Readied myself to begin that struggle,
With both the journey and also the suffering,
Which my unfailing memory shall retrace.
O you Muses of the faculties, help me now!
O memory, that has recorded what I saw,
Demonstrate the abilities that you possess!
And so I began: "Noble Poet, my guide,
Judge my merit, if it be sufficient,
For the exalted task you trust to me.
You have said that the father of Silvius,
While in flesh corruptible, into that world
Of the immortals entered in his own body.
Now if the Lord, great foe of evil,
Showed him favor, considering the result
Which proceeded from him, as to who and what,
As men of reason might discern;
For from him came great Rome and its empire,
And he the chosen father thereof by Heaven;
Both of which, to speak the truth,
Were ordained to be the holy place,
Where sits the successor of great Peter.
He on this journey, which your song extolled,
Learned many things which brought about
His victory and the papal mantle.
And later came that Chosen Vessel,
To bring us assurance of the Faith,
And entrance to salvation's way.
But why then I? Who does allow it?
I am not Aeneas, nor am I Paul.
Neither I, nor others would think me worthy.
If I should venture on this journey,
I fear it may end unhappily.
But you are wise, and know whereof I speak."
And as one who repents of what he'd willed,
And with new intents reverses course,
So that from his plan he then withdraws,
Even so was I on that dark slope,
Losing my desire for the enterprise,
Which I so eagerly had commenced.
"If I have rightly grasped your words,"
Replied that brave and noble soul,
"Your spirit is with fear beset,
Which oft so overcomes a man,
It turns him back from a worthy resolve,
Like a beast afrightened by a twilight shadow.
That you may be free from this apprehension,
I'll reveal why I came, and what I heard
When first my pity was aroused for you.
I was amongst those who in limbo wait,
When a Lady fair and saintly called to me
In such a way, I acceded to her wish.
Her eyes where brighter than the light of Heaven;
And softly she with gentle voice,
Spoke as an angel, and said to me:
'O gracious spirit of Mantua,
You whose fame still lives amongst men,
And shall endure as long as the earth;
A friend of mine, though not of fortune,
On a desert slope is so obstructed,
From dread he has turned from on his way.
And may, I fear, now be so lost,
That I too late have risen to help,
After what in Heaven I heard of him.
Arise now, and with your eloquent speech,
And by other means win his release.
Assist him that I may be at peace.
I am Beatrice who bids you attend this task;
I come from a place, where I'd fain return;
It was love that led me and compels me to speak.
When I return to the presence of my Lord,
I will speak well of you before his face.'
Then was she silent, and I began:
'O gracious Lady, through you alone
Mankind excels all virtue contained
Within the highest circle of heaven,
So happily would I fulfill your request,
Were it already done, it would seem too late;
You need ask no further of your wish.
But tell me the reason you do not abhor
To descend down into these depths below,
From that high place for which you yearn.'
'Since you would know my inner thoughts,
I'll briefly explain,' said she to me,
'Why I fear not to enter this place.
Only of that should one be afraid
Which has the power of breeding evil;
Fear not the rest, for they are harmless.
By God's great grace, I'm so protected,
That sight of your misery afflicts me not,
Nor can the burning fire discomfort me.
Our Blessed Lady in Heaven is distressed
For him to whom I send your aid,
And God's harsh judgment is thereby moved.
In her concern she spoke to Lucia,
"Your faithful servant now needs your help,
And him I commit unto your care."
Then Lucia, that foe of all cruelty,
Hastened to that place where I abode,
Seated with Rachel of olden days.
"Beatrice," spoke she, "May God be praised!
Why watch you not him who loved you so,
And for your sake spurned the vulgar crowd?
Do you not hear his distressful cry?
See you not the death-struggle that engages him
Within that flood, where ocean has no equal?"
Never were persons in the world
So quick to gain and to guard against loss,
As I, when words like these were spoken,
And hastened down here from my blessed abode,
Trusting the force of your eloquent discourse,
Which brings you honor, and all who hear it.'
After thus tearfully speaking to me,
With bright shining eyes she turned away;
Which redoubled my intent to come to your aid.
And so I came, as she has wished,
and delivered you from that savage beast,
Which barred the pleasant mountain's ascent.
What then has possessed you? Why? Why delay?
Why is your heart so seized with fear?
Where has your daring and courage gone?
Since three such Ladies have sought your rescue,
Who watch over you in the court of Heaven,
And I have promised to guide you safely?"
Then as flowers, bowed down by nightime chill,
Arise when light has emblazened their leaves
And blossom forth upon their stems;
So was my exhausted strength renewed,
And courage filled my heart with hope,
That I undauntedly replied:
"O she whose compassion has succoured me,
And you who kindly heeded from her
The words of truth she addressed to you!
Thus does your speech so fill my heart
With renewed desire to begin this voyage,
That my first intent I again embrace.
Therefore lead: one will shall direct us both,
My guide, my Lord and Master are you."
So I declared, and as he set out,
I followed into that dark and brutish path.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.