Inferno – Cantos 1 – 10

CANTO I

One night, when half my life behind me lay,
I wandered from the straight lost path afar.
Through the great dark was no releasing way;
Above that dark was no relieving star.
If yet that terrored night I think or say,
As death’s cold hands its fears resuming are.

Gladly the dreads I felt, too dire to tell,
The hopeless, pathless, lightless hours forgot,
I turn my tale to that which next befell,
When the dawn opened, and the night was not.
The hollowed blackness of that waste, God wot,
Shrank, thinned, and ceased. A blinding splendour hot
Flushed the great height toward which my footsteps fell,
And though it kindled from the nether hell,
Or from the Star that all men leads, alike
It showed me where the great dawn-glories strike
The wide east, and the utmost peaks of snow.

How first I entered on that path astray,
Beset with sleep, I know not. This I know.
When gained my feet the upward, lighted way,
I backward gazed, as one the drowning sea,
The deep strong tides, has baffled, and panting lies,
On the shelved shore, and turns his eyes to see
The league-wide wastes that held him. So mine eyes
Surveyed that fear, the while my wearied frame
Rested, and ever my heart’s tossed lake became
More quiet.
Then from that pass released, which yet
With living feet had no man left, I set
My forward steps aslant the steep, that so,
My right foot still the lower, I climbed.
Below
No more I gazed. Around, a slope of sand
Was sterile of all growth on either hand,
Or moving life, a spotted pard except,
That yawning rose, and stretched, and purred and leapt
So closely round my feet, that scarce I kept
The course I would.
That sleek and lovely thing,
The broadening light, the breath of morn and spring,
The sun, that with his stars in Aries lay,
As when Divine Love on Creation’s day
First gave these fair things motion, all at one
Made lightsome hope; but lightsome hope was none
When down the slope there came with lifted head
And back-blown mane and caverned mouth and red,
A lion, roaring, all the air ashake
That heard his hunger. Upward flight to take
No heart was mine, for where the further way
Mine anxious eyes explored, a she-wolf lay,
That licked lean flanks, and waited. Such was she
In aspect ruthless that I quaked to see,
And where she lay among her bones had brought
So many to grief before, that all my thought
Aghast turned backward to the sunless night
I left. But while I plunged in headlong flight
To that most feared before, a shade, or man
(Either he seemed), obstructing where I ran,
Called to me with a voice that few should know,
Faint from forgetful silence, “Where ye go,
Take heed. Why turn ye from the upward way?”

I cried, “Or come ye from warm earth, or they
The grave hath taken, in my mortal need
Have mercy thou!”
He answered, “Shade am I,
That once was man; beneath the Lombard sky,
In the late years of Julius born, and bred
In Mantua, till my youthful steps were led
To Rome, where yet the false gods lied to man;
And when the great Augustan age began,
I wrote the tale of Ilium burnt, and how
Anchises’ son forth-pushed a venturous prow,
Seeking unknown seas. But in what mood art thou
To thus return to all the ills ye fled,
The while the mountain of thy hope ahead
Lifts into light, the source and cause of all
Delectable things that may to man befall?”

I answered, “Art thou then that Virgil, he
From whom all grace of measured speech in me
Derived? O glorious and far-guiding star!
Now may the love-led studious hours and long
In which I learnt how rich thy wonders are,
Master and Author mine of Light and Song,
Befriend me now, who knew thy voice, that few
Yet hearken. All the name my work hath won
Is thine of right, from whom I learned. To thee,
Abashed, I grant it. . . Why the mounting sun
No more I seek, ye scarce should ask, who see
The beast that turned me, nor faint hope have I
To force that passage if thine aid deny.”
He answered, “Would ye leave this wild and live,
Strange road is ours, for where the she-wolf lies
Shall no man pass, except the path he tries
Her craft entangle. No way fugitive
Avoids the seeking of her greeds, that give
Insatiate hunger, and such vice perverse
As makes her leaner while she feeds, and worse
Her craving. And the beasts with which she breed
The noisome numerous beasts her lusts require,
Bare all the desirable lands in which she feeds;
Nor shall lewd feasts and lewder matings tire
Until she woos, in evil hour for her,
The wolfhound that shall rend her. His desire
Is not for rapine, as the promptings stir
Of her base heart; but wisdoms, and devoirs
Of manhood, and love’s rule, his thoughts prefer.
The Italian lowlands he shall reach and save,
For which Camilla of old, the virgin brave,
Turnus and Nisus died in strife. His chase
He shall not cease, nor any cowering-place
Her fear shall find her, till he drive her back,
From city to city exiled, from wrack to wrack
Slain out of life, to find the native hell
Whence envy loosed her.
For thyself were well
To follow where I lead, and thou shalt see
The spirits in pain, and hear the hopeless woe,
The unending cries, of those whose only plea
Is judgment, that the second death to be
Fall quickly. Further shalt thou climb, and go
To those who burn, but in their pain content
With hope of pardon; still beyond, more high,
Holier than opens to such souls as I,
The Heavens uprear; but if thou wilt, is one
Worthier, and she shall guide thee there, where none
Who did the Lord of those fair realms deny
May enter. There in his city He dwells, and there
Rules and pervades in every part, and calls
His chosen ever within the sacred walls.
O happiest, they!”
I answered, “By that Go
Thou didst not know, I do thine aid entreat,
And guidance, that beyond the ills I meet
I safety find, within the Sacred Gate
That Peter guards, and those sad souls to see
Who look with longing for their end to be.”

Then he moved forward, and behind I trod.

Canto II

THE day was falling, and the darkening air
Released earth’s creatures from their toils, while I,
I only, faced the bitter road and bare
My Master led. I only, must defy
The powers of pity, and the night to be.
So thought I, but the things I came to see,
Which memory holds, could never thought forecast.
O Muses high! O Genius, first and last!
Memories intense! Your utmost powers combine
To meet this need. For never theme as mine
Strained vainly, where your loftiest nobleness
Must fail to be sufficient.
First I said,
Fearing, to him who through the darkness led,
“O poet, ere the arduous path ye press
Too far, look in me, if the worth there be
To make this transit. Æneas once, I know,
Went down in life, and crossed the infernal sea;
And if the Lord of All Things Lost Below
Allowed it, reason seems, to those who see
The enduring greatness of his destiny,
Who in the Empyrean Heaven elect was called
Sire of the Eternal City, that throned and walled
Made Empire of the world beyond, to be
The Holy Place at last, by God’s decree,
Where the great Peter’s follower rules. For he
Learned there the causes of his victory.

