust behind thee leave ;
Here be vile fear extinguished. We are come
Where I have told thee we shall see the souls
To misery doomed, who intellectual good
Have lost,’ And when his hand he had stretched forth
To mine, with pleasant looks, whence I was cheered.
Into that secret place he led me on.
Here sighs, with lamentations and loud moans,
Resounded through the air pierced by no star,
That e’en I wept at entering. Various tongues,
Horrible languages, outcries of woe,
Accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse,
With hands together smote that swelled the sounds,
Made up a tumult, that forever whirls
Round through that air with solid darkness stained,
Like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies.”


The following, though less remarkable for its poetry than many others which we might select, is very difficult for the translator. We cite it as an illustration of the boldness with which Mr. Longfellow meets difficulties.

“ E quale è quei che suo dannaggio sogna,
Che sognando disidera sognare,
Si che quel ch’ è, come non fosse, agogna;
Tal mi fee’ io non potendo parlare :
Che disiava scusarmi e scusava
Me tuttavia e nol mi credea fare
Maggior difetto men vergogna lava,
Disse ’! maestro, che ’l tuo non è stato :
però d’ ogni tristizia ti disgrava ;
E fa ragion ch' io ti sempre allato,
Se più avvien che fortuna t’ accoglia
Dove sien genti in simigliante piato :
Che voler ciò udire è bassa voglia.”

Inferno, XXX. 136-148.

“ And as he is who dreams of his own harm,
Who dreaming wishes it may be a dream,
So that he craves what is, as if it were not;
Such I became, not having power to speak.
For to excuse myself I wished, and still
Excused myself, and did not think I did it.
' Less shame doth wash away a greater fault,’
The Master said, ' than this of thine has been
Therefore thyself disburden of all sadness,
And make account that I am aye beside thee,
If e’er it come to pass that fortune bring thee
Where there are people in a like dispute;
For a base wish it is to wish to hear it.’ ”


“As a man that dreams of harm
Befallen him, dreaming wishes it a dream,
And that which is, desires as if it were not;
Such then was I, who, wanting power to speak,
Wished to excuse myself, and all the while
Excused me, though unweeting that I did.
' More grievous fault than thine has been, less shame,'
My master cried, ‘might expiate. Therefore cast
All sorrow from thy soul ; and if again
Chance bring thee where like conference is held,
Think I am ever at thy side. To hear
Such wrangling is a joy for vulgar minds.'”


The following passage from the Purgatorio is not only strikingly difficult, but strikingly beautiful.

“ Ed un di lor, non questi che parlava,
Si torse sotto 'l peso che lo ’mpaccia,
E videmi e conobbemi, e chiamava
Tenendo gli occhi cou fatica fisi
A me che tutto chin con loro andava.
Oh, diss’ io lui, non se’ tu Oderisi,
L’ onor d’ Agobbio e l’ onor di quell’ arte
Ch’ alluminare è chiamata in Parisi?
Frate, diss’ egli, più ridon le carte
Che pennelleggia Franco Bolognese :
L’ onore e tutto or suo, e mio in parte.
Ben non sare’ io stato si cortese
Mentre ch’ io vissi, per lo gran disio
Dell’ eccellenza ove mio core intese.
Di tal superbia qui si paga il fio :
Ed ancor non sarei qui, se non fosse
Che, possendo peccar, mi volsi a Dio.
Oh vana gloria dell’ umane posse,
Com’ poco verde in su la cima dura
Se non è giunta dall’ etadi grosse !
Credette Cimabue nella pintura
Tenor lo campo ; ed ora ha Giotto il grido,
Sì che la fama di colui s’ oscura.
Così ha tolto l’ uno all’ altro Guido
La gloria della lingua ; e forse è nato
Chi l’ uno e l’ altro caccerà di nido.
Non è il mondan romore altro ch’ un fiato
Di vento ch’ or vien quinci ed or vien quindi,
E muta nome perche muta lato.
Che fama avrai tu piu se vecchia scindi
Da te la carne, che se fossi morto
Innanzi che lasciassi il pappo e ’l dindi,
Pria che passin mill’ anni? ch’ e piu corto
Spazio all’ eterno ch’ un muover di ciglia
A1 cerchio che piu tardi in cielo e torto.
Colui che del cammin si poco piglia
Dinanzi a te, Toscana SOLÒ tutta,
Ld ora appena in Siena sen pispiglia,
Ond’ era sire, quando fu distrutta
La rabbia Fiorentina, che superba
Fu a quel tempo si com’ ora e putta.
La vostra nominanza e color d’ erba
Che viene e va, e quei la discolora
Per cui ell’ esce della terra acerba.”

