Miguel Hernandez: The Soldier and the Snow (From Spanish)


From Hernandez' days serving in the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. 

The Soldier and the Snow (1937)
By Miguel Hernandez
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

December has frozen up its two-edged breath
and chuffs it from the frozen heavens' shoulders
like a dry fire unwinding into thread
like a vast ruin coming down on soldiers.

Snow where the horse leaving a hoofprint trail
is solitude of grief that gallops still.
Snow of decrepit claws, split fingernails,
complete contempt and heavenly ill will.

It bites, hews and cuts through with an edgeways
and bloodshot marble ax's awful blow. 
It falls, spills out like a ruptured embrace
of wings and canyons, solitude and snow.

This violence split from winter's core, this bite
of hunger sick of being hungry and cold,
bullies the naked with eternal spite
that is white, silent, dark, starved, deadly and old.

It would soften down forges, hatreds, fires, 
would stopper up the seas, bury all loves,
and throws up huge slow gauzy barriers,
soundless statues, glass shards in hostile droves.

I would unspool the heart of wool now turning
in textile mill and warehouse till it pours
to cover bodies that ignite each morning
with voices, faces, boots and rifle-bores.

Clothes for bodies that may go naked, all 
dressed in nothing more than the ice and frost
and wizened stone to block cruel beaks that fall
in pallid flight with pallid pecking thrust.

Clothes for bodies that silently withstand
this whitest onslaught with their bones of red,
because these soldiers' bones are solar brands,
because they're fires with foot and eye and head.

Cold lurches forward and death's leaves fall dead. 
A soundless din I hear rains here below
where on the white snow, life is red and red
sets the snow steamy, sows fire in the snow.

So much they are like crystal rock unbroken
that only flame can shape them in fire's clash,
that fight with icy cheekbones and mouths open,
and turn all back to memories of ash.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Spanish:


The Original:

El Soldado y la Nieve

Diciembre ha congelado su aliento de dos filos,
y lo resopla desde los cielos congelados,
como una llama seca desarrollada en hilos,
como una larga ruina que ataca a los soldados.

Nieve donde el caballo que impone sus pisadas
es una soledad de galopante luto.
Nieve de uñas cernidas, de garras derribadas,
de celeste maldad, de desprecio absoluto.

Muerde, tala, traspasa como un tremendo hachazo,
con un hacha de mármol encarnizado y leve.
Desciende, se derrama como un deshecho abrazo
de precipicios y alas, de soledad y nieve.

Esta agresión que parte del centro del invierno,
hambre cruda, cansada de tener hambre y frío,
amenaza al desnudo con un rencor eterno,
blanco, mortal, hambriento, silencioso, sombrío.

Quiere aplacar las fraguas, los odios, las hogueras,
quiere cegar los mares, sepultar los amores:
y se va elevando lentas y diáfanas barreras,
estatuas silenciosas y vidrios agresores.

Que se derrame a chorros el corazón de lana
de tantos almacenes y talleres textiles,
para cubrir los cuerpos que queman la mañana
con la voz, la mirada, los pies y los fusiles.

Ropa para los cuerpos que pueden ir desnudos,
que pueden ir vestidos de escarchas y de hielos:
de piedra enjuta contra los picotazos rudos,
las mordeduras pálidas y los pálidos vuelos.

Ropa para los cuerpos que rechazan callados
los ataques más blancos con los huesos más rojos.
Porque tienen el hueso solar estos soldados,
y porque son hogueras con pisadas, con ojos.

La frialdad se abalanza, la muerte se deshoja,
el clamor que no suena, pero que escucho, llueve.
Sobre la nieve blanca, la vida roja y roja
hace la nieve cálida, siembra fuego en la nieve.

Tan decididamente son el cristal de roca
que sólo el fuego, sólo la llama cristaliza,
que atacan con el pómulo nevado, con la boca,
y vuelven cuanto atacan recuerdos de ceniza.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: On Her Self-Portrait (From Spanish)

On Her Self-Portrait
By Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

 This colorful dissemblance that you see
immodestly display art's excellence,  
flowing under false colors' sophistry, 
is the wily deceptor of your sense.  
 This thing where flattery canvassed to belay 
the horror of the years, prevail upon 
time to refrain its rigors day by day 
and conquer old age and oblivion, 
 is but an artifice of vanity.
It is a flower fragile in the wind. 
It is a gambit against destiny. 
 It is a stupid labor ill-deployed.
It is zeal gone to waste and, in the end,  
it is cadaver, shadow, dust and void.  


