4.1 7
by Dante Alighieri

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"Purgatorio relates in thirty-three cantos Dante's progress, still with Virgil as his guide, up the mountain of purgatory, where souls expiate their sins before they enter heaven. As hell has circles, purgatory has terraces, one above the other, each representing one of the seven mortal sins. In each, an appropriate type of penance is practiced, and the spirit… See more details below


"Purgatorio relates in thirty-three cantos Dante's progress, still with Virgil as his guide, up the mountain of purgatory, where souls expiate their sins before they enter heaven. As hell has circles, purgatory has terraces, one above the other, each representing one of the seven mortal sins. In each, an appropriate type of penance is practiced, and the spirit ascending the mountain must cleanse itself of each sin of which it is guilty." Since Robert Hollander is a master teacher whose achievements as a Dante scholar are unsurpassed in the English-speaking world, the introduction and commentaries that accompany each canto offer superb guidance in essential matters of comprehension and interpretation.

Editorial Reviews

The Times (London)
Kirkpatrick brings a more nuanced sense of the Italian and a more mediated appreciation of the poem's construction than nearly all of his competitors.
Publishers Weekly
With its elegant, carefully negotiated translations and canto-by-canto notes, outlines and annotations, this second volume from the Hollanders takes its place beside last year's Inferno and paves the way for Paradise. These translations, honed over Robert Hollander's 35 years teaching Dante at Princeton, are touted as the U.S. English standard for rendering Dante's layered meanings. (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Forty years of producing highly reliable renderings of French and Spanish poetry and drama have culminated in what is bound to be hailed as Merwin's grandest translational accomplishment. Following on the heels of last year's The River Sound and the verse-novel The Folding Cliffs comes this deft and smooth interpretation of Dante's "second kingdom in which the human spirit is made clean/ and becomes worthy to ascend to Heaven." It is only fitting that a poet so absorbed in environmental concerns engage this most earthen section of the Commedia, with its suffering characters and unkind landscape bringing into view sharpened images of ancient and medieval political, moral and erotic life. At the book's center, love's visionary force is revealed in the simplest declarative tone: "Neither Creator nor creature ever," Virgil instructs the wandering pilgrim, "was without love, my son, whether/ natural or of the mind, and you know this." Virgil's steady tutelage reaches its pinnacle in canto 22, where Statius quotes his messianic eclogue and Dante-as-poet absorbs lessons about writing poetry by overhearing their talk. Soon after his guide's dramatic departure, Dante's focus on nature gives way to the transcendent Beatrice. At its best, Merwin's characteristically open-ended syntax allows him to capture the charged encounter's troubling, if not terribly visceral, effects: "so I broke under that heavy burden,/ with tears and sighs out of me pouring,/ and my voice collapsed as it was leaving." This translation is something of a companion volume to Robert Pinsky's Inferno in the many ways it supercedes in elegance those of Singleton and Sinclair, which had been the last century's standards. (Apr.) FYI: Also in April, Copper Canyon will issue The First Four Books of Poems by Merwin, which includes his 1952 Yale Younger Poets volume, A Mask for Janus ($16 256p ISBN 1-55659-139-X). Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Daniel Mendelsohn
In an age that provides more and more opportunities to enjoy blockbuster thrills and to behold dazzlingly real-looking terrors, the fewer and fewer occasions we get to experience authentic human feelings anew are not to be wasted. Despite its shortcomings, Merwin's new Purgatorio is one such occasion, and we should be grateful for it.
The New York Times Book Review

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1-6exordium: metaphor of little ship

7-12invocation: holy Muses, especially Calliope

I. The setting at the shore

13-18the restored delight caused by the sky before sunrise

19-21to the east: Venus in Pisces

22-27to the south: the four stars (apostrophe: "widowed hemisphere")

28-30to the north (direction of Ursa Major)

II. Cato the Younger

31-39a fatherly figure to be revered, bearded, his face aglow

40-48the challenge of this old man (Cato) to their presence

49-51Virgil: Dante must kneel and bow his head

52-84Virgil's responses to Cato:

52-57I come, guiding this man, by agency of a lady

58-66he is still alive, but was almost dead when I was sent to bring him through hell to here

