Canto IX

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   THAT hue which cowardice brought out on me,
2   Beholding my Conductor backward turn,
3   Sooner repressed within him his new colour.
 
4   He stopped attentive, like a man who listens,
5   Because the eye could not conduct him far
6   Through the black air, and through the heavy fog.
 
7   Still it behoveth us to win the fight,
8   Began he; Else . . . Such offered us herself . . .
9   O how I long that some one here arrive !
 
10   Well I perceived, as soon as the beginning
11   He covered up with what came afterward,
12   That they were words quite different from the first;
 
13   But none the less his saying gave me fear,
14   Because I carried out the broken phrase,
15   Perhaps to a worse meaning than he had.
 
16   Into this bottom of the doleful conch
17   Doth any e’er descend from the first grade,
18   Which for its pain has only hope cut off?
 
19   This question put I; and he answered me:
20   Seldom it comes to pass that one of us
21   Maketh the journey upon which I go.
 
22   True is it, once before I here below
23   Was conjured by that pitiless Erictho,
24   Who summoned back the shades unto their bodies.
 
25   Naked of me short while the flesh had been,
26   Before within that wall she made me enter,
27   To bring a spirit from the circle of Judas;
 
28   That is the lowest region and the darkest,
29   And farthest from the heaven which circles all.
30   Well know I the way; therefore be reassured.
 
31   This fen, which a prodigious stench exhales,
32   Encompasses about the city dolent,
33   Where now we cannot enter without anger.
 
34   And more he said, but not in mind I have it;
35   Because mine eye had altogether drawn me
36   Tow’rds the high tower with the red-flaming summit,
 
37   Where in a moment saw I swift uprisen
38   The three infernal Furies stained with blood,
39   Who had the limbs of women and their mien,
 
40   And with the greenest hydras were begirt;
41   Small serpents and cerastes were their tresses,
42   Wherewith their horrid temples were entwined.
 
43   And he who well the handmaids of the Queen
44   Of everlasting lamentation knew,
45   Said unto me: Behold the fierce Erinnys.
 
46   This is Megaera, on the left-hand side;
47   She who is weeping on the right, Alecto;
48   Tisiphone is between; and then was silent.
 
49   Each one her breast was rending with her nails;
50   They beat them with their palms, and cried so loud,
51   That I for dread pressed close unto the Poet.
 
52   Medusa come, so we to stone will change him!
53   All shouted looking down; in evil hour
54   Avenged we not on Theseus his assault!
 
55   Turn thyself round, and keep thine eyes close shut,
56   For if the Gorgon appear, and thou shouldst see it,
57   No more returning upward would there be.
 
58   Thus said the Master; and he turned me round
59   Himself, and trusted not unto my hands
60   So far as not to blind me with his own.
 
61   O ye who have undistempered intellects,
62   Observe the doctrine that conceals itself
63   Beneath the veil of the mysterious verses!
 
64   And now there came across the turbid waves
65   The clangour of a sound with terror fraught,
66   Because of which both of the margins trembled;
 
67   Not otherwise it was than of a wind
68   Impetuous on account of adverse heats,
69   That smites the forest, and, without restraint,
 
70   The branches rends, beats down, and bears away;
71   Right onward, laden with dust, it goes superb,
72   And puts to flight the wild beasts and the shepherds.
 
73   Mine eyes he loosed, and said: Direct the nerve
74   Of vision now along that ancient foam,
75   There yonder where that smoke is most intense.
 
76   Even as the frogs before the hostile serpent
77   Across the water scatter all abroad,
78   Until each one is huddled in the earth.
 
79   More than a thousand ruined souls I saw,
80   Thus fleeing from before one who on foot
81   Was passing o’er the Styx with soles unwet
 
82   From off his face he fanned that unctuous air,
83   Waving his left hand oft in front of him,
84   And only with that anguish seemed he weary.
 
85   Well I perceived one sent from Heaven was he,
86   And to the Master turned; and he made sign
87   That I should quiet stand, and bow before him.
 
88   Ah I how disdainful he appeared to me!
89   He reached the gate, and with a little rod
90   He opened it, for there was no resistance.
 
91   O banished out of Heaven, people despised!
92   Thus he began upon the horrid threshold;
93   Whence is this arrogance within you couched?
 
94   Wherefore recalcitrate against that will,
95   From which the end can never be cut off,
96   And which has many times increased your pain?
 
97   What helpeth it to butt against the fates?
98   Your Cerberus, if you remember well,
99   For that still bears his chin and gullet peeled.
 
100   Then he returned along the miry road,
101   And spake no word to us, but had the look
102   Of one whom other care constrains and goads
 
103   Than that of him who in his presence is;
104   And we our feet directed tow’rds the city,
105   After those holy words all confident.
 
106   Within we entered without any contest;
107   And I, who inclination had to see
108   What the condition such a fortress holds,
 
109   Soon as I was within, cast round mine eye,
110   And see on every hand an ample plain,
111   Full of distress and torment terrible.
 
112   Even as at Arles, where stagnant grows the Rhone,
113   Even as at Pola near to the Quarnaro,
114   That shuts in Italy and bathes its borders,
 
115   The sepulchres make all the place uneven;
116   So likewise did they there on every side,
117   Saving that there the manner was more bitter;
 
118   For flames between the sepulchres were scattered,
119   By which they so intensely heated were,
120   That iron more so asks not any art.
 
121   All of their coverings uplifted were,
122   And from them issued forth such dire laments,
123   Sooth seemed they of the wretched and tormented.
 
124   And I: My Master, what are all those people
125   Who, having sepulture within those tombs,
126   Make themselves audible by doleful sighs?
 
127   And he to me: Here are the Heresiarchs,
128   With their disciples of all sects, and much
129   More than thou thinkest laden are the tombs.
 
130   Here like together with its like is buried;
131   And more and less the monuments are heated.
132   And when he to the right had turned, we passed
 
133   Between the torments and high parapets.