“And later to the third great Heaven was caught
The last Apostle, and thence returning brought
The proofs of our salvation. But, for me,
I am not Æneas, nay, nor Paul, to see
Unspeakable things that depths or heights can show,
And if this road for no sure end I go
What folly is mine? But any words are weak.
Thy wisdom further than the things I speak
Can search the event that would be.”
Here I stayed
My steps amid the darkness, and the Shade
That led me heard and turned, magnanimous,
And saw me drained of purpose halting thus,
And answered, “If thy coward-born thoughts be clear,
And all thy once intent, infirmed of fear,
Broken, then art thou as scared beasts that shy
From shadows, surely that they know not why
Nor wherefore. . . Hearken, to confound thy fear,
The things which first I heard, and brought me here.
One came where, in the Outer Place, I dwell,
Suspense from hope of Heaven or fear of Hell,
Radiant in light that native round her clung,
And cast her eyes our hopeless Shades among
(Eyes with no earthly like but heaven’s own blue),
And called me to her in such voice as few
In that grim place had heard, so low, so clear,
So toned and cadenced from the Utmost Sphere,
The Unattainable Heaven from which she came.
‘O Mantuan Spirit,’ she said, ‘whose lasting fame
Continues on the earth ye left, and still
With Time shall stand, an earthly friend to me,
- My friend, not fortune’s – climbs a path so ill
That all the night-bred fears he hastes to flee
Were kindly to the thing he nears. The tale
Moved through the peace of I leaven, and swift I sped
Downward, to aid my friend in love’s avail,
With scanty time therefor, that half I dread
Too late I came. But thou shalt haste, and go
With golden wisdom of thy speech, that so
For me be consolation. Thou shalt say,
“I come from Beatricë.” Downward far,
From Heaven to I leaven I sank, from star to star,
To find thee, and to point his rescuing way.
Fain would I to my place of light return;
Love moved me from it, and gave me power to learn
Thy speech. When next before my Lord I stand
I very oft shall praise thee.’
Here she ceased,
And I gave answer to that dear command,
‘Lady, alone through whom the whole race of those
The smallest Heaven the moon’s short orbits hold
Excels in its creation, not thy least,
Thy lightest wish in this dark realm were told
Vainly. But show me why the Heavens unclose
To loose thee from them, and thyself content
Couldst thus continue in such strange descent
From that most Spacious Place for which ye burn,
And while ye further left, would fain return.’

” ‘That which thou wouldst,’ she said, ‘I briefly tell.
There is no fear nor any hurt in Hell,
Except that it be powerful. God in me
Is gracious, that the piteous sights I see
I share not, nor myself can shrink to feel
The flame of all this burning. One there is
In height among the Holiest placed, and she
- Mercy her name – among God’s mysteries
Dwells in the midst, and hath the power to see
His judgments, and to break them. This sharp
I tell thee, when she saw, she called, that so
Leaned Lucia toward her while she spake – and said,
“One that is faithful to thy name is sped,
Except that now ye aid him.” She thereat,
- Lucia, to all men’s wrongs inimical –
Left her High Place, and crossed to where I sat
In speech with Rachel (of the first of all
God saved). “O Beatrice, Praise of God,”
- So said she to me – “sitt’st thou here so slow
To aid him, once on earth that loved thee so
That all he left to serve thee? Hear’st thou not
The anguish of his plaint? and dost not see,
By that dark stream that never seeks a sea,
The death that threats him?”
None, as thus she said,
None ever was swift on earth his good to chase,
None ever on earth was swift to leave his dread,
As came I downward from that sacred place
To find thee and invoke thee, confident
Not vainly for his need the gold were spent
Of thy word-wisdom.’ Here she turned away,
Her bright eyes clouded with their tears, and I,
Who saw them, therefore made more haste to reach
The place she told, and found thee. Canst thou say
I failed thy rescue? Is the beast anigh
From which ye quailed? When such dear saints beseech
- Three from the Highest – that Heaven thy course allow
Why halt ye fearful? In such guards as thou
The faintest-hearted might be bold.”
As flowers,
Close-folded through the cold and lightless hours,
Their bended stems erect, and opening fair
Accept the white light and the warmer air
Of morning, so my fainting heart anew
Lifted, that heard his comfort. Swift I spake,
“O courteous thou, and she compassionate!
Thy haste that saved me, and her warning true,
Beyond my worth exalt me. Thine I make
My will. In concord of one mind from now,
O Master and my Guide, where leadest thou
I follow.”
And we, with no more words’ delay,
Went forward on that hard and dreadful way.

Canto III

THE gateway to the city of Doom. Through me
The entrance to the Everlasting Pain.
The Gateway of the Lost. The Eternal Three
Justice impelled to build me. Here ye see
Wisdom Supreme at work, and Primal Power,
And Love Supernal in their dawnless day.
Ere from their thought creation rose in flower
Eternal first were all things fixed as they.
Of Increate Power infinite formed am I
That deathless as themselves I do not die.
Justice divine has weighed: the doom is clear.
All hope renounce, ye lost, who enter here.
This scroll in gloom above the gate I read,
And found it fearful. “Master, hard,” I said,
“This saying to me.” And he, as one that long
Was customed, answered, “No distrust must wrong
Its Maker, nor thy cowarder mood resume
If here ye enter. This the place of doom
I told thee, where the lost in darkness dwell.
Here, by themselves divorced from light, they fell,
And are as ye shall see them.” Here he lent
A hand to draw me through the gate, and bent
A glance upon my fear so confident
That I, too nearly to my former dread
Returned, through all my heart was comforted,
And downward to the secret things we went.

Downward to night, but not of moon and cloud,
Not night with all its stars, as night we know,
But burdened with an ocean-weight of woe
The darkness closed us.
Sighs, and wailings loud,
Outcries perpetual of recruited pain,
Sounds of strange tongues, and angers that remain
Vengeless for ever, the thick and clamorous crowd
Of discords pressed, that needs I wept to hear,
First hearing. There, with reach of hands anear,
And voices passion-hoarse, or shrilled with fright,
The tumult of the everlasting night,
As sand that dances in continual wind,
Turns on itself for ever.
And I, my head
Begirt with movements, and my ears bedinned
With outcries round me, to my leader said,
“Master, what hear I? Who so overborne
With woes are these?”
He answered, “These be they
That praiseless lived and blameless. Now the scorn
Of Height and Depth alike, abortions drear;
Cast with those abject angels whose delay
To join rebellion, or their Lord defend,
Waiting their proved advantage, flung them here. –
Chased forth from Heaven, lest else its beauties end
The pure perfection of their stainless claim,
Out-herded from the shining gate they came,
Where the deep hells refused them, lest the lost
Boast something baser than themselves.”
And I,
“Master, what grievance hath their failure cost,
That through the lamentable dark they cry?”

He answered, “Briefly at a thing not worth
We glance, and pass forgetful. Hope in death
They have not. Memory of them on the earth
Where once they lived remains not. Nor the breath
Of Justice shall condemn, nor Mercy plead,
But all alike disdain them. That they know
Themselves so mean beneath aught else constrains
The envious outcries that too long ye heed.
Move past, but speak not.”
Then I looked, and lo,
Were souls in ceaseless and unnumbered trains
That past me whirled unending, vainly led
Nowhither, in useless and unpausing haste.
A fluttering ensign all their guide, they chased
Themselves for ever. I had not thought the dead,
The whole world’s dead, so many as these. I saw
The shadow of him elect to Peter’s seat
Who made the great refusal, and the law,
The unswerving law that left them this retreat
To seal the abortion of their lives, became
Illumined to me, and themselves I knew,
To God and all his foes the futile crew
How hateful in their everlasting shame.

