"...Charon, do not rage:
Thus it is willed where everything may be
simply if it is willed. Therefore, oblige,
and ask no more."

 

-Dante's Inferno
Canto III (77-80)



CANTO I

Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard--so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well

I'll tell what I saw, though how I came to enter
I cannot well say, being so full of sleep
Whatever moment it was I began to blunder

Off the true path. But when I came to stop
Below a hill that marked one end of the valley
That had pierced my heart with terror, I looked up

Toward the crest and saw its shoulders already
Mantled in rays of that bright planet that shows
The road to everyone, whatever our journey.

Then I could feel the terror begin to ease
That churned in my heart's lake all through the night.
As one still panting, ashore from dangerous seas,

Looks back at the deep he has escaped, my thought
Returned, still fleeing, to regard that grim defile
That never left any alive who stayed in it.

After I had rested my weary body awhile
I started again across the wilderness,
My left foot always lower on the hill,

And suddenly--a leopard, near the place
The way grew steep: lithe, spotted, quick of foot.
Blocking the path, she stayed before my face

And more than once she made me turn about
To go back down. It was early morning still,
The fair sun rising with the stars attending it

As when Divine Love set those beautiful
Lights into motion at creation's dawn,
And the time of day and season combined to fill

My heart with hope of that beast with festive skin--
But not so much that the next sight wasn't fearful:
A lion came at me, his head high as he ran,

Roaring with hunger so the air appeared to tremble.
Then, a grim she-wolf--whose leanness seemed to compress
All the world's cravings, that had made miserable

Such multitudes; she put such heaviness
Into my spirit, I lost hope of the crest.
Like someone eager to win, who tested by loss

Surrenders to gloom and weeps, so did that beast
Make me feel, as harrying toward me at a lope
She forced me back toward where the sun is lost.

While I was ruining myself back down th the deep,
Someone appeared--one who seemed nearly to fade
As though from long silence. I cried to his human shape

In that great wasteland: "Living man or shade,
Have pity and help me, whichever you may be!"
"No living man, though once I was," he relied.

"My parents both were Mantuans from Lombardy,
And I was born sub Julio, the latter end.
I lived in good Augustus's Rome, in the day

Of the false gods who lied. A poet, I hymned
Anchises' noble son, who came from troy
When superb Ilium in its pride was burned

But you--why go back down to such misery?
Why not ascend the delightful mountain, source
And principle that causes every joy?"

"Then are you Virgil? Are you the font that pours
So overwhelming a river of human speech?"
I answered, shamefaced. "The glory and light are yours,

That poets follow--may the love that made me search
Your book in patient study avail me, Master!
You are my guide and author, whose verses teach

The graceful style whose model has done me honor.
See this beast driving me backward--help me resist,
For she makes all my veins and pulses shudder."

"A different path from this on would be best
For you to find your way from this feral place,"
He answered, seeing how I wept. "This beast,

The cause of your complaint, lets no one pass
Her way--but harries all to death. Her nature
Is so malign and vicious she cannot appease

Her voracity, for feeding makes her hungrier.
Many are the beasts she mates: there will be more,
Until the Hound comes who will give this creature

A painful death. Not nourished by earthly fare,
He will be fed by wisdom, goodness and love.
Born between Feltro and Feltro, he shall restore

Low Italy, as Nisus fought to achieve.
And Turnus, Euryalus, Camilla the maiden--
All dead from wounds in war. He will remove

This lean wolf, hunting her through every region
Till he has thrust her back to Hell's abyss
Where Envy first dipatched her on her mission.

Therefore I judge it best that you should choose
To follow me, and I will be your guide
Away from here and through an eternal place:

To hear the cries of despair, and to behold
Ancient tormented spirits as they lament
In chorus the second death they must abide.

Then you shall see those souls who are content
To dwell in fire because they hope some day
To join in the blessed: toward whom, if your ascent

Continues, your guide will be one worthier than I--
When I must leave you, you will be with her.
For the Emperor who governs from on high

Wills I not enter His city, where none may appear
Who lived like me in rebellion to His law.
His empire is everything and everywhere,

But that is His kingdom, His city, His seat of awe.
Happy is the soul He chooses for that place!"
I: "Poet, please--by the God you did not know--

Help me escape this evil that I face,
And worse. Lead me to witness what you have said,
Saint Peter's gate, and the multitude of woes--"

Then he set out, and I followed where he led.

