And standing up, I turned around
With rested eyes to gaze about,
And see the place where I had come.
For certain it was that now I stood
On the brink of a most dreadful valley
Echoing with the thunder of countless wailings.
So deep and dark and shrouded with clouds,
In vain I tried to see the bottom,
But nothing therein could I discern.
"And now into this world of darkness
We shall descend," said the ashen Poet.
"I'll go first, and you shall follow."
And I, perceiving his lurid countenance,
Said: "How shall I follow, if you are afraid,
Who have been a comfort to me in my fears?"
Said he to me: "The anguish of those
Who are below reflects on my face
As pity, which you have taken for fear.
Let us proceed. Our long journey beckons."
Thus he went in, and led me to enter
The topmost circle that surrounds the abyss.
And there, as best my ears could tell,
No shrieks were heard, but only sighs,
Which made the eternal air to shudder,
Not caused by torment but by the sorrow,
That was felt by this vast multitude
Of men and women and children, too.
Then said my Guide: "You do not ask
What spirits are these, that you can see.
I wish you to know, before you go farther,
These did not sin; but whatever their merit,
It was not enough; for they lacked baptism
Which is the portal of your Faith;
Since they had lived before the Gospel,
They served not God in the rightful manner;
And I myself belong with these.
For such defects, and not other evil,
We are lost; our only punishment is,
We live with longing, but without hope."
Then sorrow seized my heart, hearing this,
For I knew that many persons of great worth
Were held forever within that Limbo.
"Tell me, my Lord, O tell me, Master,"
For thus I began, with a wish to be strong
In that holy Faith that conquers all error,
"Has ever a soul left here by his merit,
Or that of another, who was blessed thereafter?"
And grasping the purpose of my question, he said,
"I was a newcomer in this state,
When amongst us came a Mighty One,
And beheld Him crowned with victory.
From here he drew forth our First Parent's shade,
And Abel, his son, and righteous Noah,
And faithful Moses, the giver of laws,
The patriarch Abraham, and David the king,
And Israel with his father and all his sons,
And Rachel, for whom he labored to marry,
And a host of others, whom he brought to Heaven;
And you should know, that earlier than these
Were none of human kind that were saved."
And while he spoke, we ceased not to advance,
But continued our path, moving on through this forest,
For I call it a forest, overgrown with ghosts.
We had not travelled far this side of the summit
When I saw the flame of a burning fire
That shined above this region of darkness.
We had yet a little distance to go,
But not so far that I could not perceive
An honorable people who dwelt in this place.
"O you who values every art and science,
Who might these be, that attain such honor,
Which makes them separate from all the rest?"
He answered thus: "The renown of these,
That echoes throughout your world above,
Finds favor in Heaven, and thus they're revered."
Meanwhile I heard a voice that said:
"Give honor unto the noble Poet;
His shade that departed returns again."
And after the voice had ceased to speak,
I saw four mighty spirits approach;
Who appeared neither sorrowful nor were they glad.
Whereupon my kindly Master said:
"Note him who bears the sword in hand,
Who precedes the three as though their lord.
For that is Homer, the sovereign Poet;
And next is Horace, who excelled in satire;
The third is Ovid, and last is Lucan.
Because each one of these deserves
The title that voice for me proclaimed,
They come with honor, and in that do well."
Thus I beheld this great assemblage
Of lords who sing transcendent song,
Who like the eagles soar over others.
When they had spoken a while together,
They turned and beckoned unto me,
And seeing this, my Master smiled;
And yet more honor on me they bestowed,
By making me one of their band;
Then I became sixth of that learned choir.
Thus we walked on as far as the flame,
Speaking of things that were then well spoken,
But better comitted to silence thereafter.
We came upon a magnificent castle,
Seven times surrounded by lofty walls,
Protected by a lovely moat;
We passed over this as though dry land;
Then through seven gates I entered with these Sages;
And came upon a verdant meadow.
Here lived a race with somber eyes,
Whose ponderous movements evinced great authority;
They spoke but little, with a gentle voice.
We withdrew ourselves off to one side
Into a place both bright and lofty,
Where each of these people were easily seen.
And opposite there on the grassy carpet,
Were shown to me such mighty spirits,
At the sight of whom I felt exalted.
I saw Electra with her many companions,
And recognized both Hector and Aeneas,
Hawk-eyed Caesar was there in full armour;
And there, too, Camilla and Penthesilea
On the other side, was old King Latinus
Seated with his daughter Lavinia;
And there was Brutus, who drove out Tarquin,
Lucretia, and Julia, and Marcia, and Cornelia,
And apart and alone was brave Saladin.
When I had lifted up my eyes a little,
I spied the Master of all the thinkers,
Seated amongst his philosophic company.
Admiring him, all do him honor.
There I beheld both Socrates and Plato,
Who stood in rank the nearest to him;
Democritus, who ascribes the world to chance,
Diogenes, Anaxagoras, and Thales the sage,
Zeno, Empedocles, and also Heraclitus;
With Dioscorides, well-versed in nature's secrets;
There, too, I saw Orpheus and with him
Tully and Livy, and Seneca the moralist;
And there was Euclid, and Ptolemy, and Galen,
Hippocrates, Avicenna, and Averroes, the one
Who created that great Commentary.
I cannot describe them all in full;
Because my task compels me onward,
My words overlook much that then occurred.
Our company of six reduces to two;
By a different path my wise Guide leads me
From serenity into the quaking air;
Thus I come to a place where no light shines.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.