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Gordon Wallace, joint 3rd prize (Open category)
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Inferno, Canto V
(lines 28–87)


Io venni in loco d’ogni luce muto,
    che mugghia, come fa mar per tempesta,
    se da contrari venti è combattuto.

La bufera infernal, che mai non resta,
    mena gli spirti con la sua rapina;
    voltando e percotendo li molesta.

Quando giungon davanti alla ruina,
    quivi le strida, il compianto e il lamento;
    bestemmian quivi la virtù divina.

Intesi, che a così fatto tormento
    enno dannati i peccator carnali,
    che la ragion sommettono al talento.

E come gli stornei ne portan l’ali,
    nel freddo tempo, a schiera larga e piena:
    così quel fiato gli spiriti mali;

di qua, di là, di giù, di su gli mena.
    Nulla speranza gli conforta mai,
    non che di posa, ma di minor pena.

E come i gru van cantando lor lai,
    facendo in aer di sè lunga riga;
    così vid’ io venir, traendo guai,

ombre portate dalla detta briga;
    per ch’io dissi: “Maestro, chi son quelle
    genti, che l’aura nera sì gastiga?”

“La prima di color, di cui novelle
    tu vuoi saper,” mi disse quegli allotta,
    “fu imperatrice di molte favelle.

A vizzio di lussuria fu sì rotta,
    che libito fe’licito in sua legge
    per torre il biasmo, in che era condotta.




Ell’è Semiramis, di cui si legge,
    che succedette a Nino, e fu sua sposa;
    tenne la terra, che il Soldan corregge.

L’altra è colei, che s’ancise amorosa,
    e ruppe fede al cener di Sicheo;
    poi è Cleopatras lussuriosa.

Elena vedi, per cui tanto reo
    tempo si volse; e vedi il grande Achille,
    che con amore al fine combatteo;

vedi Paris, Tristano”; e più di mille
    ombre mostrommi, e nominommi a dito,
    ch’amor di nostra vita dipartille.

Poscia ch’io ebbi il mio dottore udito
    nomar le donne antiche e i cavalieri,
    pietà mi giunse, e fui quasi smarrito.

lo cominciai: “Poeta, volentieri
    parlerei a que’ duo, che insieme vanno,
    e paion sì al vento esser leggieri.”

Ed egli a me: “Vedrai, quando saranno
    più presso a noi; e tu allor li prega
    per quell’ amor che i mena; e quei verranno.”

Sì tosto come il vento a noi li piega,
    mossi la voce: “ O anime affannate,
    venite a noi parlar, s’altri noi niega.”

Quali colombe, dal disio chiamate,
    con l’ali alzate e ferme al dolce nido
    vengon per l’aer dal voler portate:

cotali uscir della schiera ov’è Dido
    a noi venendo per l’aer maligno,
    sì forte fu l’affettuoso grido.


Dante Alighieri
'The Punishment of the Carnal Sinners'
(from Inferno, Canto V)


The place I’d reached has never heard of light.
There howling reigns – a sound like storms at sea
when driving winds from different quarters clash –
for there an unremitting, hellish storm
hurls spirits rudely torn from earthly life
tumbling and buffeted in its harrying wake.
Each time these spirits face their ruin again
they scream and sob and, giving vent to grief,
blaspheme against our Lord’s authority.
It came to me: this torment is the lot
of those who’re damned for carnal sins in life,
whose reason founders as their senses feed.

As starlings when cold winds once catch their wings
are tossed about in huge and tight-packed flocks
so these unhappy ghosts are hounded too
hither and yon, now up now plunging down,
no hope to bring them comfort, not of rest
nor even diminution of their pain.

And then as cranes, migrating, kirrh and kroohk
to help them keep in touch in their long lines,
dark shades loomed into view, their cries of woe
brought to me also by the spiteful winds,
so prompting me to say: Master, who
are they, so sadly battered by these lowering gales?


The first whose story you now wish to hear
replied the man assigned to be my guide
was empress over many tribes and tongues
but so far prey to sensuality
that she proclaimed lust lawful in decrees
to exculpate herself on charge of sin.
She’s Semiramis, and one reads that she
reigned after Ninus, having been his wife,
in those ungodly lands the Sultan rules
.

Next Dido, love-beguiled, who killed herself
and so betrayed the ashes of her spouse;
there, lust-enraptured, Cleopatra comes.
That’s Helen, cause of long-protracted wars,
long years of grief ; god-like Achilles too
betrayed in final combat, seeking love.
There’s Paris, Tristan
. . . and a thousand shades
he pointed out, and named each one by name,
who’d lost their lives for love of carnal sin.

I’d held myself in check to hear my guide
name these high lords and ladies now long dead
but then, bewildered, gave my pity rein
and so spoke up: Oh, Laureate, I long to speak
with those two there, so close they might be one,
who seem to float so lightly on the wind.

And he replied: Your chance will come when they
approach us here; invite them in the name
of Love, for that’s what drives them, and they’ll come.

The wind had barely time to bring them near
when I was calling: Breathless spirits, come
and speak with us if that be not forbidden.


As homing pigeons, glad to glide to roost
and well-loved nest, on steady outspread wings
may bend their soaring skills to beat strong gales,
so they now quit the troop that Dido leads
and drifted down despite malicious gusts,
drawn by the force of my imploring cry.


Translated from the Italian by Gordon Wallace
  [Commentary on the poem by the translator]   



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