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BEATRICE AND THE POETRY OF DANTEl, ULRICH LEO IN sketching the portrait of Virgil I have tried to show the earthly reality, the humanity, naturally imperfect, that belongs to him and confers upon him his corresponding poetical perfection. He germinates from the, stratum of everyday experience, the kind that anyone can have with his contemporaries, and if the person enjoying such experience is a great poet the result is a poetical figure like that of Dante's Virgil. Exactly the opposite happens in the case of Beatrice. She had to be from the beginning something supernatural, something perfect, not earthly but cel~~tial. She was not to resemble the young woman of Florence whose name she bore: she was to be as different from the latter as an angel i~ different from a woman. We shall have to see whether the,poet succeeded as well in creating a woman on the plane of the othe~ wor]d as he did in creating a man grown in the soil of earthly experIence. Before reviewing the features of the Beatrice of the Commedia' let us remember her poetical history, which begins not on the summit of the Holy Mount, where she appears in a celestial apotheosis before taking flight with her 'poet-friend for the ten heavens, but begins for us in 'Dante's Pita ,Nuova, written probably in 1292, a poem in prose mingled with sonnets and canzoni, mysterious, subtle, melancholy, .human, indescribably poetic. The young , poet teJls us the story of his discreet, spiritual and yet passionate love for a Florentine girl. It began in her ninth year, and grew until her untimely death when she was a young matron, and then continued in his memory of her, ~ith spells of unfaithfulness and repentance, and reappearances of her to him in visions. There is no doubt in my mind that the poet is relating real events, that Beatrice was a real woman, and that she'has no allegorical significance in this youthful work, even though she is highly id~alized. Now, at the end of the book the poet mentions a "marvellous vision" connected with the dead Beatrice, without describing it, and says that, with the help of God, he will sometime speak again IThis is the second part of Dr. Leo's study: his treatment of Virgil and the Poetry of Dante, appeared in the October number of the QUARTERLY. (EDITOR'S, NOTE.) 200 BEATRICE AND THE POETRY OF DANTE 201 of her, and that he hopes "to say of her that which has never' been said of any woman." Nothing could be more natural than to see in these passionate veiled words 'a reference to the future Divine Comedy, and yet the..most competent modern critics are agreed in refusing to see it. I shall not undertake to expound their reasons for such a surprising attitude,!! but in any case those lines arejf one consider them poetically, not historically-a sign of what Beatrice was to be in the poem, as against the Beatrice of the Vita Nuova. She was to be a sublimation of the youthful Beatrice, which means, as far as the poetical composition is concerned, that she enters upon the stage of the Commedia not free to develop as a new drama/is persona, as is Virgil, who has not appeared before in any other workcqf Dante, but makes her appearance in Paradise conditioned by her former earthly self of the Vita Nuova. . The youthful Beatrice is almost always invi'sibly present inhibiting any ingenuous conduct on the· part of the celestial Beatrice, who above all else has to preserve her own distinction from the other: she has to appear as transfigured, in allegorical form, sublimated, .marked with her inevitable poetical -fate. If we wish to understand the Beatrice of the Commedia we must see her always with the more or less .shadowy Beatrice of the Vita Nuova in the background and . nearly always unlike that other. Let us compare the two when they are offended and reserved. In the Vita Nuova3 Dante tells us how once, because of evil rumours about her admirer, the youthful Beatrice did not speak to him when she met...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 200-209
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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