And there stands Minos, snarling vilely,
Examining the transgressions of all who enter,
Issuing his sentence by encircling his tail;
Casting the ill-fated souls below
That come before him, and all confess
Of every sin to this cruel judge.
He indicates what place in Hell is proper
By the times he curls his tail about him,
Which signals the circle it shall be sent.
Always before him there stands a great throng;
Each goes by turns to face the judgment;
They speak, are judged, and downward hurled.
"O you, who to this place of woe
Now come," said Minos when he noticed me,
Stopping the practice of his dreadful office,
"Beware how you enter, and in whom you trust;
Be not deceived by how broad is the way."
Then to him my Guide: "Why clamor you so?
Do not hinder his fate-ordained journey;
It is so willed where will and power
Are found united; so ask no more."
And now the sorrowing voices grow louder,
As I approach unto this place
Where great lamentations fall on my ears.
This is a place that is void of light,
Where voices howl as the sea in a tempest,
When opposing winds war against one another.
Here restless winds of hell blow furiously,
Wildly tossing the spirits about,
Smashing all together and breaking them apart.
When they arrive before the precipice,
Their shrieks are heard, their complaints and laments,
And blasphemies against the Power in heaven.
I then understood that to this torment
The carnal sinners were here condemned
Whose reason was overcome by lust.
And as in winter great flocks of starlings
Are tossed about in winged flight,
So throws that evil wind these spirits;
First one side, then another, then up, then down
It flings them forever with no hope of rest
To give them solace or relieve their pain.
As cranes while chanting their desolate calls
Traverse the sky in long arrays,
So saw I coming with loud lamentations
The spirits pressed onward by their awful fate.
Whereupon said I: "Master, who are these
That the murky air drives relentlessly onward?"
"The first of those about whom you ask,"
He said in answer to my inquiry,
"Was empress of a multitude of peoples.
She was so abandoned to sensual vices,
She made lust lawful by sovereign decree,
To remove the guilt she herself incurred.
This is Semiramis, of whom it is written
That she succeeded Ninus, her espoused;
And held the land the Sultan now rules.
Next, she who killed herself for love,
And broke faith with Sichaeus' ashes;
Then follows Cleopatra, the voluptuous queen."
Helen I saw, for whom so long
A time of warfare continued; and Achilles,
The great, who struggled for love to the end.
Paris, and Tristan, and a thousand more
He pointed out and named for me,
Whom love had taken their lives away.
After I'd heard my learned Teacher,
Naming those knights and ladies of old,
Pity overcame me, and left me bewildered.
Then I began: "O Poet, I wish
To speak to that couple that now approach,
Who seem so tossed upon the wind."
And he: "Mark well, when they fly near,
And then implore them by that love
Which drives them on, and they will come."
Then soon as the wind carried them toward us,
I raised my voice: "O weary souls!
Come speak to us, if nothing forbids you."
And as doves, united by desire,
On wide-stretched wings, to their sweet nest
Glide through the air as desire directs them,
So slipped they away from Dido's flock,
And sped to us through the noxious air,
So strong was the appeal of my courteous plea.
"O gracious and gentle creature yet alive,
Who visits within this blackened air
With us who have stained the world with blood,
If the King of the Universe were our friend,
We would pray that He might give you peace,
Since you have pity on our woeful fate.
Whatever you're pleased to say or hear,
Of that we'll hear or speak to you,
While the wind, as now, remains becalmed.
The city that is my place of birth,
Lies on the coast where the Po descends
To relinquish the flow of her swollen tributaries.
Love, that swiftly seizes the gentle heart,
For my fair form, took hold this man
Who was torn from me in a grievous way.
Love, arousing love within the beloved,
Filled me with longing for him so strongly,
That, as you see, he embraces me still;
Love then led us to similar deaths;
But Caina awaits him who ended our life!"
This was the account they offered to us.
Upon hearing this tale of those tormented souls,
I bowed my head, and looked down so long,
That the Poet said, "What, then, are you thinking?"
In answer, I thus replied: "Alas!
How many sweet thoughts, what fond desire,
Between them passed ere their tragic end!"
Then I turned to them, and began to speak,
"Francesca, I'm moved by your sorrowful fate.
My sadness and pity bring me to tears.
But tell me, when passed those tender sighs,
In what manner was your Love expressed,
That you realized your unspoken desires?"
Said she, "There is no greater sorrow
Than when in misery to recall
Happiness past, as your Teacher knows.
But if you wish to know the source
From which our love had its beginning,
That I'll reveal, but shall weep while speaking.
One day we read for our delight
How Lancelot was enthralled by love.
We were alone, but thought nothing of it.
Many times while reading we exchanged glances
That caused a blush to color our cheeks;
Til we reached one point that overcame us.
For as we read of that coveted smile
That was kissed by one so deep in love,
Then he who never from me shall be parted,
Kissed me upon my trembling lips.
That book and writer brought our love together,
And we read no more that day therein."
While one spirit spoke, the other was weeping
So piteously that my own heart was broken.
I swooned away as though parting this life,
And fell to the ground as one that was dead.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.