Johann Gaetner: Lullaby (From Latin)

Lullaby
Johann Gaetner
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Sleep son, go to sleep. 
Some people say
That life is beautiful. 
They don't know either way. 

Sleep son, go to sleep.
A day shall come 
When you will have
A far more plentiful calm. 

Sleep son. Go to sleep,
My boy of light.
Soon I, then you, will meet
The last and kindest night. 

The Original:

Canticulum
Johannes Gaetner

Dormi, mi fili, dormi –
sunt qui dicunt
vitam beatam esse:
dicunt, dicant, nesciunt.

Dormi, mi fili, dormi –
veniet dies
quo tibi erit
larga, largissima quies.

Dormi, mi fili, dormi –
aderit mox
mihi, tum tibi
ultima, optima nox.

Giovanni Miltoni: Canzon (From Italian)

Canzon
By Giovanni Miltoni
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

In love, young men and ladies crowd and share
a laugh at me "Why write this? Why
write in a strange tongue we know not, and strain
yourself in verse of love? How do you dare? 
Speak plain, if you'd have your hopes not prove vain,
and your ambitions fall a shattered lie."
They mock me so "you've other shores to try
other streams, other waters in your reach
upon whose greening beach
now, even now, sprout leaves that never die
to wreathe your locks as laureate.
Why load your shoulders so with foreign freight?" 
I tell you, Canzon. Give them my reply: 
My lady says, and her words are my heart:
     This is the tongue love boasts of as his art. 

The Original:

Canzone

Ridonsi donne e giovani amorosi
M'accostandosi attorno, e perche scrivi,
Perche tu scrivi in lingua ignota e strana
Verseggiando d'amor, e come t'osi?
Dinne, se la tua speme si mai vana,
E de pensieri lo miglior t'arrivi;
Cosi mi van burlando, altri rivi
Altri lidi t'aspettan, e altre onde
Nelle cui verdi sponde
Spuntati ad hor, ad hora la tua chioma
L'immortal guiderdon d'eterne frondi
Perche alle spalle tue soverchia soma?
Canzon dirotti, e tu per me rispondi
Dice mia Donna, e'l suo dir, è il mio cuore
Questa è lingua di cui si vanta Amore. 

Johann Gaertner: At An Academic Conference (From Latin)

At an Academic Conference
Johann Gaertner (1912-1996)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

He talks and he talks, that famous geezer,
A verbose and vapid crowd-displeaser.
Behold the man who, in a few
Fleeting decades, will be you.

The Original:

In Congressu Scholastico
Johannes Gaertner

Loquitur, loquitur, senex famosus,
garrulus, aridus, vaniverbosus.
Ecce qui temporis impetu
paulos post annos eris et tu.

Notker Balbulus: Heavenladder (Latin)

To wrench a phrase from Pushkin: what splendid poetry, and what disgusting theology.

Heavenladder
Notker Balbulus (9th Cent)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

A ladder rising up to heaven 
 with bane all round it
 
At its base a sharp-eye dragon  
Stands wakeful forever on guard 
  So that no one can climb even
  to the first rung unmaimed
 
From its ascent an Ethiop 
Blocks all with brandished blade 
Threatening destruction 
  While over its top rung
  A young man leans in radiance,
  With a gold bough in his hand
 
This is the ladder which the love of 
Christ made free for women to go 
Stomp down the dragon underfoot 
And march right past the Ethiop's blade 
  Through every sort of bane and torment
  And make it to the heavens' summit
  To take the golden laurel up
  From the emboldening King's hand
 
What good did it do you  
Unholy serpent  
That you managed  
To hoodwink once a single woman  
  Since a virgin has brought forth
  The incarnate
  Lord begotten
  Christ of God the Father  
 
Who pried the pelf away from you 
And pierced your jaw with armlet hooks 
  Making it an open door for
  Eve whose race you yearn to trammel
 
So see you now the virgin maids 
Triumphant over envious you 
  And see as married women bear 
  Sons pleasing unto God
 
You groan and grumble 
Now at widows' 
Loyalty to their dead husbands 
  You who inveigled
  A maid to be
  Disloyal to her Creator
 
Now you see women, in the battle 
Waged against you, becoming generals 
  Women who rally their own sons to
  Courageously vanquish all your torments
 
Even your own vessels,
The whores, are purified by God now 
  Who turns them to burnished
  Temples for Him and Him alone
 
For these graces let us now 
Both the sinners and the just 
Glorify together 
Our Lord as a community  
  Praise Him who strengthens those who stand  
  And reaches His right hand
  To the fallen, so at least 
  After transgression we may rise
Scalam ad caelos subrectam   
 tormentis cinctam 
 
Cuius ima draco servare 
cautus invigilat iugiter 
  Ne quis eius vel primum gradum
  possit insaucius scandere;
 
Cuius ascensus extracto  
Aethiops gladio  
vetat exitium minitans, 
  Cuius supremis innixus
  iuvenis splendidus
  ramum aureolum retinet
 
Hanc ergo scalam ita Christi  
amor feminis fecit perviam 
ut dracone conculcato  
et Aethopis gladio transito 
  Per omne genus tormentōrum
  caeli apicem queant capere
  et de manu confortantis
  regis auream lauream sumere
 
Quid tibi profecit,  
profane serpens,  
quondam unam  
decepisse mulierem, 
  Cum virgo pepererit
  incarnatum
  Dei Patris
  unicum dominum Jesum;
 
Qui praedam tibi tulit et  
armillā maxillam forat, 
  Ut egressus Evae natis
  fiat, quos tenere cupis?
 
Nunc ergo temet virgines 
Vincere cernis invide, 
  Et maritatas parere
  Filios deo placitos,
 
Et viduarum 
maritis fidem 
nunc ingemis integram, 
  Qui creatori
  fidem negare
  persuaseras virgini.
 
Feminas nunc vides in bello 
contra te acto duces existere 
  Quae filios suos instigant
  fortiter tua tormenta vincere.
 
Quin et tua vasa 
meretrices dominus emundat 
  Et haec sibi templum
  Dignatur efficere purgatum.
 
Pro his nunc beneficiis 
in commune dominum 
nos glorificemus 
et peccatores et iusti, 
  Qui et stantes corroborat
  et prolapsis dextram
  porrigit, ut saltem
  post facinora surgamus

Dante Alighieri: Inferno 1 (From Italian)

Inferno 1
By Dante Alighieri
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
   Midway through our life's journey I came round
within a darkwood, having gone astray 
from the right pathway to the Other ground.
   Oh what it was is a hard thing to say,
so overgrown with things savage, harsh and raw.
The thought renews the fear in me today!
   Barely less bitter than death. But to draw
in words the good that I found there as well,
I will relate those Other things I saw.
   How I got into it, I still can't tell,
so full with sleep I was the moment where
I had begun to wander off and fell
    from the true path. But once I had drawn near
the foot of a hill at the far outer bound
of the black ravine which pierced my heart with fear, 
    I looked up and there saw its shoulders gowned
in the first light of that sun whose sweet ray
leads every step aright on every ground.
    Then some of the fear began to melt away
which my heart's curdled lake had had to bear
all through the worry of the night till day
   and like a halfdrowned man still gasping for air,
who escapes the riptide and comes safe ashore,
might turn back on the lethal waves and stare,
   so did my soul, still fugitive, once more
turn back and slowly look that passage over
which none had ever left alive before.
   I paused a bit to let my tired flesh recover
then resumed my way up the lone barren slope,
my firm foot always lower than the other.
   Then just where the slope started to turn up
a spot-pelt leopard sprang up to face me down.
Lissom and very sleek, it came at a lope
  wherever I tried to turn, and gave no ground
but kept blocking every way that I could try
and forced me over and over to turn round.
  The time was early morning. In the sky
the sun was mounting with those stars above
that rode with it when all that panoply
  of lovely things was set by God's own Love
into first motion. The fine hour of grace

and gentle season were enough to move
  my hope despite the beast that blocked my pace
with its festive pelt. But that could not stop fear
that struck when a lion appeared before my face.
  He seemed prepared to pounce upon me there
with head primed high, his roar so ravenous
it seemed to terrify the very air.
  And then a she-wolf whose starved scrawniness
seemed glutted with all cravings. Her physique
has run so many down to wretchedness. 

