"‘The Banners of the King of Hell Advance’
Closer to us," my master said; "so look
Straight ahead and see if you can spot them."
Just as when a thick fog starts to settle
5 Or when evening darkens all our hemisphere,
Far-off a windmill appears to be rotating,
So I thought I saw such a structure there.
Then out of the wind I stepped back behind
My guide, because there was no other shelter.
10 I was now — and with fear I set it down
In verse — where the shades were wholly sealed
And yet showed through below like straws in glass.
Some of them lie flat, some stand upright,
One on his head and one upon his soles;
15 Another, like a bow, bends face to foot.
When we had made our way so far forward
That my master sensed it time to show me
The creature who was once so beautiful,
He took a step aside and made me stop;
20 "Look at Dis," he said, "look at the place
Where you must arm yourself with steadfastness."
How faint and frozen, reader, I grew then
Do not inquire: I shall not write it down,
Since all my words would be too few and weak.
25 I did not die and still I did not live.
Think for yourself — should you possess the talent —
What I became, robbed of both life and death!
The emperor of the kingdom of despair
Rose up from mid-chest out of the sheer ice;
30 And I come closer to a giant’s height
Than giants match the size of his huge arms:
See now how large the whole of him must be
If it’s proportionate to that one part!
Were he once as beautiful as now he’s ugly
35 (And yet he raised his fist against his Maker!)
Well may all our grief come down from him!
Oh how much wonder was it for me when
I saw that on his head he had three faces:
One in front — and it was fiery red —
40 And two others, which joined onto this one
Above the center of his shoulder blades,
And all three came together at his crown.
The right face seemed halfway white and yellow
While the left one looked the color of the race
45 That lives close to the source of the Nile.
Beneath each face there sprouted two large wings,
Suitably massive for such a bird of prey:
I never sighted sails so broad at sea.
They had no feathers but looked just like a bat’s,
50 And he kept flapping these wings up and down
So that three winds moved out from in around him:
This was the cause Cocytus was all iced.
With six eyes he wept, and from his three chins
Dripped down the teardrops and a bloody froth.
55 In each mouth he mashed up a separate sinner
With his sharp teeth, as if they were a grinder,
And in this way he put the three through torture.
For the one in front, the biting was as nothing
Compared to the clawing, for at times his back
60 Remained completely stripped bare of its skin.
"That soul up there who suffers the worst pain,"
My master said, "is Judas Iscariot —
His head within, he kicks his legs outside.
"Of those other two, with their heads hung down,
65 The one who hangs from the black snout is Brutus:
Look how he writhes and mutters not a word!
"That other one is Cassius, who seems brawny.
But nightfall rises once again, and we now
Must take our leave, since we have seen the whole."
70 As he requested, I held him round the neck,
And then he waited the right time and place,
And when the wings spread open wide enough
He caught firm hold of Satan’s shaggy flanks.
Downward from shock to shock he climbed below
75 Between the matted hair and frozen crust.
When we were at the point at which the thigh
Revolves, right where the hip widens out,
My guide, by straining and agonizing effort,
Turned his head round to where his legs had been
80 And grabbed the hair, like a man climbing up,
So that I thought we’d headed back to hell!
"Hold tight! these are the only stairs to take us
Out of this sin-filled hole," said my master,
Panting, like a man worn out, for breath.
85 Then he squeezed through the crevice of a rock
And raised me up onto its rim to sit,
And afterward reached me with one wary step.
I lifted up my eyes, thinking I’d see
Lucifer as I had left him — instead
90 I found him with his legs suspended upward!
And if at that time I became confused
Let dull minds judge: those who do not see
What point it was that I must just have passed.
"Stand up!" my master said, "Up on your feet!
95 The way is long and the path strenuous.
The sun once more turns back to middle tierce."
It was no palace hall, the place where we
Had come, but a natural stone cavern
With scanty lighting and a treacherous floor.
100 "Before we uproot ourselves from this abyss,
My master," said I when I stood up straight,
"Talk to me a bit to clear my error:
"Where is the ice? And how can he be fixed
Upside-down like that? And how in so short time
105 Has the sun moved from dusk to morning?"
And he told me, "You picture yourself still
On the other side of center where I caught
The hair of the vile worm that pierced the earth.
"You were there as long as I climbed downward.
110 When I turned myself round you passed the point
To which all weight on every side pulls down.
"And now you come under the hemisphere
Opposite that which domes the vast dry land:
There, beneath its pinnacle of sky,
115 "The Man, sinless in birth and life, was slain.
Your feet stand on a little sphere, a spot
That marks the other side of Judecca.
"Here it is morning when it is evening there,
And he whose hair supplied our ladder down
120 Is still stuck fast, as he was from the first.
"He fell down straight from heaven on this side,
And the land, which once had bulged out here,
In fright at his fall cloaked itself with sea
"And rushed up toward our hemisphere; perhaps,
125 What you see on this side, to flee from him,
Left this space vacant here and spurted upward.
"Below, as far away from Beelzebub
As the limit of his tomb, there is a place
Which is known not by sight but by the sound
130 "Of a small stream that courses down this way
Along the hollow of a rock it wore
Away with winding flow and trickling fall."
Along that hidden path my guide and I
Started out to return to the bright world.
135 And without a thought for any resting-stops,
We bounded up, he first and I second,
Until, through a round opening, I saw
Some of the lovely things the heavens hold:
From there we came out to see once more the stars.
His mouth raised up above his savage meal,
That sinner wiped his lips upon the hair
Of the head that he had chewed on from behind.
Then he began, "You want me to make new
5 A desperate grief which even to call back
Crushes my heart before I start to speak.
"But should my words become a fruitful seed
Of infamy for this traitor whom I gnaw,
You’ll see me speak and weep at the same time.
10 "I don’t know who you are or by what means
You’ve come down here, but when I hear you talk
You surely seem to me a Florentine.
"You need to know I was Count Ugolino,
And this is the Archbishop Ruggieri.
15 Now I shall tell you why I am his neighbor.
"How I was captured and then put to death
As the result of his own evil scheming,
I, who trusted him, need not explain.
"What you cannot have heard, however, is
20 How cruel my death was: that you now shall hear
And you will know whether he has wronged me.