Purgatorio, XI. 74-117.

“ And one of them, not this one who was speaking,
Twisted himself beneath the weight that cramps him,
And looked at me, and knew me, and called out,
Keeping his eyes laboriously fixed
On me, who all bowed down was going with them.
' O,’ asked I him, ‘ art thou not Oderisi,
Agobbio’s honor, and honor of that art
Which is in Paris called illuminating?’
‘ Brother,’ said he, ‘more laughing are the leaves
Touched by the brush of Franco Bolognese ;
All his the honor now, and mine in part.
In sooth I had not been so courteous
While I was living, for the great desire
Of excellence, on which my heart was bent.
Here of such pride is payed the forfeiture ;
And yet I should not be here, were it not
That, having power to sin, I turned to God.
O thou vain glory of the human powers,
How little green upon thy summit lingers,
If 't be not followed by an age of grossness !
In painting Cimabue thought that he
Should hold the field, now Giotto has the cry,
So that the other’s fame is growing dim.
So has one Guido from the other taken
The glory of our tongue, and he perchance
Is born, who from the nest shall chase them both.
Naught is this mundane rumor but a breath
Of wind, that comes now this way and now that,
And changes name, because it changes side.
What fame shalt thou have more, if old peel off
From thee thy flesh, than if thou hadst been dead
Before thou left the pappo and the dindi,
Ere pass a thousand years? which is a shorter
Space to the eterne, than twinkling of an eye
Unto the circle that in heaven wheels slowest.
With him, who takes so little of the road
In front of me, all Tuscany resounded ;
And now he scarce is lisped of in Siena,
Where he was lord, what time was overthrown
The Florentine delirium, that superb
Was at that day as now’t is prostitute.
Your reputation is the color of grass
Which comes and goes, and that discolors it
By which it issues green from out the earth.’”


“ Listening I bent my visage down : and one
(Not he who spake) twisted beneath the weight
That urged him, saw me, knew me straight, and called ;
Holding his eyes with difficulty fixed
Intent upon me, stooping as I went
Companion of their way. ‘ Oh! ’ I exclaimed,
‘ Art thou not Oderigi ? art not thou
Agobbio’s glory, glory of that art
Which they of Paris call the limner’s skill ? ’
‘ Brother ! ’ said he, ' with tints that gayer smile,
Bolognian Franco’s pencil lines the leaves.
His all the honor now ; my light obscured.
In truth, I had not been thus courteous to him
The while I lived, through eagerness of zeal
For that pre-eminence my heart was bent on.
Here, of such pride, the forfeiture is paid.
Nor were I even here, if, able still
To sin, I had not turned me unto God.
O powers of man ! how vain your glory, nipped
E’en in its height of verdure, if an age
Less bright succeed not. Cimabue thought
To lord it over painting’s field ; and now
The cry is Giotto’s, and his name eclipsed.
Thus hath one Guido from the other snatched
The lettered prize ; and he, perhaps, is born,
Who shall drive either from their nest. The noise
Of worldly fame is but a blast of wind,
That blows from diverse points, and shifts its name,
Shifting the point it blows from. Shalt thou more
Live in the mouths of mankind, if thy flesh
Part shrivelled from thee, than if thou hadst died
Before the coral and the pap were left,
Or e'er some thousand years have passed ? and that
Is, to eternity compared, a space
Briefer than is the twinkling of an eye
To the heaven’s slowest orb. He there, who treads
So leisurely before me, far and wide
Through Tuscany resounded once ; and now
Is in Sienna scarce with whispers named :
There was he sovereign, when destruction caught
The maddening rage of Florence, in that day
Proud as she now is loathsome. Your renown
Is as the herb, whose hue doth come and go ;
And his might withers it, by whom it sprang
Crude from the lap of earth,’” — Cary.

For much the same reason as that already stated, we give the following beautiful passage, a touching story in itself, but how deeply touching in the energetic directness and simplicity of Dante’s verse !

