Where hung two lanterns used as signals,
And from afar another answered,
So distant, the eye could scarcely see it.
I turned to the fount of all discernment,
And asked: "What means this light, and its answer?
And who are they that cause it to be?"
Said he: "Across the filthy waters
What next awaits us you could see,
If the marsh's fog concealed it not."
Never from a bow was an arrow shot
And sped so swiftly through the air,
As a little boat I then beheld
Coming over the waters towards us just then,
With only a pilot lodged at the helm,
Who cried, "Art thou just arrived, wicked soul?"
"Phlegyas, Phlegyas, you shout in vain.
This time," said my Lord; "you have us only
Long enough to pass over this slough."
As one who hears of some deceitful setback
That he sustains and then grows resentful,
So Phlegyas smoldered in his growing wrath.
My Guide descended into the skiff,
And bade me enter after him,
But only then did the boat seem ladened.
Then as soon as we both were in the vessel,
The ancient prow sped on its way,
Nimbly gliding over the waves.
While we took our course through the canal of the dead,
There arose before me one covered with mire,
And said, "Who are you that comes before your time?"
I answered: "Though I come, I do not stay;
But who are you, so foully drenched?"
"You see I'm one who mourns," he replied.
Said I: "Remain with weeping and with wailing
In this place, you evil spirit;
I know you well, though with filth defiled."
Then stretched he both his hands to the boat;
But my Master thrust him back and said,
"Away! Stay there with the other dogs!"
Then he clasped my neck and kissed my cheek,
And said: "O justly disdainful soul!
Blessed was she who gave you birth.
In the world this cur was known for arrogance;
No virtue lends luster to his memory;
So likewise here his shade is furious.
How many are esteemed great kings up there,
Who here shall wallow like swine in mire,
Leaving behind the world's contempt!"
Said I: "My Master, it would please me much
To see him plunged into this filth,
Before we pass beyond this lake."
And he: "Before you see the shore,
This wish of yours will be fully satisfied;
It is only proper that this should be."
Hardly had he spoken, when the people of the mire
Set upon him with furious violence,
For which I give thanks and praise to God.
They all were shouting, "Get Philippo Argenti!"
And that raging spirit of a Florentine
Began gnashing himself with his own teeth.
We left him there, and more I'll not tell.
For my ears were struck by a lamentation,
And my eyes intently peered ahead.
And the good Master said: "Just now, my Son,
The city draws near whose name is Dis,
With its sorrowful citizens, a mighty throng."
And I: "Its towers within the valley,
Already, Master, I clearly see:
Flaming red, as if from the fire.
Said he to me: "The fire eternal
That burns within makes them look red,
As you can see in this lower Hell."
Then we arrived in the deeper moat
That circles round that forlorn city;
Its walls appeared to be made of iron.
We circled round till we reached a place
Where the pilot loudly cried out to us,
"Here is the entrance. Now, Go forth!"
Above the gates I saw a multitude
Who were hurled from Heaven in ages past,
Crying angrily, "Who comes without death
To wander the regions of the dead?"
Then my wise Master made a sign
He wished in secret to speak with them.
Whereupon their anger was quieted somewhat.
They said: "You come alone; but not
With him who dares to enter this realm.
Let him go back on his senseless road,
If well he can; but you stay here,
Who guided him through so dark a country."
Think, Reader, with what gloom I was overcome
When I had heard those accursed words.
From here I believed I could never return.
"O my dear Guide, beyond seven times
You've kept me secure, and drawn me away
From imminent peril before which I stood,
Desert me not," cried I, "down here;
And if our farther journey be denied,
Let us quickly retrace our steps together."
Then my Lord, who had led me all this way,
Said: "Fear you not; none has the power
To forbid our passage, approved on high.
But here wait for me, let your weary spirit
Find comfort and be nourished by a better hope;
For I'll not leave you in this nether world."
So saying, my benevolent sire departed,
And left me alone with all my doubts,
As "No" and "Yes" in my thoughts contend.
I could not hear what terms he proposed;
But he lingered not long with them, when suddenly,
They ran to prepare for a great contest.
The gates were slammed by our adversaries
In the face of my Lord, who had stood without,
Whereupon he turned and slowly approached me.
With eyes cast down, his visage was shorn
Of all its boldness, and he said, with sighs,
"Who has refused me these abodes of woe?"
And to me: "You see that I am angry,
But fear not; I will prevail in this trial,
Whatever the arts they employ for defence.
This insolence of theirs is nothing new;
Once before acted they at a less secret gate,
Which now finds itself mangled on its hinge.
Over its arch you saw the morbid saying;
And from this side, descending the steep,
Passing the circles without escort,
Comes one whose might shall open these gates."
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.