"A narrow window in a tower cell,
Which for my sake is called the Tower of Hunger
And in which others must be yet locked up,
25 "Had through its opening shown me several moons
Already, when I dreamed the nightmare
Which rent the veil of the future for me.
"This man seemed lord and master of the hunt,
Chasing the wolf and whelps upon the mountains
30 Which block the Pisans’ view toward Lucca.
"With well-trained hounds, a lean and eager pack,
He had sent up ahead of him, in front,
Gualandi, with Sismondi and Lanfranchi.
"After a short run, so it seemed to me,
35 Father and sons fell tired, and with sharp teeth
It seemed to me I saw their sides ripped open.
"When I awoke before the break of day,
I heard my little sons who were with me
Crying in their sleep and asking bread.
40 "You are cruel if by now you do not grieve
To think of all that my own heart forewarned:
And if you do not weep, what would you weep for?
"They then awakened, and the hour drew near
When customarily they brought us food,
45 But each of us was worried by his dream.
"Below I heard them nailing up the door
Of the horrible tower — at that, I looked,
Without a word into my young sons’ faces.
"I did not weep, I had so turned to stone
50 Within me. They wept. And my little Anselm
Said, ‘You stare so... Father, what is it?’
"At that I shed no tears, and I said nothing
In answer all that day nor the next night
Until another sun rose on the world.
55 "When a small ray of sunlight made its way
Into that forlorn prison and I saw
By their four faces the look in my own,
"I bit both of my hands in desperate grief,
And they, thinking I acted out of hunger,
60 All of a sudden stood straight up and wailed,
" ‘Father, the pain for us would be far less
If you ate us! You put this wretched flesh
Upon us and now you may strip it off!’
"I calmed myself, not to make them sadder.
65 That and the following day we kept silence.
Ah hard earth! Why did you not open up?
"After we had come to the fourth day,
Gaddo threw himself down full length at my feet
And cried, ‘Father, why don’t you help me?’
70 "He died then, and just as you see me
I saw my three fall one by one by one
Between the fifth day and the sixth, and then,
"By now blind, I went groping over each boy
And for two days I called them who were dead.
75 Then fasting did what grief had failed to do."
When he had spoken this, with his eyes rolling
He once more seized the loathed skull in his teeth
Which were as strong on the bone as a dog’s.
Ah, Pisa! scandal to all the peoples
80 Of the lovely land where our sì is sounded,
Since your own neighbors are slow to punish you,
Then let Caprara and Gorgona move
And make a dam for the mouth of the Arno
So that every soul in you might drown!
85 For if Count Ugolino was accused
Of having himself betrayed your fortresses,
You had no right to crucify his sons.
Their newborn years had made them innocent,
You newborn Thebes! — Uguiccione, Brigata,
90 And the other two my canto named above.
We pushed on farther, where frost wraps around
With its rough covering another race
With bodies not bent down but turned face up.
Their own weeping will not let them weep,
95 And grief which finds no outlet through their eyes
Turns inward to intensify their anguish,
Because the first tears cluster in a knot
And, like a mask of crystal, fill up all
The hollow socket underneath the eyebrows.
100 And although the deeply freezing cold
Had taken all sensation from my face
And left it feeling like a hard dead callus,
I now thought that I felt a breath of wind
And asked, "My master, who has stirred this breeze?
105 Are not all vapors snuffed out here below?"
And he replied, "Shortly you shall be where
Your own eyesight will answer you on this
When you see why the wind blows from above."
And one of those sad wraiths in the cold crust
110 Cried out to us, "O souls so cruel that
This final outpost has been given to you,
"Lift off from my face the stiffened veils
That I may free the pain that fills my heart
Before this weeping freezes up once more."
115 To this I told him, "If you want my help,
Tell me who you are: if I give no aid
May I drop to the bottom of the ice!"
He answered, "I am Brother Alberigo,
One of the fruits of the corrupted garden
120 Who here gets dates for figs I handed out."
"Oh," I exclaimed, "are you already dead?"
And he said to me, "How my body does
There in the world above, I do not know.
"For Ptolomea has this privilege:
125 Often the soul falls down into this place
Before Atropos sends it out of life.
"And that you may be all the more willing
To scrape the frost-glazed tears from off my face
Know this: as soon as the soul proves a traitor,
130 "As I did, its body then is snatched away
By a demon who takes possession of it
Until its time on earth has all run out.
"The soul comes crashing down into this cistern,
And maybe the body of the shade wintering
135 Here behind me still appears up there.
"You must know him, if you but recently arrived.
He is Ser Branca d’Oria, and many years
Have passed since he was locked up in this ice."
"I think," I said to him, "you must be lying,
140 For Branca d’Oria has not even died;
He eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes."
"Above in the ditch of the Malebranche,"
He said then, "where the sticky pitch boils up,
Michel Zanche had not as yet rained down
145 "When Branca left his body for a devil
To take his place, and so did a close kinsman
Who carried out this treachery with him.
"But now — reach out your hand — open my eyes!"
I did not, however, open them for him,
150 Since rudeness toward him was a courtesy.
Ah Genoese! you men so estranged
From all sound custom and full of all corruption,
Why have you not been scattered from this world?
For with the wickedest spirit of Romagna
155 I found one of you so vile that for his deeds
In Cocytus he already bathes in soul
And still appears up here alive in body.
"O God, the Heathen Come," alternating
Now three, now four, melodic psalmody,
The weeping women now began to sing;
And Beatrice, sighing and sympathetic,
5 Listened to them, so changed in her features
That Mary at the cross looked no more sad-faced.
But when those other virgins each gave way
For her to speak, rising to her feet,
She stood up straight and, coloring like fire,
10 "A little while and you shall not see me,
And again," she said, "my dearest sisters,
Another little while and you shall see me."
Then she set all the seven in front of her,
And at her back, with just a nod, she placed
15 Me and the lady and the sage who'd stayed.
So she moved onward, and I do not think
That she had put ten steps upon the ground
When instantly she struck my eyes with her eyes,
And with a tranquil look she spoke to me,
20 "Come forward more, that if I speak with you,
You may be better placed to listen to me."
As soon as I was with her as I should be,
She said to me, "Brother, why not venture
To question me, now that you come with me?"