67-69my guidance is in turn guided from above

70-75he seeks liberty, as you once did, dying for it in Utica on your way to heaven

76-80we break no law, since he is still alive and I am not in hell proper but share your wife's abode

81-84for love of Marcia let us proceed; then I will report to her your kindness to us when I return

85-108Cato's rejoinder to Virgil:

85-90I loved Marcia in the life below; now the new law that accompanied my release forbids further feeling

91-93if a heavenly lady leads you there is no need for flattery

94-99gird and bathe him so that he may approach the angel with his vision clear

100-108descend to the edge of the sea to the rushes in the mud; then ascend by an easier path, guidedby the sun

109-111Cato's departure and Dante's acquiescence

III. The shore again

112-114Virgil urges Dante to descend the slope toward the sea

115-117Dante makes out the waves of the sea

118-121their going compared to that of a man who finds the path he had lost

122-133in a place still moist with dew Virgil cleanses Dante's face and, at the shore, girds Dante as he had been bidden

134-136a wonder: the plant, once plucked, grows back again


Per correr miglior acque alza le vele

omai la navicella del mio ingegno,

3 che lascia dietro a se mar si crudele;

e cantero di quel secondo regno

dove l'umano spirito si purga

6 e di salire al ciel diventa degno.

Ma qui la morta poesi resurga,

o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;

9 e qui Calliope alquanto surga,

seguitando il mio canto con quel suono

di cui le Piche misere sentiro

12 lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.

Dolce color d'or-ental zaffiro,

che s'accoglieva nel sereno aspetto

15 del mezzo, puro infino al primo giro,

a li occhi miei ricomincio diletto,

tosto ch'io usci' fuor de l'aura morta

18 che m'avea contristati li occhi e 'l petto.

Lo bel pianeto che d'amar conforta

faceva tutto rider l'or-ente,

21 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

24 non viste mai fuor ch'a la prima gente.

Goder pareva 'l ciel di lor fiammelle:

oh settentr-onal vedovo sito,

27 poi che privato se' di mirar quelle!

To run its course through smoother water

the small bark of my wit now hoists its sail,

3 leaving that cruel sea behind.

Now I shall sing the second kingdom,

there where the soul of man is cleansed,

6 made worthy to ascend to Heaven.

Here from the dead let poetry rise up,

O sacred Muses, since I am yours.

9 Here let Calliope arise

to accompany my song with those same chords

whose force so struck the miserable magpies

12 that, hearing them, they lost all hope of pardon.

Sweet color of oriental sapphire,

hovering in the calm and peaceful aspect

15 of intervening air, pure to the horizon,

pleased my eyes once more

as soon as I had left the morbid air

18 that had afflicted both my chest and eyes.

The fair planet that emboldens love,

smiling, lit up the east,

21 veiling the Fishes in her train.

I turned to the right and, fixing my attention

on the other pole, I saw four stars

24 not seen but by those first on earth.

The very sky seemed to rejoice

in their bright glittering. O widowed

27 region of the north, denied that sight!

Com' io da loro sguardo fui partito,

un poco me volgendo a l'altro polo,

30 la onde 'l Carro gia era sparito,

vidi presso di me un veglio solo,

degno di tanta reverenza in vista,

33 che piu non dee a padre alcun figliuolo.

Lunga la barba e di pel bianco mista

portava, a' suoi capelli simigliante,

36 de' quai cadeva al petto doppia lista.

Li raggi de le quattro luci sante

fregiavan si la sua faccia di lume,

39 ch'i' 'l vedea come 'l sol fosse davante.

"Chi siete voi che contro al cieco fiume

fuggita avete la pregione etterna?"

42 diss' el, movendo quelle oneste piume.

"Chi v'ha guidati, o che vi fu lucerna,

uscendo fuor de la profonda notte

45 che sempre nera fa la valle inferna?

Son le leggi d'abisso cosi rotte?

o e mutato in ciel novo consiglio,

48 che, dannati, venite a le mie grotte?"

Lo duca mio allor mi die di piglio,

e con parole e con mani e con cenni

51 reverenti mi fe le gambe e 'l ciglio.

Poscia rispuose lui: "Da me non venni:

donna scese del ciel, per li cui prieghi

54 de la mia compagnia costui sovvenni.