“ Io moss! i piè del luogo dov' io stava
Per avvisar da presso un' altra storia
Che diretro a Micol mi biancheggiava.
Quivi era storiata l’ alta gloria
Del roman prence lo cui gran valore
Mosse Gregorio aba sua gran vittoria :
I’ dico di Trajano imperadore ;
Ed una vedovella gli era al freno
Di lagrime atteggiata e di dolore.
Dintorno a lui parea calcato e pieno
Di cavalieri, e l’ aguglie nell’ oro
Sovr’ essi in vista al vento si movieno.
La miserella intra tutti costoro
Parea dicer: signor, fammi vendetta
Del mio figliuol ch’ è morto, ond’ io m’ accoro;
Ed egli a lei rispondere : ora aspetta
Tanto ch’ io torni; e quella : signor mio
(Come persona in cui dolor s’ affretta)
Se tu non torni ? ed ei: chi fia dov’ io,
La ti fara ; ed ella : l' altrui bene
A te che fia, se ’l tuo metti in oblio ?
Ond’ elli : or ti conforta, che conviene
Ch’ io solva il mio dovere anzi ch’ io muova :
Giustizia vuole e pieta mi ritiene.
Colui che mai non vide cosa nuova,
Produsse esto visibile parlare,
Novello a noi perche qui non si truova.”

Purgatorio, X. 70-96.

“ I moved my feet from where I had been standing.
To examine near at hand another story,
Which after Michal glimmered white upon me.
There the high glory of the Roman Prince
Was chronicled, whose great beneficence
Moved Gregory to his great victory ;
“T is of the Emperor Trajan I am speaking ;
And a poor widow at his bridle stood,
In attitude of weeping and of grief.
Around about him seemed it thronged and full
Of cavaliers, and the eagles in the gold
Above them visibly in the wind were moving.
The wretched woman in the midst of these
Seemed to be saying: ‘Give me vengeance, Lord,
For my dead son, for whom my heart is breaking.'
And he to answer her : ‘ Now wait until
I shall return.’ And she : ‘My Lord,’ like one
In whom grief is impatient, ‘shouldst thou not
Return?’ And he : ‘Who shall be where Lam
Will give it thee.’ And she : ' Good deed of others
What boots it thee, if thou neglect thine own?
Whence he : ‘ Now comfort thee, for it behoves me
That I discharge my duty ere I move ;
Justice so wills, and pity doth retain me.’
He who on no new thing has ever looked
Was the creator of this visible language,
Novel to us, for here it is not found.”


“ To behold the tablet next,
Which, at the back of Michol, whitely shone,
I moved me. There was storied on the rock
The exalted glory of the Roman prince,
Whose mighty worth moved Gregory to earn
His mighty conquest, Trajan the Emperor.
A widow at his bridle stood, attired
In tears and mourning. Round about them trooped
Full throng of knights; and overhead in gold
The eagles floated, struggling with the wind.
The wretch appeared amid all these to say :
‘ Grant vengeance, Sire ! for, woe beshrew this heart,
My son is murdered. ’ He replying seemed :
‘ Wait now till I return.’ And she, as one
Made hasty by her grief : ' O Sire ! if thou
Dost not return ? ’ — ‘ Where I am, who then is,
May right thee.’-— ‘What to thee is other’s good,
If thou neglect thy own?’— ‘ Now comfort thee,’
At length he answers. ‘ It beseemeth well
My duty be performed, ere I move hence :
So justice wills ; and pity, bids me stay.
He, whose ken nothing new surveys, produced
That visible speaking, new to us and strange.
The like not found on earth.” — Cary,

How different is the character of the following description, which fills the ear with its grand and varied harmony, as it fills the mind with a rapid succession of pictures !

