La Vita Nuova
The New Life
La Vita Nuova - Dante Alighieri. A translation into English by A. S. Kline. Published with illustrations by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Composed around 1294, in Italian, the Vita Nuova tells the story of Dante's encounters with and love for Beatrice, culminating in her early death and its effect upon him. Utilising and developing the conventions of Courtly Love, in a mixture of prose and verse, Dante deepens the emotional content of the genre, while pointing the way towards the intellectual and spiritual journey of the Divine Comedy. Indeed the final section of the Vita Nuova contains his commitment to the writing of the greater work, in which Beatrice comes to represent Divine Philosophy, guiding the poet through Paradise towards ultimate truth, and embodying in her earthly and transcendental form the beauty and love which emanate from it.
In the Vita Nuova Dante's own emotional reactions are made the inner subject of the work, in a groundbreaking manner which foreshadows the Commedia's intensity, and the personal nature of the poet's quest, not merely to seek for meaning but to attain it spiritually.
This and other texts available from Poetry in Translation (www.poetryintranslation.com).
Before he wrote the Inferno and the Paradiso, Dante Alighieri wrote some of the world's most famous sonnets, describing his love for the young, unattainable, and (eventually) deceased Beatrice. Dante then embedded these sonnets in fluent prose describing his "new life" of love, explaining how he wrote the poems and what they meant. The short book that resulted became a testament to his feelings, a monument to Beatrice's beautiful purity, and an influential proof that poetry written in Florentine Italian could hold its own in a literary world ruled by scholarly Latin. (A long, clear foreword, from Stanford professor Seth Lerer, explains as much, and more.) Though the verse may not quite hold up as poetry in English, Slavitt, a prolific translator best known for classical texts, has made a consistently readable, even colloquial version of Dante's poems and prose, without compromising his strange extremes of emotion. Beatrice is at once the object of Dante's yearnings and the chaste symbol of all good hopes: "A word, or even a smile" from her, one poem says, "the memory of which lasts only a while,/ makes for strange and miraculous changes, and these/ endure forever in heart and soul and mind."