I saw these victims of continued death
- For lived they never – were naked all, and loud
Around them closed a never-ceasing cloud
Of hornets and great wasps, that buzzed and clung,
- Weak pain for weaklings meet, – and where they stung,
Blood from their faces streamed, with sobbing breath,
And all the ground beneath with tears and blood
Was drenched, and crawling in that loathsome mud
There were great worms that drank it.
Gladly thence
I gazed far forward. Dark and wide the flood
That flowed before us. On the nearer shore
Were people waiting. “Master, show me whence
These came, and who they be, and passing hence
Where go they? Wherefore wait they there content,
- The faint light shows it, – for their transit o’er
The unbridged abyss?”
He answered, “When we stand
Together, waiting on the joyless strand,
In all it shall be told thee.” If he meant
Reproof I know not, but with shame I bent
My downward eyes, and no more spake until
The bank we reached, and on the stream beheld
A bark ply toward us.
Of exceeding eld,
And hoary showed the steersman, screaming shrill,
With horrid glee the while he neared us, “Woe
To ye, depraved! – Is here no Heaven, but ill
The place where I shall herd ye. Ice and fire
And darkness are the wages of their hire
Who serve unceasing here – But thou that there
Dost wait though live, depart ye. Yea, forbear!
A different passage and a lighter fare
Is destined thine.”
But here my guide replied,
“Nay, Charon, cease; or to thy grief ye chide.
It There is willed, where that is willed shall be,
That ye shall pass him to the further side,
Nor question more.”
The fleecy cheeks thereat,
Blown with fierce speech before, were drawn and flat,
And his flame-circled eyes subdued, to hear
That mandate given. But those of whom he spake
In bitter glee, with naked limbs ashake,
And chattering teeth received it. Seemed that then
They first were conscious where they came, and fear
Abject and frightful shook them; curses burst
In clamorous discords forth; the race of men,
Their parents, and their God, the place, the time,
Of their conceptions and their births, accursed
Alike they called, blaspheming Heaven. But yet
Slow steps toward the waiting bark they set,
With terrible wailing while they moved. And so
They came reluctant to the shore of woe
That waits for all who fear not God, and not
Them only.
Then the demon Charon rose
To herd them in, with eyes that furnace-hot
Glowed at the task, and lifted oar to smite
Who lingered.
As the leaves, when autumn shows,
One after one descending, leave the bough,
Or doves come downward to the call, so now
The evil seed of Adam to endless night,
As Charon signalled, from the shore’s bleak height,
Cast themselves downward to the bark. The brown
And bitter flood received them, and while they passed
Were others gathering, patient as the last,
Not conscious of their nearing doom.
“My son,”
- Replied my guide the unspoken thought – “is none
Beneath God’s wrath who dies in field or town,
Or earth’s wide space, or whom the waters drown,
But here he cometh at last, and that so spurred
By Justice, that his fear, as those ye heard,
Impels him forward like desire. Is not
One spirit of all to reach the fatal spot
That God’s love holdeth, and hence, if Char
chide,
Ye well may take it. – Raise thy heart, for now,
Constrained of Heaven, he must thy course allow.”

Yet how I passed I know not. For the ground
Trembled that heard him, and a fearful sound
Of issuing wind arose, and blood-red light
Broke from beneath our feet, and sense and sight
Left me. The memory with cold sweat once more
Reminds me of the sudden-crimsoned night,
As sank I senseless by the dreadful shore.

Canto IV

ARISING thunder from the vast Abyss
First roused me, not as he that rested wakes
From slumbrous hours, but one rude fury shakes
Untimely, and around I gazed to know
The place of my confining.
Deep, profound,
Dark beyond sight, and choked with doleful sound,
Sheer sank the Valley of the Lost Abyss,
Beneath us. On the utmost brink we stood,
And like the winds of some unresting wood
The gathered murmur from those depths of woe
Soughed upward into thunder. Out from this
The unceasing sound comes ever. I might not tell
How deep the Abyss down sank from hell to hell,
It was so clouded and so dark no sight
Could pierce it.
“Downward through the worlds of night
We will descend together. I first, and thou
My footsteps taking,” spake my guide, and I
Gave answer, “Master, when thyself art pale,
Fear-daunted, shall my weaker heart avail
That on thy strength was rested?”
“Nay,” said he,
“Not fear, but anguish at the issuing cry
So pales me. Come ye, for the path we tread
Is long, and time requires it.” Here he led
Through the first entrance of the ringed abyss,
Inward, and I went after, and the woe
Softened behind us, and around I heard
Nor scream of torment, nor blaspheming word,
But round us sighs so many and deep there came
That all the air was motioned. I beheld
Concourse of men and women and children there
Countless. No pain was theirs of cold or flame,
But sadness only. And my Master said,
“Art silent here? Before ye further go
Among them wondering, it is meet ye know
They are not sinful, nor the depths below
Shall claim them. But their lives of righteousness
Sufficed not to redeem. The gate decreed,
Being born too soon, we did not pass ( for I,
Dying unbaptized, am of them). More nor less
Our doom is weighed, – to feel of Heaven the need,
To long, and to be hopeless.”
Grief was mine
That heard him, thinking what great names must be
In this suspense around me. “Master, tell,”
I questioned, “from this outer girth of Hell
Pass any to the blessed spheres exalt,
Through other’s merits or their own the fault.
Condoned?” And he, my covert speech that read,
- For surance sought I of my faith, – replied,
“Through the shrunk hells there came a Great One, crowned
And garmented with conquest. Of the dead,
He rescued from us him who earliest died,
Abel, and our first parent. Here He found,
Abraham, obedient to the Voice he heard;
And Moses, first who wrote the Sacred Word;
Isaac, and Israel and his sons, and she,
Rachel, for whom he travailed; and David, king;
And many beside unnumbered, whom he led
Triumphant from the dark abodes, to be
Among the blest for ever. Until this thing
I witnessed, none, of all the countless dead,
But hopeless through the somber gate he came.”

