When yet another, which behind it came,
Caused us to turn our eyes upon its top
By a confused sound that issued from it.
As the Sicilian bull (that bellowed first
With the lament of him, and that was right,
Who with his file had modulated it)
Bellowed so with the voice of the afflicted,
That, notwithstanding it was made of brass,
Still it appeared with agony transfixed;
Thus, by not having any way or issue
At first from out the fire, to its own language
Converted were the melancholy words.
But afterwards, when they had gathered way
Up through the point, giving it that vibration
The tongue had given them in their passage out,
We heard it said: "O thou, at whom I aim
My voice, and who but now wast speaking Lombard,
Saying, 'Now go thy way, no more I urge thee,'
Because I come perchance a little late,
To stay and speak with me let it not irk thee;
Thou seest it irks not me, and I am burning.
If thou but lately into this blind world
Hast fallen down from that sweet Latian land,
Wherefrom I bring the whole of my transgression,
Say, if the Romagnuols have peace or war,
For I was from the mountains there between
Urbino and the yoke whence Tiber bursts."
I still was downward bent and listening,
When my Conductor touched me on the side,
Saying: "Speak thou: this one a Latian is."
And I, who had beforehand my reply
In readiness, forthwith began to speak:
"O soul, that down below there art concealed,
Romagna thine is not and never has been
Without war in the bosom of its tyrants;
But open war I none have left there now.
Ravenna stands as it long years has stood;
The Eagle of Polenta there is brooding,
So that she covers Cervia with her vans.
The city which once made the long resistance,
And of the French a sanguinary heap,
Beneath the Green Paws finds itself again;
Verrucchio's ancient Mastiff and the new,
Who made such bad disposal of Montagna,
Where they are wont make wimbles of their teeth.
The cities of Lamone and Santerno
Governs the Lioncel of the white lair,
Who changes sides 'twixt summer-time and winter;
And that of which the Savio bathes the flank,
Even as it lies between the plain and mountain,
Lives between tyranny and a free state.
Now I entreat thee tell us who thou art;
Be not more stubborn than the rest have been,
So may thy name hold front there in the world."
After the fire a little more had roared
In its own fashion, the sharp point it moved
This way and that, and then gave forth such breath:
"If I believed that my reply were made
To one who to the world would e'er return,
This flame without more flickering would stand still;
But inasmuch as never from this depth
Did any one return, if I hear true,
Without the fear of infamy I answer,
I was a man of arms, then Cordelier,
Believing thus begirt to make amends;
And truly my belief had been fulfilled
But for the High Priest, whom may ill betide,
Who put me back into my former sins;
And how and wherefore I will have thee hear.
While I was still the form of bone and pulp
My mother gave to me, the deeds I did
Were not those of a lion, but a fox.
The machinations and the covert ways
I knew them all, and practised so their craft,
That to the ends of earth the sound went forth.
When now unto that portion of mine age
I saw myself arrived, when each one ought
To lower the sails, and coil away the ropes,
That which before had pleased me then displeased me;
And penitent and confessing I surrendered,
Ah woe is me! and it would have bestead me;
The Leader of the modern Pharisees
Having a war near unto Lateran,
And not with Saracens nor with the Jews,
For each one of his enemies was Christian,
And none of them had been to conquer Acre,
Nor merchandising in the Sultan's land,
Nor the high office, nor the sacred orders,
In him regarded, nor in me that cord
Which used to make those girt with it more meagre;
But even as Constantine sought out Sylvester
To cure his leprosy, within Soracte,
So this one sought me out as an adept
To cure him of the fever of his pride.
Counsel he asked of me, and I was silent,
Because his words appeared inebriate.
And then he said: 'Be not thy heart afraid;
Henceforth I thee absolve; and thou instruct me
How to raze Palestrina to the ground.
Heaven have I power to lock and to unlock,
As thou dost know; therefore the keys are two,
The which my predecessor held not dear.'
Then urged me on his weighty arguments
There, where my silence was the worst advice;
And said I: 'Father, since thou washest me
Of that sin into which I now must fall,
The promise long with the fulfilment short
Will make thee triumph in thy lofty seat.'
Francis came afterward, when I was dead,
For me; but one of the black Cherubim
Said to him: 'Take him not; do me no wrong;
He must come down among my servitors,
Because he gave the fraudulent advice
From which time forth I have been at his hair;
For who repents not cannot be absolved,
Nor can one both repent and will at once,
Because of the contradiction which consents not.'
O miserable me! how I did shudder
When he seized on me, saying: 'Peradventure
Thou didst not think that I was a logician!'
He bore me unto Minos, who entwined
Eight times his tail about his stubborn back,
And after he had bitten it in great rage,
Said: 'Of the thievish fire a culprit this;'
Wherefore, here where thou seest, am I lost,
And vested thus in going I bemoan me."
When it had thus completed its recital,
The flame departed uttering lamentations,
Writhing and flapping its sharp-pointed horn.
Onward we passed, both I and my Conductor,
Up o'er the crag above another arch,
Which the moat covers, where is paid the fee
By those who, sowing discord, win their burden.
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Copyright ©2000 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.