Cantos IVX, XV, XVI

SOON as the charity of native land
Wrought in my bosom, I the scatter’d leaves
Collected, and to him restor’d, who now
Was hoarse with utt’rance.  To the limit thence
We came, which from the third the second round
Divides, and where of justice is display’d
Contrivance horrible.  Things then first seen
Clearlier to manifest, I tell how next
A plain we reach’d, that from its sterile bed
Each plant repell’d. The mournful wood waves round
Its garland on all sides, as round the wood
Spreads the sad foss.  There, on the very edge,
Our steps we stay’d.  It was an area wide
Of arid sand and thick, resembling most
The soil that erst by Cato’s foot was trod.

Vengeance of Heav’n! Oh! how shouldst thou be fear’d
By all, who read what here my eyes beheld!

Of naked spirits many a flock I saw,
All weeping piteously, to different laws
Subjected: for on the’ earth some lay supine,
Some crouching close were seated, others pac’d
Incessantly around; the latter tribe,
More numerous, those fewer who beneath
The torment lay, but louder in their grief.

O’er all the sand fell slowly wafting down
Dilated flakes of fire, as flakes of snow
On Alpine summit, when the wind is hush’d.
As in the torrid Indian clime, the son
Of Ammon saw upon his warrior band
Descending, solid flames, that to the ground
Came down: whence he bethought him with his troop
To trample on the soil; for easier thus
The vapour was extinguish’d, while alone;
So fell the eternal fiery flood, wherewith
The marble glow’d underneath, as under stove
The viands, doubly to augment the pain.

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Unceasing was the play of wretched hands,
Now this, now that way glancing, to shake off
The heat, still falling fresh.  I thus began:
“Instructor! thou who all things overcom’st,
Except the hardy demons, that rush’d forth
To stop our entrance at the gate, say who
Is yon huge spirit, that, as seems, heeds not
The burning, but lies writhen in proud scorn,
As by the sultry tempest immatur’d?”

Straight he himself, who was aware I ask’d
My guide of him, exclaim’d: “Such as I was
When living, dead such now I am.  If Jove
Weary his workman out, from whom in ire
He snatch’d the lightnings, that at my last day
Transfix’d me, if the rest be weary out
At their black smithy labouring by turns
In Mongibello, while he cries aloud;
“Help, help, good Mulciber!” as erst he cried
In the Phlegraean warfare, and the bolts
Launch he full aim’d at me with all his might,
He never should enjoy a sweet revenge.”

Then thus my guide, in accent higher rais’d
Than I before had heard him: “Capaneus!
Thou art more punish’d, in that this thy pride
Lives yet unquench’d: no torrent, save thy rage,
Were to thy fury pain proportion’d full.”

Next turning round to me with milder lip
He spake: “This of the seven kings was one,
Who girt the Theban walls with siege, and held,
As still he seems to hold, God in disdain,
And sets his high omnipotence at nought.
But, as I told him, his despiteful mood
Is ornament well suits the breast that wears it.
Follow me now; and look thou set not yet
Thy foot in the hot sand, but to the wood
Keep ever close.”  Silently on we pass’d
To where there gushes from the forest’s bound
A little brook, whose crimson’d wave yet lifts
My hair with horror.  As the rill, that runs
From Bulicame, to be portion’d out
Among the sinful women; so ran this
Down through the sand, its bottom and each bank
Stone-built, and either margin at its side,
Whereon I straight perceiv’d our passage lay.

“Of all that I have shown thee, since that gate
We enter’d first, whose threshold is to none
Denied, nought else so worthy of regard,
As is this river, has thine eye discern’d,
O’er which the flaming volley all is quench’d.”

So spake my guide; and I him thence besought,
That having giv’n me appetite to know,
The food he too would give, that hunger crav’d.