CANTO II

 

Day was departing, and the darkening air
Called all earth's creatures to their evening quiet
While I alone was preparing as though for war

To struggle with my journey and with the spirit
Of pity, which flawless memory will redraw:
O Muses, O genius of art, O memory whose merit

Has inscribed inwardly those things I saw--
Help me fulfill the perfection of your nature.
I commenced: "Poet, take my measure now:

Appraise my powers before you trust me to venture
Through that deep passage where you would be my guide.
You write of the journey Silvius's father

Made to immortal realms although he stayed
A mortal witness, in his corruptible body.
That the Opponent of all evil bestowed

Such favor on him befits him, chosen for glory
By highest heaven to be the father of Rome
And of Rome's empire--later established Holy,

Seat of great Peter's heir. You say he came
To that immortal world, and things he learned
There led to the papal mantle--and triumph for him.

Later, the Chosen Vessel too went and returned,
Carrying confirmation of that faith
Which opens the way with salvation at its end.

But I--what cause, whose favor, could send me forth
On such a voyage? I am no Aeneas or Paul:
Not I nor others think me of such worth,

And therefore I have my fears of playing the fool
To embark on such a venture. You are wise:
You know my meaning better than I can tell."

And then, like one who unchooses his own choice
And thinking again undoes what he has started,
So I became: a nullifying unease

Overcame my soul on that dark slope and voided
The undertaking I had so quickly embraced.
"If I understand," the generous shade retorted,

"Cowardice grips your spirit--which can twist
A man away from the noblest enterprise
As a trick of vision startles a shying beast.

To ease burden of fear, I will disclose
Why I came here, and what I heard that compelled
Me first to feel compassion for you: it was

A lady's voice that called me where I dwelled
In Limbo--a lady so blessed and fairly featured
I prayed her to command me. Her eyes out-jeweled

The stars in splendor. 'O generous Mantuan spirit,'
She began in a soft voice of angelic sound,
'Whose fame lives still, that the world will still inherit

As long as the world itself shall live: my friend--
No friend of Fortune--has found his way impeded
On the barren slope, and fear has turned him round.

I fear he may be already lost, unaided:
So far astray, I've come from Heaven too late.
Go now, with your fair speech and what is needed

To save him; offer the help you have to give
Before he is lost, and I will be consoled.
I am Beatrice, come from where I crave

To be again, who asks this. As love has willed,
So have I spoken. And when I return
Before my Lord, He will hear your praises told.'

Then she was silent; and I in turn began,
'O lady of goodness, through whom alone mankind
Exceeds what the sky's least circle can contain

Within its compass: so sweet is your command
Had I already obeyed, it would feel too late.
But tell me how you so fearlessly descend

To such a center--from that encompassing state
You long to see again?' 'You yearn for the answer
Deeply,' she said, 'so I will tell in short

How I come to Limbo, yet feel no terror:
Fear befits things with power for injury,
Not things that lack such power. God the creator

Has by His mercy made me such that I
Cannot feel what you suffer: none of this fire
Assails me. In Heaven a Lady feels such pity

For this impediment where I send you, severe
Judgement is broken by her grace on high.
To Lucy she said: "Your faithful follower

Needs you: I commend him to you." Lucy, the foe
Of every cruelty, found me where I sat
With Rachel of old, and urged me: "Beatrice, true

Glory of God, can you not come to the aid
Of one whod had such love for you he rose
Above the common crowd? Do you not heed

The pity of his cries? And do your eyes
Not see death near him, in a flood the ocean
Itself can boast no power to surpass?"

