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.
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. &Aelig;neas 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 &Aelig;neas, 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 BeatricÐ»." 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.
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.
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 &Aelig;neas there; and CÐ¶sar 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 PtolemÐ¶us; Avicenna, Galen, Hippocrates; AverrhoÐ»s, 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.
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 SichÐ¶us, 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.
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.
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.
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."
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. MegÐ¶ra 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.
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?"