  The very sight of her set on my weak
spirit such weight of fear that once again
I lost all hope of making it to the peak,
   And as a miser eager in his gain 
when fortune's wheel has turned him destitute
has his thoughts turn into misery and pain,
   so was I before that beast. That feral brute
that knows no peace came at me, bit by bit,
driving me down to where the sun goes mute.
   While I went plunging even lower yet 
my eyes were presented with a being, wan
as if vast silence enervated it.
   Seeing it in that great friendless hinterland
I cried out "O miserere on me
whatever you are, shade or bodied man"
   He spoke: "not man, though man I used to be.
My parents were Mantuans. On either side
their lineage goes back to Lombardy. 
   I was born before Julius Caesar died 
and lived under august Octavian
in Rome, in the era of false gods that lied.    
   I was a poet, and hymned the righteous son
of old Anchises, refugee from Troy
after the burning of proud Ilion.  

   But why revisit all these sorrows? Why
don't you ascend that blissful mountain instead,
the origin and cause of every joy."
   "Are you that Virgil then, the fountainhead
that pours such fluent streams of eloquence"
with shame upon my humbled brow I said
   "Honor and light of poets! Let my immense
love and long study of your poetry
avail me in my black hour. My work begins
   with you, my author and authority.

It is from you alone I took the whole
heroic style for which they honor me.
   You see the beast that bars me from my goal.
Time-gloried sage! I beg you, help me face 

this thing that makes my veins quake and run cold" 
   He answered seeing tears upon my face:
"You'll need another way to travel by
if you plan to escape this savage place:
   that fleering beast that gives you cause to cry
will not let anybody get past her.
She hunts and harries them, and they will die.
   She is of such vicious depraved character 
that nothing sates her appetite of greed,
and when she feeds she just gets hungrier. 
  She's bred with many creatures, and shall breed
with many more till she is tracked down and dealt
her death of pain by the Greyhound. He will feed  
  and feed himself on no man's land or pelf
but on wisdom, justice, love and bravery,  
and his race of birth shall run from Welf to Welf.
  He shall redeem that fallen Italy
which Euryalus, Turnus, maid Camille,
and Nisus bled to death for. Doggedly
  he'll hunt that bitch through burg and town until
he's dragged her back to Hell from which she was
loosed by Primeval Envy for the kill.
  So for your sake I think the two of us

should go together. You follow, and I  
will lead you out of here and on across
  an eternal place where you will hear the high
shriekings of deep despair, and come to see    
the ancient spirits under torture cry 
  at the second death of souls. Then you shall be
witness to those who are hopeful in the fire
of welcome among the blessed ultimately
  to which you will be led, should you desire,
by a soul worthier than mine. I shall
entrust you to her when I can go no higher,
  for the King of Time who rules there above all,
since I lived against His law, will let none see 
entry through me into his capital.
  His rule is everywhere, but there reigns He,
there is His city, His throne and retinue.
Lucky they who live there by His Majesty."

  I said "In the name of the God you never knew
in life, my Poet, I pray you get me well
away from this harm and worse. Take me with you
   and lead me to that place of which you tell 
so I may look upon Saint Peter's Gate.
So let me see the multitudes of Hell."
  He started moving, and I followed straight. 



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Notes:

Line 20:
Il lago del cuore "the heart's lake" is a potentially anatomical and psycho-medical term. Medieval Western Eurasian physiology treated the heart not as a pump but as a humoral reservoir. The medieval conception of fear affecting the heart was of cessation: the spirit and heat withdraw from the body and are gathered in the heart which ceases to diffuse them outward. In this passage furthermore, it is the rays of the sun which give relief from this freeze of fear. Whence the melting and curdling in my translation.

Line 70:
A noble cause for which much scholarly ink has been tragically shed. The Italian says "I was born sub Julio though late." Roman periodization commonly involved reference to the reigning consul or government, much as Americans speak of "the Reagan years" or "the Clinton years." Sub Julio would normally mean "during the reign of Julius." But Virgil was not born during the reign of Julius Caesar, who was still a young man at the poet's birth. The answer to the question seems to be that Dante relied on sources for the life of Virgil which offer different dates than those agreed upon by Renaissance and modern scholarship. I have split the difference in my verse-translation by saying something that both is literally true and has the kind of flavor that Dante was going for, in taking Virgil as embodied metonym for the illustrious early Empire both Julian and Augustan.

Line 94-111:
There is Virgilian precedent to Dante's vatic ventriloquization here. Note for example Aeneid I.286-296 where Jupiter foretells the rise of Rome to Venus:

Born of that noble line a Trojan Caesar
Bestrides the narrow world to bound his empire
With ocean, and his glory in the stars.
Julius his name, of the great clan of Iulus.
Him you shall welcome into heaven with us,
Laden with spoils of Asia, come his day,
And he like us shall be invoked in prayers.
War put aside, the bitter times shall mellow
As seasoned Fides, Vesta and Romulus
United with his brother, give the law.  
The Gates of War, baleful with iron bars
Shall be locked shut. Therein unholy Rancor
Of civil gore, crouched on his savage weapons,
Hands bound back by a hundred brazen shackles,
Will bristle black and howl with blood-drunk mouth.

Line 105
E sua nazion sarà tra feltro e feltro. Literally: "And his natio shall be between feltro and feltro."
This canto is full of puzzlers which are, as Alessandro Capomastro put it, abbondanti come le particelle di cocaina sulle fritelle di Berlusconi. But of all the obscure points in this canto from which commentators have fueled their eructations, perhaps none is of higher octane than the question of what or who or where is meant by Feltro e Feltro (or: Feltre e Feltro). Some (per the Feltre version) take it to refer to two placenames in the peninsula. Others take it to refer to the humble and unassuming fabric (feltro means "felt") worn by the Righteous One symbolized as the Greyhound. And there are many more interpretations. It makes some difference whether you capitalize the feltros or not.
Most often nazion is assumed here to have its archaic meaning of "birthplace" rather than "nation" and commentators have generally buttressed this with the claim that the meaning "nation" post-dates Dante. This is an unfounded assumption. At least one of Dante's near-contemporaries (Bocaccio) used the word in the modern sense, and Latin natio commonly had this meaning (Dante's use of Italian words seems occasionally meant to translate the semantic range of their Latin cognates) as did the cognate words in other Romance languages known to Dante.
Nor, however, do I see any reason to pendulate to the opposite hypothesis that it should be taken primarily as meaning "nation" as per 19th century scholarship and more recent commenters such as Hollander. Not exactly. Rather, the word's very ambiguity in an already bemurked passage is what makes it (and maybe originally made it) all the more evocative. Dante scholars are sometimes vulnerable to bouts of acute exegetical narcissism, as if the only reason Dante expressed himself by implication and obliquity was to give commentators something to do. But murk is also a potentially powerful aesthetic device, albeit one easily overused
As to feltro e feltro, I am agnostic as to what to make of it. Chimenz rightly says it is "the most cryptic expression in the whole turbid prophecy" (l’espressione è la più indecifrabile di tutta l’oscura profezia.) Frankly, I do not see why I — or you — should care overmuch, anymore than whether "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" might secretly mean that Shakespeare thought of Claudius as a syphilitic.
Even Dante's near-contemporaries seem to have found it puzzling. The line is by no means alone as a passage in which Dante abuts or crosses the bounds of the fully comprehensible. For all you or I know, Dante was willing to murk the passage with this oblique reference because it allowed him the evocative veltro and peltro as rhymes. Even if Dante never lets himself get dragged into saying something just for the rhyme, the rhymes do sometimes draw him to say things in odd ways. In any case, prophecies (particularly verse prophecies) are by tradition often unclear and meant to be allegorical in ways that only make total sense with further experience or information. The strength of the line, such as it is, is its power not to mean but be. In translating this line I said "fuck it" and plucked something out of the cosmic ass.

Line 111
There are two possible readings of "là onde 'nvidia prima dipartilla." Either "There whence envy first unleashed her" or "There whence first envy unleashed her." It seems to me that Prima Invidia is parallel to Primo Amore and would therefore be "Prime Envy" i.e. Satan. But really, I don't see why it can't be taken as intentionally ambiguous.