“ Io m’ era mosso e seguia volentieri
Del mio maestro i passi, ed amendue
Gia mostravam com’ eravam leggier:,
Quando mi disse : Volgi gli occhi in giue ;
Buon ti sarà per alleggiar la via
Veder lo letto delle piante tue.
Come, perche di lor memoria fia,
Sovr' a’ sepolti le tombe terragne
Portan segnato quel ch’ elli eran pria ;
Onde li molte volte si ripiagne
Per la puntura della rimembranza
Che solo a’ pii dà delle calcagne:
Si vid’ io li, ma di miglior sembianza,
Secondo l’ artificio, figurato
Quanto per via di fuor del monte avanza.
Vedea colui che fu nobil creato
Più d’ altra creatura giù dal cielo
Folgoreggiando scendere da un lato.
Vedeva Briareo fitto dal telo
Celestial giacer dall' altra parte,
Grave alla terra per lo mortal gelo
Vedea Timbreo, vedea Pallade e Marte
Armati ancora intorno at padre loro
Mirar le membra de' giganti sparte.
Vedea Nembrotto appie del gran lavoro
Quasi smarrito riguardar le genti
Che 'n Sennaar con lui insieme foro. O Niobe, con che occhi dolenti
Vedev’ io te segnata in su la strada
Tra sette e sette tuoi figliuoli spenti !
O Saul, come 'u su ia propria spada
Quivi parevi morto in Gelboè
Che poi non senti pioggia nè rugiada !
O folle Aragne, si vedea io te
Già mezza ragna, trista in su gli stracci
Dell opera che mal per te si fe’.
O Roboam, già non par che minnacci
Quivi il tuo segno, ma pien di spavento
Nel porta un carro prima ch’ altri ’l cacci.
Mostrava ancora il duro pavimento
Come Almeone a sua madre fe’ caro
Parer lo sventurato adornamento.
Mostrava come i figli si gittaro
Sovra Sennacherib dentro dal tempio,
E come morto lui quivi lasciaro.
Mostrava la ruina e ’l crudo scempio
Che fe’ Tamiri quando disse a Ciro :
Sangue sitisti, ed io di sangue t’ empio.
Mostrava come in rotta si fuggiro
Gli Assiri poi che fu morto Oloferne,
Ed anche le reliquie del martiro.
Vedevn Troja in cenere e in caverne :
O Ilion, come te basso e vile
Mostrava il segno che li si discerne !
Qual di pennel fu maestro o di stile,
Che ritraesse I' ombre e gii atti ch' ivi
Mirar farieno uno ’ngegno sottile ?
Morti li morti, e i vivi parean vivi.
Non vide me’ di me chi vide ’l vcro,
Quant’ io calcai fin che chinato givi.”

Purgatario, XII. 10-69

“ I had moved on, and followed willingly
The footsteps of my Master, and we both
Already showed how light of foot we were,
When unto me he said : ' Cast down thine eyes ;
'T were well for thee, to alleviate the way,
To took upon the bed beneath thy feet.’
As, that some memory may exist of them,
Above the buried dead their tombs in earth
Bear sculptured on them what they were before;
Whence often there we weep for them afresh,
From pricking of remembrance, which alone
To the compassionate doth set its spur ;
So saw I there, but of a better semblance
In point of artifice, with figures covered
Whate'er as pathway from the mount projects.
I saw that one who was created noble
More than all other creatures, down from heaven
Flaming with lightnings fall upon one side.
I saw Briareus smitten by the dart
Celestial, lying on the other side,
Heavy upon the earth by mortal frost.
I saw Thymbræus, Pallas saw, and Mars,
Still clad in armor round about their father,
Gaze at the scattered members of the giants.
I saw, at foot of his great labor, Nimrod,
As if bewildered, looking at the people
Who had been proud with him in Sennaar.
O Niobe ! with what afflicted eyes
Thee I beheld upon the pathway traced,
Between thy seven and seven children slain !
O Saul ! how fallen upon thy proper sword
Didst thou appear there lifeless in Gilboa,
That felt thereafter neither rain nor dew !
O mad Arachne ! so I thee beheld
E’en then half spider, sad upon the shreds
Of fabric wrought in evil hour for thee !
O Rehoboam ! no more seems to threaten
Thine image there ; but full of cousternation
A chariot bears it off, when none pursues !
Displayed moreo’er the adamantine pavement
How unto his own mother made Alcmæon
Costly appear the luckless ornament;
Displayed how his own sons did throw themselves
Upon Sennacherib within the temple,
And how, he being dead, they left him there ;
Displayed the ruin and the cruel carnage
That Tomyris wrought, when she to Cyrus said,
' Blood didst thou thirst for, and with blood I glut thee ! ’
Displayed how routed fled the Assyrians
After that Holofernes had been slain,
And likewise the remainder of that slaughter
I saw there Troy in ashes and in caverns ;
O Ilion ! thee, how abject and debased,
Displayed the image that is there discerned !
Who e’er of pencil master was or stile,
That could portray the shades and traits which there
Would cause each subtile genius to admire ?
Dead seemed the dead, the living seemed alive ;
Better than I saw not who saw the truth,
All that I trod upon while bowed I went.”


