Cantos IIX, IX, and X

MY theme pursuing, I relate that ere
We reach’d the lofty turret’s base, our eyes
Its height ascended, where two cressets hung
We mark’d, and from afar another light
Return the signal, so remote, that scarce
The eye could catch its beam.  I turning round
To the deep source of knowledge, thus inquir’d:
“Say what this means?  and what that other light
In answer set?  what agency doth this?”

“There on the filthy waters,” he replied,
“E’en now what next awaits us mayst thou see,
If the marsh-gender’d fog conceal it not.”

Never was arrow from the cord dismiss’d,
That ran its way so nimbly through the air,
As a small bark, that through the waves I spied
Toward us coming, under the sole sway
Of one that ferried it, who cried aloud:
“Art thou arriv’d, fell spirit?”—”Phlegyas, Phlegyas,
This time thou criest in vain,” my lord replied;
“No longer shalt thou have us, but while o’er
The slimy pool we pass.”  As one who hears
Of some great wrong he hath sustain’d, whereat
Inly he pines; so Phlegyas inly pin’d
In his fierce ire.  My guide descending stepp’d
Into the skiff, and bade me enter next
Close at his side; nor till my entrance seem’d
The vessel freighted.  Soon as both embark’d,
Cutting the waves, goes on the ancient prow,
More deeply than with others it is wont.

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While we our course o’er the dead channel held.
One drench’d in mire before me came, and said;
“Who art thou, that thou comest ere thine hour?”

I answer’d: “Though I come, I tarry not;
But who art thou, that art become so foul?”

“One, as thou seest, who mourn:” he straight replied.

To which I thus: “In mourning and in woe,
Curs’d spirit! tarry thou. I know thee well,
E’en thus in filth disguis’d.”  Then stretch’d he forth
Hands to the bark; whereof my teacher sage
Aware, thrusting him back: “Away! down there,

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“To the’ other dogs!”  then, with his arms my neck
Encircling, kiss’d my cheek, and spake: “O soul
Justly disdainful! blest was she in whom
Thou was conceiv’d! He in the world was one
For arrogance noted; to his memory
No virtue lends its lustre; even so
Here is his shadow furious.  There above
How many now hold themselves mighty kings
Who here like swine shall wallow in the mire,
Leaving behind them horrible dispraise!”

I then: “Master! him fain would I behold
Whelm’d in these dregs, before we quit the lake.”

He thus: “Or ever to thy view the shore
Be offer’d, satisfied shall be that wish,
Which well deserves completion.”  Scarce his words
Were ended, when I saw the miry tribes
Set on him with such violence, that yet
For that render I thanks to God and praise
“To Filippo Argenti:” cried they all:
And on himself the moody Florentine
Turn’d his avenging fangs.  Him here we left,
Nor speak I of him more.  But on mine ear
Sudden a sound of lamentation smote,
Whereat mine eye unbarr’d I sent abroad.

And thus the good instructor: “Now, my son!
Draws near the city, that of Dis is nam’d,
With its grave denizens, a mighty throng.”

I thus: “The minarets already, Sir!
There certes in the valley I descry,
Gleaming vermilion, as if they from fire
Had issu’d.”  He replied: “Eternal fire,
That inward burns, shows them with ruddy flame
Illum’d; as in this nether hell thou seest.”

We came within the fosses deep, that moat
This region comfortless.  The walls appear’d
As they were fram’d of iron.  We had made
Wide circuit, ere a place we reach’d, where loud
The mariner cried vehement: “Go forth!
The’ entrance is here!”  Upon the gates I spied
More than a thousand, who of old from heaven
Were hurl’d.  With ireful gestures, “Who is this,”
They cried, “that without death first felt, goes through
The regions of the dead?”  My sapient guide
Made sign that he for secret parley wish’d;
Whereat their angry scorn abating, thus
They spake: “Come thou alone; and let him go
Who hath so hardily enter’d this realm.
Alone return he by his witless way;
If well he know it, let him prove.  For thee,
Here shalt thou tarry, who through clime so dark
Hast been his escort.” Now bethink thee, reader!
What cheer was mine at sound of those curs’d words.
I did believe I never should return.

“O my lov’d guide! who more than seven times
Security hast render’d me, and drawn
From peril deep, whereto I stood expos’d,
Desert me not,” I cried, “in this extreme.
And if our onward going be denied,
Together trace we back our steps with speed.”