Now while he spake he paused not, but pursued,
Through the dense woods of thronging spirits, his aim
Straight onward, nor was long our path until
Before us rose a widening light, to fill
One half of all the darkness, and I knew
While yet some distance, that such Shades were there
As nobler moved than others, and questioned, “Who,
Master, are those that in their aspect bear
Such difference from the rest?”
“All these,” he said,
“Were named so glorious in thy earth above
That Heaven allows their larger claim to be
Select, as thus ye see them.”
While he spake
A voice rose near us: “Hail!” it cried, “for he
Returns, who was departed.”
Scarce it ceased
When four great spirits approached. They did not show
Sadness nor joy, but tranquil-eyed as though
Content in their dominion moved. My guide
Before I questioned told, “That first ye see,
With hand that fits the swordhilt, mark, for he
Is Homer, sovereign of the craft we tried,
Leader and lord of even the following three, –
Horace, and Ovid, and Lucan. The voice ye heard,
That hailed me, caused them by one impulse stirred
Approach to do me honour, for these agree
In that one name we boast, and so do well
Owning it in me.” There was I joyed to meet
Those shades, who closest to his place belong,
The eagle course of whose out-soaring song
Is lonely in height.
Some space apart (to tell,
It may be, something of myself ), my guide
Conversed, until they turned with grace to greet
Me also, and my Master smiled to see
They made me sixth and equal. Side by side
We paced toward the widening light, and spake
Such things as well were spoken there, and here
Were something less than silence.
Strong and wide
Before us rose a castled height, beset
With sevenfold-circling walls, unscalable,
And girdled with a rivulet round, but yet
We passed thereover, and the water clear
As dry land bore me; and the walls ahead
Their seven strong gates made open one by one,
As each we neared, that where my Master led
With ease I followed, although without were none
But deep that stream beyond their wading spread,
And closed those gates beyond their breach had been,
Had they sought entry with us.
Of coolest green
Stretched the wide lawns we midmost found, for there,
Intolerant of itself, was Hell made fair
To accord with its containing.
Grave, austere,
Quiet-voiced and slow, of seldom words were they
That walked that verdure.
To a place aside
Open, and light, and high, we passed, and here
Looked downward on the lawns, in clear survey
Of such great spirits as are my glory and pride
That once I saw them.
There, direct in view,
Electra passed, among her sons. I knew
Hector and Æneas there; and Cæsar too
Was of them, armed and falcon-eyed; and there
Camilla and Penthesilea. Near there sate
Lavinia, with her sire the Latian king;
Brutus, who drave the Tarquin; and Lucrece
Julia, Cornelia, Marcia, and their kin;
And, by himself apart, the Saladin.

Somewhat beyond I looked. A place more high
Than where these heroes moved I gazed, and knew
The Master of reasoned thought, whose hand withdrew
The curtain of the intellect, and bared
The secret things of nature; while anigh,
But lowlier, grouped the greatest names that shared
His searchings. All regard and all revere
They gave him. Plato there, and Socrates
I marked, who closeliest reached his height; and near
Democritus, who dreamed a world of chance
Born blindly in the whirl of circumstance;
And Anaxagoras, Diogenes,
Thales, Heraclitus, Empedocles,
Zeno, were there; and Dioscorides
Who searched the healing powers of herbs and trees;
And Orpheus, Tullius, Livius, Seneca,
Euclid and Ptolemæus; Avicenna,
Galen, Hippocrates; Averrhoës,
The Master’s great interpreter, – but these
Are few to those I saw, an endless dream
Of shades before whom Hell quietened and cowered. My theme,
With thronging recollections of mighty names
That there I marked impedes me. All too long
They chase me, envious that my burdened song
Forgets. – But onward moves my guide anew:
The light behind us fades: the six are two:
Again the shuddering air, the cries of Hell
Compassed, and where we walked the darkness fell.

Canto V

MOST like the spirals of a pointed shell,
But separate each, go downward, hell from hell,
The ninefold circles of the damned; but each
Smaller, concentrate in its greater pain,
Than that which overhangs it.
Those who reach
The second whorl, on entering, learn their bane
Where Minos, hideous, sits and snarls. He hears,
Decides, and as he girds himself they go.

Before his seat each ill-born spirit appear,
And tells its tale of evil, loath or no,
While he, their judge, of all sins cognizant,
Hears, and around himself his circling tail
Twists to the number of the depths below
To which they doom themselves in telling.
Alway
The crowding sinners: their turn they wait: they show
Their guilt: the circles of his tail convey
Their doom: and downward they are whirled away.

“O thou who callest at this doleful inn,”
Cried Minos to me, while the child of sin
That stood confessing before him, trembling stayed,
“Heed where thou enterest in thy trust, nor say,
I walk in safety, for the width of way
Suffices.”
But my guide the answer took,
“Why dost thou cry? or leave thine ordered trade
For that which nought belongs thee? Hinder not
His destined path. For where he goeth is willed,
Where that is willed prevaileth.”
Now was filled
The darker air with wailing. Wailing shook
My soul to hear it. Where we entered now
No light attempted. Only sound arose,
As ocean with the tortured air contends,
What time intolerable tempest rends
The darkness; so the shrieking winds oppose
For ever, and bear they, as they swerve and sweep,
The doomed disastrous spirits, and whirl aloft,
Backward, and down, nor any rest allow,
Nor pause of such contending wraths as oft
Batter them against the precipitous sides, and there
The shrieks and moanings quench the screaming air,
The cries of their blaspheming.
These are they
That lust made sinful. As the starlings rise
At autumn, darkening all the colder skies,
In crowded troops their wings up-bear, so here
These evil-doers on each contending blast
Were lifted upward, whirled, and downward cast,
And swept around unceasing. Striving airs
Lift them, and hurl, nor ever hope is theirs
Of rest or respite or decreasing pains,
But like the long streaks of the calling cranes
So came they wailing down the winds, to meet
Upsweeping blasts that ever backward beat
Or sideward flung them on their walls. And I –
“Master who are they next that drive anigh
So scourged amidst the blackness?”
“These,” he said,
“So lashed and harried, by that queen are led,
Empress of alien tongues, Semiramis,
Who made her laws her lawless lusts to kiss,
So was she broken by desire; and this
Who comes behind, back-blown and beaten thus,
Love’s fool, who broke her faith to Sichæus,
Dido; and bare of all her luxury,
Nile’s queen, who lost her realm for Antony.”

And after these, amidst that windy train,
Helen, who soaked in blood the Trojan plain,
And great Achilles I saw, at last whose feet
The same net trammelled; and Tristram, Paris, he showed;
And thousand other along the fated road
Whom love led deathward through disastrous things
He pointed as they passed, until my mind
Was wildered in this heavy pass to find
Ladies so many, and cavaliers and kings
Fallen, and pitying past restraint, I said,
“Poet, those next that on the wind appear
So light, and constant as they drive or veer
Are parted never, I fain would speak.”
And he, –
“Conjure them by their love, and thou shalt see
Their flight come hither.”
And when the swerving blast
Most nearly bent, I called them as they passed,
“O wearied souls, come downward, if the Power
That drives allow ye, for one restful hour.”
As doves, desirous of their nest at night,
Cleave through the dusk with swift and open flight
Of level-lifting wings, that love makes light,
Will-borne, so downward through the murky air
Came those sad spirits, that not deep Hell’s despair
Could sunder, parting from the faithless band
That Dido led, and with one voice, as though
One soul controlled them, spake,
“O Animate!
Who comest through the black malignant air,
Benign among us who this exile bear
For earth ensanguined, if the King of All
Heard those who from the outer darkness call
Entreat him would we for thy peace, that thou
Hast pitied us condemned, misfortunate. –
Of that which please thee, if the winds allow,
Gladly I tell. Ravenna, on that shore
Where Po finds rest for all his streams, we knew;
And there love conquered. Love, in gentle heart
So quick to take dominion, overthrew
Him with my own fair body, and overbore
Me with delight to please him. Love, which gives
No pardon to the loved, so strongly in me
Was empired, that its rule, as here ye see,
Endureth, nor the bitter blast contrives
To part us. Love to one death led us. The mode
Afflicts me, shrinking, still. The place of Cain
Awaits our slayer.”
They ceased, and I my head
Bowed down, and made no answer, till my guide
Questioned, “What wouldst thou more?” and replied,
“Alas my thought I what sweet keen longings led
These spirits, woeful, to their dark abode!”
And then to them, – “Francesca, all thy pain
Is mine. With pity and grief I weep. But say
How, in the time of sighing, and in what way,
Love gave you of the dubious deeds to know.”