“ I now my leader’s track not loath pursued ;
And each had shown how light we fared along,
When thus he warned me : ‘ Bend thine eyesight down:
For thou, to ease the way, shalt find it good
To ruminate the bed beneath thy feet.’
As, In memorial or the buried, drawn
Upon earth-level tombs, the sculptured form
Of what was once, appears, (at sight whereof
Tears often stream forth, by remembrance waked,
Whose sacred stings the piteous often feel,)
So saw I there, but with more curious skill
Of portraiture o’erwrought, whate’er of space
From forth the mountain stretches. On one part
Him I beheld, above all creatures erst
Created noblest, lightening fall from heaven :
On the other side, with bolt celestial pierced,
Briareus; cumbering earth he lay, through dint
Of mortal ice-stroke. The Thymbræan god,
With Mars, I saw, and Pallas, round their sire,
Armed still, and gazing on the giants’ limbs
Strewn o'er the ethereal field. Nimrod I saw :
At foot of the stupendous work he stood,
As if bewildered, looking on the crowd
Leagued in his proud attempt on Sennaar’s plain.
O Niobe ! in what a trance of woe
Thee I beheld, upon that highway drawn,
Seven sons on either side thee slain. O Saul !
How ghastly didst thou look, on thine own sword
Expiring, in Gilboa, from that hour
Ne’er visited with rain from heaven, or dew.
O fond Arachne ! thee I also saw,
Half spider now, in anguish, crawling up
The unfinished web thou weavedst to thy bane.
O Rehoboam ! here thy shape doth seem
Lowering no more defiance ; but fear-smote,
With none to chase him. ,in his chariot whirled.
Was shown beside upon the solid floor,
How dear Alcmæon forced his mother rate
That ornament, in evil hour received :
How, in the temple, on Sennacherib fell
His sons, and how a corpse they left him there.
Was shown the scath, and cruel mangling made
By Tomyris on Cyrus, when she cried,
‘ Blood thou didst thirst for : take thy fill of blood.’
Was shown how routed in the battle fled
The Assyrians, Holofernes slain, and e'en
The relics of the carnage. Troy I marked,
In ashes and in cavern-. Oh ! how fallen,
How abject, I lion, was thy semblance there !
What master of the pencil or the style
Had traced the shades and lines, that might have made
The subtlest workman wonder? Dead, the dead :
The living seemed alive : with clearer view
His eye beheld not who beheld the truth,
Than mine what I did tread on, while I went Low bending.” — Cary.

The following is distinguished from all that we have cited thus far by softness and delicacy of touch.

“ Vago già di cercar dentro e d’ intorno
La divina foresta spessa e viva
Ch’ agli occhi temperava il nuovo giorno,
Senza piu aspettar lasciai la riva
Prendendo la campagna lento lento
Su per lo suol che d' ogni parte oliva.
Un' aura dolce senza mutamento
Avere in se, mi feria per la fronte,
Non di più colpo che suave vento :
Per cui le fronde tremolando pronte
Tutte quante piegavano alla parte
U' la prim’ ombra gitta il santo monte ;
Non però dal loro esser dritto sparte
Tanto, che gli augelletti per le cime
Lasciasser d’ operare ogni lor arte ;
Ma con piena letizia l’ ore prime
Cantando ricevieno intra le foglie
Che tenevan bordone alle sue rime,
Tal qual di ramo in ramo si raccoglie
Per la pineta in sul lito di Chiassi
Quand’ Eolo scirocco fuor discioglie.
Gia m’ avean trasportato i lenti passi
Dentro all' antica selva tanto, ch’ io
Non potea rivedere ond' io m’ entrassi;
Ed ecco il più andar mi tolse un rio
Che ’nver sinistra con sue picciol’ onde
Piegava l' erba che ’n sua ripa uscio.
Tutte l' acque che son di qua più monde
Pnrrieno avere in se mistura alcuna
Verso di quella che nulla nasconde,
Avvegna che si muova bruna bruna
Sotto l' ombra perpetua, che mai
Raggiar non lascia sole ivi nè luna.
Co' pie ristetti e con gli occhi passai
Di la dal fiumicel per ammirare
La gran variazion de’ freschi mai;
E la m’ apparve, si com’ egli appare
Subitamente cosa che disvia
Per maraviglia tutt’ altro pensare,
Una donna soletta che si gia
Cantando ed iscegliendo flor da fiore
Ond’ era pinta tutta la sua via.”

Purgatorio, XXVIII. 1-42.