The Original:

A su retrato

Procura desmentir los elogios  que a un retrato de la Poetisa inscribió la verdad,  que llama pasión

 Este, que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores, 
con falsos silogismos de colores 
es cauteloso engaño del sentido; 
 éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores, 
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores, 
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido, 
 es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada, 
es un resguardo inútil para el hado; 
 es una necia diligencia errada,
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado, 
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada. 

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: You Stupid Men (From Spanish)

You Stupid Men 
By Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear Maya Zapata recite the original Spanish

You stupid men who blame
woman, not reasoning
enough to see the thing
you cause is what you shame. 

With ardor gone half-mad
you court her to get lewd. 
Why do you want her good
when you bid her be bad?

You break down her resistance
then talk your pieties
about her loose caprice, 
when it was your persistence.  

Hysterical male lovers'
valor is like boys who
dream up a bugaboo 
then hide under the covers. 

In your moronic pride
you seek your prize: to play us
for a thigh-spread whore like Thais
then Lucretia as your bride. 

What weirder thing has been
than tantrums of a leerer
who smudges up the mirror
then carps that it's not clean? 

You constantly turn on 
their favor and disdain. 
They hold back, you complain. 

They give in, you poke fun.

We lose no matter what
our answer to men's pitch.    
Say no and you're a bitch. 
Say yes and you're a slut. 

You idiots play your sleazy
game's double standard rule:
this woman you call cruel.
that one you slur as easy.

What's the best temperament 
if she seeks your affection? 
You're hurt by her rejection. 
You rage at her consent. 

But with the rage and pain 
that your wants reveal of you,
she'd do well not to love you,
so go ahead. Complain. 

Upon their liberty
your pangs of love put wings.
Then after dirty things
you want their purity? 

Who is at fault in all
the errant ecstasy?
She who falls for his plea
or he who pleads her fall?

Whose guilt is greater in 
the act where two souls stray?
The girls who sin for pay
or men who pay for sin? 

Don't get all shocked. Just don't,
at your guilt when you take her.
Care for her as you make her
or shape her as you want.

Stop propositioning
and then you might have reason
to accuse those that seize on
you for some sordid thing. 

I know what arms of evil
make war on our defenses. 
Your promise and pretenses 
join world and flesh and devil. 


Notes:

S1: Wordplay. The phrase sin razón means either "bereft of reason" or "without just cause".  The first two lines could be taken to read either "stupid men who groundlessly accuse women" or "stupid men who accuse irrational women." Ocasión is to be taken in its moralizing sense of a situation which provokes temptation in which wrongdoing is liable to occur.


The Original:

Redondillas

Arguye de inconsecuentes el gusto y la censura de los hombres que en las mujeres acusan lo que causa

Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis:

si con ansia sin igual
solicitáis su desdén,
¿por qué queréis que obren bien
si la incitáis al mal?

Combatís su resistencia
y luego, con gravedad,
decís que fue liviandad
lo que hizo la diligencia.

Parecer quiere el denuedo
de vuestro parecer loco
el niño que pone el coco
y luego le tiene miedo.

Queréis, con presunción necia,
hallar a la que buscáis,
para pretendida, Thais,
y en la posesión, Lucrecia.

¿Qué humor puede ser más raro
que el que, falto de consejo,
él mismo empaña el espejo,
y siente que no esté claro?

Con el favor y desdén
tenéis condición igual,
quejándoos, si os tratan mal,
burlándoos, si os quieren bien.

Opinión, ninguna gana;
pues la que más se recata,
si no os admite, es ingrata,
y si os admite, es liviana.

Siempre tan necios andáis
que, con desigual nivel,
a una culpáis por crüel
y a otra por fácil culpáis.

¿Pues como ha de estar templada
la que vuestro amor pretende,
si la que es ingrata, ofende,
y la que es fácil, enfada?

Mas, entre el enfado y pena
que vuestro gusto refiere,
bien haya la que no os quiere
y quejaos en hora buena.

Dan vuestras amantes penas
a sus libertades alas,
y después de hacerlas malas
las queréis hallar muy buenas.

¿Cuál mayor culpa ha tenido
en una pasión errada:
la que cae de rogada,
o el que ruega de caído?

¿O cuál es más de culpar,
aunque cualquiera mal haga:
la que peca por la paga,
o el que paga por pecar?

Pues ¿para qué os espantáis
de la culpa que tenéis?
Queredlas cual las hacéis
o hacedlas cual las buscáis.

Dejad de solicitar,
y después, con más razón,
acusaréis la afición
de la que os fuere a rogar.