“In midst of ocean,” forthwith he began,
“A desolate country lies, which Crete is nam’d,
Under whose monarch in old times the world
Liv’d pure and chaste.  A mountain rises there,
Call’d Ida, joyous once with leaves and streams,
Deserted now like a forbidden thing.
It was the spot which Rhea, Saturn’s spouse,
Chose for the secret cradle of her son;
And better to conceal him, drown’d in shouts
His infant cries.  Within the mount, upright
An ancient form there stands and huge, that turns
His shoulders towards Damiata, and at Rome
As in his mirror looks.  Of finest gold
His head is shap’d, pure silver are the breast
And arms; thence to the middle is of brass.
And downward all beneath well-temper’d steel,
Save the right foot of potter’s clay, on which
Than on the other more erect he stands,
Each part except the gold, is rent throughout;
And from the fissure tears distil, which join’d
Penetrate to that cave.  They in their course
Thus far precipitated down the rock
Form Acheron, and Styx, and Phlegethon;
Then by this straiten’d channel passing hence
Beneath, e’en to the lowest depth of all,
Form there Cocytus, of whose lake (thyself
Shall see it) I here give thee no account.”

Then I to him: “If from our world this sluice
Be thus deriv’d; wherefore to us but now
Appears it at this edge?”  He straight replied:
“The place, thou know’st, is round; and though great part
Thou have already pass’d, still to the left
Descending to the nethermost, not yet
Hast thou the circuit made of the whole orb.
Wherefore if aught of new to us appear,
It needs not bring up wonder in thy looks.”

Then I again inquir’d: “Where flow the streams
Of Phlegethon and Lethe? for of one
Thou tell’st not, and the other of that shower,
Thou say’st, is form’d.”  He answer thus return’d:
“Doubtless thy questions all well pleas’d I hear.
Yet the red seething wave might have resolv’d
One thou proposest.  Lethe thou shalt see,
But not within this hollow, in the place,
Whither to lave themselves the spirits go,
Whose blame hath been by penitence remov’d.”
He added: “Time is now we quit the wood.
Look thou my steps pursue: the margins give
Safe passage, unimpeded by the flames;
For over them all vapour is extinct.”

CANTO XV

One of the solid margins bears us now
Envelop’d in the mist, that from the stream
Arising, hovers o’er, and saves from fire
Both piers and water.  As the Flemings rear
Their mound, ‘twixt Ghent and Bruges, to chase back
The ocean, fearing his tumultuous tide
That drives toward them, or the Paduans theirs
Along the Brenta, to defend their towns
And castles, ere the genial warmth be felt
On Chiarentana’s top; such were the mounds,
So fram’d, though not in height or bulk to these
Made equal, by the master, whosoe’er
He was, that rais’d them here.  We from the wood
Were not so far remov’d, that turning round
I might not have discern’d it, when we met
A troop of spirits, who came beside the pier.

They each one ey’d us, as at eventide
One eyes another under a new moon,
And toward us sharpen’d their sight as keen,
As an old tailor at his needle’s eye.

Thus narrowly explor’d by all the tribe,
I was agniz’d of one, who by the skirt
Caught me, and cried, “What wonder have we here!”

And I, when he to me outstretch’d his arm,
Intently fix’d my ken on his parch’d looks,
That although smirch’d with fire, they hinder’d not
But I remember’d him; and towards his face
My hand inclining, answer’d: “Sir! Brunetto!

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“And art thou here?”  He thus to me: “My son!
Oh let it not displease thee, if Brunetto
Latini but a little space with thee
Turn back, and leave his fellows to proceed.”

I thus to him replied: “Much as I can,
I thereto pray thee; and if thou be willing,
That I here seat me with thee, I consent;
His leave, with whom I journey, first obtain’d.”

“O son!” said he, “whoever of this throng
One instant stops, lies then a hundred years,
No fan to ventilate him, when the fire
Smites sorest.  Pass thou therefore on.  I close
Will at thy garments walk, and then rejoin
My troop, who go mourning their endless doom.”

I dar’d not from the path descend to tread
On equal ground with him, but held my head
Bent down, as one who walks in reverent guise.

“What chance or destiny,” thus he began,
“Ere the last day conducts thee here below?
And who is this, that shows to thee the way?”

“There up aloft,” I answer’d, “in the life
Serene, I wander’d in a valley lost,
Before mine age had to its fullness reach’d.
But yester-morn I left it: then once more
Into that vale returning, him I met;
And by this path homeward he leads me back.”