“ Eager already to search in and round
The heavenly forest, dense and living-green,
Which tempered to the eye; the new-born day,
Withouten more delay I left the bank.
Taking the level country slowly, slowly
Over the soil that everywhere breathes fragrance.
A softly-breathing air. that no mutation
Had in itself, upon the forehead smote me
No heavier blow than of a gentle wind,
Whereat the branches, lightly tremulous,
Did all of them bow downward toward that side
Where its first shadow casts the Holy Mountain;
Yet not from their upright direction swayed,
So that the little birds upon their tops
Should leave the practice of each art of theirs ;
But with full ravishment the hours of prime,
Singing, received they in the midst of leaves,
That ever bore a burden to their rhymes,
Such as from branch to branch goes gathering on
Through the pine forest on the shore of Chiassi,
When Eolus unlooses the Sirocco.
Already my slow steps had carried me
Into the ancient wood so far, that I
Could not perceive where I had entered it.
And lo ! my further course a stream cut off,
Which tow'rd the left hand with its little waves
Bent down the grass that on its margin sprang.
All waters that on earth most limpid are
Would seem to have within themselves some mixture
Compared with that which nothing doth conceal,
Although it moves on with a brown, brown current
Under the shade perpetual, that never
Ray of the sun lets in, nor of the moon.
With feet I stayed, and with mine eyes I passed
Beyond the rivulet, to look upon
The great variety of the fresh may.
And there appeared to me (even as appears
Suddenly something that doth turn aside
Through very wonder every other thought)
A lady all alone, who went along
Singing and culling floweret after floweret,
With which her pathway was all painted over.”


“ Through that celestial forest, whose thick shade
With lively greenness the new-springing day
Attempered, eager now to roam, and search
Its limits round, forthwith I left the bank ;
Along the champaign leisurely my way
Pursuing, o’er the ground, that on all sides
Delicious odor breathed. A pleasant air,
That intermitted never, never veered,
Smote on my temples, gently, as a wind
Of softest influence : at which the sprays.
Obedient all, leaned trembling to that part
Where first the holy mountain casts his shade ;
Yet were not so disordered, but that still
Upon their top the feathered quiristers
Applied their wonted art, and with full joy
Welcomed those hours of prime, and warbled shrill
Amid the leaves, that to their jocund lays
Kept tenor ; even as from branch to branch,
Along the piny forests on the shore
Of Chiassi, rolls the gathering melody,
When Eolus hath from his cavern loosed
The dripping south. Already had my steps,
Though s’ow, so far into that ancient wood
Transported me, I could not ken the place
Where I had entered : when, behold ! my path
Was bounded by a rill, which, to the left,
With little rippling waters bent the grass
That issued from its brink. On earth no wave
How clean soe'er, that would not seem to have
Some mixture in itself, compared with this,
Transpicuous clear ; yet darkly on it rolled
Darkly beneath perpetual gloom, which ne’er
Admits or sun or moonlight there to shine.
My feet advanced not; but my wondering eyes
Passed onward, o’er the streamlet, to survey
The tender May-bloom, flushed through many a hue,
In prodigal variety : and there,
As object, rising suddenly to view,
That from our bosom every thought beside
With the rare marvel chases, I beheld
A lady all alone, who, singing, went,
And culling flower from flower, wherewith her way
Was all o'er painted.”—" Cary.

We give a characteristic passage from the Paradiso.

“ Fiorenza dentro dalla cerchia antica,
Ond’ ella toglie ancora e terza e nona,
Si stava in pace sobria e pudica.
Non avea catenella, non corona,
Non donne contigiate, non cintura
Che fosse a veder più che la persona.
Non faceva mascendo ancor paura
La figlia al padre, che il tempo e la dote
Non fuggian quinci e quindi la misura.
Non avea case di famiglia vote ;
Non v’ era giunto ancor Sardanapalo
A mostrar ciò ch’ in camera si puote.
Non era vinto ancora Montemalo
Dal vostro Uccellatoio, che com’ è vinto
Nel montar su, cosi sarà nel calo.
Bellincion Berti vid’ io andar cinto
Di cuojo e d’ osso, e venir dallo specchio
La donna sua senza ’l viso dipinto :
E vidi quel di Nerli e quel del Vecchio
Esser contenti alla pelle scoverta,
E le sue donne al fuso ed al pennecchio :
Oh fortunate ! e ciascuna era certa
Della sua sepoltura, ed ancor nulla
Era per Francia nel letto deserta.
L’ una vegghiava a studio della culla,
E consolando usava l' idioma
Che pria li padri e le madri trastulla :
L’ altra traendo alla rocca la chioma
Favoleggiava con la sua famiglia
De’ Trojani e di Fiesole e di Roma.
Saria tenuta allor tal maraviglia
Una Cianghella, un Lapo Salterello,
Qual or saria Cincinnato e Corniglia.
A così riposato, a così bello
Viver di cittadini, a così fida
Cittadinanza, a così dolce ostello,
Maria mi diè, chiamata in alte grida ;
E nell’ antico vostro Batisteo
Insieme fui Cristiano e Cacciaguida.”

Paradiso, XV. 97-135.