Bien con muchas armas fundo
que lidia vuestra arrogancia,
pues en promesa e instancia
juntáis diablo, carne y mundo.

Quevedo: Brevity and Nullity (From Spanish)

Brevity and Nullity
(Describing his life's brevity and how the life he has lived seems nothing)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

 "Is any life home?" Can none answer me? 
"Help!" All my yesteryears are wasted here.  
Fate has chawed off my every day and year,  
my hours gone under in insanity.  
 How powerless, I cannot even see
where or how time and health have fled my gaze.  
My life went missing. Now I just have days 
alive, beset by all catastrophe. 
 The past is gone. Tomorrow never is.  
The now spares not a second on the go. 
I am a Was, a Will, a weary Is.  
 To now, tomorrow and the past I sew
diaper and winding-sheet, remaining this 
succession of deceased and long ago.  

Audio of me reciting this poem in Spanish:


The Original:

Represéntase la brevedad de lo que vive y cuán nada parece lo que se vivió

   ¡Ah de la vida! Nadie me responde?
Aquí de los antaños que he vivido;
la fortuna mis tiempos ha mordido;
las horas mi locura las esconde.
   ¡Que sin poder saber cómo ni adónde,
la salud y la edad se hayan huído!
Falta la vida, asiste lo vivido
y no hay calamidad que no me ronde.
   Ayer se fue, mañana no ha llegado,
hoy se está yendo sin parar un punto;
soy un fue, y un seré y un es cansado.
   En el hoy, y mañana, y ayer, junto
pañales y mortaja, y he quedado
presentes sucesiones de difunto.

Eugenio Montale: Wind and Flags (From Italian)

Wind and Flags
By Eugenio Montale
Translate by A.Z. Foreman

The gust that lifted bitter scents
of sea to the valley's coiling angles,
and bushwhacked you, mussed up your hair
against the pale sky: a brief tangle.

The squall that glued your dress to you
and shaped you in its images
is back, since you're gone, to these stones
the mountain hefts to the abyss.

And now that drunken rage is spent, 
back to the garden comes the breeze
whose breath lulled you back on the hammock,
on your wingless flights, amid the trees.

Alas time never drops the sands
the same way twice. You have in ash
an out: if it happens, not just nature
but our tale will go up in a flash.

A gush that won't quicken — now brings to life
before the eye, along the knoll's
flank, a group of dwellings rife
with festooned flowers and banderoles.

The world exists... amazement halts the beating
heart that yields to roving incubi, 
heralds of evening: and would deny
that starving men are celebrating.

The Original:

Vento e Bandiere

La folata che alzò l'amaro aroma
del mare alle spirali delle valli,
e t'investì, ti scompigliò la chioma,
groviglio breve contro il cielo pallido;

la raffica che t'incollò la veste
e ti modulò rapida a sua imagine,
com'è tornata, te lontana, a queste
pietre che sporge il monte alla voragine;

e come spenta la furia briaca
ritrova ora il giardino il sommesso alito
che ti cullò, riversa sull'amaca,
tra gli alberi, ne' tuoi voli senz'ali.

Ahimé, non mai due volte configura
il tempo in egual modo i grani! E scampo
n'è: ché, se accada, insieme alla natura
la nostra fiaba brucerà in un lampo.

Sgorgo che non s'addoppia, - ed or fa vivo
un gruppo di abitati che distesi
allo sguardo sul fianco d'un declivo
si parano di gale e di palvesi.

Il mondo esiste... Uno stupore arresta
il cuore che ai vaganti incubi cede,
messaggeri del vespero: e non crede
che gli uomini affamati hanno una festa.

Eugenio Montale: What You Knew (From Italian)

What You Knew
By Eugenio Montale
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

What you knew of me was just
a coat of paint,
the habit that apparels
our human fate.

And maybe behind the canvas
was the still blue
and only a seal stopped limpid
sky getting through. 

Or else it was the hotheaded 
lifechange in me,
exposing a burning ember
I'll never see.

So this husk proved to be
my fundaments;
the fire unquenched for me
was named: ignorance. 

If you see a shadow, it's not
a shadow — it is who
I am. If only I could strip it off
and offer it to you.

The Original:

Ciò che di me sapeste
non fu che la scialbatura,
la tònaca che riveste
la nostra umana ventura.

Ed era forse oltre il telo
l’azzurro tranquillo;
vietava il limpido cielo
solo un sigillo.

O vero c’era il falòtico
mutarsi della mia vita,
lo schiudersi d’un’ignita
zolla che mai vedrò.

Restò così questa scorza
la vera mia sostanza;
il fuoco che non si smorza
per me si chiamò: l’ignoranza.