My liege, who thither had conducted me,
Replied: “Fear not: for of our passage none
Hath power to disappoint us, by such high
Authority permitted.  But do thou
Expect me here; meanwhile thy wearied spirit
Comfort, and feed with kindly hope, assur’d
I will not leave thee in this lower world.”

This said, departs the sire benevolent,
And quits me.  Hesitating I remain
At war ‘twixt will and will not in my thoughts.

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I could not hear what terms he offer’d them,
But they conferr’d not long, for all at once
To trial fled within.  Clos’d were the gates
By those our adversaries on the breast
Of my liege lord: excluded he return’d
To me with tardy steps.  Upon the ground
His eyes were bent, and from his brow eras’d
All confidence, while thus with sighs he spake:
“Who hath denied me these abodes of woe?”
Then thus to me: “That I am anger’d, think
No ground of terror: in this trial I
Shall vanquish, use what arts they may within
For hindrance.  This their insolence, not new,
Erewhile at gate less secret they display’d,
Which still is without bolt; upon its arch
Thou saw’st the deadly scroll: and even now
On this side of its entrance, down the steep,
Passing the circles, unescorted, comes
One whose strong might can open us this land.”

CANTO IX

THE hue, which coward dread on my pale cheeks
Imprinted, when I saw my guide turn back,
Chas’d that from his which newly they had worn,
And inwardly restrain’d it.  He, as one
Who listens, stood attentive: for his eye
Not far could lead him through the sable air,
And the thick-gath’ring cloud.  “It yet behooves
We win this fight”—thus he began—”if not—
Such aid to us is offer’d.—Oh, how long
Me seems it, ere the promis’d help arrive!”

I noted, how the sequel of his words
Clok’d their beginning; for the last he spake
Agreed not with the first.  But not the less
My fear was at his saying; sith I drew
To import worse perchance, than that he held,
His mutilated speech.  “Doth ever any
Into this rueful concave’s extreme depth
Descend, out of the first degree, whose pain
Is deprivation merely of sweet hope?”

Thus I inquiring. “Rarely,” he replied,
“It chances, that among us any makes
This journey, which I wend.  Erewhile ’tis true
Once came I here beneath, conjur’d by fell
Erictho, sorceress, who compell’d the shades
Back to their bodies.  No long space my flesh
Was naked of me, when within these walls
She made me enter, to draw forth a spirit
From out of Judas’ circle.  Lowest place
Is that of all, obscurest, and remov’d
Farthest from heav’n’s all-circling orb.  The road
Full well I know: thou therefore rest secure.
That lake, the noisome stench exhaling, round
The city’ of grief encompasses, which now
We may not enter without rage.”  Yet more
He added: but I hold it not in mind,
For that mine eye toward the lofty tower
Had drawn me wholly, to its burning top.
Where in an instant I beheld uprisen
At once three hellish furies stain’d with blood:
In limb and motion feminine they seem’d;
Around them greenest hydras twisting roll’d
Their volumes; adders and cerastes crept
Instead of hair, and their fierce temples bound.

He knowing well the miserable hags
Who tend the queen of endless woe, thus spake:

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“Mark thou each dire Erinnys. To the left
This is Megaera; on the right hand she,
Who wails, Alecto; and Tisiphone
I’ th’ midst.”  This said, in silence he remain’d
Their breast they each one clawing tore; themselves
Smote with their palms, and such shrill clamour rais’d,
That to the bard I clung, suspicion-bound.
“Hasten Medusa: so to adamant
Him shall we change;” all looking down exclaim’d.
“E’en when by Theseus’ might assail’d, we took
No ill revenge.”  “Turn thyself round, and keep
Thy count’nance hid; for if the Gorgon dire
Be shown, and thou shouldst view it, thy return
Upwards would be for ever lost.”  This said,
Himself my gentle master turn’d me round,
Nor trusted he my hands, but with his own
He also hid me.  Ye of intellect
Sound and entire, mark well the lore conceal’d
Under close texture of the mystic strain!

And now there came o’er the perturbed waves
Loud-crashing, terrible, a sound that made
Either shore tremble, as if of a wind
Impetuous, from conflicting vapours sprung,
That ‘gainst some forest driving all its might,
Plucks off the branches, beats them down and hurls
Afar; then onward passing proudly sweeps
Its whirlwind rage, while beasts and shepherds fly.