25 Like those who with excessive reverence
Speak in the presence of superiors
And catch their living voices in their teeth,
That was my case when with stumbling diction
I began, "My lady, you know what
30 I need, and what will do me good you know."
And she told me, "I want you from now on
To tear yourself away from fear and shame
And talk no more like someone in a dream.
"Know that the vessel which the serpent smashed
35 Was, and is not. But he who bears the blame
Shall learn that God’s revenge fears no delays.
"The eagle that left its feathers on the chariot
Which then became a monster, then a prey,
Will not for all time be without an heir,
40 "For I see clearly, and so can tell you this,
Stars are already near, secure from check
Or hindrance, that will bring us to a time
"In which a five hundred, ten and five,
God’s messenger, shall kill the thieving whore
45 Together with the giant who sins with her.
"Perhaps my prophecy, which is as obscure
As Themis and the Sphinx, fails to convince you
Since, in their fashion, it clouds up your mind;
"But soon events themselves shall be the Naiads
50 That will resolve this difficult enigma
Without the ravaging of herds or grain.
"Take note! and as I utter these words to you
Do you in your turn teach them to all those
Who live the life that is a race to death;
55 "And keep in mind, when you shall write them down,
Not to conceal what you saw of the tree
Which now twice over has been here stripped bare.
"Whoever robs that tree or rends its branches
With act of blasphemy offends God who
60 For his sole use created it all-holy.
"For eating of its fruit the first soul yearned
Five thousand years and more in pain and hunger
For him who with himself paid for the eating.
"Your mind is fast asleep if it won’t guess
65 There is a special reason why this tree
Is so tall and inverted at its top;
"And had vain thoughts, like waters of the Elsa,
Not petrified your mind, and pleasure in them
Strained it, as Pyramus the mulberry,
70 "Then simply by details of height and width
You would have recognized the moral sense
Of God’s justice when he forbade this tree.
"But since I see that in your intellect
You turned to stone, and stony, so opaque
75 The light of what I say has dazzled you,
"I want you to take back my words within you —
And if not written down, at least depicted —
As a pilgrim’s staff returns enwreathed with palm."
And I: "As wax stamped by the seal takes on
80 The impressed figure without changing it,
So is my brain imprinted now by you.
"But why do your own deeply longed-for words
Soar up so high beyond my vision that
The more I strain the more they’re lost from sight?"
85 "They soar that you may know," she said,
"The school which you have followed, and may see
How well its teaching follows my own words,
"And see too that your way is as far distant
From the divine way as the earth is from
90 The heaven that spins highest of the nine."
I answered her then, "I do not remember
That ever I estranged myself from you,
Nor does my conscience gnaw at me for this."
"And if you cannot now remember it,"
95 She smilingly replied, "then call to mind
How you have drunk of Lethe on this day,
"And just as smoke is sure proof of a fire,
So your forgetting clearly indicates
A fault in your will’s tending somewhere else.
100 "But from now on my words shall be as bare
As it is suitable or needful for me
To make them plain for your rude sight to grasp."
Now more glittering, now with slower steps,
The sun tracked the meridian circle
105 Which with one’s point of view shifts here and there,
When, just as one who goes before a group
As guide will halt if he should happen on
Something strange or trace of something strange,
The seven women halted at the edge
110 Of a pale shadow such as mountains cast
On cold streams under green leaves and black boughs.
In front of them I seemed to see Euphrates
And Tigris welling from a single spring
And, in parting, lingering like friends.
115 "O light, O glory of the human race,
What water is this that here gushes out
From one source and then draws itself away?"
To this request of mine, she answered, "Ask
Matilda to tell you." The lovely woman,
120 As if she wished to free herself from blame,
Replied, "I told him this and other things,
And I am sure the waters of the Lethe
Did not cloud out his recollection of it."
And Beatrice: "Some greater care, perhaps,
125 Which often steals away one’s memory,
Has left the eyes of his mind in the dark.
"But see, there is Eunoè flowing onward:
Lead him to it and, as it is your custom,
Bring his fainting powers back to life."
130 As a noble soul that offers no excuse,
But of another’s will makes her own will,
As soon as some outward sign discloses it,
So, when the lovely woman took me with her,
She moved ahead, and with womanly grace
135 She said to Statius, "Come with him as well."
If, reader, I had room to write more lines,
I would sing still, in part, of the sweet drink
That kept me thirsting always after more,
But since all of the pages planned beforehand
140 For this, the second canticle, are filled,
The curb of art lets me run on no further.
From out those holiest waves I now returned,
Refashioned, just as new trees are renewed
With their new foliage, for I came back
145 Pure and prepared to leap up to the stars.
My eyes were so intent and fixed on her
To satisfy the thirst of those ten years
That every other sense was quenched in me.
On one side and the other, my eyes were walled
5 By indifference to all else: the holy smile
So drew them to itself with the old net
When I was forced to turn my face leftward
By those three goddesses because I heard
From them the words, "You gaze too fixedly!"
10 And my sight was in such a state as when
The eyes have just been struck by too much sun,
So that for some time I could make out nothing;
But when my sight grew used to lesser objects
(I say "to lesser" in relation to
15 The greater one from whom I turned by force),
I saw that the magnificent army there
Had wheeled round to the right, and now was turning
With faces toward the sun and the seven flames.
Just as a squadron, underneath their shields,
20 Turn to retreat and, with the standard, wheel
Around before the rest can swing about,
So the militia of the celestial realm
In the advanced guard passed in front of us
Before the chariot circled on its pole.
25 At that the women turned back to the wheels,
And then the griffin pulled his blissful burden
In such a way none of his feathers stirred.
The lovely woman who towed me at the ford,
And Statius, and I, were following
30 The wheel that makes the smaller arc in turning.
So pacing through the soaring forest, empty
Because of her who trusted in the serpent,
Our steps kept time to an angelic tune.
We had advanced about the distance covered
35 By three flights of an arrow shot from its bow,
When Beatrice stepped down from the chariot.
I heard them all there murmuring "Adam,"
And then they gathered round a tree stripped bare,
On every branch, of foliage and flowers.
40 Its branches, which spread wider as they grow
Higher up, would, with their towering height,
Make even Indians marvel in their forests.
"Blessed are you, griffin, that your beak
Tears nothing from this sweetly-tasting tree
45 Which sadly racks the stomach afterward!"
Around the sturdy tree, the others cried
These words; and the two-natured animal:
"So is preserved the seed of all justice."
