Midway upon the
journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
And the straightforward path had been lost in strife.
Oh my! How hard
a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which the very thought renews the fear this day.
So bitter is it,
death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
I will Speak of the other things I saw and more.
I cannot well repeat
how I entered there,
I was so full of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.
But after I had
reached a mountain's foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,
I looked up and
I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet's rays
Which lead others right by every road.
Then was the fear
a little quieted
That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously.
And even as he,
who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;
So did my soul,
that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.
After my weary
body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.
And lo! almost
where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered over!
And never moved
she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned in place.
The time was the
beginning of the morning shine,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine
At first in motion
set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,
The hour of time,
and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion's aspect which appeared to me.
He seemed as if
against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;
And a she-wolf,
that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!
She brought upon
me so much weight,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.
And as he is who
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,
Even such made
me that beast without peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.
While I was rushing
downward to the lowland,
Before my eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.
When I beheld him
in the desert vast,
"Have pity on me," unto him I cried,
"Which ever you are, or shade or real man!"
He answered me:
"Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.
'Sub Julio' was
I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods of fate.
A poet was I, and
I sang that just learned
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.
But you, why go
back to such annoyance?
Why not climb the Mount Delectable,
Which is the source and cause of every joy?"
"Now, are you that
Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?"
I made response to him with bashful forehead.
"O, of the other
poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore your volume!
You are my master,
and author to me,
You are alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.
Behold the beast,
for which I have turned back;
Do you protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she does make my veins and pulses tremble."
"It behoves you
to take another road,"
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
"If from this savage place you would escape;
Because this beast,
at which you cry out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But harasses him, and she destroys him no doubt;
And has a nature
so malign and ruthless,
That never will she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.
Many the animals
with whom she weds in vane,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.
He will not feed
on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
'Twixt Feltro and Feltro will his nation be;
Of that low Italy
shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;
Through every city
will he hunt her down,
Until he should have driven her back to Hell,
There from where envy first let her loose.
Therefore I think
and judge it for your best
Thou follow me, and I will be your guide,
And lead you now through the eternal place, my guest,
Where you will
hear the desperate lamentations,
Will see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;
And you will see
those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whenever it may be, to the blessed people;
To whom, then,
if you wish to ascend,
A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave you;
Because that Emperor,
who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.
He governs everywhere,
and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects!"
And I to him: "Poet,
By that same God whom you never knew,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,
Would you conduct
me there where you have said so great,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those you make so disconsolate."
Then he then; "Follow."
And he moved ahead
in silence, behind I followed where he led.