Line 126
This line is sometimes rendered in an infelicitous way by literary translators, as if it meant simply "he does not wish me to come into his city." To be fair, this sense is much easier to paraphrase into English. A clunky literal rendering of non vuol che 'n sua città per me si vegna might be "he does not wish entry to be had into his city by way of me." I.e. I, Virgil, am barred from helping you get any farther than that. Virgil represents, as Dante would have it, the outmost limit of what the reasoned mind can achieve without the aid of the Divine and the grace of Christ. Virgil is, for all his virtue, not allowed to make it to Heaven by way of Purgatory but must content himself with the deficient form of Heaven represented by Limbo.
This is complicated greatly by the first Canto of the Purgatorio where Dante has Cato — a Pagan who committed suicide — presiding over Purgatory and strongly implies that Cato will himself be received into heaven at the end of days. This straightforward interpretation of Purgatorio 1 was unacceptable throughout most of the commentary tradition, but makes by far the most sense artistically and logically. Dante throughout the Commedia seems to wrestle with the problem posed by virtuous non-Christians, and the seeming unfairness of the fact that they were afforded no option.

Dante even formulates the question quite bluntly in the 19th canto of the Paradiso:
                        ...A man is born one night
along the Indus, where there's none to read 
or write or speak to him of Jesus Christ.

And all his desires and acts, let us concede,
are as good as human reason can conceive.
So he lives without sin in word or deed

then dies without the faith, does not receive
baptism. What kind of justice damns his soul?    
Whose fault is it that he did not believe?

                  ...Un uom nasce a la riva
de l’Indo, e quivi non è chi ragioni
di Cristo né chi legga né chi scriva;

e tutti suoi voleri e atti buoni
sono, quanto ragione umana vede,
sanza peccato in vita o in sermoni.

Muore non battezzato e sanza fede:
ov’ è questa giustizia che ’l condanna?
ov’ è la colpa sua, se ei non crede?

Line 132:
"This harm" would be that of the mortal world. The "worse" is Damnation.   

The Original:

  Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
  Ai quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!
  Tant'è amara che poco è più morte;
ma per trattar del ben ch'i' vi trovai,
dirò de l'altre cose ch'i' v'ho scorte.
  Io non so ben ridir com'i' v'intrai,
tant'era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbandonai.
  Ma poi ch'i' fui al piè d'un colle giunto,
là dove terminava quella valle
che m'avea di paura il cor compunto,
  guardai in alto, e vidi le sue spalle
vestite già de' raggi del pianeta
che mena dritto altrui per ogne calle.
  Allor fu la paura un poco queta
che nel lago del cor m'era durata
la notte ch'i' passai con tanta pieta.
  E come quei che con lena affannata
uscito fuor del pelago a la riva
si volge a l'acqua perigliosa e guata,
  così l'animo mio, ch'ancor fuggiva,
si volse a retro a rimirar lo passo
che non lasciò già mai persona viva.
  Poi ch'èi posato un poco il corpo lasso,
ripresi via per la piaggia diserta,
sì che 'l piè fermo sempre era 'l più basso.
  Ed ecco, quasi al cominciar de l'erta,
una lonza leggera e presta molto,
che di pel macolato era coverta;
  e non mi si partia dinanzi al volto,
anzi 'mpediva tanto il mio cammino,
ch'i' fui per ritornar più volte vòlto.
  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 cose belle;
sì ch'a bene sperar m'era cagione
di quella fiera a la gaetta pelle
  l'ora del tempo e la dolce stagione;
ma non sì che paura non mi desse
la vista che m'apparve d'un leone.
  Questi parea che contra me venisse
con la test'alta e con rabbiosa fame,
sì che parea che l'aere ne tremesse.
  Ed una lupa, che di tutte brame
sembiava carca ne la sua magrezza,
e molte genti fé già viver grame,
  questa mi porse tanto di gravezza
con la paura ch'uscia di sua vista,
ch'io perdei la speranza de l'altezza.
  E qual è quei che volontieri acquista,
e giugne 'l tempo che perder lo face,
che 'n tutt'i suoi pensier piange e s'attrista;
  tal mi fece la bestia sanza pace,
che, venendomi 'ncontro, a poco a poco
mi ripigneva là dove 'l sol tace.
  Mentre ch'i' rovinava in basso loco,
dinanzi a li occhi mi si fu offerto
chi per lungo silenzio parea fioco.
  Quando vidi costui nel gran diserto,
«Miserere di me», gridai a lui,
«qual che tu sii, od ombra od omo certo!».
  Rispuosemi: «Non omo, omo già fui,
e li parenti miei furon lombardi,
mantoani per patria ambedui.
  Nacqui sub Iulio, ancor che fosse tardi,
e vissi a Roma sotto 'l buono Augusto
nel tempo de li dèi falsi e bugiardi.
  Poeta fui, e cantai di quel giusto
figliuol d'Anchise che venne di Troia,
poi che 'l superbo Ilión fu combusto.
  Ma tu perché ritorni a tanta noia?
perché non sali il dilettoso monte
ch'è principio e cagion di tutta gioia?».
  «Or se' tu quel Virgilio e quella fonte
che spandi di parlar sì largo fiume?»,
rispuos'io lui con vergognosa fronte.
  «O de li altri poeti onore e lume
vagliami 'l lungo studio e 'l grande amore
che m'ha fatto cercar lo tuo volume.
  Tu se' lo mio maestro e 'l mio autore;
tu se' solo colui da cu' io tolsi
lo bello stilo che m'ha fatto onore.
  Vedi la bestia per cu' io mi volsi:
aiutami da lei, famoso saggio,
ch'ella mi fa tremar le vene e i polsi».
  «A te convien tenere altro viaggio»,
rispuose poi che lagrimar mi vide,
«se vuo' campar d'esto loco selvaggio:
  ché questa bestia, per la qual tu gride,
non lascia altrui passar per la sua via,
ma tanto lo 'mpedisce che l'uccide;
  e ha natura sì malvagia e ria,
che mai non empie la bramosa voglia,
e dopo 'l pasto ha più fame che pria.
  Molti son li animali a cui s'ammoglia,
e più saranno ancora, infin che 'l veltro
verrà, che la farà morir con doglia.
  Questi non ciberà terra né peltro,
ma sapienza, amore e virtute,
e sua nazion sarà tra Feltro e Feltro.
  Di quella umile Italia fia salute
per cui morì la vergine Cammilla,
Eurialo e Turno e Niso di ferute.
  Questi la caccerà per ogne villa,
fin che l'avrà rimessa ne lo 'nferno,
là onde 'nvidia prima dipartilla.
  Ond'io per lo tuo me' penso e discerno
che tu mi segui, e io sarò tua guida,
e trarrotti di qui per loco etterno,
  ove udirai le disperate strida,
vedrai li antichi spiriti dolenti,
ch'a la seconda morte ciascun grida;
  e vederai color che son contenti
nel foco, perché speran di venire
quando che sia a le beate genti.
  A le quai poi se tu vorrai salire,
anima fia a ciò più di me degna:
con lei ti lascerò nel mio partire;
  ché quello imperador che là sù regna,
perch'i' fu' ribellante a la sua legge,
non vuol che 'n sua città per me si vegna.
  In tutte parti impera e quivi regge;
quivi è la sua città e l'alto seggio:
oh felice colui cu' ivi elegge!».
  E io a lui: «Poeta, io ti richeggio
per quello Dio che tu non conoscesti,
acciò ch'io fugga questo male e peggio,
  che tu mi meni là dov'or dicesti,
sì ch'io veggia la porta di san Pietro
e color cui tu fai cotanto mesti».
  Allor si mosse, e io li tenni dietro.

Dante Alighieri: Purgatorio 26 (From Italian)

Purgatorio 26
Dante Alighieri
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It is around 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and the sun is on its way down in the west on Dante's right hand side. Dante, Virgil and Statius are walking south along the flaming edge of the seventh rung of Purgatory where penitents are serving time for sexual excess. A group of souls watches Dante and wonders why he casts a shadow over the flames. At one soul's request, the poet explains that he is still alive. Another group of souls, the homosexual penitents, joins the first, and the shade of the Bolognese poet Guido Guinizelli explains the nature of their sins. Dante expresses admiration for Guinizelli, and then — as author — pays the Occitan poet Arnaut Daniel the highest of possible compliments, allowing him to close out the Canto with lines of arrestingly simple verse in Lyric Occitan.