And turning to the pole-shaft he had pulled,
50 He dragged it to the foot of the widowed trunk
And tied it to the wood from which it came.
Just as our trees, when the strong light of spring
Streams downward mingled with the rays that glow
Behind the stars of the celestial Fish,
55 Swell into bud, and then renew themselves
In each one’s coloring, before the sun
Yokes its steeds under a new constellation,
So, showing color less deep than the rose
But darker than the violet, the tree
60 That first had boughs so barren was renewed.
I did not understand — it is not sung
On earth — the hymn that company sang there,
Nor could I hear the music to the end.
Could I portray the ruthless eyes of Argus
65 Lulled to sleep, hearing the tale of Syrinx —
The eyes whose long-kept watching cost so dear —
Then like a painter who paints from a model,
I here would picture how I fell asleep,
But let whoever wants to depict sleeping!
70 I move on, then, to when I came awake,
And I tell you a bright light rent the veil
Of sleep, and a voice: "What are you doing? Rise!"
Just as, when brought to see the blossoms of
The apple tree whose fruit the angels crave
75 And makes an endless marriage-feast in heaven,
Peter and John and James were overpowered
And, coming to themselves at that same word
By which slumbers more profound were broken,
They saw their company dwindle away
80 When Moses and Elijah disappeared,
And viewed their Master’s raiment changed again:
So I came to myself and saw that same
Compassionate woman standing over me
Who first had led my steps along the shore.
85 And all perplexed, I asked, "Where is Beatrice?"
She answered, "See her seated on the roots
Of that tree there with its fresh foliage.
"See all the company surrounding her;
The rest behind the griffin rise to heaven
90 With sweeter and with deeper melodies."
If she said more than this I do not know,
For already my eyes filled with sight of her
Who shut me off from every other thought.
She sat there all alone on the bare ground,
95 Left like a lookout for the chariot
Which I had seen the two-form animal tie.
In a ring the seven nymphs now fashioned
A shelter for her; in their hands they held
The lamps the north and south winds cannot quench.
100 "Here, for a short time, you'll be a forest wayfarer;
Then you shall live with me a citizen
Forever of that Rome where Christ is Roman.
"To benefit the world, then, that lives badly,
Fix your eyes on the chariot. What you see,
105 Make sure you write it down when you return there."
So Beatrice spoke. And I, who at the feet
Of her commands was all obedience,
Attached my mind and eyesight where she wished.
Lightning never fell with such swift motion
110 Down from the densest cloud, when it descends
From out the region that lies most remote,
As did the bird of Jove which I watched swoop
Down through the tree, tearing at the bark
And also at the flowers and new leaves.
115 It struck the chariot with its full force,
Making it reel like a ship in a storm,
Tossed, now to starboard, now to port, by waves.
Then I saw leaping up into the body
Of the triumphal vehicle a fox
120 Seemingly starved of wholesome nourishment.
But, reprimanding it for foul offenses,
My lady sent it flying off as fast
As those bones bare of flesh would let it go.
Then, from the tree where it had flown before,
125 I saw the eagle dive inside the chariot
And leave it coated over with its feathers.
And, as a voice breaks from a heart in grief,
There came a voice from heaven and it cried,
"O my small ship, how you are laden down!"
130 Then the ground, it seemed to me, opened up
Between the two wheels, and I saw a dragon
"O you on that side of the sacred stream,"
She began, turning on me her speech’s point —
Even its edge had seemed too sharp for me —
And then went right ahead without a respite,
5 "Tell, tell if this is true! To such a charge
You are obliged to add your own confession."
My power of speech was thrown into such confusion
That my voice stirred and yet was cut off short
Before my throat and mouth could set it free.
10 She barely paused, then said, "What are you thinking?
Answer me! The water of the river
Has not yet dimmed your mournful memories."
Confusion, mixed together with dismay,
Forced from my mouth a Yes, so muted that
15 Eyes would have had to read it on my lips.
Just as a crossbow, shot with too much tension,
Snaps both its bow and bowstring, and the arrow
Strikes at the target with a feeble force,
So I broke then beneath that heavy burden,
20 Pouring out a stream of tears and sighs,
And my voice slackened along its passageway.
At this she said, "In your desire for me
Which always led you on to love the Good
Beyond which there is nothing one can long for,
25 "What pitfalls did you find placed in your path,
What chains, that you had so to strip yourself
Of any hope of journeying ahead?
"And what allurements or advancements were
So obvious upon the brow of others
30 That you felt bound to dally at their doorsills?"
After having heaved a bitter sigh,
I hardly had a voice to give an answer,
And my lips shaped the words with difficulty.
Weeping I said, "Things of the present moment,
35 With their false pleasures, turned my steps aside,
As soon as your face was hidden from my sight."
And she: "Had you kept silent or denied
What you confess, your guilt would not be less
Noted down: It is known by such a Judge!
40 "But when the accusation of the sin
Bursts from one’s own cheeks, within the court
The grindstone turns against the cutting edge.
"Still, that you may now bear the rightful shame
For your error, and that, another time,
45 Hearing the Sirens’ song, you may be stronger,
"Dismiss what you have sown in tears, and listen:
So shall you hear how in a different way
My buried flesh should have conducted you.
"Never in art or nature were you shown
50 Beauty quite like the lovely limbs in which
I was enclosed and which now lie strewn in dust.
"And if the highest beauty failed you so
Through my death, what merely mortal thing
Should then have drawn you to desire it?
55 "At the first arrow shot from such deceits,
Surely you should have flown up higher still,
Following me, no longer in the flesh.
"You ought not to have let some youthful girl
Or other novelty of brief delight
60 Weigh your wings down to face a further shot.
"The fledgling will wait for two or three shots,
But any net is spread or arrow fired
Idly before the eyes of the full-grown bird."
As children, when ashamed, stand dumbfounded
65 With eyes cast on the ground and listening,
Admitting to their fault and fully sorry,
So stood I. And she said, "Since you are grieved
Simply on hearing this, lift up your beard
And you will feel more grief from what you see."
70 With less resistance is the sturdy oak
Uprooted by the blasts out of our homeland
Or by the winds that blow from Libya
Than I, at her command, raised up my chin;
And when, by saying "beard," she meant my face,
75 I truly learned the venom in her speaking.
And while my face was lifted up full-length,
My eyes made out those first-created beings
Resting from their sowing of the flowers.