“ Florence, within the ancient boundary From which she taketh still her tierce and nones,
Abode in quiet, temperate and chaste.
No golden chain she had, nor coronal,
Nor ladies shod with sandal shoon, nor girdle
That caught the eye more than the person did.
Not yet the daughter at her birth struck fear
Into the father, for the time and dower
Did not o’errun this side or that the measure.
No houses had she void of families,
Not yet had thither come Sardanapalus
To show what in a chamber can be done ;
Not yet surpassed had Montemalo been
By your Uccellatnjo, which surpassed
Shall in its downfall be as in its rise.
Bellincion Berti saw I go begirt
With leather and with bone, and from the mirror
His dame depart without a painted face ;
And him of Nerli saw, and him of Vecchio,
Contented with their simple suits of buff,
And with the spindle and the flax their dames.
O fortunate women ! and each one was certain
Of her own burial-place, and none as yet
For sake of France was in her bed deserted.
One o’er the cradle kept her studious watch,
And in her lullaby the language used
That first delights the fathers and the mothers ;
Another, drawing tresses from her distaff,
Told o’er among her family the tales
Of Trojans and of Fesole and Rome.
As great a marvel then would have been held
A Lapo Salterello, a Cianghella,
As Cincinnatus or Cornelia now.
To such a quiet, such a beautiful
Life of the citizen, to such a safe
Community, and to so sweet an inn,
Did Mary give me, with loud cries invoked,
And in your ancient Baptistery at once
Christian and Cacciaguida I became.”


“ Florence, within her ancient limit-mark,
Which calls her still to matin prayers and noon,
Was chaste and sober, and abode in peace.
She had no armlets and no head-tires then ;
No purfled dames ; no zone, that caught the eye
More than the person did. Time was not yet,
When at his daughter’s birth the sire grew pale,
For fear the age and dowry should exceed,
On each side, just proportion. House was none
Void of its family: nor yet had come
Sardanapalus, to exhibit feats
Of chamber prowess. Montemalo yet
O’er our suburban turret rose ; as much
To be surpassed in fall, as in its rising,
I saw Bellincion Berti walk abroad
In leathern girdle, and a clasp of bone ;
And, with no artful coloring on her cheeks,
His lady leave the glass. The sons I saw
Of Nerli, and of Vecchio, well content
With unrobed jerkin ; and their good dames handling
The spindle and the flax : O happy they!
Each sure of burial in her native land,
And none left desolate abed for France.
One waked to tend the cradle, hushing it
With sounds that lulled the parent’ infancy :
Another, with her maidens, drawing off
The tresses from the distaff, lectured them
Old (ales of Troy, and Fesole, and Rome.
A Salterello and Cianghella we
Had held as strange a marvel, as ye would
A Cincinnatus or Cornelia now.
In such composed and seemly fellowship,
Such faithful and such fair equality,
In so sweet household, Mary at my birth
Bestowed me, called on with loud cries ; and there,
In your old baptistery, I was made
Christian at once and Cacciaguida.” — Cary.

It would be easy to extend our quotations ; but we have given enough of Mr. Longfellow’s translation to show with what conceptions of duty to the original he came to his task, and how perfectly that duty has been performed.

According to his theory, then, as we gather it from these volumes, translation is not paraphrase, is not interpretation, is not imitation, but is the rigorous rendering of word for word, so far as the original difference of idioms permits. Its basis is truth to the form as well as to the thought, to the letter as well as to the spirit, of the text. The translator is like the messengers of the Bible and Homer, who repeat word for word the message that has been confided to them. He, too, if he would be true to his office, must give the message as it has been given to him, repeat the story in the words in which it was told him. Every deviation from the letter of the original is a deviation from the truth, Every epithet that is either added or taken away is a falsification of the text. The addition or the omission may sometimes be an improvement, but it is an improvement which you have no authority to make. It is not to learn what you think Homer or Dante might have said that the reader comes to your translation, but to see what they really said. When Cesarotti undertook to show how Homer would have written in the eighteenth century, he recast the Iliad and called it “The Death of Hector,” and in this he dealt more honestly with his readers than Pope ; for, although he failed to make a good poem, he did not attempt to pass it for Homer.

The greatest difficulty of the translator arises from his personality. He cannot forget himself, cannot guard, as he ought, against those subtle insinuations of self-esteem which are constantly leading him to improve upon his author. His own habits of thought would have suggested a different turn to the verse, a different coloring to the image. He finds it as hard to forget his own style, as to forget his identity. It demands a vigorous imagination, combined with deep poetic sympathies, to go out of yourself and enter for a time wholly into the heart and mind, the thoughts and feelings, of another ; and it is not to all that such an imagination and such sympathies are given. There is scarcely a great failure in poetical translation, which may not be traced to the want of this power.

