Page:The Commedia and Canzoniere of Dante Alighieri vol i.djvu/22

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xiv

PREFACE.

to the world and to mankind. Yet none the less it seemed clear to me that Dante coald not be understood as a man or as a poet withont them; that many parts of the Commedia are as a sealed book to those who have no adequate knowledge of the poems of the Vita Nuova or the Convito. They represent the Dante of the Bargello portrait in its tender dreaminess, its latent promise and potency of a higher life, as the completed Commedia represents the face, worn and furrowed, with its knitted brow and compressed lips, of the plaster cast of Ravenna. In this region I found myself, when I had come to the conclusion that the Minor Poems should accompany the great universe-poem of which they were the forerunners, with far fewer competitors. The Vita Nuova and its poems had indeed been translated by Sir Theodore Martin (1862), Mr. D.G. Rossetti (1861), Mr. Garrow (1846), Mr. Norton (1867). Some of the other poems had appeared in Mr. Bossetti's Dante and his Circle (1874). A few might be found here and there in periodicals. So far as I know, however, the only complete translation into English was that of Mr. Charles Lyell (1845), and he had deliberately renounced the attempt to reproduce them in anything like the form of the original. To me this seemed a more serious defect in connexion with the Minor Poems than it had been even in connexion with the Commedia. Whatever charm there may be in the outward form of a sonnet, a canzone, or a ballata, depends, in large measure, on the recurrence of the rhyming syllables under fixed and complicated laws. Omit the rhyme, and the melody has vanished and the charm is nowhere, and you lose altogether the sense of sympathy with the poet's exulting joy in his own mastery over the instruments with which he has to deal Here again I made my choice