If I had, Reader, a longer interval in which to write,
I would, at least as a parting shot, sing
Of the sweet drink that never would’ve satisfied me,
But the cards of the second canticle have all been
Spread out, exactly as planned—so there’s no room left
To take the brake off the art and go farther.
I came back from those most holy waters
Recovered, no longer past repair—renewed
Like trees with new limbs turn over new leaves—
Pure and ready to climb the stairway to the stars.
—from “Canto XXXIII”
Award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang’s new translation of Purgatorio is the extraordinary continuation of her journey with Dante, which began with her transformative version of Inferno. In Purgatorio, still guided by the Roman poet Virgil, Dante emerges from the horrors of Hell to begin the climb up Mount Purgatory, a seven-terrace mountain with each level devoted to those atoning for one of the seven deadly sins. At the summit, we find the Terrestrial Heaven and Beatrice—who will take over for Virgil, who, as a pagan, can only take Dante so far. During the climb, we are introduced to the myriad ways in which humans destroy the social fabric through pride, envy, and vindictive anger.
In her signature lyric style, accompanied by her wise and exuberant notes, Bang has produced a stunning translation of this fourteenth-century text, rich with references that span time, languages, and cultures. The contemporary allusions echo the audacious character of the original, and slyly insist that whatever was true in Dante’s era is still true. Usain Bolt, Tootsie Fruit Chews, the MGM logo, Leo the Lion, Amy Winehouse, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, and Gertrude Stein are among those who make cameo appearances as Bang, with eloquence and daring, shepherds The Divine Comedy into the twenty-first century.
“Luminous, empathetic, and inventively reverent, this thrilling sequel to Bang’s Inferno maps a passage between hell and heaven for our purgatorial historical moment. . . . Above all, this ingenious and artful translation reminds us that Dante’s Purgatorio, like the divine comedy in which we are all extras, is a poem about love.”
— Srikanth Reddy
Bang's translation is uniquely here and now, remixing the poem with a range of often-anachronistic references, while remaining true to the vernacular spirit of the original. . . . She reminds us that, above all, [Purgatorio] is an account of wishing, and working, to be better."
- Kevin Young,
The New Yorker