And she to me, “There is no greater woe
In all Hell’s depths than cometh when those who
Look back to Eden. But if thou wouldst learn
Our love’s first root, I can but weep and tell.
One day, and for delight in idleness,
- Alone we were, without suspicion, –
We read together, and chanced the page to turn
Where Galahad tells the tale of Lancelot,
How love constrained him. Oft our meeting eyes,
Confessed the theme, and conscious cheeks were hot,
Reading, but only when that instant came
Where the surrendering lips were kissed, no less
Desire beat in us, and whom, for all this pain,
No hell shall sever (so great at least our gain),
Trembling, he kissed my mouth, and all forgot,
We read no more.”
As thus did one confess
Their happier days, the other wept, and I
Grew faint with pity, and sank as those who die.

Canto VI

THE misery of that sight of souls in Hell
Condemned, and constant in their loss, prevailed
So greatly in me, that I may not tell
How passed I from them, sense and memory failed
So far.
But here new torments I discern,
And new tormented, wheresoe’er I turn.
For sodden around me was the place of bane,
The third doomed circle, where the culprits know
The cold, unceasing, and relentless rain
Pour down without mutation. Heavy with hail,
With turbid waters mixed, and cold with snow,
It streams from out the darkness, and below
The soil is putrid, where the impious lie
Grovelling, and howl like dogs, beneath the flail
That flattens to the foul soaked ground, and try
Vainly for ease by turning. And the while
Above them roams and ravens the loathsome hound
Cerberus, and feeds upon them.
The swampy ground
He ranges; with his long clawed hands he grips
The sinners, and the fierce and hairy lips
(Thrice-headed is he) tear, and the red blood drips
From all his jaws. He clutches, and flays, and rends,
And treads them, growling: and the flood descends
Straight downward.
When he saw us, the loathly worm
Showed all his fangs, and eager trembling frame
Nerved for the leap. But undeterred my guide.
Stooped down, and gathered in full hands the soil,
And cast it in the gaping gullets, to foil
Gluttonous blind greed, and those fierce mouths and wide
Closed on the filth, and as the craving cur
Quietens, that strained and howled to reach his food,
Biting the bone, those squalid mouths subdued
And silenced, wont above the empty dead
To bark insatiate, while they tore unfed
The writhing shadows.
The straight persistent rain,
That altered never, had pressed the miry plain
With flattened shades that in their emptiness
Still showed as bodies. We might not here progress
Except we trod them. Of them all, but one
Made motion as we passed. Against the rain
Rising, and resting on one hand, he said,
“O thou, who through the drenching murk art led,
Recall me if thou canst. Thou wast begun
Before I ended.”
I, who looked in vain
For human semblance in that bestial shade,
Made answer, “Misery here hath all unmade,
It may be, that thou wast on earth, for nought
Recalls thee to me. But thyself shalt tell
The sins that scourged thee to this foul resort,
That more displeasing not the scope of Hell
Can likely yield, though greater pains may lie
More deep.”
And he to me, “Thy city, so high
With envious hates that swells, that now the sack
Bursts, and pours out in ruin, and spreads its wrack
Far outward, was mine alike, while clearer air
Still breathed I. Citizens who knew me there
Called me Ciacco. For the vice I fed
At rich men’s tables, in this filth I lie
Drenched, beaten, hungered, cold, uncomforted,
Mauled by that ravening greed; and these, as I,
With gluttonous lives the like reward have won.”

I answered, “Piteous is thy state to one
Who knew thee in thine old repute, but say,
If yet persists thy previous mind, which way
The feuds of our rent city shall end, and why
These factions vex us, and if still there be
One just man left among us.”
“Two,” said he,
“Are just, but none regards them. Yet more high
The strife, till bloodshed from their long contend
Shall issue at last: the barbarous Cerchi clan
Cast the Donati exiled out, and they
Within three years return, and more offend
Than they were erst offended, helped by him
So long who palters with both parts. The fire
Three sparks have lighted – Avarice, Envy, Pride, –
And there is none may quench it.”
Here he ceased
His lamentable tale, and I replied,
“Of one thing more I ask thee. Great desire
Is mine to learn it. Where are those who sought
Our welfare earlier? Those whose names at least
Are fragrant for the public good they wrought,
Arrigo, Mosca, and the Tegghiaio
Worthiest, and Farinata, and with these
Jacopo Rusticucci. I would know
If soft in Heaven or bitter-hard in Hell
Their lives continue.”
“Cast in hells more low
Than yet thou hast invaded, deep they lie,
For different crimes from ours, and shouldst thou go
So far, thou well mayst see them. If thou tread
Again the sweet light land, and overhead
Converse with those I knew there, then recall,
I pray, my memory to my friends of yore.
But ask no further, for I speak no more.”

Thereon his eyes, that straight had gazed before
Squinted and failed, and slowly sank his head,
And blindly with his sodden mates he lay.
And spake my guide, “He shall not lift nor stir,
Until the trumpet shrills that wakens Hell;
And these, who must inimical Power obey,
Shall each return to his sad grave, and there
In carnal form the sinful spirit shall dwell
Once more, and that time only, from the tomb
Rising to hear the irrevocable doom
Which shall reverberate through eternity.”

So paced we slowly through the rain that fell
Unchanging, over that foul ground, and trod
The dismal spirits it held, and somewhat spake
Of life beyond us, and the things of God;
And asked I, “Master, shall these torments cease,
Continue as they are, or more increase,
When calls the trumpet, and the graves shall break,
And the great Sentence sound?”
And he to me,
“Recall thy learning, as thou canst. We know
With more perfection, greater pain or bliss
Resolves, and though perfection may not be
To these accurs’d, yet nearer then than this
It may be they shall reach it.”
More to show
He sought, as turned we to the fresh descent,
But speaking all in such strange words as went
Past me. – But ceased our downward path, and
Plutus, of human weal the hateful foe.