Se un’ombra scorgete, non è
un’ombra — ma quella io sono.
Potessi spiccarla da me,
offrirvela in dono.

Eugenio Montale: Wall (From Italian)

Wall
By Eugenio Montale
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

To sit noon out — pale, thought-enthralled —
beside a blistering garden wall
and hear among the thorn and thistle 
the blackbirds crackle and snakes rustle. 

And in the cracks of earth or upon the vetch 
spy the red ants in their battalion files
now breaking ranks, now meeting up
on little lilliputian piles.

Observe between the branches faraway
pulsations of sea scales in spray
while the cicadas' quavering screaks
sound up from the bald peaks. 

And wandering in the dazzling sun
feel with sad wonderment that all 
of life, its torment and its battles,
consists in following a great wall
topped with the shards of broken bottles. 

Audio of me reciting this translation in English

Audio of me reciting this poem in Italian


The Original:

Muraglia

Meriggiare pallido e assorto
presso un rovente muro d'orto,
ascoltare tra i pruni e gli sterpi
schiocchi di merli, frusci di serpi.

Nelle crepe dei suolo o su la veccia
spiar le file di rosse formiche
ch'ora si rompono ed ora s'intrecciano
a sommo di minuscole biche.

Osservare tra frondi il palpitare
lontano di scaglie di mare
mentre si levano tremuli scricchi
di cicale dai calvi picchi.

E andando nel sole che abbaglia
sentire con triste meraviglia
com'è tutta la vita e il suo travaglio
in questo seguitare una muraglia
che ha in cima cocci aguzzi di bottiglia.


Giovanni Pascoli: Dream (From Italian)

Dream
By Giovanni Pascoli
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I was back in my village for a moment,
back in my house. Nothing had changed. I had
come back tired like a man home from a voyage;
tired, I'd come back to my dead, to my dad. 

I felt a mighty joy, a mighty sorrow,
a tender goodness, and mute agony.
"Mom!?" "She's just back there heating up some supper
for you." Poor mom! And her I didn't see. 

Audio of me reciting this poem in Italian


The Original:

Sogno

Per un attimo fui nel mio villaggio,
nella mia casa. Nulla era mutato.
Stanco tornavo, come da un vïaggio;
stanco, al mio padre, ai morti, ero tornato.

Sentivo una gran gioia, una gran pena;
una dolcezza ed un’angoscia muta.
- Mamma? - È là che ti scalda un po’ di cena -
Povera mamma! e lei, non l’ho veduta.

Mario Luzi: Birds (From Italian)

Birds
Mario Luzi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The wind is a rough voice that reprimands
for us a flock that now and then finds peace
and sanctuary up on these dry branches. 
And the troop starts back up on its sad flight,
migrates into the heart of mountains, purple
quarried out of inexhaustible purple,
bottomless mine of space. The flight is slow
and only penetrates painstakingly
into the blue that opens beyond blue
into the time outside of time. A few
send piercing cries that tumble all the way
down, and not one wall echoes back. What seems 
like us is motion of the treetops in
the moment — nigh impossible to think
or speak of — when on invisible stems
a weird and whimsied spring comes all about
to blossom in the thin clouds which the wind 
shepherds onward through a sky soaked or singed
and the day's destiny is manifold
hailstorm, rainfall and sunny clearing up.

The Original:

Uccelli

il vento è un’aspra voce che ammonisce
per noi stuolo che a volte trova pace
e asilo sopra questi rami secchi.
E la schiera ripiglia il triste volo,
migra nel cuore dei monti, viola
scavato nel viola inesauribile,
miniera senza fondo dello spazio.
Il volo è lento, penetra a fatica
nell’azzurro che s’apre oltre l’azzurro,
nel tempo ch’è di là dal tempo; alcuni
mandano grida acute che precipitano
e nessuna parete ripercuote.
Che ci somiglia è il moto delle cime
nell’ora – quasi non si può pensare
né dire – quando su steli invisibili
tutt’intorno una primavera strana
fiorisce in nuvole rade che il vento
pasce in un cielo o umido o bruciato
e la sorte della giornata è varia,
la grandine, la pioggia, la schiarita.

Giovanni Pascoli: Weaver (From Italian)

The Weaver
By Giovanni Pascoli
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I sat with her beside the loom
just as before....how long's it been? 
Just as before, she made me room
beside the loom.

And not a single word's sound, no
just the devotion of her grin.
Her white hand lets the shuttle go.

I cry and say: How could I have
left you, my good dear sweetheart? Why?
She cries and says with a mute wave:
How could you have?

