Translation as a Creative Art: John Ciardi in the Seventh Circle of Hell

John DuVal
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Critics and reviewers should expose places where translators fail to convey lovely sounds or innuendos or where they fancify what was better left simple, but critics and reviewers should also allow that not all differences do violence to the original and should be on the lookout for those instances where, with a deft, creative stroke, translators profit from their own language resources to stress some wondrous quality that might have gone unnoticed in the original.

If we read Dante's Inferno in Italian and John Ciardi's famous translation of that poem into English, simultaneously, ball point pen in hand, we discover (as in all good translations) significant differences, some defensible, some objectionable, most of them provocative and illustrative of the translator's creative art.

To illustrate, I will look into the Seventh Circle of Ciardi's translation of Dante's Inferno, the Circle of Violence, and examine three short passages where Ciardi differs significantly from his model. For two of these differences, Ciardi's double-rhyme tercet (rhyming axa bxb cxc..., where the x's do not rhyme) pressured Ciardi to differ creatively from his original. In the third, the absence of a word-for-word equivalent inspired the difference. As a reader, critic, and translator, I will disapprove of the first and consider how it comments on the original Italian, approve of the second, and delight in the third.

Keywords: Translation, Dante, Inferno
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: John Ciardi in the Seventh Circle of Hell

John DuVal

Professor, English Department, University of Arkansas

The Academy of American Poets granted John DuVal the 1992 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award for his translation of Cesare Pascarella's The Discovery of America. He received a 1999-2000 NEA for his translation of a play by Adam le Bossu. His most recent book of translations is From Adam to Adam: Seven Old French Plays, with Pegasus Paperbooks, which has scheduled a third and expanded printing in 2005 of his Fabliaux Fair and Foul (both with Raymond Eichmann). He directs the Program in Literary Translation at the University of Arkansas.

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