“If thou,” he answer’d, “follow but thy star,
Thou canst not miss at last a glorious haven:
Unless in fairer days my judgment err’d.
And if my fate so early had not chanc’d,
Seeing the heav’ns thus bounteous to thee, I
Had gladly giv’n thee comfort in thy work.
But that ungrateful and malignant race,
Who in old times came down from Fesole,
Ay and still smack of their rough mountain-flint,
Will for thy good deeds shew thee enmity.
Nor wonder; for amongst ill-savour’d crabs
It suits not the sweet fig-tree lay her fruit.
Old fame reports them in the world for blind,
Covetous, envious, proud.  Look to it well:
Take heed thou cleanse thee of their ways.  For thee
Thy fortune hath such honour in reserve,
That thou by either party shalt be crav’d
With hunger keen: but be the fresh herb far
From the goat’s tooth.  The herd of Fesole
May of themselves make litter, not touch the plant,
If any such yet spring on their rank bed,
In which the holy seed revives, transmitted
From those true Romans, who still there remain’d,
When it was made the nest of so much ill.”

“Were all my wish fulfill’d,” I straight replied,
“Thou from the confines of man’s nature yet
Hadst not been driven forth; for in my mind
Is fix’d, and now strikes full upon my heart
The dear, benign, paternal image, such
As thine was, when so lately thou didst teach me
The way for man to win eternity;
And how I priz’d the lesson, it behooves,
That, long as life endures, my tongue should speak,
What of my fate thou tell’st, that write I down:
And with another text to comment on
For her I keep it, the celestial dame,
Who will know all, if I to her arrive.
This only would I have thee clearly note:
That so my conscience have no plea against me;
Do fortune as she list, I stand prepar’d.
Not new or strange such earnest to mine ear.
Speed fortune then her wheel, as likes her best,
The clown his mattock; all things have their course.”

Thereat my sapient guide upon his right
Turn’d himself back, then look’d at me and spake:
“He listens to good purpose who takes note.”

I not the less still on my way proceed,
Discoursing with Brunetto, and inquire
Who are most known and chief among his tribe.

“To know of some is well;” thus he replied,
“But of the rest silence may best beseem.
Time would not serve us for report so long.
In brief I tell thee, that all these were clerks,
Men of great learning and no less renown,
By one same sin polluted in the world.
With them is Priscian, and Accorso’s son
Francesco herds among that wretched throng:
And, if the wish of so impure a blotch
Possess’d thee, him thou also might’st have seen,
Who by the servants’ servant was transferr’d
From Arno’s seat to Bacchiglione, where
His ill-strain’d nerves he left.  I more would add,
But must from farther speech and onward way
Alike desist, for yonder I behold
A mist new-risen on the sandy plain.
A company, with whom I may not sort,
Approaches.  I commend my TREASURE to thee,
Wherein I yet survive; my sole request.”

This said he turn’d, and seem’d as one of those,
Who o’er Verona’s champain try their speed
For the green mantle, and of them he seem’d,
Not he who loses but who gains the prize.

CANTO XVI

NOW came I where the water’s din was heard,
As down it fell into the other round,
Resounding like the hum of swarming bees:
When forth together issu’d from a troop,
That pass’d beneath the fierce tormenting storm,
Three spirits, running swift.  They towards us came,
And each one cried aloud, “Oh do thou stay!
Whom by the fashion of thy garb we deem
To be some inmate of our evil land.”

Ah me! what wounds I mark’d upon their limbs,
Recent and old, inflicted by the flames!
E’en the remembrance of them grieves me yet.

Attentive to their cry my teacher paus’d,
And turn’d to me his visage, and then spake;
“Wait now! our courtesy these merit well:
And were ‘t not for the nature of the place,
Whence glide the fiery darts, I should have said,
That haste had better suited thee than them.”

They, when we stopp’d, resum’d their ancient wail,
And soon as they had reach’d us, all the three
Whirl’d round together in one restless wheel.
As naked champions, smear’d with slippery oil,
Are wont intent to watch their place of hold
And vantage, ere in closer strife they meet;
Thus each one, as he wheel’d, his countenance
At me directed, so that opposite
The neck mov’d ever to the twinkling feet.

