“Here is where you can’t afford to be lazy,”
My Master said. “Lying in feather beds,
Or under quilts, no one conquers fame,
Without which, once your earthly life is dead,
The only traces you leave behind you are smoke
Blown in the air or bubbles breaking in water.

[“Omai convien che tu così ti spoltre”,
disse ’l maestro; “ché, seggendo in piuma,
in fama non si vien, né sotto coltre;
sanza la qual chi sua vita consuma,
cotal vestigio in terra di sé lascia,
qual fummo in aere e in acqua la schiuma.”]

Dante Alighieri the poet
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Italian poet
The Divine Comedy [Divina Commedia], Book 1 “Inferno,” Canto 24, l. 46ff (24.46-51) [Virgil] (1320) [tr. Raffel (2010)]

The analogy of life to smoke and foam have been noted by commentators as resembling similar metaphors in Wisdom 2:1-4 and 5:14 and the Aeneid 5.740.

Virgil's urging of Dante to continue on out of a desire for fame, rather than to learn how to be saved or to come closer to God, have only recently been interpreted as an intentional showing that the poet/guide is not perfect -- another reason, beyond being only a virtuous pagan, that he cannot complete the journey with Dante to Paradise. (See here for more commentary on this.)

(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:

It now is proper, said my Lord, that you
Should from this bed of yours arise; for they
Ne'er Fame acquire who spend their lives in down:
He who, without pursuing her, consumes
His time, leaves himself such tracts behind,
As Froth in Water, or as Smoke in Air.
[tr. Rogers (1782), ll. 44-49]

Arise! -- In vain the slumb'ring soul aspires,
(Her powers betray'd by sloth, extinct her fires)
In vain she tries the dazzling heights of fame:
As morning fogs disperse to meet no more,
As the waves close behind the lab'ring oar,
The dastard soul expires without a name!
[tr. Boyd (1802), st. 9]

“Now needs thy best of man;” so spake my guide:
“For not on downy plumes, nor under shade
Of canopy reposing, fame is won,
Without which whosoe’er consumes his days
Leaveth such vestige of himself on earth,
As smoke in air or foam upon the wave."
[tr. Cary (1814)]

"Rouse thee," my master urged, "'tis time to throw
This lethargy aside; who dozing lies
'Tween coverlet and feathers, ne'er shall know
Renown, and without her who wastes and dies,
Leaves of himself like trace on earth behind,
As foam on wave, or vapour on the skies."
[tr. Dayman (1843)]

"Now it behooves thee thus to free thyself from sloth," said the Master: "for sitting on down, or under coverlet, man come not into fame;
without which whoso consumes his his life, leaves such vestige of himself on earth, as smoke in air or foam in water."
[tr. Carlyle (1849)]

"Henceforth you must abandon indolence,"
My master said: "'tis not repose on plumes
That leads to fame -- nor yet in shady glooms;
Without the which if one consumes his life,
E'en such a vestige upon the earth he'll make
As smoke in air, or foam on water's track."
[tr. Bannerman (1850)]

"Now it befits thee to shake off this sloth,"
The Master said, "for resting upon down,
And under quilts is not the way to fame;
And without this he who his life consumes,
Leaves of himself on earth no better trace,
Than smoke in air or on the water foam."
[tr. Johnston (1867)]

"Now it behoves thee thus to put off sloth,"
⁠My Master said; "for sitting upon down,
⁠Or under quilt, one cometh not to fame,
Without which whoso his life consumes
⁠Such vestige leaveth of himself on earth,
⁠As smoke in air or in the water foam."
[tr. Longfellow (1867)]

"Henceforward it behoves that thou brace thyself thus," said the Master; "for not by sitting on feathers does one come into fame, nor under quilts; without the which whoso consumes his life leaves such trace on earth of himself as smoke in air or its froth on water."
[tr. Butler (1885)]

"Henceforth 'tis fitting thou shouldst shake off sloth,"
The master cried, "since idly lapt in down
'Neath coverlets, for him Fame never groweth.
Who so his life consumes without renown.
Leaves such a vestige of himself on earth,
As it were froth on air or water blown."
[tr. Minchin (1885)]

“Now it behoves thee thus to put off sloth,” said the Master, “for, sitting upon down or under quilt, one attains not fame, without which he who consumes his life leaves of himself such trace on earth as smoke in air, or in water the foam."
[tr. Norton (1892)]

