Saturday, June 18, 2005

Finding Ciardi...

Everyone thought I was completely off my rocker for teaching Dante's Inferno to 10th graders. What can I say? I was a rebel when it came to teaching World Literature. For those not familiar, Inferno is the story of the main character's (also named Dante) trip through hell on his way to purgatory and heaven. He
had to take the long way 'round. While some of the teachers thought it was a crazy-hard task, I saw nothing but opportunity. It had the three main elements that I found my students responded to:

1) Grossness (characters eating each other, lost souls writing on the shore of a river, lovers caught in an eternal whirlwind, murder, starvation)

2) Lots of symbolism. They loved symbolism. Of course, I had to explain a lot
of it, but they liked it and it made that little lightbulb come on over their heads.

3) History. Shocked the crapola out of me. I never would've thought they'd like learning history stuff about Italy and the Christianity included in the story, but they loved it...and remembered it.

Where is all this going? When I taught Inferno, it was the first time I'd read it myself. I immediately fell in love with it because I enjoyed all the same things
my students did, and I'm sure part of their enjoyment came from my overwhelming enthusiasm. In addition to the meat of Inferno's plot, I fell in love with John Ciardi's translation. It was beautiful, it was smooth, it was tantalizing, and, from what I've read, it's very true to Dante's vision.

I stumbled upon an article about John Ciardi's life this morning as
I browsed some of my favorite lit. sites. I've not read any of his other poetry,
I'm not familiar with his body of work, but I spent a good deal of time admiring his translation, and somewhere along the way he slipped through the cracks. I always meant to look for more of him, but he got lost in the turmoil. Now, I have fresh incentive to seek out Ciardi and I might even read Inferno again.

The very interesting article...even if you're not a bookworm:

Click here for the article.


  1. Andi,

    Haven't read the Inferno but I'm a bit familiar with John Ciardi. One of the main reasons I subscribed to Harper's Magazine back in the 1970s is that he wrote a column and articles for them. I actually think he was the Editor at Harper's at the time and remained so for many years but my memory is a bit vague.

    Harper's is/was a magazine with a liberal perspective. I'm pretty sure it's still being published. It has a very long history. Great writer.

  2. I love the Inferno. The version I have is Ciardi's. I have been thinking about rereading it - actually, reading the whole Divine Comedy. I have heard that the Purgatorio and Paradiso are not as good, though. I guess people like to read about people being tortured!

  3. Oh gosh, I love your pic Andi! Those notepads rock. I bought the one of the woman holding the fridge door open, smiling, and it says "Make Your Own Damn Dinner."

  4. I have the Inferno as translated by Mike Tyson. Hell is described as "ludiculous".

  5. Suzz,
    I'm pretty sure Harper's is still published, too. I need to look. I'm sure our library has it...wait, what am I thinking?? I'm covered in conservatives here.

  6. April,
    I've heard theo ther two aren't that great either, but I'll probably read them eventually anyway. I saw a huge luscious copy of Inferno today, but I didn't have time to do much flipping. I will go back for it!

  7. *snort*

    Nice impression, Toddmeister.

  8. Once you get into the torture and damnation I;m sure kids would enjoy it :)

    I read the Inferno after reading the Dante Club, and think I got a lot more out of it because I knew some of the background. It really is one of those books where the more you read the more you learn.

  9. Fence,
    What did you think of The Dante Club? I bought it at the library sale recently. It looks really good! Love the premise!

  10. what?? my husband did a huge thing on the inferno in high school. it just goes to show you that standards in education are slipping pathetically. long live the revolution! teachers who will insist on asking their students to use their brains will be the ones who save the world. there. was that inspiring enough? and THANK you for the info! Everyone: Andi ROCKS.

  11. I enjoyed it. But I'm guessing that because I hadn't actually read the Inferno beforehand that I missed out on bits of information.

    It isn't *great literature* by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought it was a really enjoyable, well-written book

  12. Clack,
    Thank you for the ego boost, darling. I 'preciate it.

  13. Thanks, Fence! I"ll bump it up a few notches in my TBR. :o)

  14. Someday when I've finished reading all the bks on my shelves and I buy a new book, it might just be the Inferno. Or it might be that book that St. Theresa of Avila found so beneficial to her spiritual life... *shrugs* Guess it'll depend on whether I'm in the middle of my classes (when I don't want to read any more theology type stuff) or not (when I don't mind reading theology type stuff).

  15. Cher,
    You should definitely read Inferno. It's so ummy. I think you'd love it, and it'd give you much fodder for contemplation.


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