Light of my eyes, still partly clouded over,
80 Saw Beatrice then turned toward the animal
That is a single person with two natures.
Beneath her veil, and from beyond the stream,
She seemed more to outshine her former self
Than she outshone all others while she lived.
85 The nettle of remorse so stung me there
That what, among all other things, had most
Turned me to its love now became most hateful.
Such guilty recognition gnawed my heart
That I fell, overcome. What I became then
90 She who was the cause of it best knows.
Then, when my heart restored my outer sense,
I saw above me the woman I had found
Alone; she cried, "Hold tight to me! Hold tight!"
She plunged me in the stream up to my neck
95 And, pulling me behind her, passed along,
Lighter than a shuttle, on the water.
When I had nearly reached the sacred shore,
I heard "Asperges me" so sweetly sung
That I cannot recall, much less describe it.
100 The lovely woman opened her arms wide;
She clasped me by the head and dipped me under,
So deep that I was forced to swallow water.
She drew me out then and she led me bathed
Into the dance of the four shining beauties,
105 And each one linked her arm above my head.
"Here we are nymphs — in heaven we are stars:
Before Beatrice was born into the world,
We were ordained to serve as her handmaidens.
"We’ll lead you to her eyes, but for the joyous
110 Light that is within, the three beyond,
Who look more deeply, will sharpen your own eyes."
So singing, they began; and then, together,
They led me with them to the griffin’s breast
Where Beatrice stood in front and faced toward us.
115 "See that you do not spare your gaze," they said,
"For we have placed you here before the emeralds
From which Love once propelled his shafts at you."
A thousand yearnings seething more than flames
Held my eyes fastened to the radiant eyes
120 That remained ever rooted on the griffin.
Exactly like the sunlight in a mirror,
The twofold animal gleamed in her eyes,
Now beaming with one nature, now the other.
Reader, reflect if I was struck with wonder
125 When I observed the object in itself
Stand still while its reflecting image moved.
While my soul, full of gladness and amazement,
Was tasting that food which, while satisfying
Of itself, still causes one to crave it,
130 The other three, revealing by their bearing
That they were of a higher rank, came forward
Dancing to their angelic roundelay.
"Turn, Beatrice, turn your holy eyes to him"
(This was their song) "who now is faithful to you
135 And who has come so many steps to see you!
"For grace do us the grace here to unveil
Your lips to him that he may there discern
The second beauty which you hide from him."
O splendor of the endless living light,
140 Who ever grew so pale beneath the shade
Of Parnassus, or drank its well so deeply,
That he’d not seem to have his mind obstructed,
Trying to render you as you appeared
Where harmony in heaven was your shadow
145 When in the open air you raised your veil?
When the Seven Stars of the first heaven —
Which neither set nor rise, nor ever know
Any cloud except what sin has veiled,
And which make each one there perceive his duty,
5 Just as the Seven Stars down here direct
The mariner to turn his helm toward port —
Stopped short, the truthful people who at first
Had come between the griffin and its lights
Turned to the chariot as to their peace,
10 And one of them, as though sent down from heaven,
In song cried, "Come, my spouse, from Lebanon,"
Three times, and all the rest sang after him.
Just as the blessed at the last trumpet blast
Will rise up ready, each one from his tomb,
15 Singing with new-do
Singing like a woman who is in love,
She — after finishing her speech — continued,
"Blessed are they whose sins are covered over!"
And just as nymphs who used to roam alone
5 Through woodland shadows, one solicitous
To see the sun, another to avoid it,
So she then moved, walking along the bank,
Against the stream, and I kept pace with her,
Following her short steps with my short ones.
10 Between us we’d not gone a hundred steps,
When both banks turned a bend at the same angle,
In such a way that I once more faced east.
And we had not yet gone far on our way
When the lady turned around full-face,
15 Saying to me, "My brother, watch and listen!"
And look! a sudden glowing brightness coursed
Throughout the lofty forest on all sides,
So that at first I thought it must be lightning.
But since as soon as lightning comes it goes,
20 While this light, glowing brighter, lasted brightly,
I asked within my mind, "What thing is this?"
And a sweet-sounding melody ran through
The light-filled air; at that, a holy zeal
Made me reproach the impudence of Eve,
25 In that, where earth and heaven were obedient,
A solitary woman, just then formed,
Would not endure the veil before her eyes:
Had she but stayed devout beneath that veil,
I could have tasted — and for much more time —
30 These ineffable delights before this moment.
While I walked on among so many first fruits
Of everlasting pleasure, all in raptures,
And longing for still deeper happiness,
Ahead of us, beneath the greening boughs,
35 The air became just like a blazing fire,
And now the sweet sound could be heard as song.
O Virgins, sacrosanct, if for your sake
I’ve ever endured fastings, cold, or vigils,
Occasion spurs me now to claim reward!
40 Now Helicon should pour its streams for me,
Urania should help me with her choir
To put in verse things difficult to ponder.
A short way farther on, we seemed to see
Seven golden trees, a false impression
45 Caused by the vast space between the trees and us;
But when I had come up so close to them
That the broad likenesses which fool the senses
Did not let distance blur their true details,
The power which forms matter for the reason
50 Made out that they in fact were candlesticks
And that the voices sang the word "Hosanna."
Atop that beautiful arrangement flamed
Light far more brilliant than the mid-month moon
At midnight in a calm and cloudless sky.
55 I turned around, all full of wonderment,
To my good Virgil, but he answered me
With a look no less bewildered than my own.
Then I returned my gaze to those lofty things
Moving towards us at so slow a pace
60 That even newly wedded brides move faster.
The lady chid me, "Why are you so ardent
Only for the sight of the living lights
And do not look at what comes after them?"
Then I saw people following the lights,
65 As if behind their lords, and clothed in white:
Whiteness so pure has never been on earth!
The water on my left took in my likeness,
And like a mirror, when I looked in it,
Reflected back to me my left-hand side.
70 When I had reached the point along my bank
Where only the stream now separated us,
I stayed my steps so that I could see better,
And I beheld the glowing flames glide forward,
Leaving the air behind them streaked with pigment,
75 Like moving strokes a painter’s brush might make,
So that the air above them remained marked
With seven bands, all in those colors which
Make up the rainbow and Delia’s girdle.
