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- Divine Comedy - 3/27 -


And knew the shade of him, who to base fear Yielding, abjur'd his high estate. Forthwith I understood for certain this the tribe Of those ill spirits both to God displeasing And to his foes. These wretches, who ne'er lived, Went on in nakedness, and sorely stung By wasps and hornets, which bedew'd their cheeks With blood, that mix'd with tears dropp'd to their feet, And by disgustful worms was gather'd there.

Then looking farther onwards I beheld A throng upon the shore of a great stream: Whereat I thus: "Sir! grant me now to know Whom here we view, and whence impell'd they seem So eager to pass o'er, as I discern Through the blear light?" He thus to me in few: "This shalt thou know, soon as our steps arrive Beside the woeful tide of Acheron."

Then with eyes downward cast and fill'd with shame, Fearing my words offensive to his ear, Till we had reach'd the river, I from speech Abstain'd. And lo! toward us in a bark Comes on an old man hoary white with eld,

Crying, "Woe to you wicked spirits! hope not Ever to see the sky again. I come To take you to the other shore across, Into eternal darkness, there to dwell In fierce heat and in ice. And thou, who there Standest, live spirit! get thee hence, and leave These who are dead." But soon as he beheld I left them not, "By other way," said he, "By other haven shalt thou come to shore, Not by this passage; thee a nimbler boat Must carry." Then to him thus spake my guide: "Charon! thyself torment not: so 't is will'd, Where will and power are one: ask thou no more."

Straightway in silence fell the shaggy cheeks Of him the boatman o'er the livid lake, Around whose eyes glar'd wheeling flames. Meanwhile Those spirits, faint and naked, color chang'd, And gnash'd their teeth, soon as the cruel words They heard. God and their parents they blasphem'd, The human kind, the place, the time, and seed That did engender them and give them birth.

Then all together sorely wailing drew To the curs'd strand, that every man must pass Who fears not God. Charon, demoniac form, With eyes of burning coal, collects them all, Beck'ning, and each, that lingers, with his oar Strikes. As fall off the light autumnal leaves, One still another following, till the bough Strews all its honours on the earth beneath;

E'en in like manner Adam's evil brood Cast themselves one by one down from the shore, Each at a beck, as falcon at his call.

Thus go they over through the umber'd wave, And ever they on the opposing bank Be landed, on this side another throng Still gathers. "Son," thus spake the courteous guide, "Those, who die subject to the wrath of God, All here together come from every clime, And to o'erpass the river are not loth: For so heaven's justice goads them on, that fear Is turn'd into desire. Hence ne'er hath past Good spirit. If of thee Charon complain, Now mayst thou know the import of his words."

This said, the gloomy region trembling shook So terribly, that yet with clammy dews Fear chills my brow. The sad earth gave a blast, That, lightening, shot forth a vermilion flame, Which all my senses conquer'd quite, and I Down dropp'd, as one with sudden slumber seiz'd.

CANTO IV

BROKE the deep slumber in my brain a crash Of heavy thunder, that I shook myself, As one by main force rous'd. Risen upright, My rested eyes I mov'd around, and search'd With fixed ken to know what place it was, Wherein I stood. For certain on the brink I found me of the lamentable vale, The dread abyss, that joins a thund'rous sound Of plaints innumerable. Dark and deep, And thick with clouds o'erspread, mine eye in vain Explor'd its bottom, nor could aught discern.

"Now let us to the blind world there beneath Descend;" the bard began all pale of look: "I go the first, and thou shalt follow next."

Then I his alter'd hue perceiving, thus: "How may I speed, if thou yieldest to dread, Who still art wont to comfort me in doubt?"

He then: "The anguish of that race below With pity stains my cheek, which thou for fear Mistakest. Let us on. Our length of way Urges to haste." Onward, this said, he mov'd; And ent'ring led me with him on the bounds Of the first circle, that surrounds th' abyss. Here, as mine ear could note, no plaint was heard Except of sighs, that made th' eternal air Tremble, not caus'd by tortures, but from grief Felt by those multitudes, many and vast, Of men, women, and infants. Then to me The gentle guide: "Inquir'st thou not what spirits Are these, which thou beholdest? Ere thou pass Farther, I would thou know, that these of sin Were blameless; and if aught they merited, It profits not, since baptism was not theirs, The portal to thy faith. If they before The Gospel liv'd, they serv'd not God aright; And among such am I. For these defects, And for no other evil, we are lost;"

"Only so far afflicted, that we live Desiring without hope." So grief assail'd My heart at hearing this, for well I knew Suspended in that Limbo many a soul Of mighty worth. "O tell me, sire rever'd! Tell me, my master!" I began through wish Of full assurance in that holy faith, Which vanquishes all error; "say, did e'er Any, or through his own or other's merit, Come forth from thence, whom afterward was blest?"

Piercing the secret purport of my speech, He answer'd: "I was new to that estate, When I beheld a puissant one arrive Amongst us, with victorious trophy crown'd. He forth the shade of our first parent drew, Abel his child, and Noah righteous man, Of Moses lawgiver for faith approv'd, Of patriarch Abraham, and David king, Israel with his sire and with his sons, Nor without Rachel whom so hard he won, And others many more, whom he to bliss Exalted. Before these, be thou assur'd, No spirit of human kind was ever sav'd."

We, while he spake, ceas'd not our onward road, Still passing through the wood; for so I name Those spirits thick beset. We were not far On this side from the summit, when I kenn'd A flame, that o'er the darken'd hemisphere Prevailing shin'd. Yet we a little space Were distant, not so far but I in part Discover'd, that a tribe in honour high That place possess'd. "O thou, who every art And science valu'st! who are these, that boast Such honour, separate from all the rest?"

He answer'd: "The renown of their great names That echoes through your world above, acquires Favour in heaven, which holds them thus advanc'd." Meantime a voice I heard: "Honour the bard Sublime! his shade returns that left us late!" No sooner ceas'd the sound, than I beheld Four mighty spirits toward us bend their steps, Of semblance neither sorrowful nor glad.

When thus my master kind began: "Mark him, Who in his right hand bears that falchion keen, The other three preceding, as their lord. This is that Homer, of all bards supreme: Flaccus the next in satire's vein excelling; The third is Naso; Lucan is the last. Because they all that appellation own, With which the voice singly accosted me, Honouring they greet me thus, and well they judge."

So I beheld united the bright school Of him the monarch of sublimest song, That o'er the others like an eagle soars. When they together short discourse had held, They turn'd to me, with salutation kind Beck'ning me; at the which my master smil'd: Nor was this all; but greater honour still They gave me, for they made me of their tribe; And I was sixth amid so learn'd a band.

Far as the luminous beacon on we pass'd Speaking of matters, then befitting well To speak, now fitter left untold. At foot Of a magnificent castle we arriv'd, Seven times with lofty walls begirt, and round Defended by a pleasant stream. O'er this As o'er dry land we pass'd. Next through seven gates I with those sages enter'd, and we came


Divine Comedy - 3/27

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