It may seem like the grave enunciation of a truism to say that another indispensable qualification of the translator is perfect familiarity with the language from which he translates, and a full command of his own. It is not by mere reading that such a familiarity can be acquired. You must have learnt to think in a language, and made it the spontaneous expression of your wants and feelings, if you would find in it the true interpretation of the wants and feelings of others. Its words and idioms must awaken in you the same sensations which the words and idioms of your own language awaken ; givingpleasure as music, or a picture, or a statue, or a fine building gives pleasure, not by an act of reflection under the control of the will, but by an intuitive perception under the inspiration of a sense of the beautiful. The enjoyment of a thought is partly an intellectual enjoyment ; you may even reason yourself into it; but the enjoyment of style and language is purely an aesthetic enjoyment, susceptible, indeed, of culture, but springing from an inborn sense of harmony. To extend this enjoyment to a foreign language, you must bring that language close to you, and lorm with it those intimate relations between thought and word which you have formed IN your own. The word must not only suggest the thought, but become a part of it, as the painting becomes a part of the canvas. It must strike your ear with a familiar sound, awakening pleasant memories of actual life and real scenes. Idioms are often interpreters of national life, giving you sudden glimpses, and even deep revelations, of manners and customs, and the circumstances whence they sprang. They are often, too, brief formulas, condensing thought into its briefest expression, with a force and energy which the full expression could not give. To mistake them, is to mistake the whole passage. Not to feel them, is not to feel the most characteristic form of thought.

The preposition da is one of the most versatile words in Italian. Its literal meaning is from: it is daily used to express to. Da me may mean from me: it may also mean to me. Fit or deserving to be done is a common meaning of it; and it is in this sense that Dante uses it in the following passage from the fourth canto of Paradiso, fiftyfifth line —

“ Con intenzion da non esser derisa,”—
With intention not (deserving to be) to be derided.

Cary, though a good Italian scholar, translates it to shun derision; and, giving it this sense, quotes Stillingfleet to illustrate the thought which, for want of practical familiarity with the language, he attributes to Dante.

We believe, then, that the qualifications of a translator may be briefly summed upunder the following heads: —

He must be conscientiously truthful, studiously following his text, word by word and line by line.

He must possess a thorough mastery over both languages, feeling as well as understanding the words and idioms of his original.

He must possess the power of forgetting himself in his author.

And, lastly, he must be not merely a skilful artificer of verses, or a man of poetic sensibility, but a poet in the highest and truest sense of the word.

We would gladly enlarge upon this interesting subject, which not only explains the shortcomings of the past, but opens enticing vistas into the future. We cannot doubt that Mr. Longfellow’s example will be followed, and that from time to time other great poets will arise, who, not content with enriching literature with original productions, will acknowledge it as a part of what they owe the world, to do for Homer and Virgil and Æschylus and Sophocles what he has done for Dante. It is pleasant to think that our children will sit at the feet of these great masters, and, listening to them in English worthy of the tongues in which they first spake, be led to enter more fully into the spirit of the abundant Greek and the majestic Latin. It is cheering to the lovers of sound study to feel that every faithful version of a great poet extends the influence of his works, and awakens a stronger desire for the original. We never yet looked upon an engraving of Morghen without a new longing for the painting which it translated.

We have not left ourselves room for what we had intended to say about the notes, which form half of each of these three volumes. Those who know what conscientious zeal Mr. Longfellow brings to all his duties need not be told that they bear abundant testimony to his learning, industry, and good taste. They not only leave nothing to be asked for in the explanation of real difficulties, but, as answers to a wide range of philosophical, biographical, and historical questions, form in themselves a delightful miscellany. Dante has been overladen by commentators. In Mr. Longfellow he has found an interpreter.

It is not to Mr. Longfellow’s reputation only that these volumes will add, but to that of American literature. It is no little thing to be able to say, that, in a field in which some of England’s great poets have signally failed, an American poet has signally succeeded ; that what the scholars of the Old World asserted to be impossible, a scholar of the New World has accomplished ; and that the first to tread in this new path has impressed his footprints so deeply therein, that, however numerous his followers may be, they will all unite in hailing him, with Dante’s own words, —

“ Tu Duca, tu Signore e tu Maestro,”—
Thou Leader and thou Lord and Master thou.