Justice compelled the Great Creator
To found this city by his holy Power,
On highest Wisdom and primeval Love.
Before this were no things created
Save things eternal, and eternal this shall be.
Abandon all hope, you who enter here!"
These words in darkened letters I saw
Inscribed on the arch above a gate;
Said I: "O Master! How dreadful this portent!"
He replied as one expecting my dismay,
"Here you must leave all distrust behind you,
Let all cowardice be here extinguished.
Now we have come to the place whereof I spoke,
And you shall see those wretched souls
Who have lost the benefit of rightful discernment."
And after he had placed his hand on mine
With an assuring glance, which gave me comfort,
He led me into this forbidding place.
Here were sighs, and moans, and clamorous wailings
That re-echoed against the starless sky,
Causing me to weep upon my entering.
Sounds of strange tongues, a cacophony of dialects,
With shouts of anger, and screams of agony,
Voices hoarse with shrieking, mixed with pounding fists,
Made such a turmoil that swirls on forever
Around and around in that blackened air,
Like the flying sand in a ceaseless whirlwind.
Said I, my head abuzz with horror,
"O Master, what is all this furor I hear?
Who are these people so oppressed by woe?"
Said he to me: "This miserable fate
Awaits the wretched souls of those
Who lived with neither praise nor blame.
Together joined with that cowardly choir
Of Angels, who were neither rebellious nor faithful
To God, but stood apart by themselves.
So Heaven, to remain unstained, expelled them;
But sent them not to the abyss of Hell,
Lest the damned find glory in their disgrace."
And I: "O Master, what grieves them so,
To make them cry out even so loud?"
He answered: "This I'll briefly explain.
These have no longer a hope of death;
Their life of blindness is so debased,
They envy every other fate.
The world contains no knowledge of them;
Compassion and Justice both scorn them all.
Speak not of them, but look and pass on."
I looked, and turned away to see
A banner whirling round so fast,
That never a rest did it seem to take;
And after it came so long a train
Of spirits, I never would have thought
That Death had swept so many away.
While watching them some I recognized,
I looked and saw the shade of one
Who cowardly yielded his responsible office.
Immediately I knew that these were those,
Of that vile tribe of miserable wretches,
Hateful to God and his enemies as well.
These knaves, who never fully lived,
Were naked and constantly were stung
By swarms of flying wasps and hornets,
Whose stings did cover their faces with blood,
And, mingled with tears, dropped to the ground,
Consumed by maggots at their feet.
And looking farther beyond these I saw
A mass of people on a great river's bank;
Whereupon I said: "O Master, permit me,
That I may know who these many are,
And what makes them prepare to embark.
I can hardly see in the dusky light."
Said he to me: "These things shall be known
To you, as soon as our steps arrive
Upon the dreadful shore of Acheron."
Then with downcast eyes, overcome with shame,
Fearing my words might annoying be,
I abstained from speech till we reached the river.
And lo! towards us coming in a boat
Was an old, old man, hoary white with age,
Crying: "Woe to you, you wicked souls!
Nevermore hope to see the sky again;
I come to carry you to the other shore,
To eternal darkness in heat and in ice.
And you that stand there, you living soul!
Get away from these people, which are of the dead!"
But when he saw I did not depart,
Said he: "By other means and passage
To that shore shall you go, but not by me;
A less burdened boat must carry you."
Then to him said my Guide: "Quiet your anger, Charon;
For so it is willed where there's power to do
Whatever is willed; so ask nothing more."
Thereupon was quieted those hairy cheeks
Of the ancient boatman on that ashen lake,
Who glared with eyes of flaming fire,
While all those souls, so wearied and naked,
Grew pale and gnashed their teeth together,
As soon as was heard those cruel words.
And they cursed God and both their parents,
Their race, the place, the time, the seed
That spawned their existence and caused their birth.
Then all together they began to gather,
Bitterly weeping, to that accursed shore,
Which waits for all who fear not God.
And demonic Charon, with eyes ablaze,
Beckons to all, and collects them together,
Smiting with his oar those that lag behind.
As in autumn, when the leaves begin to fall,
First one, then another, till the entire branch
To the earth has surrendered all its verdure;
Thus began the evil seed of Adam
To depart from that shore one after another,
Each at a signal, as a falcon to its call.
So departed they all on the blackened waves,
And before they land on the other side,
Another throng on this side assembles.
"My son," the gentle Master said,
"All those who perish in the wrath of God
Here gather together out of every land;
And they prepare to pass over the river,
For celestial Justice forces them on,
While fear is turned into desire.
Thus never a good soul passes this way;
And when Charon complains of you,
Now you will know what his speech imports."
This said, the gloomy region shook
With such a tremor that terror still grips
My heart and makes my brow to sweat.
That land of sorrow gave forth a blast,
With flashing lightning and vermilion fire,
Which shocked and overwhelmed my consciousness,
And as a man knocked senseless I fell.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.