Mine eyes he loos’d, and spake: “And now direct
Thy visual nerve along that ancient foam,
There, thickest where the smoke ascends.” As frogs
Before their foe the serpent, through the wave
Ply swiftly all, till at the ground each one
Lies on a heap; more than a thousand spirits
Destroy’d, so saw I fleeing before one
Who pass’d with unwet feet the Stygian sound.
He, from his face removing the gross air,
Oft his left hand forth stretch’d, and seem’d alone
By that annoyance wearied.  I perceiv’d
That he was sent from heav’n, and to my guide
Turn’d me, who signal made that I should stand
Quiet, and bend to him. Ah me! how full
Of noble anger seem’d he! To the gate
He came, and with his wand touch’d it, whereat
Open without impediment it flew.

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“Outcasts of heav’n! O abject race and scorn’d!”
Began he on the horrid grunsel standing,
“Whence doth this wild excess of insolence
Lodge in you? wherefore kick you ‘gainst that will
Ne’er frustrate of its end, and which so oft
Hath laid on you enforcement of your pangs?
What profits at the fays to but the horn?
Your Cerberus, if ye remember, hence
Bears still, peel’d of their hair, his throat and maw.”

This said, he turn’d back o’er the filthy way,
And syllable to us spake none, but wore
The semblance of a man by other care
Beset, and keenly press’d, than thought of him
Who in his presence stands.  Then we our steps
Toward that territory mov’d, secure
After the hallow’d words.  We unoppos’d
There enter’d; and my mind eager to learn
What state a fortress like to that might hold,
I soon as enter’d throw mine eye around,
And see on every part wide-stretching space
Replete with bitter pain and torment ill.

As where Rhone stagnates on the plains of Arles,
Or as at Pola, near Quarnaro’s gulf,
That closes Italy and laves her bounds,
The place is all thick spread with sepulchres;
So was it here, save what in horror here
Excell’d: for ‘midst the graves were scattered flames,
Wherewith intensely all throughout they burn’d,
That iron for no craft there hotter needs.

Their lids all hung suspended, and beneath
From them forth issu’d lamentable moans,
Such as the sad and tortur’d well might raise.

I thus: “Master! say who are these, interr’d
Within these vaults, of whom distinct we hear
The dolorous sighs?”  He answer thus return’d:

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“The arch-heretics are here, accompanied
By every sect their followers; and much more,
Than thou believest, tombs are freighted: like
With like is buried; and the monuments
Are different in degrees of heat.”  This said,
He to the right hand turning, on we pass’d
Betwixt the afflicted and the ramparts high.

CANTO X

NOW by a secret pathway we proceed,
Between the walls, that hem the region round,
And the tormented souls: my master first,
I close behind his steps.  “Virtue supreme!”
I thus began; “who through these ample orbs
In circuit lead’st me, even as thou will’st,
Speak thou, and satisfy my wish.  May those,
Who lie within these sepulchres, be seen?
Already all the lids are rais’d, and none
O’er them keeps watch.”  He thus in answer spake
“They shall be closed all, what-time they here
From Josaphat return’d shall come, and bring
Their bodies, which above they now have left.
The cemetery on this part obtain
With Epicurus all his followers,
Who with the body make the spirit die.
Here therefore satisfaction shall be soon
Both to the question ask’d, and to the wish,
Which thou conceal’st in silence.”  I replied:
“I keep not, guide belov’d! from thee my heart
Secreted, but to shun vain length of words,
A lesson erewhile taught me by thyself.”

“O Tuscan! thou who through the city of fire
Alive art passing, so discreet of speech!
Here please thee stay awhile. Thy utterance
Declares the place of thy nativity
To be that noble land, with which perchance
I too severely dealt.”  Sudden that sound
Forth issu’d from a vault, whereat in fear
I somewhat closer to my leader’s side
Approaching, he thus spake: “What dost thou?  Turn.
Lo, Farinata, there! who hath himself
Uplifted: from his girdle upwards all
Expos’d behold him.”  On his face was mine
Already fix’d; his breast and forehead there
Erecting, seem’d as in high scorn he held
E’en hell.  Between the sepulchres to him
My guide thrust me with fearless hands and prompt,
This warning added: “See thy words be clear!”