   While we went on in single file about
the edge, over and over my dear guide
told me "Take care, I'll point the perils out." 
   My shoulder felt the sun strike from the right,
its rays already turning the west sky
from azure to a countenance of white.
   My shadow thrown as shade across the high
flames made the burning red a deeper ruddy,
and I saw several shades as they went by
   notice this. As they looked they began to study
and discuss me. One of them I could hear
said "he seems not to have a fictive body"
   Then some of them came near to me, as near
as possible, while always making sure
to stay within the bounds of burning there
   "You there who let those other two go first,
(not out of sloth maybe, but reverence) I 
have a question! I who burn in fire and thirst.
   And it is not just me who needs your reply.
These others are all thirstier for it
than Ethiopes for cold drink beneath hot sky. 
   Tell us: how do you cast a shadow yet, 
raise ramparts against sunlight with your skin?
It's like death never snatched you in his net."
   These words from one of them. I would have been     
explaining things already. But the flare
of something else surprised my eyes just then:
   down the middle of that flamey thoroughfare
came other people facing these. Forgetting
what I had meant to say, I stood to stare,
   as I saw shades rushing from each side, meeting
to kiss each other's cheek, not lingering
but satisfied with a momentary greeting.
   Ants in their black ranks do this kind of thing:
each nuzzling at the other as if to seek
news of their recent luck and traveling.
   When each had kissed the other's friendly cheek,
before departing that phantasmagora
each shade tried to outscream the other's shriek...
   The newcomers howled "Sodom and Gamorrah"
The rest: "Pasiphaë enters the cow
to let the bullcalf rut her lust and bore her."
   Then as two flocks of cranes divide and go,
one south to Africa, one to the Riphean Height,
these shying from the sun, those fleeing snow,
   these two groups parted. One left, one went right
to us. Then went back in tears and chagrin
to crying out the mantra of their blight;
   and those who'd come my way drew close again,
the shades that first entreated me, their eyes
as eager for my story as they had been.
   Now having seen their wish presented twice,
I made to answer: "oh souls sure to gain,
whenever it comes, your peace in Paradise,
   my limbs of human life did not remain, 
age-ripe or green, back there. They did not die.
They are on me here, complete with bone and brain. 
   I go through here to stop being blind. On high 
there is a lady who has won me grace
to bear across your world my mortal I. 
   But please — so that you may more quickly taste
what you want most of all, and heaven set
you in its loving shelter and great embrace,
   tell me, and I will make a place for it
in what I write: who are you, and who's that faction 
of people that just now ran opposite?" 
   With no less than a mountain man's reaction
when he comes red-necked to a metropolis
and stares in a speechless downtowned stupefaction,
   the shades seemed flabbergasted hearing this.
But when their shock was laid under control
and blunted (as, in great hearts, it soon is)
   the shade spoke who'd addressed me first of all: 
"Blessed are you who from our shores ship keen
experience back, to die a better soul.     
   That other group committed the obscene   
same sex-act for which Caesar won the shame  
in victory of being called a Queen. 
   so they leave crying out 'Sodom' and blame
themselves aloud as you heard. The contrite
self-loathing that they feel sustains the flame. 
   Our sins were rather more hermaphrodite
but since, in disregard of man's law, we  
like beasts just acted on our appetite,
   when we go by them we scream shameheartedly 
the name of her who in the mockbeast's slime
got on all fours for bestiality. 
   Now you know all about our guilt and crime:
if you want our names, I don't know all of them,
and even if I did, there isn't time.  
   I'll rid you of your want for mine: I am
Guido Guinizelli, brought here at once
because I repented well before time came."
   While King Lycurgus grieved berserk, twin sons
discovered their lost mother and made him see.
So was I moved (though I couldn't match their response)
   hearing him name his name: father to me
and of my betters who gave the world the dear
and graceful rhymes of love and courtesie.
   Thoughtstruck, I seemed to have no tongue or ear
as we walked on. I simply stared, then stood
a while as flames kept me from coming near.
   When I had stared my fill, more than I should,
I offered, in such terms as win good faith,
to serve him in whatever way I could.
   He said: "The things that I just heard you say
will leave such clear prints in my memory
as Lethe can't blur out or wash away.
   But if your words have been sworn truthfully,
then tell me why your speech and your look declare
the kind of love you seem to have for me." 
   I said: "It is your verses, graceful and clear
which shall, so long as modern style is sung,
render the very ink that penned them dear"
   "Brother" he said, pointing out one among
the shades ahead "that soul you see there rose
as the best of craftsmen in the mother tongue. 
   He excels all who wrote in verse or prose
of love and loss, though idiots for their part
will still prefer that rhymer from Limoges. 
   Such men turn more to talk than truth and heart,
following familiar fames, set in their praise
with no regard to reasoning or art.
   Thus with Guittone whom they used to raise
above all others, with cry on cry galore,
though truth prevails with most of them these days. 
   Now if almighty privilege affords
you entry to that cloister where the master
and abbot of the college is Our Lord,
   then say on my behalf a Paternoster
or as much of one as we need, who can't be
led to temptation, but delivered faster."  
   And then, as if to yield his place with me
to someone else, he vanished in the flame
as a fish toward the bottom of the sea.
   I drew ahead a bit beside the same
shade he'd shown me, and said my heart and ear
would set a place of honor for his name.
   He answered in the language I hold dear:
"Tan m'abellis vostre cortes deman,
qu'ieu no me puesc ni voill a vos cobrir
   Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
cossiros vei la passada folor,
e vei jauzen lo joi qu'esper, denan.
   Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
que vos guida al som de l'escalai 
sovenha vos a temps de ma dolor!"
   Then he was hidden in flames that purify.


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Notes:

Line 8:
There is some uncertainty about how the word pur is to be read here. My translation is at this point paraphrastical enough for me not to worry a great deal.

Line 32:
See Romans 16:16

Line 34-36:
See Aeneid IV.402-407

Line 40:
Those who have tried to argue that the sin punished in Inferno XV and XVI is not homosexuality are hard pressed to explain this passage in the Purgatorio. Even more absurd is the attempt by some modern commentators, desperate to see in Dante some kind of moral inspiration for the modern era, to read into this passage a tacit approval of moderate same-sex romantic relationships. It goes without saying that moderation of heterosexual lust is acceptable in Dante's view. It in no way follows that, by placing homosexual and heterosexual penitents in the same part of Purgatory, Dante was expressing the view that homosexual lust is also acceptable in moderation. Some amount of hay has been made of the fact that Dante here portrays homosexual and heterosexual lust as arising from the same source, unlike the Inferno where heterosexual vice is punished in the realm of Incontinence while homosexual behavior is punished as Violence. This probably has nothing to do with "softened views" about homosexuality, so much as the fact that Dante has painted himself into a corner by sticking to the seven capital vices in the layout of Purgatory, unlike Hell where he could maneuver more on the moral grid. The fact is that Dante thinks homosexuality is wrong, and this is not surprising from a vernacular poet writing in 14th century Europe. If any reader needs to find a way to square themselves with this fact, I would suggest that they take a leaf from Dante's book when it comes to cultural context. In Dante's Hell, nobody is punished for something they couldn't have been expected to know was wrong. The only people punished for sodomy or suicide are Christians who would have understood these things to be sinful. Greek and Roman polytheists, in whose culture these were acceptable, are not punished for them but are placed alongside the virtuous unbaptized in Limbo a.k.a Pagan Heaven. If Dante can give Sophocles a pass for sodomy, then I don't really mind giving him a pass in return on this.

Line 91:
While the basic meaning of this line is clear, the contorted syntax is puzzling and has occasioned multiple attempts to parse it, with quite different conclusions.

Line 92:
It is worth noting that Dante doesn't bother informing Guido that the other two individuals walking with him are Statius and Vergil. Presumably this would have been of interest to Guinizzelli. But as the focus of the Canto is on (medieval) vernacular poetry, Dante probably had narrative reason to keep the Latin-writing Romans out of it. No other part of the Commedia is as concerned with poetry and poetic merit.

