Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
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Cite as: Rachel Jacoff, ‘Reclaiming Paradiso: Dante in the Poetry of James Merrill and Charles Wright’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati, Fabio Camilletti, and Fabian Lampart, Cultural Inquiry, 2 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 123–36 <https://doi.org/10.25620/ci-02_08>

Reclaiming ParadisoDante in the Poetry of James Merrill and Charles WrightRachel Jacoff

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia – Paradiso; Alighieri, Dante – Vita nuova; productive reception; American poetry; Merrill, James Ingram; Wright, Charles

The ‘fortuna di Dante’ among English and American poets of the twentieth century is a rich story that continues on into this millennium with new permutations and undiminished energies. Pound and Eliot canonized Dante for more than one generation of poets and readers. Although Eliot famously rewrote Dante’s infernal encounter with Brunetto Latini in ‘Little Gidding’, it was Purgatorio rather than Inferno that both Pound and Eliot valorized, its charged and affectionate poetic encounters serving as a model for key moments in both their works. Both poets especially loved Purgatorio XXVI, in which Dante’s meeting with Guinizelli and then with Arnaut Daniel is staged as an encounter between languages as well as poets, with Dante incorporating Provençal into his terza rima. For others such as Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott the theme of poetic encounter in the afterlife, or between the dead and the living, remained a dominant trope, leading to important scenes in several Walcott poems and to Heaney’s great purgatorial poem, Station Island.

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