Never on earth was anyone spurred to motion
So quickly, to seize advantage or fly from danger,
As at these words I hurried here from Heaven--

trusting your eloquence, whose gift brings honor
Both to yourself and to all those who listen.'
Having said this, she turned toward me the splendor

Of her eyes lucent with tears--which made me hasten
To save you, even more eagerly that before:
And so I rescued you on the fair mountain

Where the beast blocked the short way up. Therefore,
What is this? Why, why should you hold back?
Why be a coward rather than bolder, freer--

Since in the court of Heaven for your sake
Three blessed ladies watch, and words of mine
Have promised a good as great as you might seek?"

As flowers bent and shrunken by night at dawn
Unfold and straighten on their stems, to wake
brightened by sunlight, so I grew strong again--

Good courage coursing through my heart, I spoke
Like one set free: "How full of true compassion
Was she who helped me, how courteous and quick

Were you to follow her bidding--and your narration
Has restored my spirit. Now, on: for I feel eager
To go with you, and cleave to my first intention.

From now,we two will share one will together:
You are my teacher, my master, and my guide."
So I spoke, and when he moved I followed after

And entered on that deep and savage road.

CANTO III

THROUGH ME YOU ENTER INTO THE CITY OF WOES,
THROUGH ME YOU ENTER INTO ETERNAL PAIN,
THROUGH ME YOU ENTER THE POPLULATION OF LOSS

JUSTICE MOVED MY HIGH MAKER, IN POWER DIVINE,
WISDOM SUPREME, LOVE PRIMAL. NO THINGS WERE
BEFORE ME NOT ETERNAL; ETERNAL I REMAIN.

ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.
These words I saw inscribed in some dark color
Over a portal. "Master," I said, "make clear

Their meaning, which I find too hard to gather."
Then he, as one who understands: "All fear
Must be left here, and cowardice die. Together

We have arrived where I have told you: here
You will behold the wretched souls who've lost
The good of intellect." Then, with good cheer

In his expression to encourage me, he placed
His hand on mine: so trusting to my guide,
I followed him among things undisclosed.

The sighs, groans and laments at first were so loud,
Resounding through starless air, I began to weep:
Strange languages, horrible screams, words imbued

With rage or despair, cries as of troubled sleep
Of of a tortured shrillness--they rose in a coil
Of tumult, along with noises like the slap

Of beating hands, all fused in a ceaseless flail
That churns and frenzies that dark and timeless air
Like sand in a whirlwind. And I, my head in a swirl

Of error, cried: "Master, what is this I hear?
What people are these, whom pain has overcome?"
He: "This is the sorrowful state of souls unsure,

Whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame.
And they are mingled with angels of that base sort
Who, neither rebellious to God nor faithful to Him,

Chose neither side, but kept themselves apart--
Now Heaven expels them, not to mar its splendor
And Hell rejects them, lest the wicked of heart

Take glory over them." And then I: "Master,
What agony is it, that makes them keen their grief
With so much force?" He: "I will make brief answer:

They have no hope of death, but a blind life
So abject, they envy any other fate.
To all memory of them, the world is deaf.

Mercy and justice disdain them. Let us not
Speak of them: look and pass on." I looked again:
A whirling banner sped at such a rate

It seemed it might never stop; behind it a train
Of souls, so long that I would not have thought
Death had undone so many. When more than one

I recognized had passed, I beheld the shade
Of him who made the Great Refusal, impelled
By cowardice: so at once I understood

Beyond all doubt that this was the dreary guild
Repellant both to God and His enemies--
Hapless ones never alive, their bare skin galled

By wasps and flies, blood trickling down the face,
Mingling with tears for harvest underfoot
By writhing maggots. Then when I turned my eyes

Farther along our course, I could make out
People upon the shore of some great river.
"Master," I said, "it seems by this dim light

That all of these are eager to cross over--
Can you tell me by what law, and who they are?"
He answered, "Those are things you will discover

When we have paused at Acheron's dismal shore."
I walked on with my head down after that,
Fearful I had displeased him, and spoke no more.

