hell and back with Robert Pinsky
In an exercise
of hope that would make the poet Dante Alighieri proud, members
of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department have embarked
on a public reading of the Divine Comedy that will continue,
at the rate of seven cantos a year, into the year 2016. The program
has drawn readers and listeners from other Boston-area campuses,
as well as from the local Italian-American community, according
to associate professor Laurie Shepard. On March 11, in conjunction
with the Lowell Lecture Series, former U.S. poet laureate Robert
Pinsky took a turn at the lectern.
Pinsky read with brio from his own 1964 translation of the Inferno's
13th Canto, set in the circle of the violent in the woods of the
suicides ("the boughs not smooth, knotted and crooked-forked").
Questions from the standing-room-only audience followed. Does it
matter that Dante and Virgil are both poets? "Poet is a Greek
word that means maker--the opposite of despair--action." And
what of his personal experience as translator? "It was similar
to that of a kid with a video game: There was a technical thrill
to it." Is there anybody as bad as Shakespeare's Iago in the
Inferno? A voice in the audience nominates the traitor Archbishop
Ruggieri, but Pinsky demurs: "He's not kinetic and dynamic
the way Iago is. In Shakespeare, the characters are like chemicals
in a process. In the Inferno, it's a different kind of machinery.
There are wonderful conversations, but not really personalities."
Pinsky read on the first Monday night after spring break, and students,
many ruddy and tanned, seemed invigorated. As the crowd shuffled
out the doors, one said to the group at large, "So, is your brain
Anna Marie Murphy