Ma da ch'e tuo voler che piu si spieghi

di nostra condizion com' ell' e vera,

57 esser non puote il mio che a te si nieghi.

Once I had drawn my gaze from them,

barely turning toward the other pole

30 where the constellation of the Wain had set,

I saw beside me an old man, alone,

who by his looks was so deserving of respect

33 that no son owes his father more.

His beard was long and streaked with white,

as was his hair, which fell

36 in double strands down to his chest.

The rays of those four holy stars

adorned his face with so much light

39 he seemed to shine with brightness of the sun.

'What souls are you to have fled the eternal prison,

climbing against the dark and hidden stream?'

42 he asked, shaking those venerable locks.

'Who was your guide or who your lantern

to lead you forth from that deep night

45 which steeps the vale of hell in darkness?

'Are the laws of the abyss thus broken,

or has a new decree been made in Heaven,

48 that, damned, you stand before my cliffs?'

My leader then reached out to me

and by his words and signs and with his hands

51 made me show reverence with knee and brow,

then answered him: 'I came not on my own.

A lady descended from heaven and at her request

54 I lent this man companionship and aid.

'But since it is your will that I make plain

the true condition of our presence here,

57 it cannot be that I deny your wish.

Questi non vide mai l'ultima sera;

ma per la sua follia le fu si presso,

60 che molto poco tempo a volger era.

Si com' io dissi, fui mandato ad esso

per lui campare; e non li era altra via

63 che questa per la quale i' mi son messo.

Mostrata ho lui tutta la gente ria;

e ora intendo mostrar quelli spirti

66 che purgan se sotto la tua balia.

Com' io l'ho tratto, saria lungo a dirti;

de l'alto scende virtu che m'aiuta

69 conducerlo a vederti e a udirti.

Or ti piaccia gradir la sua venuta:

liberta va cercando, ch'e si cara,

72 come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta.

Tu 'l sai, che non ti fu per lei amara

in Utica la morte, ove lasciasti

75 la vesta ch'al gran di sara si chiara.

Non son li editti etterni per noi guasti,

che questi vive e Minos me non lega;

78 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:

81 per lo suo amore adunque a noi ti piega.

Lasciane andar per li tuoi sette regni;

grazie riportero di te a lei,

84 se d'esser mentovato la giu degni."

"Marz*a piacque tanto a li occhi miei

mentre ch'i' fu' di la," diss' elli allora,

87 "che quanta grazie volse da me, fi.

'This man has not yet seen his final sunset,

but through his folly was so close to it

60 his time was almost at an end.

'I was sent to him, as I have said,

for his deliverance. No other way

63 but this could he be saved.

'I have shown him all the guilty race

and now intend to let him see those spirits

66 who cleanse themselves within your charge.

'How I have led him would take long to tell.

Descending from on high a power aids me

69 to bring him here that he may see and hear you.

'May it please you to welcome his arrival,

since he's in search of liberty, which is so dear,

72 as he well knows who gives his life for it.

'You know this well, since death in Utica

did not seem bitter, there where you left

75 the garment that will shine on that great day.

'Not by us are the eternal edicts broken,

for this man lives and Minos does not bind me,

78 but I am of the circle where your Marcia

'implores with her chaste eyes, O holy breast,

that you still think of her as yours.

81 For love of her, then, I beseech you,

'allow us passage through your seven kingdoms.

I will report to her your kindness--

84 if you deign to be mentioned there below.'

'Marcia so pleased my eyes while I still lived,'

he said, 'that whatever favor

87 she sought of me, I granted.

Or che di la dal mal fiume dimora,

piu muover non mi puo, per quella legge

90 che fatta fu quando me n'usci' fora.

Ma se donna del ciel ti move e regge,

come tu di', non c'e mestier lusinghe:

93 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,

96 si ch'ogne sucidume quindi stinghe;

che non si converria, l'occhio sorpriso

d'alcuna nebbia, andar dinanzi al primo

99 ministro, ch'e di quei di paradiso.

Questa isoletta intorno ad imo ad imo,

la giu cola dove la batte l'onda,

102 porta di giunchi sovra 'l molle limo:

null' altra pianta che facesse fronda

o indurasse, vi puote aver vita,

105 pero ch'a le percosse non seconda.

