Do not ask, Reader, how my blood ran cold
and my voice choked up with fear. I cannot write it:
this is a terror that cannot be told.
I did not die, and yet I lost life’s breath:
imagine for yourself what I became,
deprived at once of both my life and death.

[Com’io divenni allor gelato e fioco,
nol dimandar, lettor, ch’i’ non lo scrivo,
però ch’ogne parlar sarebbe poco.
Io non mori’ e non rimasi vivo;
pensa oggimai per te, s’ hai fior d’ingegno,
qual io divenni, d’uno e d’altro privo.]

Dante Alighieri the poet
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Italian poet
The Divine Comedy [Divina Commedia], Book 1 “Inferno,” Canto 34, l. 22ff (34.22-27) (1320) [tr. Ciardi (1954)]
    (Source)

Dante the Pilgrim finally sees Satan at the bottom and center of Hell. That would seem to be terrifying enough for this aside to the reader, but various translators and commentators try to cast it as some great theological metaphor.

(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:

How frozen I was then, and hoarse with cold,
Reader, ask not; for I nought of it write,
As 'twill too little prove, whate'er I say
I did not die, nor yet alive remain'd.
Think for yourself, if you have any sense,
What I then was, depriv'd of Life and Death.
[tr. Rogers (1782)]

While nature thro' my nerves convulsive shook:
New palsies seiz'd my agonizing frame,
And glowing now I felt the fever's flame.
While life and death by turns my limbs forsook.
[tr. Boyd (1802), st. 6]

How frozen and how faint I then became,
Ask me not, reader! for I write it not,
Since words would fail to tell thee of my state.
I was not dead nor living. Think thyself
If quick conception work in thee at all,
How I did feel.
[tr. Cary (1814)]

Ask me not, reader, how both hoarse and cold
I then became; I write it not, nor strive
To tell what never might by speech be told.
There I nor died, nor yet remained alive:
Now think, if thou hast power of thought, and see
What state was mine, that could of both deprive.
[tr. Dayman (1843)]

How icy chill and hoarse I then became, ask not, O Reader! for I write it not, because all speech would fail to tell.
I did not die, and did not remain alive: now think for thyself, if thou hast an grain of ingenuity, what I became, deprived of both death and life.
[tr. Carlyle (1849)]

How freezing then, how feeble I became,
Ask not, thou reader! for I cannot write;
For every language must fall short in flight.
I neither died, nor yet remained alive!
Think within thyself, if ingenious deft,
How I became of strength and heat bereft.
[tr. Bannerman (1850)]

How terror-frozen I became and faint,
Ask not, oh reader, what I cannot write,
For all that I could say would feeble seem.
I did not die, I scarcely was alive;
Hast thou one spark of fancy, think thou then
How I became who knew nor death nor life.
[tr. Johnston (1867)]

How frozen I became and powerless then,
Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not,
⁠Because all language would be insufficient.
I did not die, and I alive remained not;
⁠Think for thyself now, hast thou aught of wit,
⁠What I became, being of both deprived.
[tr. Longfellow (1867)]

How I then became frozen and weak, do not ask, reader, for I do not write it, seeing that every speech would be too little. I did not die and did not remain alive; think now for thyself, if thou hast a grain of wit, what I became, being deprived of one and the other.
[tr. Butler (1885)]

How frozen I became, and weak of grace,
From writing, reader, let me now be shrived,
For every speech were weak such state to trace.
I did not die, and yet no longer lived;
Think for thyself, if thou hast Fancy's bloom,
What I became, of death and life deprived.
[tr. Minchin (1885)]

How I became then chilled and hoarse, ask it not, Reader, for I write it not, because all speech would be little. I did not die, and I did not remain alive. Think now for thyself, if thou hast grain of wit, what I became, deprived of one and the other.
[tr. Norton (1892)]