Then, at the river--an old man in a boat:
White-haired, as he drew closer shouting at us,
"Woe to you, wicked souls! Give up the thought

Of Heaven! I come to ferry you across
Into eternal dark on the opposite side,
Into fire and ice! And you there--leave this place,

You living soul, stand clear of these who are dead!"
And then, when he saw that I did not obey:
"By other ports, in a lighter boat," he said

"You will be brought to shore by another way."
My master spoke then, "Charon, do not rage:
Thus it is willed where everything may be

Simply if it is willed. Therefore, oblige,
And ask no more." That silenced the grizzled jaws
Of the gray ferryman of the livid marsh,

Who had red wheels of flame about this eyes.
But at his words the forlorn and naked souls
Were changing color, cursing the human race,

God and their parents. Teeth chattering in their skulls,
They called curses on the seed, the place, the hour
Of their own begetting and their birth. With wails

And tears they gathered on the evil shore
That waits for all who don't fear God. There demon
Charon beckons them, with his eyes of fire;

Crowded in a herd, they obey if he should summon,
And he strikes at any laggards with his oar.
As leaves in quick succession sail down in autumn

Until the bough beholds its entire store
Fallen to the earth, so Adam's evil seed
Swoop from the bank when each is called, as sure

As a trained falcon, to cross to the other side
Of the dark water; and before one throng can land
On the far shore, on this side new souls crowd.

"My son," said the gentle master, "here are joined
The souls of all who die in the wrath of God.
From every country, all of them eager to find

Their way across the water--for the goad
Of Divine Justice spurs them so, their fear
Is transmuted to desire. Souls who are good

Never pass this way; therefore, if you hear
Charon complaining at your presence, consider
What that means." Then, the earth of that grim shore

Began to shake: so violently, I shudder
And sweat recalling it now. A wind burst up
From the tear-soaked ground to erupt red light and batter

My senses--and so I fell, as though seized by sleep.

CANTO IV

breaking the deep sleep that filled my head,
A heavy clap of thunder startled me up
As though by force; with rested eyes I stood

Peering to find where I was--in truth, the lip
Above the chasm of pain, which holds the din
Of infinite grief: a gulf so dark and deep

And murky that though I gazed intently down
Into the canyon, I could see nothing below.
"Now we descend into the sightless zone,"

The poet began, dead pale now: "I will go
Ahead, you second." I answered, seeing his pallor,
"How can I venture here if even you,

Who have encouraged me every time I falter,
Turn white with fear?" And he: "It is the pain
People here suffer that paints my face this color

Of pity, which you mistake for fear. Now on:
Our long road urges us forward." And he entered
The abyss's first engirdling circle, and down

He had me enter it too. Here we encountered
No laments that we could hear--except for sighs
That trembled the timeless air: they emanated

From the shadowy sadnesses, not agonies,
Of multitudes of children and women and men.
He said, "And don't you ask, what spirits are these?"

Before you go on, I tell you: they did not sin;
If they have merit, it can't suffice without
Baptism, portal to the faith you maintain.

Some lived before the Christian faith, so that
They did not worship God aright--and I
Am one of these. Through this, no other fault,

We are lost, afflicted only this one way:
That having no hope, we live in longing." I heard
These words with heartfelt grief that seized on me

Knowing how many worthy souls endured
Suspension in that Limbo. "Dear sir, my master,"
I began, wanting to be reassured

In the faith that conquers every error, "Did ever
Anyone go forth from here--by his own good
Or perhaps another's--to join the blessed, after?"

He understood my covert meaning and said,
"I was new to this condition when I beheld
A Mighty One who descended here, arrayed

With a crown of victory. And He re-called
Back from this place the shade of our first parent,
And his son, Abel, and other shades who dwelled

In Limbo. Noah, and Moses the obedient
Giver of laws, went with Him, and Abraham
The patriarch. King David and Israel went,

And Israel's sire and children, and Rachel for whom
He labored so long, and many others--and His
Coming here made them blessed, and rescued them.

Know this: no human soul was saved, till these."
We did not stop our traveling while he spoke,
But kept on passing through the woods--not trees,

But a wood of thronging spirits; nor did we make
Much distance from the place where I had slept,
When I saw a fire that overcame a bleak

Hemisphere of darkness. Well before we stopped
To address them, I could see people there and sense
They were honorable folk. "O Master apt

In science and art, who honor both, what wins
These shades distinction? Who are they who command
A place so separate from the other ones?"

