“Sibhse ghabhas tríomsa, cuiridh uaibh gach dóchas” – Dante’s Divine Comedy as Gaeilge

Recently I acquired a copy of Padráig de Brún’s translation into Irish of “Inferno”. de Brún translated the whole Divine Comedy. The fly jacket of my copy states that “it is hoped to publish the remaining two volumes … in the future”

My thanks to Seán Mac Labhrai for getting me this book. de Brún was one of those polymathic clergymen who are now oft-forgotten. Born in Grangemockler, Co Tipperary, near the Kilkenny border and a place I drive through every day on the way to work, de Brún also wrote the well known poem “Tháinig long ó Valparaiso” (or rather translated Oliver St John Gogarty’s “The Ship”, a translation which improved on the original), known to to generations of Irish school children. Or at least it was known.

Anyhow, while had I world enough and time typing out Monsignor de Brún’s translation canto by canto would be a pleasure, it may not be possible. So I will give a taster which includes the best known line of the Inferno, if not the whole Comedy – abandon all hope ye who enter here.

This comes at the beginning of Canto 3 – a sort of invocation inscribed on the entrance to the “città dolente” of the underworld. In the original, the lines are :

Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore;
fecemi la divina podestate,
la somma sapïenza e ’l primo amore.

Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate’.

de Brún:

“Is tríom a trialltar ar an gcathair mhairgneach
Is tríom a trialltar ar an dólás síoraí
Is tríom a trialltar ar an gcine damanta.

An Ceart a chuir mo Dhúileamh tréan ag gníomhú;
Do rinne an tAthair mór lena uile-chomhact mé
‘S an Eagna is aoirde réim is toil an Phríomh-ghrá.

Éinní dár cruthaíodh riamh ní raibh ann romhamsa
Ach rudaí síorai; is buan go síoraíocht siar mé:
Síbhse ghabgas tríoma, cuiridh uaibh gach dóchas”

From the Columbia Digital Dante page linked to above, here are the English translations, firstly of Mandelbaum:

THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY,
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE ETERNAL PAIN,
THROUGH ME THE WAY THAT RUNS AMONG THE LOST.

JUSTICE URGED ON MY HIGH ARTIFICER;
MY MAKER WAS DIVINE AUTHORITY,
THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.

BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGS
WERE MADE, AND I ENDURE ETERNALLY.
ABANDON EVERY HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE.

and of Longfellow:

THROUGH me the way is to the city dolent;
Through me the way is to eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost.

Justice incited my sublime Creator;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.

Before me there were no created things,’03
Only eterne, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, ye who enter in !”

Rather poignantly, my copy is ex libris St Malachy’s College Library, 36 Antrim Road, Belfast and seems never to have been taken out :

Finally an amusing aside from this 2016 review by Tim Parks of a life of Dante
. After the article proper, we have these two letters:

Letters
Vol. 38 No. 15 · 28 July 2016

Tim Parks begins his piece on Dante by asking how the Divine Comedy would have fared these days, when if you ‘put real people in a work of fiction … you immediately face libel and privacy issues’ (LRB, 14 July). That reminded me of the time when in a pleasant Chester-le-Street bookshop (no longer in existence) I was offered a paperback translation of Inferno which assured me that it was a work of fiction containing no reference to actual persons living or dead. Some time later I bought Ciaran Carson’s translation of Inferno on the basis of a killer sales pitch that it was ‘the first ever version by an Irish poet’.

George Schlesinger
Durham

Vol. 38 No. 17 · 8 September 2016

George Schlesinger fell for an over enthusiastic sales pitch (Letters, 28 July). Ciaran Carson’s translation of Dante’s Inferno wasn’t ‘the first ever version by an Irish poet’. The Irish cleric and poet Henry Boyd published his version in 1785 (and then added the Purgatorio and the Paradiso some years later).

Peter Jackson
Oxford

Of course, between Boyd and Carson, there was de Brún.

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