How frozen I became thereat, how fainting,
Ask it not, reader, for I do not write it.
For all that I could say would be but little.
I did not die, nor yet remained I living.
Bethink thee now, if aught of wit thou claimest,
What I became, bereft of both together.
[tr. Griffith (1908)]

How chilled and faint I turned then, do not ask, reader, for I do not write it, since all words would fail. I did not die and I did not remain alive; think now for thyself, if thou hast any wit, what I became, denied both death and life.
[tr. Sinclair (1939)]

How faint I then became, how frozen cold,
Ask me not, Reader; for I write it not,
Because all speech would fail, whate'er it told.
I died not, yet of life remained no jot.
Think thou then, if of wit thou hast any share,
What I became, deprived of either lot.
[tr. Binyon (1943)]

How cold I grew, how faint with fearfulness,
Ask me not. Reader; I shall nor waste breath
Telling what words are powerless to express;
This was not life, and yet it was not death;
If thou hast wit to think how I might fare
Bereft of both, let fancy aid thy faith.
[tr. Sayers (1949)]

How frozen and faint I then became, ask it not, reader, for I do not write it, because all words would fail. I did not die and I did not remain alive: now think for yourself, if you have any wit, what I became, deprived alike of death and life!
[tr. Singleton (1970)]

How chilled and nerveless. Reader, I felt then;
do not ask me -- I cannot write about it --
there are no words to tell you how I felt.
I did not die -- I was not living either!
Try to imagine, if you can imagine,
me there, deprived of life and death at once.
[tr. Musa (1971)]

O reader, do not ask of me how I
grew faint and frozen then -- I cannot write it:
all words would fall far short of what it was.
I did not die, and I was not alive; v think for yourself, if you have any wit,
what I became, deprived of life and death.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1980)]

How frozen and how faint I then became,
Do not enquire, reader, description is useless,
For any speech would be inadequate.
I did not die, nor yet remain alive:
Think for yourself, if you have a trace
Of intellect, how I was, in that condition.
[tr. Sisson (1981)]

How chilled and faint I was
On hearing that, you must not ask me, reader --
I do not write it, words would not suffice:
I neither died, nor kept alive -- consider
With your own wits what I, alike denuded
Of death and life, became as I heard my leader.
[tr. Pinsky (1994)]

How then I became frozen and feeble, do not ask, reader, for I do not write it, and all speech would be insufficient.
I did not die and I did not remain alive: think now for yourself, if you have wit at all, what I became, deprived of both.
[tr. Durling (1996)]

Reader, do not ask how chilled and hoarse I became, then, since I do not write it, since all words would fail to tell it. I did not die, yet I was not alive. Think, yourself, now, if you have any grain of imagination, what I became, deprived of either state.
[tr. Kline (2002)]

How weak I now became, how faded, dry --
reader, don’t ask, I shall not write it down --
for anything I said would fall far short.
I neither died nor wholly stayed alive.
Just think yourselves, if your minds are in flower,
what I became, bereft of life and death.
[tr. Kirkpatrick (2006)]

Then how faint and frozen I became,
reader, do not ask, for I do not write it,
since any words would fail to be enough.
It was not death, nor could one call it life.
Imagine, if you have the wit,
what I became, deprived of either state.
[tr. Hollander/Hollander (2007)]

Don't ask me, reader, how frozen and faint I felt:
I cannot write it, because no matter what words
I used, or how many, none would be sufficient.
I did not die, I did not remain in that world.
Just ask yourself, if you have a mind to work with,
In what condition I was, not dead, not alive?
[tr. Raffel (2010)]

Reader, don’t ask how chill and faint I turned:
I couldn't write it. All the words would fail.
I didn't die, but couldn't live. I learned
What living death and death-in-life entail.
But you must ponder, if you have the wit,
What I, denied both life and death, became.
[tr. James (2013), l. 28ff]


 
Added on 12-Aug-23 | Last updated 12-Aug-23
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , , ,
More quotes by Dante Alighieri

Thoughts? Comments? Corrections? Feedback?