Lines 140-147:
Dante has Arnaut Daniel speak in (slightly Italianized) Old Occitan as a nod to his lyric predecessor. It is the only extended passage of a language other than Italian in the Commedia. (And even the Latin passages are mostly scriptural quotation.) There is no other language — not even French — in which a quotation in Occitan would have precisely this effect.
What to do in translation?
Most translators, such as Longfellow and Clive James, have rendered Arnaut's speech into the same kind of English as the rest of the Commedia. Some have kept the speech in Occitan. Others have found more creative solutions. Dorothy L. Sayers has him speak pastiche Scots. John Ciardi has him speak mock-Spenserian English. Anthony Esolen — whose piety is matched only by his inanity  — makes the offensively ironic move of trying to have Arnaut speak French rather than Occitan, revealing how little he knows of either language, especially since he is even worse at writing in Modern French than Ciardi is at writing in Spenserian English. 
In my English version, one possibility that occurred to me was to have Arnaut Daniel address Dante in Occitanized Italian, as a nod to the Romance lyric tradition. Only in Italian could an Old Occitan insertion have worked. Only in translation into another language could an Italian-language insertion work this way. The reader would know that something is up, and perhaps ask why there is an Italian passage in what is supposed to be a translation from Italian. This would lead the curious to try and learn more. For the interested, this is the passage that I came up with in implementing this possibility:

   He said in gentleman's vernacular
Tant' e tua domanda cortese, Dante, 
Ch'i' non mi posso né voglio celar.
   Arnaldo son che piango nei miei canti 
Afflitto vedo il passato follore
Goioso, vedo la gioia davanti  
   Ora ti prego io per quel valore
che ti guida alla sommità ormai: 
ti sovvenga a tempo del mio dolore

This is however mediocre Italian verse at best, an injustice to Arnaut and to Dante.
Ultimately I decided to leave the passage in Old Occitan and simply alter it slightly for rhyme's sake. In both cases I altered items (the infinitive cobrire and the form escalina) which were Italianate insertions probably justified by rhyme considerations to begin with. (Escalina appears to be a coinage original to Dante. The form escalai is a coinage original to me.) Here is a verse translation that can also be read in its place:

Your courtly question is so gladdening
that I cannot, will not, stay hidden here.
   I am Arnaut who go in tears and sing
in pain I see the folly of my prime 
and rejoice seeing the joy that time will bring. 
   I beg you by the power that helps you climb
to the summit of that flight of stairs on high:
remember how I suffer in good time. 

There was another more off-the-wall option: to completely replace Arnaut with somebody else, somebody who could be made to do something interesting as a dramatic conclusion to this Canto. For me the obvious choice was my favorite poet, Hafez of Shiraz. This would pose problems, of both a chronological and theological nature. I won't rob the reader of the pleasure of trying to solve them. I'll simply point out that Dante does very occasionally — for special reasons — place people in the afterlife when they were still alive at the time of writing, and that Cato the Younger somehow is in Purgatory by heavenly will. Here is how that implementation would have looked:

   He answered with Saracen harmony:
"Your courtwise question comes so dear to me,
that I can't stay concealed, or want to be. 
   Dante, I am Hafez the Shirazi 
who sing through tears. With painful memory
I rejoice, in foresight of joys to be. 
   I beg of you now by the Powers that see
you to that stairway's summit: pray for me. 
Think in good time upon my agony."
   Then he hid in flames that burn to purity. 

The Original:

   Mentre che sì per l'orlo, uno innanzi altro,
ce n'andavamo, e spesso il buon maestro
diceami: «Guarda: giovi ch'io ti scaltro»;
   feriami il sole in su l'omero destro,
che già, raggiando, tutto l'occidente
mutava in bianco aspetto di cilestro;
   e io facea con l'ombra più rovente
parer la fiamma; e pur a tanto indizio
vidi molt' ombre, andando, poner mente.
   Questa fu la cagion che diede inizio
loro a parlar di me; e cominciarsi
a dir: «Colui non par corpo fittizio»;
   poi verso me, quanto potëan farsi,
certi si fero, sempre con riguardo
di non uscir dove non fosser arsi.
   «O tu che vai, non per esser più tardo,
ma forse reverente, a li altri dopo,
rispondi a me che 'n sete e 'n foco ardo.
   Né solo a me la tua risposta è uopo;
ché tutti questi n'hanno maggior sete
che d'acqua fredda Indo o Etïopo.
   Dinne com' è che fai di te parete
al sol, pur come tu non fossi ancora
di morte intrato dentro da la rete».
   Sì mi parlava un d'essi; e io mi fora
già manifesto, s'io non fossi atteso
ad altra novità ch'apparve allora;
   ché per lo mezzo del cammino acceso
venne gente col viso incontro a questa,
la qual mi fece a rimirar sospeso.
   Lì veggio d'ogne parte farsi presta
ciascun' ombra e basciarsi una con una
sanza restar, contente a brieve festa;
   così per entro loro schiera bruna
s'ammusa l'una con l'altra formica,
forse a spïar lor via e lor fortuna.
   Tosto che parton l'accoglienza amica,
prima che 'l primo passo lì trascorra,
sopragridar ciascuna s'affatica:
   la nova gente: «Soddoma e Gomorra»;
e l'altra: «Ne la vacca entra Pasife,
perché 'l torello a sua lussuria corra».
   Poi, come grue ch'a le montagne Rife
volasser parte, e parte inver' l'arene,
queste del gel, quelle del sole schife,
   l'una gente sen va, l'altra sen vene;
e tornan, lagrimando, a' primi canti
e al gridar che più lor si convene;
   e raccostansi a me, come davanti,
essi medesmi che m'avean pregato,
attenti ad ascoltar ne' lor sembianti.
   Io, che due volte avea visto lor grato,
incominciai: «O anime sicure
d'aver, quando che sia, di pace stato,
   non son rimase acerbe né mature
le membra mie di là, ma son qui meco
col sangue suo e con le sue giunture.
   Quinci sù vo per non esser più cieco;
donna è di sopra che m'acquista grazia,
per che 'l mortal per vostro mondo reco.
   Ma se la vostra maggior voglia sazia
tosto divegna, sì che 'l ciel v'alberghi
ch'è pien d'amore e più ampio si spazia,
   ditemi, acciò ch'ancor carte ne verghi,
chi siete voi, e chi è quella turba
che se ne va di retro a' vostri terghi».
   Non altrimenti stupido si turba
lo montanaro, e rimirando ammuta,
quando rozzo e salvatico s'inurba,
   che ciascun' ombra fece in sua paruta;
ma poi che furon di stupore scarche,
lo qual ne li alti cuor tosto s'attuta,
   «Beato te, che de le nostre marche»,
ricominciò colei che pria m'inchiese,
«per morir meglio, esperïenza imbarche!
   La gente che non vien con noi, offese
di ciò per che già Cesar, trïunfando,
"Regina" contra sé chiamar s'intese:
   però si parton "Soddoma" gridando,
rimproverando a sé com' hai udito,
e aiutan l'arsura vergognando.
   Nostro peccato fu ermafrodito;
ma perché non servammo umana legge,
seguendo come bestie l'appetito,
   in obbrobrio di noi, per noi si legge,
quando partinci, il nome di colei
che s'imbestiò ne le 'mbestiate schegge.
   Or sai nostri atti e di che fummo rei:
se forse a nome vuo' saper chi semo,
tempo non è di dire, e non saprei.
   Farotti ben di me volere scemo:
son Guido Guinizzelli, e già mi purgo
per ben dolermi prima ch'a lo stremo».
   Quali ne la tristizia di Ligurgo
si fer due figli a riveder la madre,
tal mi fec' io, ma non a tanto insurgo,
   quand' io odo nomar sé stesso il padre
mio e de li altri miei miglior che mai
rime d'amore usar dolci e leggiadre;
   e sanza udire e dir pensoso andai
lunga fïata rimirando lui,
né, per lo foco, in là più m'appressai.
   Poi che di riguardar pasciuto fui,
tutto m'offersi pronto al suo servigio
con l'affermar che fa credere altrui.
   Ed elli a me: «Tu lasci tal vestigio,
per quel ch'i' odo, in me, e tanto chiaro,
che Letè nol può tòrre né far bigio.
   Ma se le tue parole or ver giuraro,
dimmi che è cagion per che dimostri
nel dire e nel guardar d'avermi caro».
   E io a lui: «Li dolci detti vostri,
che, quanto durerà l'uso moderno,
faranno cari ancora i loro incostri».
   «O frate», disse, «questi ch'io ti cerno
col dito», e additò un spirto innanzi,
«fu miglior fabbro del parlar materno.
   Versi d'amore e prose di romanzi
soverchiò tutti; e lascia dir li stolti
che quel di Lemosì credon ch'avanzi.
   A voce più ch'al ver drizzan li volti,
e così ferman sua oppinïone
prima ch'arte o ragion per lor s'ascolti.
   Così fer molti antichi di Guittone,
di grido in grido pur lui dando pregio,
fin che l'ha vinto il ver con più persone.
   Or se tu hai sì ampio privilegio,
che licito ti sia l'andare al chiostro
nel quale è Cristo abate del collegio,
   falli per me un dir d'un paternostro,
quanto bisogna a noi di questo mondo,
dove poter peccar non è più nostro».
   Poi, forse per dar luogo altrui secondo
che presso avea, disparve per lo foco,
come per l'acqua il pesce andando al fondo.
   Io mi fei al mostrato innanzi un poco,
e dissi ch'al suo nome il mio disire
apparecchiava grazïoso loco.
   El cominciò liberamente a dire:
«Tan m'abellis vostre cortes deman,
qu'ieu no me puesc ni voill a vos cobrire.
   Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
consiros vei la passada folor,
e vei jausen lo joi qu'esper, denan.
   Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
que vos guida al som de l'escalina,
sovenha vos a temps de ma dolor!».
   Poi s'ascose nel foco che li affina.

