What Do You Think of These Four Dante English Translations?
It's customary to comment on parallel translations. Instead I will invite you to read and judge for yourself which is superior. I will say just that the great translations here seem to me a foregone conclusion.
Dante and Virgil are in the middle of the circle of the lustful, and Dante has just seen the damned and is describing them, so it's Canto V of Inferno, lines 40 to 51.
James Finn Cotter
And as the starlings are lifted on their wings
In icy weather to wide and serried flocks,
So does the gale lift up the wicked spirits,
Flinging them here and there and down and up:
No hope whatever can ever comfort them,
Neither of rest nor of less punishment.
And as the cranes fly over, chanting lays,
Forming one long line across the sky,
So I saw come, uttering their cries,
Shades wafted onward by these winds of strife,
To make me ask him, "Master, who are those
People whom the blackened air so punishes?"
XXXX XXXX XXXX
And as the wings of starlings bear them on
In the cold season in large band and full,
So doth that blast the spirits maledict;
It hither, thither, downward, upward, drives them;
No hope doth comfort them for evermore,
Not of repose, but even of lesser pain.
And as the cranes go chanting forth their lays,
Making in air a long line of themselves,
So saw I coming, uttering lamentations,
Shadows borne onward by the aforesaid stress.
Whereupon said I: Master, who are those
People, whom the black air so castigates?
XXXX XXXX XXXX
...As in large troops
And multitudinous, when winter reigns,
The starlings on their wings are borne abroad;
So bears the tyrannous gust those evil souls.
On this side and on that, above, below,
It drives them: hope of rest to solace them
Is none, nor e'en of milder pang. As cranes,
Chanting their dol'rous notes, traverse the sky,
Stretch'd out in long array: so I beheld
Spirits, who came loud wailing, hurried on
By their dire doom. Then I: Instructor! who
Are these, by the black air so scourg'd?
XXXXX XXXX XXXX
And as, in the cold season, starlings' wings
bear them along in broad and crowded ranks
so does that blast bear on the guilty spirits:
now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them.
There is no hope that ever comforts them
no hope for rest and none for lesser pain.
And just as cranes in flight will chant their lays,
arraying their long file across the air,
so did the shades I saw approaching, borne
by that assailing wind, lament and moan;
so that I asked him: Master, who are those
who suffer punishment in this dark air?
What do you think?