And he: "Their honored names, which still resound
In your life above, have earned them Heaven's grace,
Advancing them here." Meanwhile a voice intoned:

"Hail the great Poet, whose shade had left this place
And now returns!" After the voice fell still,
I saw four great shades making their way to us,

Their aspect neither sad nor joyful. "Note well,"
My master began, "the one who carries a sword
And strides before the others, as fits his role

Among these giants: he is Homer, their lord
The sovereign poet; the satirist follows him--
Horace, with Lucan last, and Ovid third:

That lone voice just now hailed me by a name
Each of them shares with me; in such accord
They honor me well." And so I saw, all come

Together there, the splendid school of the lord
Of highest song who like an eagle soars high
Above the others. After they had shared a word

Among themselves, they turned and greeted me
With cordial gestures, at which my master smiled;
And far more honor: that fair company

Then made me one among them--so as we traveled
Onward toward the light I made a sixth
Amid such store of wisdom. Thus we strolled,

Speaking of matters I will not give breath,
Silence as fitting now as speech was there.
At length, a noble castle blocked our path,

Encircled seven times by a barrier
Of lofty walls, and defended round about
By a handsome stream we strode across: it bore

Our weight like solid ground; and after that
I passed through seven gateways with the sages.
We came to a fresh green meadow, where we met

A group of people. With grave, deliberate gazes
And manners of great authority, they spoke
Sparingly and in gentle, courtly voices.

We drew aside to a place where we could look
From a spacious well-lit height and view them all:
On that enameled green I saw--and take

Glory within me for having seen them, still--
The spirits of the great: I saw Electra
With many companions, among whom I knew well

Which shades were those of Aeneas and of Hector,
And Caesar--who wore his armor, falcon-eyed.
I saw Camilla, and Penthesilea beside her;

I saw King Latinus on the other side,
And sitting by him his daughter Lavinia.
I saw that brutus from whom Tarquin fled,

I saw Lucretia, Julia, Marcia, Cornelia;
And sitting at a distance seperately
I saw lone Saladin of Arabia.

I raised my eyes a little, and there was he
Who is acknowledged Master of those who know,
Sitting in a philosophic family

Who look to him and do him honor. I saw
Nearest him, in front, Plato and Socrates.
I saw Democritus, who strove to show

That the world is chance; Zeno, Empedocles
Anaxagoras, Thales, Heraclitus,
Diogenes. The collector of qualities

Of things, Dioscorides. And Orpheus,
Cicero, Linus, Seneca the moralist,
Euclid the geometer, Ptolemy, Hippocrates,

Galen, Avicenna, Averroes who discussed
The Philosopher in his great commentary--
I saw so many I cannot tally the list;

For my demanding theme so pulls my story,
To multiply the telling would be too little
For the multitude of fact that filled my journey.

The company of six divide and dwindle
To two; my wise guide leads me from that quiet
Another way--again I see air tremble,

And come to a part that has no light inside it.

CANTO V

So I descended from first to second circle--
Which girdles a smaller space and greater pain,
Which spurs more lamentation. Minos the dreadful

Snarls at the gate. he examines each one's sin,
Judging and disposing as he curls his tail:
That is, when an ill-begotten soul comes down,

It comes before him, and confesses all;
Minos, great connoisseur of sin, discerns
For every spirit its proper place in Hell,

And wraps himself in his tail with as many turns
As levels down that shade will have to dwell
A crowd is always waiting: here each one learns

His judgement and is assigned a place in Hell.
They tell; they hear--and down they all are cast.
"You, who have come to sorrow's hospice, think well,"

Said Minos, who at the sight of me had paused
To interrupt his solemn task mid-deed:
"Beware how you come in and whom you trust,

Don't be deceived because the gate is wide."
My leader answered, "Must you too scold this way?"
His destined path is not for you to impede:

Thus it is willed where every thing may be
Because it has been willed. So ask no more."
And now I can hear the notes of agony

In sad crescendo beginning to reach my ear;
Now I am where the noise of lamentation
Comes at me in blasts of sorrow. I am where

All light is mute, with a bellowing like the ocean
Turbulent in a storm of warring winds,
The hurricane of Hell in perpetual motion

Sweeping the ravaged spirits as it rends,
Twists, and torments them. Driven as if to land,
They reach the ruin: groaning, tears, laments,

And cursing of the power of Heaven. I learned
They suffer here who sinned in carnal things--
Their reason mastered by desire, suborned.

