Here a wind erodes the dead
rib of a forsaken woman, mired
in the mud of toil.
A cleft path sways my will.
But fault us yet –
About the middle of life’s onward way,
I found myself within a darksome dell,
Because from the true path I went astray.
—Claudia Hamilton Ramsay, 1862
we, led by fiendish wiles,
work – plod – to awaken
from this dim wood of wronging.
Way ahead, on a hill, the sun rowdy
at your feet,
Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone
—Dorothy Sayers, 1949
you dance as freedom, the wrath
of kali: wild, jarring – the earth
sinusoids, time distorts,
and – reality
dawns – daddy law
I was a Pilgrim that had turned, astray
Within a trackless wood;
And in the middle of Life’s journeying way
In shrouded darkness stood.
—Caroline Potter, 1896
defeated – died.
Seeing that odd
hip, naked breast, swing –
I do ache to root my labour
in this hollow. Let it flower
soft, half hidden
All in the middle of the road of life
I stood bewildered in a dusky wood –
The path being lost that once showed
straight and rife.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1845
in moonlit seeds of decaying
wood that waft along the sky – and
I replace a surplus I took, now a million
Few fled, pleaded
Stopped mid-motion in the middle
Of what we call our life, I looked up and saw no sky –
Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig.
I was lost.
—Mary Jo Bang, 2012
with you to return their life –
a far, old joy. No – I act. Make my way
sowing soft fields homeward.
Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
—Jean & Robert Hollander, 2002
Ayah, I’m reminded of night
stories we’d enjoy.
I knew of no
raw fury diffusing out your
asafoetida armpits –
Upon the journey of our life, midway,
Within a forest dark I found again
Myself, for I had missed the one straight way.
—Eleanor Vinton Murray, 1920
no whiff, so –
ma tea. Covert pout
bunched your sari,
from under the chandelier:
a plan, a window.
In the mid pathway of our earthly travel
Encompassed by a wood obscure I found me,
Where I no road could find, no clue unravel.
—Charlotte Yonge, 1869
from which you asked
that Guide to
lead a riot
And rid our air, flesh of selfish
Midway in the course of this our
human life I found myself in a dark wood,
for I had lost the straight road.
—Clara Stillman Reed, 1962
You stole the justice
god fashioned off her
rib, plunged it in our world.
No feat effaced mayhem
calmly my eye of
Halfway along the journey of our lifetime
I found myself deep in a gloomy forest
For the direct way had become confused.
—Mary Prentice Lillie, 1958
woe regards you.
In my hand the dues – you,
who life failed, foul
world injured – now wail,
Don’t forget it – Ayah,
Upon the journey of our life midway
I roused and found me in a gloomy wood,
Where all bewildered was the forthright way.
—Eleanor Prescott Hammond, 1919
find my will – midway
in this wood – swift dusk
of life – you sent me to –
In the midtime of life I found myself
Within a dusky wood; My way was lost.
—Edith Mary Shaw, 1914
save me – I am
nuzzled in revolution’s
aromatic armpit – a radical
narrative – this lair is covert –
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
—Dante Alighieri, 1320
1845 Elizabeth Barret Browning. Sourced from Dante in English, Penguin Books, 2005.
Verse translation of the first canto of Inferno, unpublished during her lifetime. It is unclear whether Browning translated any other cantos of the Commedia.
1862 Claudia Hamilton Ramsay, Dante’s Divina Commedia.
First complete translation of the Commedia by a woman, set in terza rima. Available freely online at archive.org.
1869 Caroline Potter, Cantos from the Divina Commedia of Dante.
Verse translation of various cantos from the Commedia.
1869 Charlotte Yonge, The Divina Commedia of Dante.
Translation of several cantos from Inferno, set in terza rima, published across several years in Monthly Packet of Evening Readings for Younger Members of the English Church.
1920 Eleanor Vinton Murray, The Inferno of Dante.
Available freely online at archive.org.
1914 Edith Mary Shaw, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.
1919 Eleanor Prescott Hammond, Dante in English: A Terza Rima Translation and Critique of Terza Rima Translations of the Inferno of Dante.
Translation of Cantos I-VII, set in terza rima.
1949 Dorothy Leigh Sayers, The Divine Comedy 1: Hell.
Sayers also completed a verse translation of the entire Commedia, set in terza rima.
1958 Mary Prentice Lillie, The Comedy of Dante Alighieri translated into English Unrhymed Hendecasyllabic Verse.
1962 Clara Stillman Reed, Dante’s Divine Poem.
Prose translation of the Commedia.
2002 Jean & Robert Hollander, Inferno.
The Hollanders also completed a verse translation of the entire Commedia.
2012 Mary Jo Bang, Inferno.
A ‘modern’ free verse translation of Inferno, expanding Dante’s network of references to include post-Dante texts, people and events. Bang also completed a translation of Purgatorio.
Nandini Shah writes on Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung country. In 2021, she was runnerup in Overland’s inaugural Kuracca Prize for her essay ‘Me, the (failed) revolutionary’, on the politics of failure in direct action protests. She is currently reading Marx, Freud, and Australian communist literature.