Dante Alighieri: Purgatorio 1 (From Italian)


             .....e nos podrèm entendre 
            Facilament, qu'es mon parlar roman 
            Parier coma lo tieu, e de comprendre 
            Ton òc ò lo francés amé mon sì 
            Non es esfòrç que non pòsqui entreprendre
            — Voice of Dante in Renat Toscano's Lo Grand Viatge,  

    I have read Dante, off and on, for about ten years. I have often thought about translating the Commedia. But the Commedia is so overtranslated, unlike certain other works which English-speakers don't even know about. Hell there are whole literatures (like this one, or this one or this one) whose existence is generally unknown. Why bother with Dante the Overtranslated, when I could be translating things that English-speakers can't already read?

   Turns out the answer is: to see what I can do with it.

   You'd think I'd go for the Inferno. But, seriously, everybody does the Inferno. It is the easiest of the three books, and also the weakest, though the first three cantos are great. I'd go so far as to say that half of the Inferno is basically a virtuosic waste of the reader's time and of Dante's talent.

    So, there I was, nel mezzo del camin della mia giornata, trying to take my mind off of things I had to do. For spits and tickles, I sat down and tried my hand at the opening of the Purgatorio. Then I found myself translating more. Before I realized it, mi ritrovai per un viluppo. I had translated half the damn canto, while formulating ideas about how to translate the Commedia. Cercai una maglia rotta nella rette, e balzai fuori! Onward to canto's end. In time I may feel myself impelled to do more, and perhaps even translate the brilliant first three Cantos of the Inferno. Colpa è di chi m'ha destinato al foco. 

Lasso! Avviene elli a persona? 

    The answer is yes. The Commedia has been translated into English a ton. A metric fuckton, in fact. Sometimes even a metrical fuckton. There are at least 60 different English translations of it to my knowledge, and that is just the complete translations of all three books. Those who have produced complete English translations of at least one of the books (most often the Inferno) number well over a hundred. Those who have translated a complete canto into English may be impossible to count, numerosi come le arene del mare.

    In fact, the Commedia has been translated more into English than into any other language. I am not quite sure why this is. But part of it probably has to do with the fact that English-speaking Protestants and Anglicans were late in warming up to Dante's blend of classical mythology and Catholic theology. The Inferno was thus much more brand spanking new.

    Another reason I think is that the Commedia is in some respects harder to translate into English than some other languages. The terce rhyme, which was by no means always easy for Dante to square off in Italian, is so much more of a challenge in English that most translators either abandon it or opt for a watered down version of it. Most English pentameter is blank verse, in which Dante's habit of end-stopping can feel clunky.

    Getting down to brass tacks, what would I bring to this frankly overcrowded and sometimes overrated table?

    First point of order: respect the terza rima and do it in a way that adds to the poem rather than subtracting from it. Protestations that this is impossible to pull off in English are non-factual. If sufficient occasional latitude is allowed with rhyme, and if the translator is willing to make the kind of effort which Dante deserves in any case, terce rhyme is quite doable. If Dante occasionally reached a bit in Italian for rhymes, why shouldn't English reach more often and farther?
    Once in a while, Dante allows himself glaringly imperfect rhymes, some by "Sicilian" precedent and some by sheer license, which later generations found unacceptable. In the Commedia, -olto rhymes with -orto-esse with -isse, -omo with -umo etc. Dante's versification also generally allows for imperfect rhymes between open and closed o and e, rhyming e.g. cuore [kwɔ:re] with amore [amo:re] and questa [kwe:sta] with testa [tɛ:sta]. It is rather like allowing rhymes between English bate/met or coat/thought. This property of Italian poetry is masked by the writing system which doesn't distinguish between such vowels on the page, and I suspect that part of the illusion of Italian rhymes always being perfect (like the illusion that Italian orthography is perfectly phonemic or phonetic) is because many non-Italians consume the language more in written than in spoken form.
    I use imperfect rhymes of various types — orders of magnitude more than Dante did — and make no bones about it. I use rhymes drawn from different dialects of English. I also play loose with English versification. Unbending iambs are neither necessary nor desirable in a poem like this in modern English for a modern audience. The regularity of rhyme allows for a little loosening of the pentameter anyway. I take the iambic pulse as a base, but the only strict requirement is that each line have five identifiable beats.

    Dante used the techniques of versification he inherited, including scrambled syntax and deletion of word-final vowels (a tactic probably adopted by imitation of Occitan verse where post-tonic vowels are much rarer.) His prosody can also be "rude" by later standards, and he sometimes plays loose with linesHe is not always polished or refined in the manner of a Petrarch. When the occasion calls for it, he is just as capable of delivering a versified Italian version of the Lord's Prayer as he is of using words like merda "shit" (Inf. XVIII) and culo "arse" (Inf. XXI). Before he was condemned to eternal worship in the deepest circle of the Italian canon, his style was considered borderline barbarous by some later poets, not least because he veered between "high" and "low" at will.

   A reputation as a pioneer of unaffected and plainspoken vernacularity has been pasted onto Dante like a feelgood bumper sticker slapped onto the ass of an embalmed corpse. To be sure, it makes him an appealing figure in an era when poetry (especially English-language poetry) is subjected to much corporal punishment if it tries to put on airs.
   This reputation would have likely struck Dante himself as bizarre and maybe a little insulting. Especially when applied to the Commedia, where the language gets progressively odder as you go along. The notion that he was "revolutionary in writing in the contemporary vernacular" has repeatedly been seized on in ways that make people strive for contemporaneity and readability and plainspokenness every which way. But he was not at all unusual in using the vernacular for high poetry. He was unusual in treating a classically-informed theological epic in it. Few others in his day would have dared have Virgil speak in lyric vernacular as a fictional character.

   He also did unusual things not just with the vernacular, but to it.

   While the Commedia uses lots of paired down, colloquial language and (in the Inferno) occasionally obscenity, it is far from being the "natural" language of anybody's speech, even at the level of vocabulary.
   In some parts, particularly the Paradiso, Dante seems to be straining to make the language unhuman. He coins a great many words (somewhere between two and five hundred, depending on how you count) of which a number caught on and survive today. When an Italian reads the Commedia today, they may not notice all the neologisms, because they have since been adopted into normative Italian. A great example is the verb inurbarsi "to enter a city, to get citied" coined in the Purgatorio, which took on a life of its own in Italian and today has developed the semantically extended sense of "to become refined, to lose one's rustic manners." Other famous Dantean coinages  include trasumanare "to go beyond the human, to transhumanate" and contrapasso "an ironic punishment which fits the sin, a counterpass, a contrapoise" (or as I would translate it: a splayback.)  The Commedia contains many even odder coinages like inluiarsi "to go into him, to be inhimmed" and intuarsi "to go into you, to inyouate, to be inyoued." The mountain of Purgatory "dis-lakes itself" (si dislaga) and "dis-evils" (dismala) those who climb it. Pasiphae, when she climbs into the mock-cow in a fit of godwrought lust, sins by "embeasting herself" (imbestiarsi). In Hell, Virgil refuses to "pulchrify" (appulcrare) beggars, and a simoniac pope speaks of another who goes "simonizing" (simoneggiare). There are even greek-inspired neologisms such as teodia (theody) from "theos" (god) apparently patterned off of salmodia (psalmody.) The proportion of neologisms in the Paradiso is at least twice that of the other two books. As Dante slowly enheavens himself, language itself grows unworlded to express hereafterthoughts.
   Dante also uses existing words in esoteric or otherwise odd ways (e.g. in Purg. XXVI where "mortale" is used as a noun to refer to the mortal fleshly part of the self). He will use words like schife at line-end in ways that make it unclear whether he means the verb schifare "loathe, abhore" or simply a rhyme-wrenched form of schivare "to flee."
   The anonymous author of one of the earliest surviving commentaries on the Commedia, one of the very few commentators who seem to have known Dante personally, relates:
Io scrittore udii dire a Dante, che mai rima nol trasse a dire altro che quello ch'avea in suo proponimento; ma ch'elli molte e spesse volte facea li vocaboli dire nelle sue rime altro che quello, ch'erano appo gli altri dicitori usati di sprimere
(I heard Dante say that the need to find a rhyme never forced him to say anything other than what he had intended to say, but that he often made the words in rhyme position say different things than what other poets used them to express.)
   With Dante, it seems to me an English translator should be willing to avail themself not only of all the English that exists, but also of some English that doesn't exist. Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.

