Dante’s Inferno Canto I, Translated by Seamus Heaney
In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost sight of.
How hard it is to say what it was like
in the thick of thickets, in a wood so dense
the very thought of it renews my panic.
It is bitter almost as death itself is bitter.
But to rehearse the good it also brought me
I will speak about the other things I saw there.
How I got into it I cannot clearly say
for I was moving like a sleepwalker
the moment I stepped out of the right way,
But when I came to the bottom of a hill
standing off at the far end of that valley
where a great terror had disheartened me
I looked up, and saw how its shoulders glowed
already in the rays of the planet
which leads and keeps men straight on every road.
Then I sensed a quiet influence settling
into those depths in me that had been rocked
and pitifully troubled all night long
And as a survivor gasping on the sand
turns his head back to study in a daze
the dangerous combers, so my mind
Turned back, although it was reeling forward,
back to inspect a pass that had proved fatal
heretofore to everyone who entered.
From “Dante’s Inferno: Translations by 20 Contemporary Poets” edited by Daniel Halpern (Ecco: $24.95; 199 pp.). In this new translation, some of our finest contemporary poets, Amy Clampitt, Carolyn Forche, Robert Haas, Seamus Heaney, Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin, Robert Pinsky and Mark Strand to name a few, join forces in an effort to put, as Halpern says, “one of our ‘sacred’ texts back into the hands of the keepers of the language.” 1993 by the Ecco Press.
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