Canto VII

HAH, strange! ho, Satan!” such the sounds half-heard
The thick voice gobbled, the while the foul, inflamed,
Distended visage toward us turned, and cast
Invective from its bestial throat, that slurred
Articulate speech. But here the gentle sage,
Who knew beforehand that we faced, to me
Spake first, “Regard not; for a threat misaimed
Falls idle. Fear not to continue past.
His power to us, however else it be,
Is not to hinder.” Then, that bulk inflate
Confronting, – “Peace, thou greed! thy lusting rage
Consume thee inward! Not thy word we wait
The path to open. It is willed on high, –
There, where the Angel of the Sword ye know
Took ruin upon the proud adultery
Of him thou callest as thy prince.”
Thereat
As sails, wind-rounded, when the mast gives way,
Sink tangled to the deck, deflated so
Collapsed that bulk that heard him, shrunk and flat;
And we went downward till before us lay
The fourth sad circle. Ah! what woes contain,
Justice of God! what woes those narrowing deeps
Contain; for all the universe down-heaps
In this pressed space its continent of pain,
So voiding all that mars its peace. But why
This guilt that so degrades us?
As the surge
Above Charybdis meets contending surge,
Breaks and is broken, and rages and recoils
For ever, so here the sinners. More numerous
Than in the circles past are these. They urge
Huge weights before them. On, with straining breasts,
They roll them, howling in their ceaseless toils.
And those that to the further side belong
l)o likewise, meeting in the midst, and thus
Crash vainly, and recoil, reverse, and cry,
“Why dost thou hold?” “Why dost thou loose?”
No rest
Their doom permits them. Backward course they bend;
Continual crescents trace, at either end
Meeting again in fresh rebound, and high
Above their travail reproachful howlings rise
Incessant at those who thwart their round.
And I,
Who felt my heart stung through with anguish, said,
“O Master, show me who these peoples be,
And if those tonsured shades that left we see
Held priestly office ere they joined the dead.”

He answered, “These, who with such squinting eyes
Regarded God’s providing, that they spent
In waste immoderate, indicate their guilt
In those loud barkings that ye hear. They spilt
Their wealth distemperate; and those they meet
Who cry ‘Why loose ye?’ avarice ruled: they bent
Their minds on earth to seize and hoard. Of these
Hairless, are priests, and popes, and cardinals,
For greed makes empire in such hearts complete.”

And I, “Among them that these vices eat
Are none that I have known on earth before?”

He answered, “Vainly wouldst thou seek; a life
So blind to bounties has obscured too far
The souls once theirs, for that which once they wore
Of mortal likeness in their shades to show.
Waste was their choice, and this abortive strife
And toil unmeaning is the end they are
They butt for ever, until the last award
Shall call them from their graves. Ill-holding those
Ill-loosing these, alike have doomed to know
This darkness, and the fairer world forgo.
Behold what mockery doth their fate afford!
It needs no fineness of spun words to tell.
For this they did their subtle wits oppose,
Contending for the gifts that Fortune straws
So blindly, – for this blind contending hell.

“Beneath the moon there is not gold so great
In worth, it could one moment’s grief abate,
Or rest one only of these weary souls.”

“Master, this Fortune that ye speak, whose claws
Grasp all desirable things of earth,” I said,
“What is she?”
“O betrayed in foolishness I
Blindness of creatures born of earth, whose goals
Are folly and loss!” he answered, “I would make
Thy mouth an opening for this truth I show.

“Transcendent Wisdom, when the spheres He built
Gave each a guide to rule it: more nor less
Their light distributes. For the earth he gave
Like guide to rule its splendours. As we know
The heavenly lights move round us, and is spilt
Light here, and darkness yonder, so doth she
From man to man, from race and kindred take
Alternate wealth, or yield it. None may save
The spoil that she depriveth: none may flee
The bounty that she wills. No human wits
May hinder, nor may human lore reject
Her choice, that like a hidden snake is set
To reach the feet unheeding. Where she sits
In judgment, she resolves, and whom she wills
Is havened, chased by petulant storms, or wreck ‘
Remedeless. Races cease, and men forget
They were. Slaves rise to rule their lords. She
And empties, godlike in her mood. No pause
Her changes leave, so many are those who call
About her gates, so many she dowers, and all
Revile her after, and would crucify
If words could reach her, but she heeds nor hears,
Who dwells beyond the noise of human laws
In the blest silence of the Primal Spheres.

- But let us to the greater woes descend.
The stars from their meridian fall, that rose
When first these hells we entered. Long to stay
Our right of path allows not.”
While he spake
We crossed the circle to the bank beyond,
And found a hot spring boiling, and a way,
Dark, narrow, and steep, that down beside it goes,
By which we clambered. Purple-black the pond
Beneath it, widening to a marsh that spreads
Far out, and struggling in that slime malign
Were muddied shades, that not with hands, heads,
And teeth and feet besides, contending tore,
And maimed each other in beast-like rage.
My guide
Expounded, “Those whom anger overbore
On earth, behold ye. Mark the further sign
Of bubbles countless on the slime that show.
These from the sobs of those immersed arise;
For buried in the choking filth they cry,
We once were sullen in the rain-sweet air,
When waked the light, and all the earth was fair,
How sullen in the murky swamp we lie
Forbidden from the blessed light on high.
This song they gurgle in their throats, that so
The bubbles rising from the depths below
Break all the surface of the slime.”
Between
The high bank and the putrid swamp was seen
A narrow path, and this, a sweeping arc,
We traversed; outward o’er the surface dark
Still gazing, at the choking shades who took
That diet for their wrath. Till livelier look
Was forward drawn, for where at last we came
A great tower fronted, and a beacon’s flame.

Canto VIII

I SAY, while yet from that tower’s base afar,
We saw two flames of sudden signal rise,
And further, like a small and distant star,
A beacon answered.
“What before us lies?
Who signals our approach, and who replies?”
I asked, and answered he who all things knew,
“Already, if the swamp’s dank fumes permit,
The outcome of their beacon shows in view,
Severing the liquid filth.”
No shaft can slit
Impalpable air, from any corded bow,
As came that craft towards us, cleaving so,
And with incredible speed, the miry wave.
To where we paused its meteor course it clave,
A steersman rising in the stern, who cried,
“Behold thy doom, lost spirit!” To whom my guide,
“Nay, Phlegyas, Phlegyas, here thy cries are
We need thine aid the further shore to gain;
But power thou hast not.”
One amazed to meet
With most unlooked and undeserved deceit
So rages inly; yet no dared reply
There came, as down my Leader stept, and I
Deepened the skiff with earthly weight undue,
Which while we seated swung its bows anew
Outward, and onward once again it flew,
Labouring more deep than wont, and slowlier now,
So burdened.
While that kennel of filth we clave,
There rose among the bubbles a mud-soaked head.
“Who art thou, here before thy time?” it said,
And answer to the unfeatured mask I gave,
“I come, but stay not. Who art thou, so blind
And blackened from the likeness of thy kind?”

“I have no name, but only tears,” said he.

I answered, “Nay, however caked thou be,
I know thee through the muddied drench. For thee
Be weeping ever, accursed spirit.”
At that,
He reached his hands to grasp the boat, whereat
My watchful Master thrust him down, and cried,
“Away, among the dogs, thy fellows!” and then
To me with approbation, “Blest art thou,
Who wouldst not pity in thy heart allow
For these, in arrogance of empty pride
Who lived so vainly. In the minds of men
Is no good thing of this one left to tell,
And hence his rage. How many above that dwell,
Now kinglike in their ways, at last shall lie
Wallowing in these wide marshes, swine in sty,
With all men’s scorn to chase them down.”
And I,
“Master, it were a seemly thing to see
This boaster trampled in the putrid sea,
Who dared approach us, knowing of all we know.”

He answered, “Well thy wish, and surely so
It shall be, e’er the distant shore we view.”
And I looked outward through the gloom, and lo!
The envious eaters of that dirt combined
Against him, leapt upon him, before, behind,
Dragged in their fury, and rent, and tore him through,
Screaming derisive, “Philip! whose horse-hooves shine
With silver,” and the rageful Florentine
Turned on himself his gnashing teeth and tore.

