The Poets’ Dante
Perhaps it is a combination of interest in literary deconstruction, psychology, religion, and cultural studies that has spawned the twentieth century resurgence of interest in Dante studies. Possibly the Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets anticipated this renascence. In any event, The Poets’ Dante provides a diverse overview of much of this critical and creative work.
Some of its material is very familiar: essays by Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Williams, for example. Some, by other well-known writers writing in languages other than English such as Jorge Luis Borges and Eugenio Montale, may be less so. What is clear is that Dante’s poetry has a universality that transcends all perspectives. This universality emerges particularly in Part II of the volume. Contemporary poets ranging from Seamus Heaney to Charles Wright, Jacqueline Osherow, W.S. Merwin, Robert Pinsky, and Edward Hirsch examine questions of modernism, Judaism, and the peculiar attractions of many of Dante’s sinners.
In all there are twenty-eight contributors. Even when their opinions seem at variance, they prove the extraordinary degree to which Dante’s universality transcends disagreement. Dante’s Divina Commedia is both epic and lyric, yet it is allegory. It describes a highly personal experience, yet it is simultaneously universal. Its focus is to reach heaven, yet its vision of God is anthropocentric.
The editors, Peter S. Hawkins and Rachel Jacoff, believe that the prospects for Dante studies remain strong. It may well show the tenor of the times that Ralph Waldo Emerson considered the Divina Commedia an autobiography in cipher while T.S. Eliot saw it as prophetic truth. Its enigmas are the truth that underpins life itself.