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Inferno Canto I Translated by Marc di Saverio

Diagram of Dante's Inferno

The following is an excerpt from Marc di Saverio’s epic poem Crito Di Volta which is being published in 2020 by Guernica Press. This remarkable translation by di Saverio of Canto I from Dante’s Inferno prepares the reader for when Crito meets Dante, who turns out to have always been his spiritual godfather and ultimately his guide toward paradise.

Called “a major accomplishment of Literature” and “the Howl of the 21st century,” Marc di Saverio’s Crito Di Volta is a philosophical epic on civil rights, metaphysics, urban geography, and a daring revolt against the platitudes of contemporary Western society.

Rear cover blurb from di Saverio’s forthcoming book Crito Di Volta

When midway through the journey of our life
I found myself within a dimly wood
where the straight way I’d been walking was lost,
and O how hard it is for me to speak
of just how savage and stubborn this rough wood
was, the very thought of which renews my
fright, this wood just slightly sweeter than death,
but to tell you of the good I found therein
I’ll firstly speak of other things I saw.
I cannot even rightly say just how
I entered that place to begin with,
and I was so exhausted at that point
when I deserted the way of the truth, yet,
when I reached the foot of a hill, where the valley
that had pierced my heart with fear, came to an
end, I looked up and saw its shoulder brightened
by beams of that sun which leads men right, on
every road, then the fear that had settled
in the lake of my heart, through the night I’d
spent so miserably, becalmed as a panting
man, escaped from deep seas to the shore, who
turns back toward the treacherous waters
and stares, so my fugitive mind turned back
to see, again, that pass that no living
human ever left. After I rested
my body a while, I made my way, again,
over barren land that’s always bearing up-
wards to the right, and behold, almost
at the start of the slope, a lean fast
leopard with spotted coat, which would not turn
from before my face, and so obstructed
my path, that I often changed back so I
could retreat.  It was now early morning,
and the sun was mounting up with myriad
stars that were with him when heavenly love
first moved all delightful things, so that hour
of day, in that sweet season, gave me fair
hopes of the bright-coated creature, but not
so fair that I’d avoid fear at the sight
of a lion that appeared and seemed to come at me
with raised head and rabid hunger, so that
it seemed the air itself was afraid, and a she-
wolf seeming full of craving in leanness,
and who has, before now, made many men
live sadly, she who brought me such heaviness
of fear, from the aspect of her face, that I
lost all hope of ascending, and, as one
who’s gain-eager, weeps, and is afflicted
in his thoughts, if the moment arrives where
he loses, so that creature, without rest,
made me like him: and coming at me, bit
by bit, drove me back where the sun is silent.
While I was returning to the lowlands,
one appeared, before my eyes; seeming hoarse
from some long silence, and, when I cried
out to him, “Have mercy on me, whoever’s
there, whether actual man or shadow.”
He replied to me: “not a man but once
a man, and my parents were from Lombardy,
from their native city Mantuans.
I was born Sub Julio, though late,
and lived in Rome, under good Augustus,
in the age of false and cunning gods, and I
was a poet who sang of Aeneas,
that righteous son of Anchises, who came
from Troy where illustrious Ilium
burned, but you, why do you turn your back
on such sorrow? Why do you not climb
the beauteous mountain, which is the birth
and cause of all bliss?”  I meekly replied:
“are you Virgil, then, that fountain-head
that springs so great a river of speech?
O, light and glory to other poets,
May that lengthy study –and that vastly
Love, that made me scan your verse, be worth some-
Thing, now, for, you are my master, and my
Author, and you alone are the one from
Whom I learned the lofty style that’s brought me
laurels. See the creature from which I turned back,
O Sage, famous for wisdom, save me from
Her, she who makes my pulse and veins quaver.”
When Virgil saw me weeping, he said to me:
“You must go another road if you
wish to escape this brutal place, for, this
creature who so distresses you, allows
no man to cross her path, but obstructs him,
to destroy him, and she has so vicious
and perverse a nature, she never sates
her ravenous appetite, and after she eats
she’s even hungrier than she was before!
Many are the creatures with which she mates,
And there will be many more until the Grey-
Hound comes and makes her die in pain.  He will
not feed himself on land or wealth, but on
wisdom, love and virtue, and his birth-place
will be between Feltro and Feltro, and he
will be the salvation of that lower
Italy, for which the virgin Camilla
Died of her wounds, and Euryalus, Turnus,
Nisus and he will chase the she-wolf
Through every city until he has brought
Her back to Hell, from which envy first loosed her.
It’s best, as I think and understand, for
You to follow me, and I will be your
Guide, and lead you from here through an endless
Space where you will hear the desperate hollers,
Will see the ancient spirits in sorrow,
So that each cries out for a second death
And then you’ll see others at peace in flames,
Because they hope to come, whenever it
May be, among the blessed, and then if you
Wish to climb them, there will be a spirit
Fitter than I to guide you, and I will
leave you with her, when we part, since the Lord,
Who rules above, does not wish for me
To enter this City since I once fought
His law – and he is the Lord everywhere,
But there he rules, and there is this city
And his high throne: O, happy is he who
Chooses to go there!” And I said to him:
“Poet, I beg you, by the Lord you
did not acknowledge, lead me where you said,
so that I might escape this evil,
or worse, and see the Gate of Saint Peter
and those you make to be saddened.” And then
He moved: and I then moved behind him.

Marc di Saverio’s debut Sanatorium Songs came out in 2013. In 2016 he received the City of Hamilton Arts Award for Best Emerging Writer. He published his first book of translations Ship of Gold: The Essential Poems of Emile Nelligan (Vehicule Press) in 2017. 

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