But he deserveth, and I speak, no more.

Now, as we neared the further beach, I heard
The lamentable and unceasing wail
By which the air of all the hells is stirred
Increasing ever, which caused mine eyes unveil
Their keenest vision to search what came, and he
Who marked, indulgent, told. “Ahead we see
The city of Dis, with all its dolorous crew,
Numerous, and burdened with reliefless pain,
And guilt intolerable to think.”
I said,
“Master, already through the night I view
The mosques of that sad city, that fiery red
As heated metal extend, and crowd the plain.”
He answered, “These the eternal fire contain,
That pulsing through them sets their domes aglow.”
At this we came those joyless walls below,
- Of iron I thought them, – with a circling moat;
But saw no entrance, and the burdened boat
Traced the deep fosse for half its girth, before
The steersman warned us. “Get ye forth. The shore
Is here, – and there the Entrance.”
There, indeed,
The entrance. On the barred and burning gate
I gazed; a thousand of the fiends that rained
From Heaven, to fill that place disconsolate,
Looked downward, and derided. “Who,” they said,
“Before his time comes hither? As though the dead
Arrive too slowly for the joys they would,”
And laughter rocked along their walls. My guide
Their mockery with an equal mien withstood,
Signalling their leaders he would speak aside,
And somewhat closing their contempt they cried,
“Then come thou hither, and let him backward go,
Who came so rashly. Let him find his way
Through the five hells ye traversed, the best he may.
He can but try it awhile! – But thou shalt stay,
And learn the welcome of these halls of woe.”

Ye well may think how I, discomforted
By these accursed words, was moved. The dead,
Nay, nor the living were ever placed as I,
If this fiends’ counsel triumphed. And who should try
That backward path unaided?
“Lord,” I said,
“Loved Master, who hast shared my steps so far,
And rescued ever, if these our path would bar,
Then lead me backward in most haste, nor let
Their malice part us.”
He with cheerful mien,
Gave answer. “Heed not that they boast. Forget
The fear thou showest, and in good heart abide,
While I go forward. Not these fiends obscene
Shall thwart the mandate that the Power supplied
By which we came, nor any force to do
The things they threaten is theirs; nor think that I
Should leave thee helpless here.”
The gentle Sage
At this went forward. Feared I? Half I knew
Despair, and half contentment. Yes and no
Denied each other; and of so great a woe
Small doubt is anguish.
In their orgulous rage
The fiends out-crowded from the gates to meet
My Master; what he spake I could not hear;
But nothing his words availed to cool their heat,
For inward thronged they with a jostling rear
That clanged the gates before he reached, and he
Turned backward slowly, muttering, “Who to me
Denies the woeful houses?” This he said
Sighing, with downcast aspect and disturbed
Beyond concealment; yet some length he curbed
His anxious thought to cheer me. “Doubt ye nought
Of power to hurt in these fiends insolent;
For once the wider gate on which ye read
The words of doom, with greater pride, they sought
To close against the Highest. Already is bent
A great One hereward, whose unhindered way
Descends the steeps unaided. He shall say
Such words as must the trembling hells obey.”

Canto IX

I THINK the paleness of the fear I showed
When he, rejected from that conference,
Rejoined me, caused him speak more confident
Than felt he inly. For the glance he sent
Through the dense darkness of the backward road
Denied the valour of his words’ pretence;
And pausing there with anxious listening mien,
While came no sound, nor any help was seen,
He muttered, “Yet we must this conflict win,
For else – But whom her aid has pledged herein –
How long before he cometh!” And plain I knew
His words turned sideward from the ending due
They first portended. Faster beat my fear,
Methinks, than had he framed in words more clear
The meaning that his care withheld.
I said,
“Do others of the hopeless, sinless, dead,
Who with thee in the outmost circle dwell,
Come ever downward to the narrowing hell
That now we traverse?”
“Once Erichtho fell,”
He answered, “conjured to such end that I,
- Who then short time had passed to those who die, –
Came here, controlled by her discerning spell,
And entered through these hostile gates, and drew
A spirit from the darkest, deepest pit,
The place of Judas named, that centres Hell.
The path I learnt, and all its dangers well.
Content thine heart. This foul-stretched marsh surrounds
The dolorous city to its furthest bounds.
Without, the dense mirk, and the bubbling mire:
Within, the white-hot pulse of eating fire,
Whence this fiend-anger thwarts. . .,” and more he said,
To save me doubtless from my thoughts, but I
Heeded no more, for by the beacons red
That on the lofty tower before us glowed,
Three bloodstained and infernal furies showed,
Erect, of female form in guise and limb,
But clothed in coils of hydras green and grim;
And with cerastes bound was every head,
And for its crown of hair was serpented;
And he, who followed my diverted gaze,
The handmaids of the Queen of Woeful Days
Well knowing, told me, “These the Furies three.
Megæra leftward: on the right is she
Alecto, wailing: and Tisiphone
Midmost.”
These hateful, in their need of prey,
Tore their own breasts with bloodied claws, and when
They saw me, from the living world of men,
Beneath them standing, with one purpose they
Cried, and so loudly that I shrank for fear,
“Medusa! let her from her place appear,
To change him into stone! Our first default
That venged no wrath on Theseus’ deep assault,
So brings him.”
“Turn thou from their sight,” my guide
Enjoined, nor wholly on my fear relied,
But placed his hands across mine eyes the while
He told me further “Risk no glance. The sight
Of Gorgon, if she cometh, would bring thee night
From which were no returning.”
Ye that read
With wisdom to discern, ye well may heed
The hidden meaning of the truth that lies
Beneath the shadow-words of mysteries
That here I show ye.
While I turned away,
Across the blackness of the putrid bay,
There crashed a thunder of most fearful sound,
At which the opposing shores, from bound to bound,
Trembled.
As when an entering tempest rends
The brooding heat, and nought its course can stay,
That through the forest its dividing way
Tears open, and tramples down, and strips, and bends,
And levels. The wild things in the woods that be
Cower down. The herdsmen from its trumpets flee.
With clouds of dust to trace its course it goes,
Superb, and leaving ruin. Such sound arose.
And he that held me loosened mine eyes, and said,
“Look back, and see what foam the black waves bear.”

As frogs, the while the serpent picks his prey,
In panic scatter through the stream, and there
Flatten themselves upon its bouldered bed,
I saw a thousand ruined spirits that fled
Before the coming of One who held his way
Dry-shod across the water.
His left hand
He waved before him, and the stagnant air
Retreated. Simple it were to understand
A Messenger of Heaven he came. My guide
Signed me to silence, and to reverence due,
While to one stroke of his indignant wand
The gate swung open. “Outcast spawn!” he cried,
His voice heard vibrant through the aperture grim,
“Why spurn ye at the Will that, once defied,
Here cast ye grovelling? Have ye felt from Him
Aught ever for fresh revolt but harder pains?
Has Cerberus’ throat, skinned with the threefold chains,
No meaning? Why, to fate most impotent,
Contend ye vainly?”
Then he turned and went,
Nor one glance gave us, but he seemed as one
Whom larger issue than the instant done
Engages wholly.
By that Power compelled,
The gates stood open, and our course we held
Unhindered. As the threshold dread we crossed,
My eager glances swept the scene to know,
In those doomed walls imprisoned, how lived the lost.

