mercoledì 26 settembre 2012

Mary Jo Bang's translation of Canto III of The Inferno

Welcome to the city of woe.
Welcome to everlasting sadness.
Welcome to the 
grave cave.                      

Justice made the maker build it just like this—
if being is power, power created it, i.e., it is—
with primitive love and bricks of wisdom.

Before this, there was nothing that wasn’t 
eternal and after, nothing but the eternal. 
you, who have no hope, enter here.

These words, scrawled in soot and all in caps
As if by a hurried hand were printed on the stone overhead 
Above a creaking door. “Sir,” I said, “this is harsh.”

He spoke, like an expert nephew                 
To a drunkard uncle, “Now is when you need courage. 
Now you need a hard heart.                                                15

Leave behind your fear and kill your cowardice.”
Then he said, “In there intellect doesn’t help
The wretched dead who are writhing about.”

He touched my hand as if to tell me all 
Would be all right. Then we crossed over 
From where we’d been into the inner sanctum 

That houses hidden things. The starless air was echoing
With countless sighs, horrific cries,
Extended loud laments. In tears I listened. 

The angry accents, the strident utterances,
The striking hands, the near-deafening chorus 
Of a million dolls’ dark inner voices crying

“Ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma,” veered off walls and swirled 
Like sand in a storm that becomes indecipherable 
From the wind with which it’s carried.                                   30

And I, circled by horror, said, “Sir,What am I hearing? 
Who are these people So overcome by grief?”
He said, “This is the inheritance Of the contemptible
Who did nothing wrong but nothing right.

They blend together with the vile angels
Who stood neither for nor against great good
But for themselves in selfishness.
If heaven were to keep them, heaven’s beauty 
Would be less. If they were sent to deepest hell 
The sinners there might gloat, ‘See, we’re worse,
We’re more depraved.’” “What torments them?
Why do they cry so loud and long?”
He responded: “I’ll tell you quickly.                                            45
They wish to die but cannot do it.
Their blind lives are so empty, so without reprieve
They envy the nothing that an ending would be.
They’re not meant to be remembered.
Mercy turns her back; justice disdains them.
They’re not worth your attention. Look, and then let’s go.”
Then I saw a flag that was moving forward so fast,
And fluttering so fast, it seemed indefatigable.
It was followed by a sad and endless train
Of people racing after.
Never had I dreamed 
Death had so many sycophants.
I saw some I recognized and then the ghost of one
Who’d stood down when faced with doing good
And thus paved the way for future damage.                           60
I knew, incontestably, this scourge, 
These contemptible sad-sacks, were the enemies 
Of both Jekyll and of Hyde.
They’d never lived and now would never die.
Naked as the day they were born,
Bitter wasps and hornets covered them.
Blood trickled between their tears;
This sorry sticky mixture dripped from their chins 
To be caught below by the open mouths of maggots.
Further on, beyond these, I saw a crowd
Gathered on the bank of a wide river.
I asked my guide, “May I ask 

Who these are and what makes them 
Wait so eagerly to board the boat
I can barely make out in the distance.”                                          75

He told me, “Hush, it will all be clear
When we reach the bank 
Of the miserable River Acheron.”
I was afraid I’d annoyed him by asking. 
So I stared at my feet 
And stayed quiet until we reached the river.

Then, out of nowhere, there was an old man
With white hair, coming toward us in a boat,
Growling, “Give it up, you scum-uncles.
You’ll never see the sky again. 
Like Red Rover I’m taking you over to the other side 
Where you’ll eat and drink perpetual darkness.
Your naked arses will feel the furnace and the ice. 
And you, with the beating heart, 
Move away from the dead.” When I stood my ground                    90
He said, “You can’t get to where you’re going from here. 
You need the dingy marked ‘P’ for Purgatory.
That one leaves from a different pier.”

Virgil said, “Charon, calm yourself, you clown.” 
We were standing on the ramp. “It’s been decided 
Where decisions are made. His passport has a stamp.
Now leave it alone.”
The hairy cheeks of the boatman, king of the river rats,
Went slack. His fire eyes flared but he kept silent.       

The weary and naked ones, however, went ashen,
And ground their teeth as soon as they heard
His vicious speech. They cursed God, their parents,
The human race, the hour they were conceived, 
Their fathers’ seed, the space between 
Their mothers’ legs, and the bed where they were made.              105

Then they moved as one, as if conjoined, sobbing
All the while, along the evil shore that was designed
For the evil people who know good but never do it.

The evil shore: that surprise dénouement 
For those who when living disbelieved  
In the idea of retribution. Demon Charon, 

His eyes like empty furnaces filled with fire, herds them
Together with a nod or beckons with a bent finger, 
Then smacks the stragglers with his oar.

Fall tells the tree to drop its leaves, and it does, one
After the other, until the branch looks down and sees a blanket
On the ground. Like that, the children of Babylon come

One by one when they’re called, like trained birds come 
When whistled for. Then they go, over the murky water. 
Before the boat has landed on the far side,                                     120

A new group is already huddled naked on the near.
“Now,” said my teacher, “to your previous question: 
The ones you see here have died before making amends. 

They come from every known country.
The reason they’re so eager to cross the river is
They long for hell, as they once reached out for sin

Because sometimes fear becomes desire.
The good never board the boat. 
So if Charon curses both your shoes, and the dirt

Beneath your feet, perhaps you now know why.” 
At that, the pitch-dark plain shook. Every aspect 
Of that moment is burned into my brain. The cold sweat

Inside my clothes. The hot wind that rose off the ground 
Wet with tears. The massive crimson camera flash 
That lit the night scene and turned us red. I lost it                                 135

And went out, like a light goes out, or a phone goes dead.

Notes to Canto III

Line 3: Welcome to the grave caveSylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”:
Soon, soon the flesh 
The grave cave ate will be 
At home on me 
Line 56-57: Never had I dreamed/Death had so many sycophantsT.S. Eliot included a translation of lines 55-57 in the first section (‘The Burial of the Dead’) of “The Waste Land”: 

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,  \
A crowd flowed over 
London Bridge, so many,  
I had not thought death had undone so many.
He included Dante’s original lines in the “Notes” section at the end of the long poem.
Line 63: Of both Jekyll and of Hyde: Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1886). The story of an affable doctor who under the cloak of night commits nefarious crimes has come to represent the inherent duality of good and evil. 

Traduzione del CANTO XXXIV: Clicca qui

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