Note on DANTE

My name, Ben Finiti, is borrowed from Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto III, Line 73.  The excellent new translation by W. S. Merwin reads it as “you who ended well”, and is addressed to the souls in Purgatory.  They had lived sinful lives, but were able to turn it around and be forgiven at some point before they died.

For anyone living, it is therefore an aspiration rather than a fact.  It is my aspiration.  If I die today, I will have failed.  But I am not giving up. (And so far I’m feeling well; thanks for asking.)

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I cannot read or speak Italian; I don’t even like Italian food.  But Merwin’s version, with original and translation on facing pages, makes it easy, and lets me make an attempt at enjoying the music of Dante’s beautiful poetry.]

The rest of the verse, in Italian, is:

“O ben finiti, o gia spiriti eletti,”

Virgilio incomincio, “per quella pace

ch’i’ credo che per voi tutti s’aspetti,


ditene dove la montagna giace

si che possibil sia l’andare in suso,

che perder tempo a chi piu sa piu spiace.”

[In Merwin’s English:]

“O you who ended well,” Virgil began,

“o spirits already chosen, by that peace

which I believe awaits you every one,


tell us in what place the mountain slopes

so that it would be possible to climb,

for who knows most grieves most at the loss of time.”

[I love that last line.   I can certainly appreciate Merwin/Virgil/Dante’s sense of urgency.]

Here are some other examples of Dante’s lyricism (from Merwin’s beautiful translation of  Purgatorio) 

“fatti sicur, che noi semo a buon punto”   (“Take heart, it is good to be where we are now.) IX 47

ch’or si or no s’intendon le parole” (“now the words are heard and now are not.”) IX 145

e piu e men che re era in quell caso.”  (“and at that moment he was less and more than a king.”) X 66, of David dancing before the Ark.

pensa che questo di mai non raggiorna.” (“Think that this day will never dawn again.”) XII 84

di vera luce tenebre dispicchi.” (“you gather darkness out of light itself.”) XV 66

d’amaro sente il sapor de la pietade acerba.” (“the flavor of raw pity when tasted is bitter.”) XXX 80-1

di pentimento che lagrime spanda.” (“penitence that is poured out in tears.”) XXX 145

Merwin’s translation is in many libraries, and online at Amazon’s used book section.

Dante wrote in iambic pentameter, so it should flow like Shakespeare:

“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? 

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

A quick guide to Italian pronunciation is here.

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