Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy

Canto 24

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Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

The Divine Comedy

Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Canto 24

In that part of the youthful year wherein
The Sun his locks beneath Aquarius tempers,
And now the nights draw near to half the day,
What time the hoar-frost copies on the ground
The outward semblance of her sister white,
But little lasts the temper of her pen,
The husbandman, whose forage faileth him,
Rises, and looks, and seeth the champaign
All gleaming white, whereat he beats his flank,
Returns in doors, and up and down laments,
Like a poor wretch, who knows not what to do;
Then he returns and hope revives again,
Seeing the world has changed its countenance
In little time, and takes his shepherd’s crook,
And forth the little lambs to pasture drives.
Thus did the Master fill me with alarm,
When I beheld his forehead so disturbed,
And to the ailment came as soon the plaster.
For as we came unto the ruined bridge,
The Leader turned to me with that sweet look
Which at the mountain’s foot I first beheld.
His arms he opened, after some advisement
Within himself elected, looking first
Well at the ruin, and laid hold of me.
And even as he who acts and meditates,
For aye it seems that he provides beforehand,
So upward lifting me towards the summit
Of a huge rock, he scanned another crag,
Saying: “To that one grapple afterwards,
But try first if ’tis such that it will hold thee.”
This was no way for one clothed with a cloak;
For hardly we, he light, and I pushed upward,
Were able to ascend from jag to jag.
And had it not been, that upon that precinct
Shorter was the ascent than on the other,
He I know not, but I had been dead beat.
But because Malebolge tow’rds the mouth
Of the profoundest well is all inclining,
The structure of each valley doth import
That one bank rises and the other sinks.
Still we arrived at length upon the point
Wherefrom the last stone breaks itself asunder.
The breath was from my lungs so milked away,
When I was up, that I could go no farther,
Nay, I sat down upon my first arrival.
“Now it behoves thee thus to put off sloth,”
My Master said; “for sitting upon down,
Or under quilt, one cometh not to fame,
Withouten which whoso his life consumes
Such vestige leaveth of himself on earth,
As smoke in air or in the water foam.
And therefore raise thee up, o’ercome the anguish
With spirit that o’ercometh every battle,
If with its heavy body it sink not.
A longer stairway it behoves thee mount;
’Tis not enough from these to have departed;
Let it avail thee, if thou understand me.”
Then I uprose, showing myself provided
Better with breath than I did feel myself,
And said: “Go on, for I am strong and bold.”
Upward we took our way along the crag,
Which jagged was, and narrow, and difficult,
And more precipitous far than that before.
Speaking I went, not to appear exhausted;
Whereat a voice from the next moat came forth,
Not well adapted to articulate words.
I know not what it said, though o’er the back
I now was of the arch that passes there;
But he seemed moved to anger who was speaking.
I was bent downward, but my living eyes
Could not attain the bottom, for the dark;
Wherefore I: “Master, see that thou arrive
At the next round, and let us descend the wall;
For as from hence I hear and understand not,
So I look down and nothing I distinguish.”
“Other response,” he said, “I make thee not,
Except the doing; for the modest asking
Ought to be followed by the deed in silence.”
We from the bridge descended at its head,
Where it connects itself with the eighth bank,
And then was manifest to me the Bolgia;
And I beheld therein a terrible throng
Of serpents, and of such a monstrous kind,
That the remembrance still congeals my blood.
Let Libya boast no longer with her sand;
For if Chelydri, Jaculi, and Phareae
She breeds, with Cenchri and with Amphisbaena,
Neither so many plagues nor so malignant
E’er showed she with all Ethiopia,
Nor with whatever on the Red Sea is!
Among this cruel and most dismal throng
People were running naked and affrighted
Without the hope of hole or heliotrope.
They had their hands with serpents bound behind them;
These riveted upon their reins the tail
And head, and were in front of them entwined.
And lo! at one who was upon our side
There darted forth a serpent, which transfixed him
There where the neck is knotted to the shoulders.
Nor ‘O’ so quickly e’er, nor ‘I’ was written,
As he took fire, and burned; and ashes wholly
Behoved it that in falling he became.
And when he on the ground was thus destroyed,
The ashes drew together, and of themselves
Into himself they instantly returned.
Even thus by the great sages ’tis confessed
The phoenix dies, and then is born again,
When it approaches its five-hundredth year;
On herb or grain it feeds not in its life,
But only on tears of incense and amomum,
And nard and myrrh are its last winding-sheet.
And as he is who falls, and knows not how,
By force of demons who to earth down drag him,
Or other oppilation that binds man,
When he arises and around him looks,
Wholly bewildered by the mighty anguish
Which he has suffered, and in looking sighs;
Such was that sinner after he had risen.
Justice of God! O how severe it is,
That blows like these in vengeance poureth down!
The Guide thereafter asked him who he was;
Whence he replied: “I rained from Tuscany
A short time since into this cruel gorge.
A bestial life, and not a human, pleased me,
Even as the mule I was; I’m Vanni Fucci,
Beast, and Pistoia was my worthy den.”
And I unto the Guide: “Tell him to stir not,
And ask what crime has thrust him here below,
For once a man of blood and wrath I saw him.”
And the sinner, who had heard, dissembled not,
But unto me directed mind and face,
And with a melancholy shame was painted.
Then said: “It pains me more that thou hast caught me
Amid this misery where thou seest me,
Than when I from the other life was taken.
What thou demandest I cannot deny;
So low am I put down because I robbed
The sacristy of the fair ornaments,
And falsely once ’twas laid upon another;
But that thou mayst not such a sight enjoy,
If thou shalt e’er be out of the dark places,
Thine ears to my announcement ope and hear:
Pistoia first of Neri groweth meagre;
Then Florence doth renew her men and manners;
Mars draws a vapour up from Val di Magra,
Which is with turbid clouds enveloped round,
And with impetuous and bitter tempest
Over Campo Picen shall be the battle;
When it shall suddenly rend the mist asunder,
So that each Bianco shall thereby be smitten.
And this I’ve said that it may give thee pain.”

Canto 23

Canto 25