A piled up commentary of poets on poets: Heaney on Mandelstam on Dante. Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), who died in uncertain circumstances following his second arrest under Stalin’s purge-fest, took Dante with him when he was sent into internal exile and wrote an essay about him.
Heaney uses metaphors concerning two senses, taste and sound, to comment on Mandelstam’s ‘Conversation about Dante’, melding the mouth-watering of one with the deliciousness of the other.
What Mandelstam does, on the other hand, is to bring him from the pantheon back to the palate; he makes our mouth water to read him. He possesses the poem as a musician possesses the score, both as a whole structure and as a sequence of delicious sounds.
I like that pit-a-pat alliterative ‘from the pantheon to the palate’.
For a rich selection of other Heaney similes and metaphors, see our review of Beowulf, both his version and that of Kevin Crossley-Holland. See also our hommage to Osip Mandelstam’s equally mouth-watering Journey to Armenia, which includes a fount of marvelous Mandelstam metaphors. The slim volume features Mandelstam’s ‘Conversation about Dante’ too.
See also our illustrated quote-rich celebration of Dante’s Divine Comedy in Clive James’ superb translation.
Source: Seamus Heaney, Finders Keepers: Selected prose 1971-2001 (London: Faber and Faber, 2003), p. 177
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