The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine
At first in motion set those beauteous things...

Dante (Longfellow's translation)

  • 1
    Seems to be a poem, a bit archaic in language, and a bit experimental in syntax. You should give some explanation about the origin of these lines. Without any information it is difficult to say something.
    – rogermue
    Jul 8, 2015 at 17:35
  • @rogermue: If it's a quotation from (a translation of) Dante's poetry, that would suggest a fair amount of useful information, although knowing exactly who translated it would still be useful. Jul 8, 2015 at 17:43
  • It would be useful to have the original Italian text. I have the original here, but it is too much trouble looking for those lines. But perhaps I'll find it.
    – rogermue
    Jul 8, 2015 at 17:56
  • 3
    It's Longfellow's translation (1871), but this particular use of what X in the sense "at/on/in that X which/where/when" is Early Modern English idiom which survived into 19th century poetry (I'm pretty sure Tennyson uses it, too). I suspect Milton is lurking in Longfellow's poetic unconcscious. Jul 8, 2015 at 18:03
  • Nowadays we use "what time" only in reference to the time of day: "Phone your cousin and ask him what time his plane arrives." or in connection with amounts of time: "I might be able to finish it in what time there is remaining."
    – TimR
    Jul 8, 2015 at 20:08

1 Answer 1


"him" seems to refer to the sun. In poetry sun is masculine due to its masculine genus in Latin ( sol/ solis m). The Love Divine seems to be the Creator of the Earth and the cosmos. "what time" seems to be an adventurous substitution for "when", a literary trick, I guess, to slow down the reader's speed of reading. and forcing him to think about the sentence construction.

In plain words: It was the time when the Creator created the sun and the stars. The sun and the stars appeared in the sky, beautiful things.

Google search found the translation, a passage of Canto I

The hour was morning's prime, and on his way Aloft the sun ascended with those stars, That with him rose, when Love divine first mov'd Those its fair works:

The original, Canto I, 37-40

Temp' era dal principio del mattino,

e 'l sol montava 'n sù con quelle stelle

ch'eran con lui quando l'amor divino

mosse di prima quelle chose belle;

The time was the beginning of that (first) morning (of time),

and the Sun rose up with those stars

that were with him when the Divine Love

began to set in motion those beautiful things.

A quick spontaneous translation of mine. I permitted myself to add first and of time, to make clear that Dante speaks of the Creation. Dante's syntax is not complicated, but the translator has managed to give a somewhat difficult rendering.

Langfellow's translation was:

The time was the beginning of the morning, And up the sun was mounting with those stars That with him were, what time the Love Divine At first in motion set those beauteous things;


PS Reading the passages again I see my addition of "first" and "of time" was a bit too spontaneous. At first Dante says the sun begins to appear, it is morning while Dante is on his way to the underworld, but then he switches back in his thinking to the creation of the world when God created the sun and the stars.

PS Now, after reading a bit more about the first canto, I would translate the original a bit differently, but I think I let my first attempt stand as it is.

  • I think the most important part, with regard to the original question, is that quando was translated by Longfellow as "what time", whereas one would nowadays, like you did, more likely opt for the simple when.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 9, 2015 at 11:14
  • I agree completely. I think Longfellow used "what time" to keep his regular rhythm. But I find "what time" akward, the reader stumbles on the construction.
    – rogermue
    Jul 9, 2015 at 11:28

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