“If misery of this drear wilderness,”
Thus one began, “added to our sad cheer
And destitute, do call forth scorn on us
And our entreaties, let our great renown
Incline thee to inform us who thou art,
That dost imprint with living feet unharm’d
The soil of Hell.  He, in whose track thou see’st
My steps pursuing, naked though he be
And reft of all, was of more high estate
Than thou believest; grandchild of the chaste
Gualdrada, him they Guidoguerra call’d,
Who in his lifetime many a noble act
Achiev’d, both by his wisdom and his sword.
The other, next to me that beats the sand,
Is Aldobrandi, name deserving well,
In the’ upper world, of honour; and myself
Who in this torment do partake with them,
Am Rusticucci, whom, past doubt, my wife
Of savage temper, more than aught beside
Hath to this evil brought.”  If from the fire
I had been shelter’d, down amidst them straight
I then had cast me, nor my guide, I deem,
Would have restrain’d my going; but that fear
Of the dire burning vanquish’d the desire,
Which made me eager of their wish’d embrace.

I then began: “Not scorn, but grief much more,
Such as long time alone can cure, your doom
Fix’d deep within me, soon as this my lord
Spake words, whose tenour taught me to expect
That such a race, as ye are, was at hand.
I am a countryman of yours, who still
Affectionate have utter’d, and have heard
Your deeds and names renown’d.  Leaving the gall
For the sweet fruit I go, that a sure guide
Hath promis’d to me.  But behooves, that far
As to the centre first I downward tend.”

“So may long space thy spirit guide thy limbs,”
He answer straight return’d; “and so thy fame
Shine bright, when thou art gone; as thou shalt tell,
If courtesy and valour, as they wont,
Dwell in our city, or have vanish’d clean?
For one amidst us late condemn’d to wail,
Borsiere, yonder walking with his peers,
Grieves us no little by the news he brings.”

“An upstart multitude and sudden gains,
Pride and excess, O Florence! have in thee
Engender’d, so that now in tears thou mourn’st!”
Thus cried I with my face uprais’d, and they
All three, who for an answer took my words,
Look’d at each other, as men look when truth
Comes to their ear.  “If thou at other times,”
They all at once rejoin’d, “so easily
Satisfy those, who question, happy thou,
Gifted with words, so apt to speak thy thought!
Wherefore if thou escape this darksome clime,
Returning to behold the radiant stars,
When thou with pleasure shalt retrace the past,
See that of us thou speak among mankind.”

This said, they broke the circle, and so swift
Fled, that as pinions seem’d their nimble feet.

Not in so short a time might one have said
“Amen,” as they had vanish’d. Straight my guide
Pursu’d his track.  I follow’d; and small space
Had we pass’d onward, when the water’s sound
Was now so near at hand, that we had scarce
Heard one another’s speech for the loud din.

E’en as the river, that holds on its course
Unmingled, from the mount of Vesulo,
On the left side of Apennine, toward
The east, which Acquacheta higher up
They call, ere it descend into the vale,
At Forli by that name no longer known,
Rebellows o’er Saint Benedict, roll’d on
From the’ Alpine summit down a precipice,
Where space enough to lodge a thousand spreads;
Thus downward from a craggy steep we found,
That this dark wave resounded, roaring loud,
So that the ear its clamour soon had stunn’d.

I had a cord that brac’d my girdle round,
Wherewith I erst had thought fast bound to take
The painted leopard.  This when I had all
Unloosen’d from me (so my master bade)
I gather’d up, and stretch’d it forth to him.
Then to the right he turn’d, and from the brink
Standing few paces distant, cast it down
Into the deep abyss.  “And somewhat strange,”
Thus to myself I spake, “signal so strange
Betokens, which my guide with earnest eye
Thus follows.”  Ah! what caution must men use
With those who look not at the deed alone,
But spy into the thoughts with subtle skill!

“Quickly shall come,” he said, “what I expect,
Thine eye discover quickly, that whereof
Thy thought is dreaming.”  Ever to that truth,
Which but the semblance of a falsehood wears,
A man, if possible, should bar his lip;
Since, although blameless, he incurs reproach.
But silence here were vain; and by these notes
Which now I sing, reader! I swear to thee,
So may they favour find to latest times!
That through the gross and murky air I spied
A shape come swimming up, that might have quell’d
The stoutest heart with wonder, in such guise
As one returns, who hath been down to loose
An anchor grappled fast against some rock,
Or to aught else that in the salt wave lies,
Who upward springing close draws in his feet.

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