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He, soon as there I stood at the tomb’s foot,
Ey’d me a space, then in disdainful mood
Address’d me: “Say, what ancestors were thine?”

I, willing to obey him, straight reveal’d
The whole, nor kept back aught: whence he, his brow
Somewhat uplifting, cried: “Fiercely were they
Adverse to me, my party, and the blood
From whence I sprang: twice therefore I abroad
Scatter’d them.”  “Though driv’n out, yet they each time
From all parts,” answer’d I, “return’d; an art
Which yours have shown, they are not skill’d to learn.”

Then, peering forth from the unclosed jaw,
Rose from his side a shade, high as the chin,
Leaning, methought, upon its knees uprais’d.
It look’d around, as eager to explore
If there were other with me; but perceiving
That fond imagination quench’d, with tears
Thus spake: “If thou through this blind prison go’st.
Led by thy lofty genius and profound,
Where is my son? and wherefore not with thee?”

I straight replied: “Not of myself I come,
By him, who there expects me, through this clime
Conducted, whom perchance Guido thy son
Had in contempt.”  Already had his words
And mode of punishment read me his name,
Whence I so fully answer’d.  He at once
Exclaim’d, up starting, “How! said’st thou he HAD?
No longer lives he?  Strikes not on his eye
The blessed daylight?”  Then of some delay
I made ere my reply aware, down fell
Supine, not after forth appear’d he more.

Meanwhile the other, great of soul, near whom
I yet was station’d, chang’d not count’nance stern,
Nor mov’d the neck, nor bent his ribbed side.
“And if,” continuing the first discourse,
“They in this art,” he cried, “small skill have shown,
That doth torment me more e’en than this bed.
But not yet fifty times shall be relum’d
Her aspect, who reigns here Queen of this realm,
Ere thou shalt know the full weight of that art.
So to the pleasant world mayst thou return,
As thou shalt tell me, why in all their laws,
Against my kin this people is so fell?”

“The slaughter and great havoc,” I replied,
“That colour’d Arbia’s flood with crimson stain—
To these impute, that in our hallow’d dome
Such orisons ascend.”  Sighing he shook
The head, then thus resum’d: “In that affray
I stood not singly, nor without just cause
Assuredly should with the rest have stirr’d;
But singly there I stood, when by consent
Of all, Florence had to the ground been raz’d,
The one who openly forbad the deed.”

“So may thy lineage find at last repose,”
I thus adjur’d him, “as thou solve this knot,
Which now involves my mind.  If right I hear,
Ye seem to view beforehand, that which time
Leads with him, of the present uninform’d.”

“We view, as one who hath an evil sight,”
He answer’d, “plainly, objects far remote:
So much of his large spendour yet imparts
The’ Almighty Ruler; but when they approach
Or actually exist, our intellect
Then wholly fails, nor of your human state
Except what others bring us know we aught.
Hence therefore mayst thou understand, that all
Our knowledge in that instant shall expire,
When on futurity the portals close.”

Then conscious of my fault, and by remorse
Smitten, I added thus: “Now shalt thou say
To him there fallen, that his offspring still
Is to the living join’d; and bid him know,
That if from answer silent I abstain’d,
‘Twas that my thought was occupied intent
Upon that error, which thy help hath solv’d.”

But now my master summoning me back
I heard, and with more eager haste besought
The spirit to inform me, who with him
Partook his lot.  He answer thus return’d:

“More than a thousand with me here are laid
Within is Frederick, second of that name,
And the Lord Cardinal, and of the rest
I speak not.”  He, this said, from sight withdrew.
But I my steps towards the ancient bard
Reverting, ruminated on the words
Betokening me such ill.  Onward he mov’d,
And thus in going question’d: “Whence the’ amaze
That holds thy senses wrapt?”  I satisfied
The’ inquiry, and the sage enjoin’d me straight:
“Let thy safe memory store what thou hast heard
To thee importing harm; and note thou this,”
With his rais’d finger bidding me take heed,

“When thou shalt stand before her gracious beam,
Whose bright eye all surveys, she of thy life
The future tenour will to thee unfold.”

Forthwith he to the left hand turn’d his feet:
We left the wall, and tow’rds the middle space
Went by a path, that to a valley strikes;
Which e’en thus high exhal’d its noisome steam.

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