"'Tis thus that thou must now shake thyself free from sloth," my Master said, "for seated on down, or under coverlet, man cometh not to fame; unattended by which whoso doth spend his days, leaveth such traces of himself on earth, as smoke in air or foam on water."
[tr. Sullivan (1893)]

"Thus must thou ever shake off sloth henceforward;"
The Master said, " for sitting upon feathers
Man cometh not to fame, nor under quilting;
Which lacking, whosoe'er consumes his life-time
Leaves of himself on earth just such a vestige
As smoke doth leave in air, and foam in water."
[tr. Griffith (1908)]

"Now must thou thus cast off all sloth," said the Master "for sitting on down or under blankets none comes to fame, and without it he that consumes his life leaves such trace of himself on earth as smoke in air or foam on water."
[tr. Sinclair (1939)]

"Now it behoveth lassitude to leave,"
The Master said, "for softly on down reclined
Or under coverlet, none can fame achieve,
Without which he who dallieth leaves behind
Such vestige of himself on earth imprest
As foam in water or smoke upon the wind."
[tr. Binyon (1943)]

"Put off this sloth," the master said, "for shame!
Sitting on feather-pillows, lying reclined
Beneath the blanket is no way to fame --
Fame, without which man's life wastes out of mind,
Leaving on earth no more memorial
Than foam in water or smoke upon the wind."
[tr. Sayers (1949)]

"Up on your feet! This is no time to tire!"
my Master cried. "The man who lies asleep
will never waken fame, and his desire
and all his life drift past him like a dream,
and the traces of his memory fade from time
like smoke in the air, or ripples on a stream."
[tr. Ciardi (1954)]

“Now it behooves you thus to cast off sloth,” said my master, “for sitting on down or under coverlet, no one comes to fame, without which whoso consumes his life leaves such vestige of himself on earth as smoke in air or foam on water."
[tr. Singleton (1970)]

"Come on, shake off the covers of this sloth,"
the master said, "for sitting softly cushioned,
or tucked in bed, is no way to win fame;
and without it man must waste his life away,
leaving such traces of what he was on earth
as smoke in wind and foam upon the water."
[tr. Musa (1971)]

“Now you must cast aside your laziness,”
my master said, “for he who rests on down
or under covers cannot come to fame;
and he who spends his life without renown
leaves such a vestige of himself on earth
as smoke bequeaths to air or foam to water."
[tr. Mandelbaum (1980)]

"Now is the time for you to rouse yourself,"
The master said; "for sitting on a cushion
Is not the way to fame, nor staying in bed;
And without fame, a man must spend his life
Only to leave such traces upon earth
As smoke leaves in the air, or foam in the water."
[tr. Sisson (1981)]

"To cast off sloth
Now well behooves you," said my master then:
"For resting on soft down, or underneath
The blanket's cloth, is not how fame is won --
Without which, one spends life to leave behind
As vestige of himself on earth the sign
Smoke leaves on air, or foam on water."
[tr. Pinsky (1994), l. 46ff]

“From now on you will have to cast off sloth in this way,” said my master, “for one does not gain fame sitting on down cushions, or while under coverlets;
and whoever consumes his life without fame leaves a mark of himself on earth like smoke in the air or foam in water."
[tr. Durling (1996)]

Now, you must free yourself from sloth: men do not achieve fame, sitting on down, or under coverlets; fame, without which whoever consumes his life leaves only such trace of himself, on earth, as smoke does in the air, or foam on water.
[tr. Kline (2002)]

"Now you must needs," my teacher said, "shake off
your wonted indolence. No fame is won
beneath the quilt or sunk in feather cushions.
Whoever, fameless, wastes his life away,
leaves of himself no greater mark on earth
than smoke in air or froth upon the wave."
[tr. Kirkpatrick (2006)]

'Now must you cast off sloth,' my master said.
'Sitting on feather cushions or stretched out
under comforters, no one comes to fame.
Without fame, he who spends his time on earth
leaves only such a mark upon the world
as smoke does on the air or foam on water.'
[tr. Hollander/Hollander (2007)]

“Now you must,”
My Guide said, “quell the slothful urge to rest.
A swansdown seat and a soft blanket just
Keep you from fame, without which no one who
Consumes his life leaves more trace in the world
Than smoke in air and foam on water do."
[tr. James (2013)]

Added on 2-Jun-23 | Last updated 2-Jun-23
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