"O virtue supreme, who leads me through
These circles as you will," I began,
"Pray speak to me, and satisfy my inquiry:
The people who lie within these tombs,
Might they be seen? The lids are raised,
And over them all, no one stands guard."
Said he to me: "They all shall be sealed
When they have stood before Jehoshaphat
And return with the bodies they left above.
This cemetery contains upon this side
Epicurus and all his followers,
Who believe the soul dies with the body;
But on the question you put to me,
Here you shall soon be satisfied,
As well to the query you hold in silence."
Then I: "Beloved Guide, I keep nothing concealed
From thee in my heart, but only that I
Might speak the less, as you have taught me."
"O Tuscan, you who are passing alive
Through this city of fire, yet speak so modestly!
Be pleased to stay in this place for a while.
Your manner of speaking makes it clear
You are a native of that noble land,
With which perhaps I dealt too severely."
When all of a sudden that voice issued forth
From one of the tombs, I was seized with fear
And pressed somewhat nearer my Leader's side.
He said: "What are you doing? Turn around.
See, there is Farinata who has raised himself
And sat up so that you can see him."
I had already fixed my eyes on him,
When his forehead and breast arose in view
As though Hell itself he held in high scorn.
Then promptly my Leader, with courageous hands,
Thrust me between the sepulchres towards him,
Adding this warning, "Let your words be clear."
As soon as I stood at the foot of his tomb
He eyed me a moment, and disdainfully asked,
"Tell me, who were your ancestors?"
And I, desiring to comply, hid nothing
But straightway revealed the whole to him;
Whereupon he slightly raised his brows,
And said: "So fiercely adverse were they
To me, to my party and to my kin,
That twice I scattered them abroad."
"Though banished, yet they returned each time,"
I replied to him. "A skill that yours
Have shown they never rightly learned."
Then there arose a shadow at his side,
Peering out from the uncovered tomb;
He seemed to have risen upon his knees.
Around me he gazed, as if to discover
If someone else were there with me,
But after his suspicion was fully spent,
With tears, he said: "If you through genius,
Lofty and profound, can traverse this blind prison,
Say where is my son? and why not with you?"
I replied: "I come not of myself;
He waiting yonder leads me here.
Perhaps your son Guido held him in contempt?"
Already his words and his mode of punishment
Revealed to me what was his name;
On that account I could answer so fully.
At once he recoiled and cried out: "What!?
You say,--he HELD? Not still alive??
Does blessed daylight not strike upon his eyes?"
When he perceived I delayed my answer,
He fell down on his back again
And henceforth he made no appearance.
But the other, more noble, near whose side
I stood, altered not his countenance,
Neither moved his head, nor turned away.
"And if," he continued his train of thought,
"They have not learned that skill aright,
That torments me more than does this bed.
But before the Queen who reigns in this realm
Has refreshed her countenance fifty times,
You shall know how difficult is that art;
Since you will return to the sweet world above,
Say why those people remain so pitiless
Against my kin in all their laws?"
To him I replied: "The slaughter and great havoc
Which colored the Arbia with crimson stain,
Give rise to prayers which ascend from our temple."
After sighing and shaking his head, he resumed:
"I stood not alone in that conflict,
Nor struggled beside the others without cause.
But I was alone when I openly opposed
The razing to the ground of the city of Florence,
Which had been done by consent of all."
"So may your descendants find repose at last,"
I thus enjoined him, "and resolve this knot
Which at this time perplexes my mind.
If I rightly hear, you seem to perceive
Beforehand that which time brings forth,
While of the present remain uninformed."
"We see, like those with imperfect sight,"
"Those things that are distant from us," said he.
"That much of his grace the Sovereign Ruler imparts.
When things draw near, or are before us,
Our intellect fails, nor know we of
Your human state save what others bring.
Thus you can see that all our knowledge
Will instantly expire at that moment
The portal of the future is closed forever."
Then conscious of my error and filled with remorse,
I said: "Now you can tell the one
Fallen back, his son is still joined with the living.
And let him know if I hesitated in answering,
It was because my thoughts were focused
Upon that problem your help has solved."
And now my Master was calling me back,
Whereupon I eagerly besought the spirit
To tell me who stood with him there.
"Well more than a thousand are laid with me;
Within is Frederick the second and the Cardinal,
But of the rest I will not speak."
Saying that he withdrew himself from sight,
And I turned towards the ancient poet, reflecting
Upon that saying, which seemed hostile to me.
He moved along; and in going he asked,
"What is so strange that holds your attention?"
And I sought to satisfy his inquiry.
"Let memory preserve what you have heard
Of things to come," that Sage enjoined me.
"And give heed to this:" as he raised his finger.
"When you shall stand before Radiance Sweet,
Whose lovely eyes behold all things,
From her you shall know the path of your life."
Then quickly to the left he turned his feet;
Moving away from the wall, and towards the middle,
Along a path that enters a valley,
Which even at this height emitted its awful stench.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.