When from out of a troop that passed beneath
The fierce and tormenting storm, there came
Three spirits running swiftly together.
They came towards us, each one crying out:
"O Stop, you there, whose attire indicates
That you are someone from our evil city."
Ah me! what wounds I saw on their limbs,
Both recent and old, inflicted by the flames!
The remembrance of it still gives me pain.
My Teacher paused, attentive to their cries;
And turning his face towards me, he said:
"Wait now! we owe some courtesy to these.
And were it not for the nature of this place
That rains fiery darts, I should have said
That haste better suited you than them."
As soon as we stopped, they resumed their old wail,
And whirled themselves around in one restless wheel,
The three together, when they were beside us.
As naked champions, smeared with slippery oil,
Watch for a chance to seize and hold,
Before they meet in closer combat,
So each, whirling round, stared directly at me,
Such that his neck was always moving
In opposition to the movement of his feet.
Said one, "If the misery of this drear wilderness
Added to our black and blistered appearance
Brings disdain on us and on our entreaties,
Let our great renown incline your mind
To tell us who you are who walks
With living feet unharmed through Hell.
He in whose footprints you see me treading,
Naked and possessionless though now he may be,
Was of greater rank than you might think;
He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada;
His name was Guidoguerra, and in his lifetime
Achieved much by his wisdom and by his sword.
The other who treads the sand next to me,
Is Aldobrandi, a name that is worthy
To receive due honor in the world up above.
And I, who am tormented along with them,
Am Jacopo Rusticucci. I was brought to this evil
By my savage wife, more than anything else."
If I had been sheltered from the fire,
I'd have thrown myself down within their midst,
And I think my guide would have let me do it;
But since I'd have burned myself to a crisp,
My terror overcame this wish of mine,
Which made me desirous of embracing them.
Then I began: "It was sorrow, not disdain,
That your condition fixed deep within me,
Which could only be cured by a lengthy stay,
As soon as my Lord had spoken to me
Such words as caused me to expect
That people such as you were approaching.
I am of the very same country as you,
And with affection have heard and retold
Your honorable names and worthy deeds.
I'll abandon the bitter for the sweeter fruits
Which my sure Guide has promised me;
But deep into the center I first must descend."
"So may your spirit for a long while guide
Your steps," he answered me in return,
"And so may your fame shine bright when you've departed:
Tell me if valour and courtesy still dwell
Within our city, as they used to do,
Or if they have totally vanished from there?
For Guglielmo Borsiere, recently joined us in torment,
Who is walking over there along with his comrades,
Grieves us immensely with the news that he brings."
"The new inhabitants and their new-found wealth
Bring pride and extravagance to you, O Florence!
Causing you now in tears to mourn!"
Thus I exclaimed with my face upraised;
And the three took my words and looked at each other,
As men look when truth falls upon their ears.
"If always you answer so fully when asked,"
They all replied, "Then you are blest
With the gift of words to speak your thoughts!
Therefore, if you escape from this dark region,
And return to behold the radiant stars,
When you shall be pleased to retrace the past,
See that you speak of us to our people."
This said, they broke the circle and fled
So swiftly, it seemed their legs had wings.
In less time than it took to say,
"Amen," they quickly disappeared;
So the Master deemed it best to depart.
I followed, and but little had we proceeded,
When the sound of the water was so near near at hand,
That we hardly could hear each other speaking .
Even as that river which keeps to its course
From the mount of Vesulo, and then towards the East,
Upon the left-hand slope of Apennine,
Which above is called Acquacheta,
Before it descends into the vale,
And at Forli no longer is known by that name,
Then emerges there above Saint Benedict,
Leaping down from a precipice at the heights of the Alps,
Where is room enough to lodge a thousand;
Thus downward from a craggy steep we discovered,
These dark waters crashing made such a noise,
That it soon had deafened the ear with its roar.
I wore a cord around about my waist,
Which I at first had intended to use
To bind the panther with the painted skin.
After I had unloosed it from around myself,
As my Conductor had asked I do,
I gathered it in a coil and handed it to him.
Whereupon he turned himself to the right,
And standing a few steps from the brink,
He cast it down in that deep abyss.
"This is a thing that is very strange,"
I said to myself, "some kind of signal
Which my Master's eye is watching so carefully."
Ah me! how cautious men should be
With those who look not at the deed alone,
But with their wisdom discern other's thoughts!
He said to me: "Soon there will arise
What I await; and soon will your eye
Discover that which your thought is imagining."
When faced with truth with the appearance of falsehood,
A man should try to seal his lips,
To avoid reproach caused by his innocence;
But here I cannot; to you, Reader, I swear
By the notes of this my Comedy,
So may they not be without lasting favor!
For through that dense and murky air
I saw a figure come swimming up,
That might have astounded the stoutest heart:
Like one who emerges after a descent
To free an anchor entangled on a reef
Or other thing lying hidden in the sea,
Who upward soars, and draws in his feet.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.