Ah! how hard it is to speak of it!
What a dreary place, so dense and forbidding!
The very remembrance renews my fear.
So bitter is the thought, death itself is not more fearsome.
But to disclose the good I found thereafter,
I will tell of all that happened to me.
I can scarcely say how I entered therein,
So dull and listless was I at that moment
When I had abandoned the path of truth.
But upon reaching the foot of a mountain,
At that point where ended the valley
Which had so dreadfully wounded my heart,
I looked up and beheld its high peaks,
Crested already with that planet's rays
Which lead others safely on their way.
Then was that fear a little quieted
Which had troubled my heart's inner recesses
Throughout the night that had passed so sorrowfully.
And as one who with gasping breath,
Exhausted, escapes the sea onto the shore,
Then turns again and surveys the perilous waters,
Even so my soul, that still was struggling upward,
Turned itself back to behold the straits
Which never yet had one passed and lived.
And then, after my weary body had rested,
I resumed the climb up that desolate slope,
My lower foot always anchored on solid rock.
And suddenly, having barely begun my ascent,
Appeared a Panther, swift and nimble,
Covered over with a spotted skin!
She moved not at all from before my view,
Nay, rather did much to impede my way,
That I almost would return whence I had come.
But it was yet early morning,
When the Sun is ascending with those stars
That accompanied him in that hour when Love Divine
At first set those fair things in motion;
So did it appear to me an omen of good hope:
The many-colored skin of that nimble beast,
The sun's joyous arising, and the pleasant morn.
But my joy was lost, and my fears renewed
When suddenly a Lion burst into view before me!
Against me he came, ferociously charging,
With his head held high, and with such ravenous hunger,
That the air itself shook with fear of him;
And after him came a She-wolf, lean and ferocious,
Seeking whom she might devour,
As she had done so often before now.
She brought upon me such distress,
With the fear her rapacious mien gave,
That I lost all hope of scaling the height.
Then as one who, elated with hope,
Sees the time come that causes him to despair,
And mourns as his heart becomes despondent,
Even so was my peace destroyed by that beast,
Which, creeping slowly upon me,
Forced me back where the sun is no longer seen.
As I warily backed downward to that low valley,
Before my eyes appeared the form of one
Whose voice seemed weak from long disuse.
When I beheld him in that desert waste,
"Have mercy on me," I cried out to him,
"Whatever you be, either spirit or living man!"
Said he: "Not man, though once I was,
For both my parents were of Lombardy,
And by country, Mantuans were they also.
In the day when Julius held power was I born,
And lived in Rome under the great Augustus,
In that time of false and deceitful gods.
A poet was I, and sang of that just
Son of Anchises, who came up from Troy,
After Ilium's high towers were set ablaze.
But you, why go you back to such desolation?
Why climb you not this pleasant mountain,
Which is the source of all happiness?"
"Then are you Virgil, that very same well-spring
That issued so freely a river of eloquence?"
Said I to him in my astonishment.
"Most honored and brilliant of all poets!
Long study and great love have profited me,
And have inspired me to explore all your works.
You are my master, and my teacher too;
It was you alone from whom I took
That beautiful style which brought fame unto me.
See yonder beast, before whom I fled?
Save me from her, O worthy Sage!
For she makes my heart and limbs to tremble."
"You must needs discover another way,"
Said he when he saw my great distress,
"If you would escape from this vile wilderness;
Because this beast, which makes you cry out thus,
Suffers none to pass before her dwelling,
But torments them till she destroys their soul;
Her nature is so evil and fouly accursed,
That never will her lust be filled,
And after each feast she only craves for more.
Many the creature has she grasped in her embrace,
And more shall there be till that swift hound
Comes, who shall destroy her with a wretched agony.
He shall not enrich himself with land or wealth,
But with wisdom, and love and virtue true;
Between the two Feltros shall his nation lie;
He shall be the saviour of lowly Italy,
For whom died the virgin Camilla fair,
And Euryalus, Turnus, and Nisus, of their wounds;
Through every city shall he hunt the beast down,
Until he has driven her back to Hell,
Where envy first did turn her loose.
But it seems to me it shall be best for you
To follow me, and let me be your guide,
To lead you through that eternal place,
Where you shall hear the despairing groans,
And see the spirits of old tormented,
Who each beg for the second death;
And then you'll see the contented ones
Who wait in fire, with a hope to enter,
When it may hap, among the blessed;
But if you wish to see the highest realm,
A spirit much worthier than I must lead;
And I'll depart, and trust you with her;
For the Most High King, who reigns over all,
Since I had been a rebel to his law,
Has decreed that by me none shall enter His city.
For He governs that realm, and rules supreme;
It is His city wherein resides His throne;
Happy are those He has chosen to live there!"
Then said I to him: "Noble Poet, I pray,
By Almighty God whom you never knew,
That I may escape this desolate place;
Do lead me to that realm whereof you speak,
That I may see Saint Peter's Gate,
And those you say know such misery sore."
Then did he move on, as I followed his steps.
|Introduction||Table of Contents||Canto II|
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Copyright © 2000 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.