Then, beam in hand, she gives a slow
pull to the mute comb with a sigh.
Moves the mute shuttle to and fro.

I cry and ask: Why's that comb silent?
It used to sing with every move!
She stares at me so kindly, shyly:
Why is it silent?

Then cries and cries: I thought you knew!
Did no one tell you? Oh sweet love,
I'm not alive except in you.

Dead. Yes. I only weave, you see,
For you. I don't know how I do.  
I'll wear this sheet beneath our tree
When I sleep finally, next to you.

The Original:

La Tessitrice

Mi son seduto su la panchetta
come una volta... quanti anni fa?
Ella, come una volta, s’è stretta
su la panchetta.

E non il suono d’una parola;
solo un sorriso tutto pietà.
La bianca mano lascia la spola.

Piango, e le dico: Come ho potuto,
dolce mio bene, partir da te?
Piange, e mi dice d’un cenno muto:
Come hai potuto?

Con un sospiro quindi la cassa
tira del muto pettine a sè.
Muta la spola passa e ripassa.

Piango, e le chiedo: Perchè non suona
dunque l’arguto pettine più?
Ella mi fissa timida e buona:
Perchè non suona?

E piange, e piange - Mio dolce amore,
non t’hanno detto? non lo sai tu?
Io non son viva che nel tuo cuore.

Morta! Sì, morta! Se tesso, tesso
per te soltanto; come non so:
in questa tela, sotto il cipresso,
accanto alfine ti dormirò.

Eugenio Montale: Don't Ask (From Italian)

Don't Ask
By Eugenio Montale
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Don't ask us for the word that will frame out the line 
of our formless spirit on all sides and proclaim 
it in a letterhead of fire and shine  
like a crocus lost out in a dusty plain.

Ah the man who walks his way secure
a friend to others and himself and all
indifferent if the summer dog days end
up stamping his shadow onto a peeling wall.

Don't ask us for that formula that opens worlds,
just a few twisted syllables, dry as a branch and gaunt.
Today the only thing that we can tell you is
what we are not, and what we do not want. 

The Original:

Non Chiederci La Parola

Non chiederci la parola che squadri da ogni lato
l'animo nostro informe, e a lettere di fuoco
lo dichiari e risplenda come un croco
perduto in mezzo a un polveroso prato.

Ah l'uomo che se ne va sicuro,
agli altri ed a se stesso amico,
e l'ombra sua non cura che la canicola
stampa sopra uno scalcinato muro!

Non domandarci la formula che mondi possa aprirti,
sì qualche storta sillaba e secca come un ramo.
Codesto solo oggi possiamo dirti,
ciò che non siamo, ciò che non vogliamo.

Mario Luzi: Diana, Awakening (From Italian)

Diana, Awakening
By Mario Luzi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The scattered wind goes glistening through the vapor
about the plain, the mountain laughs out rare
as it lights up all over, glimmers caper
out from the water, what dearer news is there? 

It's time to get on up again, go live
purely. See here how every mirror clears 
a smile, a shiver on the open windows,
and a sound comes back to confound the ears. 

And you all cheerful run up and fly in
the face of death in one fair swoop. Just so
when a door opens and the colors burst 
in happy, in its turn the dark will go 

right out and fade. Upbeat images are born, 
the spirit of the sun, blind on its way
back, filters through the blood, dawn breezes pull us
with them: to be, to die out in one day. 

The Original:

Diana, Risveglio

Il vento sparso luccica tra i fumi
della pianura, il monte ride raro
illuminandosi, escono barlumi
dall'acqua, quale messaggio più caro?

È tempo di levarsi su, di vivere
puramente. Ecco vola negli specchi
un sorriso, sui vetri aperti un brivido,
torna un suono a confondere gli orecchi.

E tu ilare accorri e contraddici
in un tratto la morte. Cosi quando
s'apre una porta irrompono felici
i colori, esce il buio di rimando

a dissolversi. Nascono liete immagini,
filtra nel sangue, cieco nel ritorno,
lo spirito del sole, aure ci trattengono
con sé: a esistere, a estinguerci in un giorno.


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.

John Milton: Canzon (From Italian)

Canzon
John Milton
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 in my memory such clear residue
as Lethe can't blur out or wash away.
   But if the words you swore just now are true
then tell me why your speech and your look declare
the kind of love I think I see in you." 
   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.


3


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18


21


24


27


30


33


36


39


42


45


48


51


54


57


60


63


66


69


72


75


78


81


84


87


90


93


96


99


102


105


108


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114


117


120


123


126


129


132


135


138


141


144


147





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.