Poscia non sia di qua vostra reddita;

lo sol vi mosterra, che surge omai,

108 prendere il monte a piu lieve salita."

Cosi spari; e io su mi levai

sanza parlare, e tutto mi ritrassi

111 al duca mio, e li occhi a lui drizzai.

El comincio: "Figliuol, segui i miei passi:

volgianci in dietro, che di qua dichina

114 questa pianura a' suoi termini bassi."

L'alba vinceva l'ora mattutina

che fuggia innanzi, si che di lontano

117 conobbi il tremolar de la marina.

'Now that she dwells beyond the evil stream

she cannot move me any longer,

90 according to the law laid down at my deliverance.

'But if, as you say, a lady from Heaven

moves and directs you, there is no need of flattery.

93 It is enough you ask it in her name.

'Go then, make sure you gird him

with a straight reed and bathe his face,

96 to wipe all traces of defilement from it,

'for it would not be fitting to appear,

his eyes still dimmed by any mist,

99 before the minister, the first from paradise.

'This little island, at its lowest point,

there where the waves beat down on it,

102 grows reeds in soft and pliant mud.

'There no other plant can leaf,

or harden to endure,

105 without succumbing to the battering waves.

'After you are done, do not come back this way.

The sun, now rising, will disclose

108 an easier ascent to gain the peak.'

With that he vanished, and I stood up,

speechless. Coming closer to my leader,

111 I turned my eyes to him.

He began: 'My son, follow my steps.

Let us turn around, for this plain slopes

114 from here, down to its lowest edge.'

Dawn was overtaking the darkness of the hour,

which fled before it, and I saw and knew

117 the distant trembling of the sea.

Noi andavam per lo solingo piano

com' om che torna a la perduta strada,

120 che 'nfino ad essa li pare ire in vano.

Quando noi fummo la 've la rugiada

pugna col sole, per essere in parte

123 dove, ad orezza, poco si dirada,

ambo le mani in su l'erbetta sparte

soavemente 'l mio maestro pose:

126 ond' io, che fui accorto di sua arte,

porsi ver' lui le guance lagrimose;

ivi mi fece tutto discoverto

129 quel color che l'inferno mi nascose.

Venimmo poi in sul lito diserto,

che mai non vide navicar sue acque

132 omo, che di tornar sia poscia esperto.

Quivi mi cinse si com' altrui piacque:

oh maraviglia! che qual si scelse

l'umile pianta, cotal si rinacque

136 subitamente la onde l'avelse.

We went along the lonely plain,

like someone who has lost the way

120 and thinks he strays until he finds the road.

When we came to a place where the dew

can hold its own against the sun

123 because it is protected by a breeze,

my master gently spread

his hands upon the grass.

126 And I, who understood what he intended,

raised my tear-stained cheeks

and he restored the color

129 hell had obscured in me.

Now we came to the empty shore.

Upon those waters no man ever sailed

132 who then experienced his return.

There he girded me as it pleased Another.

What a wonder it was that the humble plant

he chose to pick sprang up at once

136 in the very place where he had plucked it.

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What People are saying about this

Harold Bloom
W.S. Merwin's Purgatorio is a wise and eloquent version of what seems to many of us the most welcoming part of the Commedia. Once again Merwin demonstrates that he is a courteous and generous troubadour whose poetic gift is copious and heartening.
Robert Pinsky
At last the Purgatorio can be read in English as a work of art. Art, including the art of poetry, is an important presence in this the central book of Dante's Commedia, and W.S. Merwin's gorgeous, accurate rendering is worthy of its great original.
— (Robert Pinsky, Poet Laureate of the United States)
Richard Howard
It is only justice that Merwin should translate this cantica dedicated to 'natural' powers, the most human narrative of Dante's enterprise, 'remade in the way that trees are new, made new again when their leaves are new.' It is the absolute of transience both poets are caught up in, a mortal communication which has entangled Merwin in that certain twist of idiom we recognize as the style of solicitude: affectionate, absorbent, ardent. What better preparation for the absolute of Paradise than these mortal lights that must yield to eternal?

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