Canto XII

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   The place where to descend the bank we came
2   Was alpine, and from what was there, moreover,
3   Of such a kind that every eye would shun it.
4   Such as that ruin is which in the flank
5   Smote, on this side of Trent, the Adige,
6   Either by earthquake or by failing stay,
7   For from the mountain’s top, from which it moved,
8   Unto the plain the cliff is shattered so,
9   Some path ‘twould give to him who was above;
10   Even such was the descent of that ravine,
11   And on the border of the broken chasm
12   The infamy of Crete was stretched along,
13   Who was conceived in the fictitious cow;
14   And when he us beheld, he bit himself,
15   Even as one whom anger racks within.
16   My Sage towards him shouted-: Peradventure
17   Thou think’st that here may be the Duke of Athens,
18   Who in the world above brought death to thee?
19   Get thee gone, beast, for this one cometh not
20   Instructed by thy sister, but he comes
21   In order to behold your punishments.
22   As is that bull who breaks loose at the moment
23   In which he has received the mortal blow,
24   Who cannot walk, but staggers here and there,
25   The Minotaur beheld I do the like;
26   And he, the wary, cried: Run to the passage;
27   While he wroth, ’tis well thou shouldst descend.
28   Thus down we took our way o’er that discharge
29   Of stones, which oftentimes did move themselves
30   Beneath my feet, from the unwonted burden.
31   Thoughtful I wentand he said: Thou art thinking
32   Perhaps upon this ruin, which is guarded
33   By that brute anger which just now I quenched.
34   Now will I have thee know, the other time
35   I here descended to the nether Hell,
36   This precipice had not yet fallen down.
37   But truly, if I well discern, a little
38   Before His coming who the mighty spoil
39   Bore off from Dis, in the supernal circle,
40   Upon all sides the deep and loathsome valley
41   Trembled so, that I thought the Universe
42   Was thrilled with love, by which there are who think
43   The world ofttimes converted into chaos;
44   And at that moment this primeval crag
45   Both here and elsewhere made such overthrow.
46   But fix thine eyes below; for draweth near
47   The river of blood, within which boiling is
48   Whoe’er by violence doth injure others.
49   O blind cupidity, O wrath insane,
50   That spurs us onward so in our short life,
51   And in the eternal then so badly steeps us!
52   I saw an ample moat bent like a bow,
53   As one which a]l the plain encompasses,
54   Conformable to what my Guide had said.
55   And between this and the embankment’s foot
56   Centaurs in file were running, armed with arrows,
57   As in the world they used the chase to follow.
58   Beholding us descend, each one stood still,
59   And from the squadron three detached themselves,
60   With bows and arrows in advance selected;
61   And from afar one cried: Unto what torment
62   Come ye, who down the hillside are descending?
63   Tell us from there; if not, I draw the bow.
64   My Master said: Our answer will we make
65   To Chiron, near you there; in evil hour,
66   That will of thine was evermore so hasty.
67   Then touched he me, and said: This one is Nessus,
68   Who perished for the lovely Dejanira,
69   And for himself, himself did vengeance take.
70   And he in the midst, who at his breast is gazing,
71   Is the great Chiron, who brought up Achilles;
72   That other Pholus is, who was so wrathful.
73   Thousands and thousands go about the moat
74   Shooting with shafts whatever soul emerges
75   Out of the blood, more than his crime allots.
76   Near we approached unto those monsters fleet;
77   Chiron an arrow took, and with the notch
78   Backward upon his jaws he put his beard.
79   After he had uncovered his great mouth,
80   He said to his companions: Are you ware
81   That he behind moveth whate’er he touches?
82   Thus are not wont to do the feet of dead men.
83   And my good Guide, who now was at his breast,
84   Where the two natures are together joined,
85   Replied: Indeed he lives, and thus alone
86   Me it behoves to show him the dark valley;
87   Necessity, and not delight, impels us.
88   Some one withdrew from singing Halleluja,
89   Who unto me committed this new office;
90   No thief is he, nor I a thievish spirit.
91   But by that virtue through which I am moving
92   My steps along this savage thoroughfare,
93   Give us some one of thine, to be with us,
94   And who may show us where to pass the ford,
95   And who may carry this one on his back;
96   For ’tis no spirit that can walk the air.
97   Upon his right breast Chiron wheeled about,
98   And said to Nessus: Turn and do thou guide them,
99   And warn aside, if other band may meet you.
100   We with our faithful escort onward moved
101   Along the brink of the vermilion boiling,
102   Wherein the boiled were uttering loud laments.
103   People I saw within up to the eyebrows,
104   And the great Centaur said: Tyrants are these,
105   Who dealt in bloodshed and in pillaging.
106   Here they lament their pitiless mischiefs; here
107   Is Alexander, and fierce Dionysius
108   Who upon Sicily brought dolorous years.
109   That forehead there which has the hair so black
110   Is Azzolin; and the other who is blond,
111   Obizzo is of Esti, who, in truth,
112   Up in the world was by his stepson slain.
113   Then turned I to the Poet; and he said,
114   Now he be first to thee, and second I.
115   A little farther on the Centaur stopped
116   Above a folk, who far down as the throat
117   Seemed from that boiling stream to issue forth.
118   A shade’ he showed us on one side alone,
119   Saying: He cleft asunder in God’s bosom
120   The heart that still upon the Thames is honoured.
121   Then people saw I, who from out the river
122   Lifted their heads and also all the chest;
123   And many among these I recognised.
124   Thus ever more and more grew shallower
125   That blood, so that the feet alone it covered;
126   And there across the moat our passage was.
127   Even as thou here upon this side beholdest
128   The boiling stream, that aye diminishes,
129   The Centaur said, I wish thee to believe
130   That on this other more and more declines
131   Its bed, until it reunites itself
132   Where it behoveth tyranny to groan.
133   Justice divine, upon this side, is goading
134   That Attila, who was a scourge on earth,
135   And Pyrrhus, and Sextus; and for ever milks
136   The tears which with the boiling it unseals
137   In Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,
138   Who made upon the highways so much war.
139   Then back he turned, and passed again the ford.