The wonderful Scottish writer and artist Alasdair Gray has a blog, and on that blog he is posting his “Very Free New Version” of Dante’s Divina Commedia. He says “My version is so prosaic that I call the cantos/ chapters and will add them to my blog/ with their date of completion”; I’m not sure what he means by “prosaic,” unless it’s just apotropaic self-deprecation (how, after all, can you call your own stuff “poetic” when it’s confronting Dante?), but it sure sounds like poetry to me, and it’s as immediately convincing as Christopher Logue’s Homer (see this LH post—almost a decade old now!). Here‘s the start of it, and here are the first few stanzas:

In middle age I wholly lost my way
and found myself within an evil wood
far from the right straight road we all should tread

and what a wood! So densely tangled, dark,
jaggily, thorned, so hard to press on through,
even the memory renews my dread.

My misery, my almost deadly fear
led on to such discovery of good,
I’ll tell you of it, if you care to hear.

Hat tip to wood s lot.

Update (Dec. 2019). Obituary post (with JC’s links to the Dante translation).


  1. Apotropaic self-deprecation!
    Such phrases are why I read this blog….

  2. For a moment I thought, “The Alasdair Gray who wrote that gorgeous poem ‘A Spell for Sleeping’? He’s translating the Divine Comedy? Surely life is complete.” Turns out that’s Alistair Reid. But this guy seems to be pretty good too. I like the understatement of the shipwrecked swimmer who “looks back on swamping breakers thoughtfully”. (On the other hand, “the last great law of He / who made the whole celestial universe” is just painful.)

  3. narrowmargin says

    I suppose it’s only me being literal-minded, or simply over-reacting, but I don’t care for his choice of “evil” for “oscura”. To my reading, Dante never intended that sort of characterization. A deviation from God, yes, and therefore the darkness, and “darkness” is much more subtle than “evil”. The word “evil” carries too much weight, it’s too definite. And surely Dante would have used the Italian equivalent had he meant that.
    On the other hand, the rest of it actually doesn’t sound so bad.
    I suppose it’s because I think of Dante as being too lofty for such an informal phrase as “if you care to hear”. But I’d be interested in reading the rest of it.
    Thanks for calling attention to something I’d never have found on my own.

  4. Narrow: One thing Dante isn’t, is consistently lofty: he’s the most colloquial of Italian poets. He can rise to extraordinary poetic heights, yes, but he doesn’t stay there long.

  5. narrowmargin says

    I just read Garry Wills’ introduction to War Music and take back what I said. By the way, I’d never even heard of Logue before today.

  6. I’m always delighted when I introduce people to Logue!

  7. Ahoy, Hat. When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre is now known:
    Science, innit?

  8. If you believe their assumptions and likelihood-based Markov chain Monte Carlo procedure. Me, I’ll stick with “sometime in the seventh or eighth century BCE, maybe.”

  9. Besides, as every schoolboy knows, the Odyssey was composed by a woman, and that’s bound to throw off the stats.

  10. If you believe their assumptions and likelihood-based Markov chain Monte Carlo procedure. Me, I’ll stick with “sometime in the seventh or eighth century BCE, maybe.”
    Which is basically what they say. As I understand it, their point is exactly that you should believe in their method because it gives results that tally with what’s already thought to be known. (In this case, that is, though obviously not in the statistical-dating-of-IE literature.)

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