These banners streamed on to the rear and far
80 Beyond my sight; as well as I could judge,
The outside bands were full ten feet apart.
Beneath the vivid sky I have described,
Twenty-four elders, two by two, approached,
With crowns of woven lilies on their brows.
85 They all were singing, "Blessed are you among
The daughters of Adam, and blessed be
Your beauties throughout all eternity!"
After the flowers and fresh-growing grass
Across from me on the opposing bank
90 Were clear again of the elected people,
As star replaces star within the heavens,
Behind the elders came four living creatures,
Each with a crown of green leaves on his head.
Each had six wings with feathers full of eyes.
95 And were the eyes of Argus still alive
They would have looked exactly like his eyes.
I shall not spend more of my verses, reader,
Describing their forms, since I have other charges
So pressing that I can’t be lavish here.
100 But read Ezekiel who pictures them
As he saw them come from the frozen north
Out of a storm of wind and cloud and fire.
And just as you will find them in his pages,
Such were they here, except that, for the wings,
105 John is with me and disagrees with him.
The space between the four of them contained
A chariot of triumph on two wheels,
Coming drawn at the neck of a griffin.
And he stretched upward one wing and the other
110 Midway between the bands — three here, three there —
So that by splitting them he did no damage.
They rose so high the wings were lost to sight;
His limbs were golden where he was a bird
And all the rest was white mixed in with red.
115 Never did Africanus or Augustus
Please Rome with such a splendid chariot,
But even the sun’s cannot compare to it —
The sun’s, which veering off its course burnt out
At the devout petition of the earth,
120 When Jove in his mysterious ways was just.
Three women in a circle next came dancing
At the right wheel; the first one was so red
She scarcely would be noticed in a flame;
The second seemed as if her flesh and bone
125 Had been cut out of emerald; and the third
Appeared to be of freshly fallen snow.
And now the white one seemed to lead them round
And now the red, and from their leader’s song
The others took the measure fast and slow.
130 By the left wheel, four women clad in purple
Celebrated, dancing to the cadence
Of one of them with three eyes in her head.
After all the group I have described,
I saw two old men, different in their dress
135 But like in bearing, straightforward and staid:
One showed himself to be by his attire
A follower of great Hippocrates
Longing now to search in and around
The heavenly woods — dense and green with life —
Which softened the new sunlight for my eyes,
Not waiting any longer, I left the cliff,
5 Making my slow, slow way on level ground,
Over the soil which everywhere spread fragrance.
A sweetly scented breeze, which did not vary
Within itself, struck me across the forehead
With no more force than would a gentle wind.
10 The branches quivering at its touch all bent
Spontaneously in the direction where
The holy mountain casts its shadow first;
Yet the trees weren't so swayed from standing straight
That little birds among the topmost boughs
15 Had to leave off the practice of their art,
But with their song they welcomed, full of joy,
The early morning hours among the leaves
Which kept up an accompaniment to their rhymes,
As sound accumulates from branch to branch
20 Through the pine forest on the shore of Chiassi
When Aeolus lets the Sirocco loose.
Now my slow steps had brought me on so far
Into the ancient woodland that I could
Not see back to the point where I had entered —
25 And look! a stream stopped me from going farther.
With its little waves it bent toward the left
The grass that sprouted up along its bank.
All of the clearest waters here on earth
Would seem to carry clouds of sediment
30 Compared to that stream which keeps nothing hidden,
Although its dark, dark waters flow beneath
The ever-present shade which never lets
A beam of sun or moon to glimmer there.
I stayed my feet and passed my eyes across
35 The far side of the river to survey
The lush variety of blossoming boughs,
And I saw there — as something suddenly
Appears that causes such astonishment
It drives all other thought out of the mind —
40 A woman all alone, who walked along
Singing, and picking flower after flower,
For her whole path was painted with their colors.
"Ah, lovely lady, you who warm yourself
In rays of love, if I am to believe
45 Those looks which often witness to the heart,"
I said to her, "may you be pleased to come
Forward toward this river, close enough
That I may comprehend what you are singing.
"You make me remember where and what
50 Proserpine was when her mother lost her,
And she too lost the flowers of the spring."
Even as a woman, dancing, turns around
With feet close to the ground and to each other,
And scarcely places foot in front of foot,
55 She turned upon the red and yellow flowers
In my direction, no differently than would
A virgin lowering her modest eyes.
And in this way she satisfied my prayers,
Approaching me so near that the sweet sound
60 That came to me was comprehensible.
As soon as she had come to where the waves
Of the untainted stream just touched the grass,
She favored me with the lifting of her eyes.
I do not think a light so splendid shone
65 Beneath the lids of Venus when her son,
Without intending, pierced her with an arrow.
Standing straight, she smiled on the far bank,
Weaving in her hands the colored flowers
Which that high land produces without seeds.
70 The stream kept us a mere three strides apart,
And yet the Hellespont where Xerxes crossed
(It still serves as a curb to human pride)
Stirred no more hatred in Leander for
Its surging flood from Abydos to Sestos
75 Than I felt at that stream’s not opening then.
"You are new here, and maybe," she began,
"Because I smile in this place which was chosen
For the human race as its first nest,
"A doubt of some kind keeps you wondering,
80 But the psalm ‘You made me glad’ sheds light
That can clear up the mist that clouds your minds.
"And you who are in front, and called on me,
Speak if you would hear more, since I came ready
For all your questions till you’re satisfied."
85 "The water and the woodland sounds," I said,
"Contend in me against my recent faith
In something I heard contrary to this."
To this she answered, "I will tell you how
The thing that makes you wonder has been caused,
90 And I will clear the mist that troubles you.
"The highest Good, Self pleasing Self alone,
First made man good and for good, and this place
He gave him as a pledge of endless peace.
"Through his own sin his stay here was cut short;
95 Through his own sin he changed innocent laughter
And wholesome sport to tearfulness and toil.
"So that the tempests — which the exhalations
Of earth and water, drawn up by the heat
As far as possible, produce below —
100 "Should not make war on man in any way,
This mountain rose to such a height toward heaven
That it is free, above the gate, from storms.
