Translations: Dante - Inferno, Canto XXVI by Alan Seeger
Florence, rejoice! For thou o'er land and sea So spread'st thy pinions that the fame of thee Hath reached no less into the depths of Hell. So noble were the five I found to dwell Therein -- thy sons -- whence shame accrues to me And no great praise is thine; but if it be That truth unveil in dreamings before dawn, Then is the vengeful hour not far withdrawn When Prato shall exult within her walls To see thy suffering. Whate'er befalls, Let it come soon, since come it must, for later, Each year would see my grief for thee the greater.
We left; and once more up the craggy side By the blind steps of our descent, my guide, Remounting, drew me on. So we pursued The rugged path through that steep solitude, Where rocks and splintered fragments strewed the land So thick, that foot availed not without hand. Grief filled me then, and still great sorrow stirs My heart as oft as memory recurs To what I saw; that more and more I rein My natural powers, and curb them lest they strain Where Virtue guide not, -- that if some good star, Or better thing, have made them what they are, That good I may not grudge, nor turn to ill.
As when, reclining on some verdant hill -- What season the hot sun least veils his power That lightens all, and in that gloaming hour The fly resigns to the shrill gnat -- even then, As rustic, looking down, sees, o'er the glen, Vineyard, or tilth where lies his husbandry, Fireflies innumerable sparkle: so to me, Come where its mighty depth unfolded, straight With flames no fewer seemed to scintillate The shades of the eighth pit. And as to him Whose wrongs the bears avenged, dim and more dim Elijah's chariot seemed, when to the skies Uprose the heavenly steeds; and still his eyes Strained, following them, till naught remained in view But flame, like a thin cloud against the blue: So here, the melancholy gulf within, Wandered these flames, concealing each its sin, Yet each, a fiery integument, Wrapped round a sinner.
On the bridge intent, Gazing I stood, and grasped its flinty side, Or else, unpushed, had fallen. And my guide, Observing me so moved, spake, saying: "Behold Where swathed each in his unconsuming fold, The spirits lie confined." Whom answering, "Master," I said, "thy words assurance bring To that which I already had supposed; And I was fain to ask who lies enclosed In the embrace of that dividing fire, Which seems to curl above the fabled pyre, Where with his twin-born brother, fiercely hated, Eteocles was laid." He answered, "Mated In punishment as once in wrath they were, Ulysses there and Diomed incur The eternal pains; there groaning they deplore The ambush of the horse, which made the door For Rome's imperial seed to issue: there In anguish too they wail the fatal snare Whence dead Deidamia still must grieve, Reft of Achilles; likewise they receive Due penalty for the Palladium." "Master," I said, "if in that martyrdom The power of human speech may still be theirs, I pray -- and think it worth a thousand prayers -- That, till this horned flame be come more nigh, We may abide here; for thou seest that I With great desire incline to it." And he: "Thy prayer deserves great praise; which willingly I grant; but thou refrain from speaking; leave That task to me; for fully I conceive What thing thou wouldst, and it might fall perchance That these, being Greeks, would scorn thine utterance."
So when the flame had come where time and place Seemed not unfitting to my guide with grace To question, thus he spoke at my desire: "O ye that are two souls within one fire, If in your eyes some merit I have won -- Merit, or more or less -- for tribute done When in the world I framed my lofty verse: Move not; but fain were we that one rehearse By what strange fortunes to his death he came." The elder crescent of the antique flame Began to wave, as in the upper air A flame is tempest-tortured, here and there Tossing its angry height, and in its sound As human speech it suddenly had found, Rolled forth a voice of thunder, saying: "When, The twelvemonth past in Circe's halls, again I left Gaeta's strand (ere thither came Aeneas, and had given it that name) Not love of son, nor filial reverence, Nor that affection that might recompense The weary vigil of Penelope, Could so far quench the hot desire in me To prove more wonders of the teeming earth, -- Of human frailty and of manly worth. In one small bark, and with the faithful band That all awards had shared of Fortune's hand, I launched once more upon the open main. Both shores I visited as far as Spain, -- Sardinia, and Morocco, and what more The midland sea upon its bosom wore. The hour of our lives was growing late When we arrived before that narrow strait Where Hercules had set his bounds to show That there Man's foot shall pause, and further none shall go. Borne with the gale past Seville on the right, And on the left now swept by Ceuta's site, `Brothers,' I cried, `that into the far West Through perils numberless are now addressed, In this brief respite that our mortal sense Yet hath, shrink not from new experience; But sailing still against the setting sun, Seek we new worlds where Man has never won Before us. Ponder your proud destinies: Born were ye not like brutes for swinish ease, But virtue and high knowledge to pursue.' My comrades with such zeal did I imbue By these brief words, that scarcely could I then Have turned them from their purpose; so again We set out poop against the morning sky, And made our oars as wings wherewith to fly Into the Unknown. And ever from the right Our course deflecting, in the balmy night All southern stars we saw, and ours so low, That scarce above the sea-marge it might show. So five revolving periods the soft, Pale light had robbed of Cynthia, and as oft Replenished since our start, when far and dim Over the misty ocean's utmost rim, Rose a great mountain, that for very height Passed any I had seen. Boundless delight Filled us -- alas, and quickly turned to dole: For, springing from our scarce-discovered goal, A whirlwind struck the ship; in circles three It whirled us helpless in the eddying sea; High on the fourth the fragile stern uprose, The bow drove down, and, as Another chose, Over our heads we heard the surging billows close."