   Many of Dante's lines are contorted in a way that would not disgrace even the most recherché of Elizabethan sonneteers. There are even some lines (e.g. "Farotti ben di me volere scemo") where the syntax is so scrambled and elliptical that commentators are still in disagreement as to how to parse them even if the general meaning is clear.
   The distortions of syntax in which a medieval Italian, Spanish or French poet will freely indulge, but which are forbidden to the English translator, are rather on par with the kind found in Milton's Paradise Lost. For example:

...So Satan spake, and him Beelzebub
Thus answer'd. Leader of those Armies bright,
Which but th' Onmipotent none could have foiled....

A milder form may be found in Jennifer Lawrence's lines from "Doubt Not" written in the 1920s:

...That I would never leave a barren plain 
The forest dewed with what we know as love
Was true when true it was. I say again
I love thee, and I will be on the move
And afterward from out my bullseyed heart
Pluck out boy Cupid's most innocuous dart. 

   Milton didn't actually talk like this anymore than you do. We accept this kind of thing in Milton, because circles of literary arbitration are forever populated by souls too cultured, or just too cowardly, to suggest that such a great poet's work is vitiated by mere syntactic scrambling. Likewise, we have been trained — through the repeated thought-terminating injunctions of experto crede that often prevail in matters of artistic taste — to remember that it is "unnatural" when we are faced with anything written after WWII. De gustibus non est...ah booshit. The incoherence of such an aesthetic is obvious from the unfavorable reaction a polished Elizabethan sonnet will earn from the reader if you tell them it was written last week, and from the favorable reaction you can earn by writing in Elizabethan English so long as you credit your work to some obscure contemporary of Shakespeare.
   The same goes mutatis mutandis for other elements of the traditional English poetic register which  are so out of favor with present audiences that their use would hinder more than help any translator whom the reader knows to be operating in the here and now, such as the thou/you distinction,  contractions like 'neath, e'er, o'er, ta'en, 'twas, lexical items such as twain and inflections such as third person -eth. While 'twas, 'tis and twain were actually part of living English until some time in the 1700s, even Shakespeare probably didn't actually use the pronoun thou unless he was versifying or praying (though it does survive, increasingly vestigially, in some non-standard varieties of English. Listen to I Predict A Riot by the Yorkshire band Kaiser Chiefs, and you'll hear it used quite naturally in the second line, rhymed as it happens with a very colloquial British word.) What's more, forms such as ta'en have hardly ever been a part of anybody's real speech anymore than Miltonic syntax. Like the Occcitanoid apocope of cammin, correr, mar in Dante's lyric Italian (instead of the cammino, correre, mare which he would have used in probably all but the most rapid of speech) they came into existence mainly as an aid to poets. Today they are eschewed as poeticizing artificiality by people who do an impressive job of convincing themselves that they are something other than that in Milton.
   The contemporary prejudice of the reader on this point cannot be ignored. The reader cannot be expected to know better (anymore than could the critics who once fulminated against Whitman for not using rhyme and meter.) The 20th century, which plenished the Anglophone poet so many useful and sorely needed new tools, has for better and for worse smeared this particular implement with pathogenic shit. (Yet each man kills the thing he loves...) Today, as with any other superstition when it is widely shared, one must humor people on this, at least to some extent. Despite my instinct to use "all of the English that exists" this particular part of the language would cause more problems than it could possibly solve. So while I have allowed myself free rein (and sometimes even free reign) with neologisms, particularly when it comes to concepts relating to the afterlife, I decided to make very sparing and light use of syntactic scrambling in translating Dante (just as in translating other medieval Romance poetry), and have allowed myself no recourse to the traditional poetic register except in those few cases where it seemed outright moronic not to do so. You're welcome.

Purgatorio 1
By Dante Alighieri
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Invocation to the Muses. Dawn and the four stars symbolizing the cardinal virtues. Conversation between Cato and Virgil. Cato agrees to give passage and indicates to them the rite of purification. Virgil and Dante follow his instructions along the shore of Purgatory.
 
To course on kinder waters in new wind
 my ship of wit now hoists sail and is driven
 to leave those cruel and brutal seas behind
and I will sing of that second kingdom given 
 the soul of man to purge itself and be
 worthy at last to make the climb to Heaven.
Oh Holy Muses! Here let poetry 
 rise from the dead, for I am yours. Come dance,
 Calliope, rise to accompany
this song of mine with that same consonance 
 whose beat beat the Pierides till they   
 dropped hope of a pardon for their arrogance.
The soft blue of an eastern sapphire's ray 
 gathering up in the mien of the serene
 sky, pure from zenith to horizon, lay
with new delight upon my eyes again 
 as soon as I got out of that dead air
 which had weighed upon my eyes and gut with pain.
The lovely planet which heartens us to bear 
 love set the east sky beaming, end to end,
 veiling her escort Pisces in her flare.
I turned off to my right, and set my mind 
 on the other pole, and saw the four stars alight
 seen by none since the fall of humankind.
The heavens seemed to rollick in their light. 
 Oh widowed northern hemisphere, bereft
 forever of the splendor of their sight.
I forced myself to look away, turned left 
 a bit from that pole toward the other one
 where the Big Dipper had already left
and saw nearby an ancient man alone, 
 whose look drew forth such reverence as might
 a father have expected from his son.
His beard was long and flecked with strands of white  
 just like the hair upon his head which lay
 in a split tress across his breast. The light
of those four holy stars, ray upon ray, 
 adorned him with such a radiance that his head
 appeared to me to face the sun of day.
Stirring those right honorable plumes he said 
 "What souls are you whom the blindstream won't hold back  
 fleeing the eternal dungeon of the dead?
Who led you? Or what served as light to track 
 your way up here from the deep night whose rifts
 have kept the nethervale forever black?
Could someone break the laws of God's abyss? 
 Or is there in Heaven a changed new policy
 that lets you Hellcast come before my cliffs?"
At that my leader laid firm hold of me, 
 and with his gestures, words and hand compelled
 me to show reverence in brow and knee.
He answered: "I did not get here myself. 
 There is a lady in the heavenhold 
 whose prayers sent me to guide this man through Hell.
But since it's your will that more truth be told 
 of what and why we are to take this route,
 it cannot be in my will to withhold. 
This man never saw his final sun go out 
 but came so close in his stupidity
 there wasn't much time for a turnabout. 
Then I was sent, just like I said, to be 
 his deliverance. His one way out is this
 course I have set upon. I have let him see
all of the goddamned wicked populace, 
 and now I mean to have him see the fate
 of the souls being cleansed under your auspices.
How I brought him is too long to relate. 
 It is from heaven that the power flows
 which helps me lead him to see you in this state.
So may his coming please you, for he goes 
 to win his freedom. That is a dear thing,
 as one who laid his life down for it knows.  
So know you, Cato, for whom death held no sting 
 in Utica where you shed the flesh that shall rise
 in radiance on the Day of Reckoning. 
The laws aren't out of joint. This man is alive 
 and I am not under Minos' purview.
 I am from that circle where the modest eyes
of your Marcia still turn in prayer to you, 
 oh blessèd breast, to hold her as yours. So 
 for love of her, be partial to us two
and through your seven kingdoms let us go. 
 I will give thanks for your graciousness to her,
 if you will let your name be named below."
"Marcia's eyes so pleased mine in that world's air 
 when I breathed in it" said he "that whatever
 kindness she asked of me, I did back there.
Now that she is beyond the awful river, 
 by the laws that were in place when I came
 out of it, she can't move me now or ever.
But if a Heavenly Lady as you claim 
 governs and moves you, flattery is misplaced  
 with me. You need but ask me in her name. 
So go. But you had best bind this man's waist  
 with a smooth green reed, then before you rise
 wash all that grimy hellgunk from his face.
It just would not be right for one with eyes 
 blacked up with any cloud to come before
 the First Custodian; he's of Paradise.
There at that island's very base on the shore 
 beaten up by the billows, you'll find those
 green rushes growing in the softmud floor.
There no wood plant or foliate blossom grows 
 or can survive. Hard boughs break in a blast. 
 What lives there has to bend with the winds' blows. 
Do not return by this way once you pass.  
 The sun now rising will show you by its beam
 how to take the mountain by a gentler path."
And just like that he vanished. I couldn't seem 
 to speak, but drew close to my guide and spun
 my waiting eyes to him as in a dream.
He started up "Follow my footsteps, son. 
 We'll turn along this side where you can see
 the plain slope to its lower edge. Come on."
Dawn was defeating daybreak which had to flee  
 before its light, so far across the plain
 I recognized the tremblings of the sea.
We went about the lonely plain like men 
 seeking the road from which they'd roved astray
 whose steps till they found it seemed a pointless strain.
When we had reached a little shadeaway  
 where dew still fought the sun off as soft wind
 guarded it from the vaporizing day,
my master placed his hands outspread with a fine 
 and gentle touch upon the tender grass
 and I, aware of what he had in mind,
offered my tear-scarred cheeks. There his hand passed 
 and made me clean, revealed on me galore
 the colors which the slag of Hell had masked.
Then we came out across an empty shore 
 that had not seen a man sail on its sea
 and ever make it back to land before.
Then, at another's will, he girded me: 
 The wonder of it! As soon as he had picked
 the humble reed, another instantly
sprang from the stalk, identical to it. 