On either hand a wide plain stretched, to show
A sight of torment, and most dismal woe.

At Arles, where the stagnant Rhone extends,
Or Pola, where the gulf Quarnero bends,
As with old tombs the plains are ridged, so here,
All sides, did rows of countless tombs appear,
But in more bitter a guise, for everywhere
Shone flames, that moved among them.
Every tomb
Stood open, white with heat. No craft requires
More heated metal than the crawling fires
Made hot the sides of those sad sepulchres;
And cries of torture and most dire despair
Came from them, as the spirits wailed their doom.

I said, “Who are they, in these chests that lie
Confined, and join in this lamenting cry?”

My Master answered, “These in life denied
The faith that saves, and that resisting pride
Here brought them. With their followers, like to like,
Assorted are they, and the keen flames strike
With differing anguish, to the same degree
They reached in their rebellion.”
While he spake
Rightward he turned, a narrow path to take
Between them and that high-walled boundary.

Canto X

FIRST went my Master, for the space was small
Between the torments and the lofty wall,
And I behind him.
“O controlling Will,”
I spake, “who leadest through such hates, and still
Prevailest for me, wilt thou speak, that who
Within these tombs are held mine eyes may see?
For lifted are they, and unwatched.”
And he, –
“The lids stand open till the time arrive
When to the valley of Jehoshaphat
They each must wend, and earthly flesh resume,
And back returning, as the swarming hive,
From condemnation, each the doleful tomb
Re-enter wailing, and the lids thereat
Be bolted. Here in fitting torment lie
The Epicurean horde, who dared deny
That soul outlasts its mortal home. Is here
Their leader, and his followers round him. Soon
Shall all thy wish be granted, – and the boon
Ye hold in secret.”
“Kind my guide,” I said,
“I was not silent to conceal, but thou
Didst teach, when in thy written words I read,
That in brief speech is wisdom.”
Here a voice
Behind me, “Tuscan, who canst walk at choice
Untouched amidst the torments, wilt thou stay?
For surely native of the noble land
Where once I held my too-audacious way,
Discreet of speech, thou comest.”
The sudden cry
So close behind me from the chests that came,
First drove me closer to my guide, but he, –
“What dost thou? Turn thee!” – and a kindly hand
Impelled me, fearful, where the crawling flame
Was all around me, – “Lift thine eyes and see,
For there is Farinata. Be thou short
In speech, for time is failing.”
Scorn of hell
Was in the eyes that met me. Hard he wrought
To raise himself, till girdle-deep I knew
The greatest of the fierce Uberti crew,
Who asked me, with contempt near-waiting, “Tell
Of whom thou art descended?”
I replied,
Concealing nothing. With lifted brows he eyed
My face in silence some brief while, and then, –
“Foes were they ever to my part, and me.
It yet must linger in the minds of men
How twice I broke them.”
“Twice ye learned them flee,”
- I answered boldly, – “but they twice returned;
And others fled more late who have not learned
The mode of that returning.”
Here a shade
Arose beside him, only to the chin
Revealed: I think it knelt. Beyond and round
It rather looked than at me. Nought it found.
Thereat it wept, and asked me, “Ye that go
Unhindered through these homes of gateless woe, –
Is my son with thee? Hast thou nought to tell?”

I answered, “Single through the gates of hell
I had no power to enter. Near my guide
Awaits me yonder. – Whom in foolish pride,
Thy Guido held so lightly.”
At the word
He leapt erect from out the tomb, and cried,
“How saidst thou? Held? Already he hath not died?
Doth not the sweet light meet him? The clear air
Breathes he not yet?”
The imploring cries I heard
But checked awhile to answer, and in despair
He fell flat forward, and was seen no more.
But he, magnanimous, who first delayed
My steps, had heeded nought, nor turned his head,
And now continued that he spake before.
“If with the coin ye forged they have not paid,
It more torments me than this flaming bed.
Yet thou thyself, before the Queen of Night
Shall fifty times revoke and raise her light,
Shalt learn the hardship of that art. But tell,
As thou wouldst feel the cool winds’ pinions beat
Once more upon thee, and the sweet light fall
Around the feet of morning, for this heat
And fetid air we writhe in, why were all
Those exiles pardoned by thy laws, to dwell
In their dear homes once more, and only mine,
My kindred, find no mercy?”
I to him, –
“The rout and chase that dyed the Arbia red
To thy descendants dealt this bitter bread;
The memory of that slaughter doth not dim,
But leaves thee to our prayers a name of hate
In all our churches.”
Here he sighed, and said,
“I was not single in that strife, nor lacked
Good cause to strike; but when your remnant fled,
And Florence, naked to her foes elate,
Cowered, waiting, all with one consent agreed
To tread her out to dust, and extirpate
All life within her, I, and only I,
Stood out against it, and refused the deed,
And with my swords I saved them. Is this thing
Less memoried than my wrath?”
I answered, “Yea:
But what I can I will, and that thy seed
Have rest at my returning, solve, I pray,
A doubt that disconcerts me. Ye that dwell
In these abodes beneath us, each foretell
- Or so ye claim – what distant times shall bring,
Yet plead for knowledge of the passing day, –
Or mock me, asking that yourselves could say.”

He answered, “As in age a man may see
Far off, while nearer sights are blurred, so we
See clearly times long passed, and times to be.
Foresight is ours, and long remembering,
In each an anguish, while the anxious mind
Is void to all around it, foiled and blind
Where most it longs for knowledge. Nought we know
Thine earthly present, save as here below
One after one descending bears his tale;
And therefore, when the wings of Time shall fail,
And sealed in these accursed tombs we lie,
All knowledge from our vacant minds shall die,
As well ye may perceive it.”
Here I said,
Compunctious for a fault now seen, “Wilt tell
That other, fallen, that I did not well
Withholding answer? Guido is not dead.
My silence from the earlier doubt was bred,
From which thou hast resolved me.”
Now my guide
Was calling, and in greater haste I said,
“Thy comrades in thy grief I charge thee tell,
Ere I go from thee.”
Shortly he replied,
“The second Frederick, and the Cardinal,
Are with me, and a thousand more beside
Of whom I speak not.”
With the word he fell;
And I went onward, turning in my thought
The hostile presage of his words that taught
Mine own near exile, till my guide at last
Questioned, “What cloud thine eyes hath overcast?
What thought hath wildered all thy mind?” and I
Answered, and told.
He said, “The things thou hear’st
That threat thee, hold them in thy memory well.
Yet know that soon, beneath a fairer sky,
When she, whose sight hath no blank space, shall tell
What cometh, then shalt thou read, ungapped and clear,
The journey of thy life.”
The while he spake
He turned him leftward from the wall, to take
A path that to the midmost vale declined,
A fetid rising odour first to find.