"Through me the
way is to the city of woe;
Through me the way among the people lost.
Through me the way is to eternal sorrow;
incited my sublime architect;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal love.
Only those elements
time cannot wear,
were made before me, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, you who enter here!"
These words in
sombre color I beheld
Written upon the summit of a gate;
When I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!"
And he to me,
as one experienced:
"Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,
All cowardice must needs be here extinct.
We to the place
have come, where I have told you
You will behold the people dolorous
Who have foregone the good of intellect."
And after he
had laid his hand on mine
With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,
He led me in among the secret things.
complaints, and ululations loud
Resounded through the air without a star,
Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
Accents of anger, words of agony,
And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,
Made up a tumult
that goes whirling on
For ever in that air for ever black,
Even as the sand does, when the whirlwind breathes.
And I, who had
my head with horror bound,
Said: "Master, what is this which now I hear?
What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"
And he to me:
"This miserable mode
Maintain the melancholy souls of those
Who lived without infamy or praise.
they with that caitiff choir
Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.
The heavens expelled
them, not to be less fair;
Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
For glory none the damned would have from them."
And I: "Oh Master,
what so grievous is
To these, that makes them lament so sore?"
He answered: "I will tell you very briefly.
These have no
longer any hope of death;
And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envious are of every other fate.
No fame of them
the world permits to be;
Misericord and Justice both disdain them.
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."
And I, who looked
again, beheld a banner,
Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,
That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;
And after it
there came so long a train
Of people, that I ne'er would have believed
That ever Death so many had undone.
When some among
them I had recognised,
I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
Who made through cowardice the great refusal.
Forthwith I comprehended,
and was certain,
That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches
Hateful to God and to his enemies.
who never were alive,
Were naked, and were stung exceedingly
By gadflies and by hornets that were there.
These did their
faces irrigate with blood,
Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet
By the disgusting worms was gathered up.
And when to gazing
farther I betook me.
People I saw on a great river's bank;
When I said: "Master, now vouchsafe to me,
That I may know
who these are, and what law
Makes them appear so ready to pass over,
As I discern athwart the dusky light."
And he to me:
"These things shall all be known
To thee, as soon as we our footsteps stay
Upon the dismal shore of Acheron."
Then with mine
eyes ashamed and downward cast,
Fearing my words might irksome be to him,
From speech refrained I till we reached the river.
And lo! towards
us coming in a boat
An old man, hoary with the hair of eld,
Crying: "Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!
to look upon the heavens;
I come to lead you to the other shore,
To the eternal shades in heat and frost.
And you, that
yonder stands, living soul,
Withdraw yourself from these people, who are dead!"
But when he saw that I did not withdraw,
He said: "By
other ways, by other ports
Thou to the shore shalt come, not here, for passage;
A lighter vessel needs must carry you."
And unto him
the Guide: "Vex thee not, Charon;
It is so willed there where is power to do
That which is willed; and farther question not."
quieted the fleecy cheeks
Of him the ferryman of the livid fen,
Who round about his eyes had wheels of flame.
But all those
souls who weary were and naked
Their colour changed and gnashed their teeth together,
As soon as they had heard those cruel words.
God they blasphemed
and their progenitors,
The human race, the place, the time, the seed
Of their engendering and of their birth!
together they drew back,
Bitterly weeping, to the accursed shore,
Which wait every man who does not fear God.
Charon the demon,
with the eyes of glede,
Beckoning to them, collects them all together,
Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.
As in the autumn-time
the leaves fall off,
First one and then another, till the branch
Unto the earth surrenders all its spoils;
In similar wise
the evil seed of Adam
Throw themselves from that margin one by one,
At signals, as a bird unto its lure.
So they depart
across the dusky wave,
And ere upon the other side they land,
Again on this side a new troop assembles.
"My son," the
courteous Master said to me,
"All those who perish in the wrath of God
Here meet together out of every land;
And ready are
they to pass over the river,
Because celestial Justice spurs them on,
So that their fear is turned into desire.
This way there
never passes a good soul;
And hence if Charon does complain of you,
Well may you know now what his speech imports."
This being finished,
all the dusk champaign
Trembled so violently, that of that terror
The recollection bathes me still with sweat.
The land of tears
gave forth a blast of wind,
thatspewed itself in flame on a red sky,
and all my shattered senses left me. Blind,
like one whom sleep comes over in a swoon,
I stumbled into darkness and went down.