on 25 January 2006
Translating Dante into a modern idiom is obviously a desperately difficult task, especially if the translator aims to maintain some degree of loyalty to the distinctive but constrained metre and stanza forms of the original. And for a 21st century reader the flow of the verse is complicated by the often intensely referential content of the 'Inferno', involving many of Dante's Florentine contemporaries whose lives and stories are entirely obscure to us.
For me Ciaran Carson's commendable ambition has produced clunkingly uneven results. In places his language and expression are vivid and highly effective - generating 'powerful and arresting images' as one of the blurb reviews suggests, and transcending the classical stodge of earlier versions. But whereas other reviewers have seen much to praise in Carson's frequent and very conscious alternation between high-flown formal expression and Belfast-street colloquialism, I just found it disconcertingly incongruous and jarring. Particularly where casual and slangy terms are (as it seems) hauled in to achieve a pat rhyme, the effect is at times almost farcically smart-Alicky and at others perfectly bathetic.
So while this is a bold and interesting venture - and well worth the attention of Dante devotees, to see how they react - for me personally it ultimately falls a good way short of its aspirations.