As winter starlings riding on their wings
Form crowded flocks, so spirits dip and veer
Foundering in the wind's rough buffetings,

Upward or downward, driven here and there
With never ease from pain nor hope of rest.
As chanting cranes will form a line in air,

So I saw souls come uttering cries--wind-tossed,
And lofted by the storm. "Master," I cried,
"Who are these people, by black air oppressed?"

"First among these you wish to know," he said,
"Was empress of many tongues--she so embraced
Lechery that she decreed it justified

Legally, to evade the scandal of her lust:
She is that Semiramis of whom we read,
Successor and wife of Ninus, she possessed

The lands the Sultan rules. Next, she who died
By her own hand for love, and broke her vow
To Sychaeus's ashes. After her comes lewd

And wanton Cleopatra. See Helen, too,
Who caused a cycle of many evil years;
And great Achilles, the hero whom love slew

In his battle. Paris and tristan are here--"
He pointed out by name a thousand souls
Whom love had parted from our life, or more.

When I had heard my teacher tell the rolls
Of knights and ladies of antiquity,
Pity overwhelmed me. Half-lost in its coils,

"Poet," I told him, "I would willingly
Speak with those two who move along together,
And seem so light upon the wind." And he:

"When they drift closer--then entreat them hither,
In the name of love that leads them: they will respond."
Soon their course shifted, and the merciless weather

Battered them toward us. I called against the wind,
"O wearied souls! If Another does not forbid,
Come speak with us." As doves whom desire has summoned,

With raised wings steady against the current, glide
Guided by will to the sweetness of their nest,
So leaving the flock where Dido was, the two sped

Through the malignant air till they had crossed
To where we stood--so strong was the compulsion
Of my loving call. They spoke across the blast:

"O living soul, who with courtesy and compassion
Voyage through black air visiting us who stained
The world with blood: if heaven's King bore affection

For such as we are, suffering in this wind,
Then we would pray to Him to grant you peace
For pitying us in this, our evil end.

Now we shall speak and hear as you may please
To speak and hear, while the wind, for our discourse,
Is still. My birthplace is a city that lies

Where the Po finds peace with all its followers.
Love, which in gentle hearts is quickly born,
Seized him for my fair body--which, in a fierce

Manner that still torments my soul, was torn
Untimely away from me. Love, which absolves
None who are loved from loving, made my heart burn

With joy so strong that as you see it cleaves
Still to him, here. Love gave us both one death.
Caina awaits the one who took our lives."

These words were borne across from them to us.
When I had heard those afflicted souls, I lowered
My head, and held it so till I heard the voice

Of the poet ask, "What are you thinking?" I answered
"Alas--that sweet conceptions and passion so deep
Should bring them here!" Then, looking up toward

The lovers: "Francesca, your suffering makes me weep
For sorrow and pity--but tell me, in the hours
Of sweetest sighing, how and in what shape

Or manner did Love first show you those desires
So hemmed by doubt?" And she to me: "No sadness
Is greater than in misery to rehearse

Memories of joy, as your teacher well can witness.
But if you have so great a craving to measure
Our love's first root, I'll tell it, with the fitness

Of one who weeps and tells. One day, for pleasure,
We read of Lancelot, by love constrained:
Alone, suspecting nothing at our leisure.

Sometimes at what we read our glances joined,
Looking from the book each to the other's eyes,
And then the color in our faces drained.

But one particular moment alone it was
Defeated us: the longed-for smile, it said,
Was kissed by that most noble lover: at this,

This one, who now will never leave my side,
Kissed my mouth, trembling. A Galeotto, that book!
And so was he who wrote it; that day we read

No further." All the while the one shade spoke,
The other at her side was weeping; my pity
Overwhelmed me and I felt myself go slack:

Swooning as in death, I fell like a dying body.

   Inferno, Page 2