254. La Vita Nuova (A New Life) by Dante Alighieri (c.1292-1294)

Dante collects and analyses his poems describing his love from afar for the beautiful and genteel Beatrice. My copy was translated by David R. Slavitt and published by Harvard University Press, 2010.

Thoughts : I wasn’t going to read this originally, but being so impressed with the world building of Dante’s first part of the Commedia, I read more of his life and became entranced with the idea of him falling in love with “the most gentle and sweet” Beatrice when they were children, and over the next decade being so enamored with her, yet unable to approach her and declare his love, even hiding behind other fictitious affairs in embarrassment. He who hesitates is lost, as Beatrice dies unexpectedly at the tender age of 24, but remains the love of Dante’s life and his creative muse.

While distraught at her death, his poetry doesn’t seem as grief stricken as his long period of all-consuming worship would lead you to expect? Perhaps he always saw her as too perfect to stay long on Earth anyway. After all, who but Beatrice comes down from Heaven to entreat Virgil to rescue Dante and lead him to heaven at the beginning of Inferno?

La Vita Nuova (the New Life, as marked as starting when he first sees Beatrice) is a combination of short chapters each describing an event or feeling in Dante’s love, described in both prose and poetry, often with words of literary analysis unnecessarily dissecting the poems.

Favourite quotes/scenes: While no single sonnet or poem was particular in grabbing my attention, there were lines here and there throughout the small collection that did speak to me

“It was from that moment that Love tyrannized my soul …  her image was always with me but it was of such inspiring nobility that the advice of Reason that could have been a counterweight could find no ground for objection and it concurred entirely”                           page 29

“now that Death has taken her into his keeping,

with his rough hands that hold her as she’s sleeping”                      page 42

“…. the instant that I raise my eyes, the sight of you increases my pain,

I am afraid, and again my soul flees, routed by Love”                      page 67

“… grief is all that’s keeping me from dying”                                     page 121


Personal rating:  Not as creative or awe-inspiring as the Commedia but if you have a romantic soul or cry at the end of Romeo and Juliet, you’ll probably enjoy this too. I did. 5/10.

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