Mary Jo Bang's new translation of Dante's...
Stopped mid-motion in the middle
Of what we call our life, I looked up and saw no sky --
Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig. I was lost.
So begins Dante's arduous decent into the depths of Hell with Virgil in a new translation of the classic epic by award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang.
Bang worked on the project for six years after being inspired by Caroline Bergvall's poem, "Via (48 Dante Variations)," which is composed entirely of those first three lines from 47 different translations.
"How might the lines sound if I were to put them into colloquial English? What if I were to go further and add elements of my own poetic style?" Bang writes in her note on the translation. "Would it sound like a cover song, the words of the original unmistakably there, but made unfamiliar by the fact that someone else's voice has its own characteristics? Could it be, like covers sometimes are, a tribute that pays homage to the original, while at the same time radically departing from it?"
The translation is true to the moral and emotional intensity of the original, but Bang infuses the text with her own voice and modern allusions to Stephen Colbert and "South Park." The text is accompanied by drawings by Henrik Drescher, which adds to the modern but still haunting tone.
We first profiled Bang on the NewsHour in 2008 for her book "Elegy," which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the author of six books of poetry and teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.