 

The Original:

Per correr miglior acque alza le vele  
 omai la navicella del mio ingegno,
 che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele;
e canterò di quel secondo regno 
 dove l'umano spirito si purga
 e di salire al ciel diventa degno.
Ma qui la morta poesì resurga, 
 o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;
 e qui Calïopè alquanto surga,
seguitando il mio canto con quel suono 
 di cui le Piche misere sentiro
 lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.
Dolce color d'orïental zaffiro, 
 che s'accoglieva nel sereno aspetto
 del mezzo, puro infino al primo giro,
a li occhi miei ricominciò diletto, 
 tosto ch'io usci' fuor de l'aura morta
 che m'avea contristati li occhi e 'l petto.
Lo bel pianeto che d'amar conforta 
 faceva tutto rider l'orïente,
 velando i Pesci ch'erano in sua scorta.
I' mi volsi a man destra, e puosi mente 
 a l'altro polo, e vidi quattro stelle
 non viste mai fuor ch'a la prima gente.
Goder pareva 'l ciel di lor fiammelle: 
 oh settentrïonal vedovo sito,
 poi che privato se' di mirar quelle!
Com' io da loro sguardo fui partito, 
 un poco me volgendo a l 'altro polo,
 là onde 'l Carro già era sparito,
vidi presso di me un veglio solo, 
 degno di tanta reverenza in vista,
 che più non dee a padre alcun figliuolo.
Lunga la barba e di pel bianco mista 
 portava, a' suoi capelli simigliante,
 de' quai cadeva al petto doppia lista.
Li raggi de le quattro luci sante 
 fregiavan sì la sua faccia di lume,
 ch'i' 'l vedea come 'l sol fosse davante.
«Chi siete voi che contro al cieco fiume 
 fuggita avete la pregione etterna?»,
 diss' el, movendo quelle oneste piume.
«Chi v'ha guidati, o che vi fu lucerna, 
 uscendo fuor de la profonda notte
 che sempre nera fa la valle inferna?
Son le leggi d'abisso così rotte? 
 o è mutato in ciel novo consiglio,
 che, dannati, venite a le mie grotte?».
Lo duca mio allor mi diè di piglio, 
 e con parole e con mani e con cenni
 reverenti mi fé le gambe e 'l ciglio.
Poscia rispuose lui: «Da me non venni: 
 donna scese del ciel, per li cui prieghi
 de la mia compagnia costui sovvenni.
Ma da ch'è tuo voler che più si spieghi 
 di nostra condizion com' ell' è vera,
 esser non puote il mio che a te si nieghi.
Questi non vide mai l'ultima sera; 
 ma per la sua follia le fu sì presso,
 che molto poco tempo a volger era.
Sì com' io dissi, fui mandato ad esso 
 per lui campare; e non lì era altra via
 che questa per la quale i' mi son messo.
Mostrata ho lui tutta la gente ria; 
 e ora intendo mostrar quelli spirti
 che purgan sé sotto la tua balìa.
Com' io l'ho tratto, saria lungo a dirti; 
 de l'alto scende virtù che m'aiuta
 conducerlo a vederti e a udirti.
Or ti piaccia gradir la sua venuta: 
 libertà va cercando, ch'è sì cara,
 come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta.
Tu 'l sai, ché non ti fu per lei amara 
 in Utica la morte, ove lasciasti
 la vesta ch'al gran dì sarà sì chiara.
Non son li editti etterni per noi guasti, 
 ché questi vive e Minòs me non lega;
 ma son del cerchio ove son li occhi casti
di Marzia tua, che 'n vista ancor ti priega, 
 o santo petto, che per tua la tegni:
 per lo suo amore adunque a noi ti piega.
Lasciane andar per li tuoi sette regni; 
 grazie riporterò di te a lei,
 se d'esser mentovato là giù degni».
«Marzïa piacque tanto a li occhi miei 
 mentre ch'i' fu' di là», diss' elli allora,
 «che quante grazie volse da me, fei.
Or che di là dal mal fiume dimora, 
 più muover non mi può, per quella legge
 che fatta fu quando me n'usci' fora.
Ma se donna del ciel ti move e regge, 
 come tu di', non c'è mestier lusinghe:
 bastisi ben che per lei mi richegge.
Va dunque, e fa che tu costui ricinghe 
 d'un giunco schietto e che li lavi 'l viso,
 sì ch'ogne sucidume quindi stinghe;
ché non si converria, l'occhio sorpriso 
 d'alcuna nebbia, andar dinanzi al primo
 ministro, ch'è di quei di paradiso.
Questa isoletta intorno ad imo ad imo, 
 là giù colà dove la batte l'onda,
 porta di giunchi sovra 'l molle limo:
null' altra pianta che facesse fronda 
 o indurasse, vi puote aver vita,
 però ch'a le percosse non seconda.
Poscia non sia di qua vostra reddita; 
 lo sol vi mosterrà, che surge omai,
 prendere il monte a più lieve salita».
Così sparì; e io sù mi levai 
 sanza parlare, e tutto mi ritrassi
 al duca mio, e li occhi a lui drizzai.
El cominciò: «Figliuol, segui i miei passi: 
 volgianci in dietro, ché di qua dichina
 questa pianura a' suoi termini bassi».
L'alba vinceva l'ora mattutina 
 che fuggia innanzi, sì che di lontano
 conobbi il tremolar de la marina.
Noi andavam per lo solingo piano 
 com' om che torna a la perduta strada,
 che 'nfino ad essa li pare ire in vano.
Quando noi fummo là 've la rugiada 
 pugna col sole, per essere in parte
 dove, ad orezza, poco si dirada,
ambo le mani in su l'erbetta sparte 
 soavemente 'l mio maestro pose:
 ond' io, che fui accorto di sua arte,
porsi ver' lui le guance lagrimose; 
 ivi mi fece tutto discoverto
 quel color che l'inferno mi nascose.
Venimmo poi in sul lito diserto, 
 che mai non vide navicar sue acque
 omo, che di tornar sia poscia esperto.
Quivi mi cinse sì com' altrui piacque: 
 oh maraviglia! ché qual elli scelse
 l'umile pianta, cotal si rinacque
subitamente là onde l'avelse. 
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