Auguste Barbier

Dante, old Ghibelline! Your godlike head,

Poet! - the mighty mask, which art bequeathed:

When I pass by, and see the matt white plaster,

I shudder. Thus did genius and disaster

Stamp sorrow’s seal upon you. Round your ears,

A close-drawn hood... Is it the groove of years,

That furrow carved with toil across your brow,

Or was it wakeful nights that drove the plough? 

Was it in Exile’s base degrading field                      

Your mouth by many a bitter curse was sealed? 

And is that smile, lodged in the place of breath,

Your final thought, nailed on by hands of death?

For poor humanity, a sneer of pity!

How well contempt befits the mouth of Dante,

Who first saw daylight in a burning city,

On no paved path but grit and gravel born, 

By which for untold years his feet were torn.

Like us, he saw men’s passions round him roll

Their hectic fortunes; parties rose and fell,

Crushed and reborn; victims burnt merrily;

Citizens’ throats were slit, for all to see;

For thirty years the crimes went streaming by,

The name of patriot to the winds hurled high,

No good to common weal, nor liberty.

O Dante Alighieri, Florentine,

I understand today your mortal pain;

Lover of Beatrice, exiled, I know why

The haggard countenance, the hollow eye,

Disgust for worldly things, the ailing heart

Beyond all hope of cure, deep-seated hate

That whipped your temper up and made you cruel,

Flooding your spirit, and your pen, with bile.

Thus by the customs of your native town

You painted a grim canvas, setting down,

Depicting Florence’s perversity

With so much truth and so much energy

That children in Ravenna, watching where

You made your way across a distant square,

 Looked on your livid pallor, and could tell:

 “There is the man who just came back from Hell.”





Translated from the French by © Timothy Ades

Main Location:

Florence, Italy