"Now, since the whole air rotates in a circuit,
Moving with the primal revolution,
105 Unless its circling breaks off at some point,
"Upon this height, which is completely open
To the pure air, this whirling motion strikes
And makes the forest, since it’s dense, resound;
"And, being struck, each tree has so much power
110 That with its seed it makes the same breeze pregnant
Which, in its whirling, scatters seed abroad;
"And other land conceives and reproduces
The different plants that grow with different powers
According to the soil itself and climate.
115 "It should not seem a wonder, then, on earth,
Once this account is heard, when some plant there
Takes root without a seed that can be seen.
"And you should know here that the holy field
Where you now stand is full of every growth
120 And has in it fruit never plucked on earth.
"Water you see does not spring from a source
Restored by vapors which the cold condenses,
Like rivers gaining and then losing force,
"But pours out from a sure and steady fountain
125 Which by the will of God regains as much
As it gushes freely down on either side.
"On this side it flows down with the power
To wipe away the memory of sin,
On that side to bring all good deeds to mind.
130 "It is called Lethe here, Eunoè there;
And its waters will not work unless they first
Be tasted on one side and then the other:
"Their flavor is above all other sweetness.
And though your thirst may now be fully quenched
135 If I disclose to you no more than that,
"I’ll give you, as a gift, a corollary;
Nor do I think you’ll welcome my words less
If they extend beyond my promise to you
Just as when the sun shoots its first rays
On the land where its Maker shed his blood,
While Ebro flows beneath the scales of Libra,
And Ganges’ waves are scorched by noonday heat,
5 So here the sun stood, for the day was fading
As God’s enraptured angel appeared to us.
He stood upon the bank, outside the flames,
And sang aloud, "Blessed are the clean of heart!"
In a voice far more alive than ours.
10 Then, "You may go no further, holy souls,
Unless the fire sting you: enter it,
And don’t be deaf to what is sung beyond,"
He said to us when we drew near to him;
And when I heard him speak so, I became
15 Like someone buried in the pit, alive.
I now arched forward over my clasped hands.
Staring at the fire, I clearly pictured
Human bodies I had once seen burned.
My kindly escorts turned in my direction,
20 And Virgil said to me, "My son, there may
Be suffering here, but there can be no death.
"Remember now, remember! And if I
On Geryon have guided you to safety,
What shall I do now we are nearer God?
25 "Rest assured that should you have to stay
A thousand years within this womb of flame,
It could not singe a single hair from you!
"And if perhaps you think that I deceive you,
Draw near the flame and test it for yourself,
30 With your own hands, against your garment’s hem.
"Put off now, put off all of your fears!
Turn this way, come, and confidently enter!"
But, conscience-stricken, I stood motionless.
When he saw me stand so stubborn and stock-still,
35 Slightly upset he said, "Now, son, look here:
This is the wall between yourself and Beatrice."
As, at the name of Thisbe, Pyramus,
Near death, opened his eyes and looked at her
(That moment when the mulberry turned red),
40 So, my stubbornness softening at last,
I turned to my wise master when I heard
The name that always blossoms in my mind.
At that he shook his head and said, "What’s this?
You’d have us stay on this side?" Then he smiled,
45 As one does at a child won by an apple.
Then he stepped in the flames ahead of me,
Requesting Statius, who a long way now
Had walked between us, to approach behind.
Once in the fire, I would have flung myself
50 Into molten glass to feel cooled off,
The burning heat inside was so intense.
My tender father, trying to comfort me,
Kept talking about Beatrice as we walked,
Saying, "I seem to see her eyes already!"
55 A singing voice, beyond, was guiding us;
And we, while listening all the time to it,
Came outside at the point which starts to climb.
"Come, you who are blessed of my Father,"
Resounded from within a light, so bright
60 It overcame me, and I could not look.
"The sun sinks," the voice added; "evening comes;
Do not stop now, but hurry up your steps
Before the western sky grows dark again."
The pathway leaped straight up, on through the rock,
65 In such direction that my body blocked
The rays of sun — already low — before me.
And we had scaled just a few steps when I
And my two sages sensed, because my shadow
Vanished, that the sun had set behind us.
70 Before the wide horizon turned one color
Through all the boundless reaches of the sky
And night possessed the whole of its dominion,
Each of us made his bed upon a stair:
The nature of the mountain took from us
75 If not the pleasure then the power to climb.
As goats, that have been swift of foot and frisky
Up on the peaks before they’re put to graze,
Grow reposeful while they are ruminating,
Hushed in the shade, although the sun is hot,
80 Watched by the shepherd who leans on his staff,
Tending to their rest with his alertness;
And as the herdsman, who lies in the open,
Passes the night beside his quiet flock,
On guard that no wild beast should scatter them,
85 So were all three of us on that occasion,
I as the goat and those two as the herdsmen,
Hemmed by high rocks on this side and on that.
One could see little of the outside there,
But in that little I observed the stars
90 Brighter and larger than they usually are.
While ruminating, and admiring them,
Sleep overcame me, sleep which often knows
What is the news before events occur.
Within the hour, I think, when from the east
95 Cytherea, who always seems ablaze
With fires of love, first shone upon the mountain,
A young and pretty woman came to me
Within a dream as she walked through a meadow,
Gathering flowers and singing while she said,
100 "Whoever asks my name, let him know that
I am Leah, and I ply my lovely hands
In circles to make garlands for myself.
"For a glimpse of pleasure at the mirror, I
Adorn myself here, but my sister Rachel
105 Never leaves her mirror, and sits all day.
"Her yearning is to see her shining eyes,
As mine is with my hands to adorn myself:
She is content to look and I to labor."
And now, with the soft splendor of the dawn
110 Whose rising is more welcome to the pilgrims
As, in returning, they lodge nearer home,
The shadows of the night fled from all sides,
And my sleep with them. And at that I rose,
Finding my great teachers up already.
115 "That spotless fruit which the concerns of mortals
Go searching for on many branches shall,
This day, give peace to all your hungerings."
These were the words that Virgil spoke to me,
And never could there be a gift received
120 Equal to the pleasure that they gave.
So strong a will on will came over me
To be up there that, from then on, at each step
I felt my wings outstretching for the flight.
When all the stairway under us had sped
125 And we had reached the highest step of all,
Virgil fixed his eyes on me and said,
"My son, now you have seen the temporal and
The eternal fire, and you have reached the place
Where on my own I can discern no further:
130 "I’ve brought you here with intelligence and art.
Let your own pleasure guide you from now on:
You’re through the steep and through the narrow ways.
"See there the sun that shines upon your brow;
See the young grass, the flowers, and the shrubs,
135 Which here the earth all by itself produces.
"Until those beautiful, rejoicing eyes
Come, which in tears moved me to come to you,
You can sit down or walk among the flowers.
"Await no more a word or sign from me.
140 Your will is straightened, free, and whole — and not
To act upon its promptings would be wrong:
"I crown and miter you lord of your self."
While we walked on this way along the edge
In single file, my gentle master often
Calling, "Watch out! Make good use of my warning,"
The sun, which by now with its beams of light
5 Was changing the whole face of the western sky
From blue to white, struck me on my right shoulder.
And with my shadow there I made the flames
Seem to glow more, and simply at that sign
I saw many souls in passing pay attention.
10 This was the reason to give them an opening
To talk about me, and they began by saying,
"He does not seem to have a spirit’s body."
Then some of them approached as near to me
As they were able to, always careful
15 Not to step out where they would not be burned.
"O you who move, not out of sluggishness
But deference perhaps, behind the others,
Answer me who burn in thirst and fire.
"Not I alone have need of your response:
20 All these thirst for it more than Indians
Or Ethiopians thirst for cold water.
"Tell us how it is that you can make
Yourself a wall before the sun, as if
You were not yet caught in the net of death."
25 So one of them said to me, and I should
Now have revealed myself, had I not been
Absorbed in something strange which then appeared,
For down the middle of the burning road
Came people with their faces opposite
30 To these, and they made me stare in suspense.
There I saw all the shades on either side
Hurrying and kissing one another
Without halting, content with this brief greeting:
As ants in black battalions rub their muzzles,
35 One with another, so as to seek out,
Perhaps, their prospects and their way ahead.
As soon as these break off their friendly welcome,
Before they take the first step to set off,
Each one attempts to outshout all the rest,
40 The newcomers crying "Sodom and Gomorrah!"
The others, "Pasiphae climbs in the cow
To let the bull come gallop to her lust!"
Then just like cranes that fly away, some
To the Riphean mountains, some toward the sands,
45 These to escape the frost and those the sun:
One group of people leaves and one comes on,
And they return in tears to their first chants
And to the shout most suitable for them.
And those same shades who’d first entreated me
50 Drew near to me as they had done before,
Their looks declaring their intent to listen.
I, having seen their wish a second time,
Began, "O souls secure in your inheriting,
Whenever it may be, a state of peace,
55 "My limbs have not been left mature or green
There in the world, but here they are with me,
With their blood and with their bones intact.
"From here I go up, to be blind no longer.
Above, a lady’s won this grace for me
60 That I may bear my body through your world.
"But — so may your best longing soon be filled
So that the heaven which is full of love
And spreads most spaciously may shelter you —
"Tell me, that I may yet put it on paper,
65 Who are you all and what that crowd is there
Which is retreating now behind your backs."
No less astonished than a mountain-dweller
Who, gawking in a stupor, is struck dumb
When, rough and rustic, he comes into town,
70 Was each shade there, with a blank expression;
But when they threw off their bewilderment —
Which in a noble heart is quickly banished —
He who’d asked me before, began, again,
"Blessed are you who for a better death
75 Store in your ship experience of our lands!
"The people who don’t come with us offended
By that same sin for which Caesar in triumph
Once heard a voice call out against him, ‘Queen!’
"And that is why they run off shouting ‘Sodom!’
80 Railing against themselves, as you have heard,
And so support the burning with their shame.
"In sinning we were heterosexual:
But since we did not yield to human law,
Following our appetites like beasts,
85 "To heap opprobrium upon ourselves,
Leaving those shades, we blare the name of her
Who bestialized herself in beast-like planks.
"Now you know our acts and what our guilt is.
If you should wish to know us each by name,
90 There is no time to tell, nor could I do it.
"In my regard I’ll set your heart at rest:
I am Guido Guinizelli, and purged here
Since I repented well before the end."
As, while Lycurgus raged with grief, two sons
95 Rejoiced to see their mother once again,
So I responded (but with more restraint)
When I heard that spirit name himself the father
Of me and of my betters, all who ever
Inscribed the sweet and gracious rhymes of love.
100 And without hearing or speaking, full of thought,
I walked along, a long while gazing on him,
Not drawing nearer to him, for the fire.
When I had fed my sight on him, in full
I offered myself ready for his service
105 With such an oath as will compel belief.
And he: "You leave, through what I hear from you,
A trace so deep within me, and so clear,
That Lethe cannot dim or cancel it.
"But if your words just now have sworn the truth,
110 Tell me why you show in speech and look
That you are so affectionate toward me?"
And I said to him, "Those sweet-sounding verses
It is, which as long as modern usage lasts
Will make the ink itself a thing to love."
115 "O brother, the one I point to with my finger,"
He spoke, and pointed to a soul in front,
"Was a better craftsman of the mother tongue.
"In poems of love and prose tales of romance
He overtook them all — and let fools talk
120 Who think Limoges produced a better poet!
"They turn an ear to rumor, not to truth,
And in this way they fashion an opinion
Before listening to reason or to art.
"So, many of our fathers praised Guittone,
125 With hue and cry giving him first prize,
But truth at last has won out with most men.
"Now if you have so large a privilege
That you’re permitted to go into the cloister
In which Christ is the abbot of the college,
130 "Say a paternoster there for me,
As much of it as we need in this world
Where we no longer have the power to sin."
Then, to give a place perhaps to someone close
Behind him, he disappeared in the fire,
135 As a fish dives through water to the depths.
I moved a bit ahead to him who had been
Pointed out to me, and said that my desire
Made ready for his name a grateful place.
He willingly began to speak to me:
140 "Your courteous request so pleases me,
I neither can nor would hide myself from you.
"I am Arnault, who weep and, strolling, sing.
With sorrow I see now my bygone folly
And see ahead with joy my hoped-for bliss.
145 "Now I petition you, by that kind Power
Escorting you to the summit of the staircase,
At the appropriate time, recall my pain."
Then he hid himself in the refining fire