Canto XIII

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   NOT yet had Nessus reached the other side,
2   When we had put ourselves within a wood,
3   That was not marked by any path whatever.
4   Not foliage green, but of a dusky colour,
5   Not branches smooth, but gnarled and intertangled,
6   Not apple-trees were there, but thorns with poison.
7   Such tangled thickets have not, nor so dense,
8   Those savage wild beasts, that in hatred hold
9   ‘Twixt Cecina and Corneto the tilled places.
10   There do the hideous Harpies make their nests,
11   Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades,
12   With sad announcement of impending doom;
13   Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human,
14   And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged;
15   They make laments upon the wondrous trees.
16   And the good Master: Ere thou enter farther,
17   Know that thou art within the second round,
18   Thus he began to say, and shalt be, till
19   Thou comest out upon the horrible sand;
20   Therefore look well around, and thou shalt see
21   Things that will credence give unto my speech.
22   I heard on all sides lamentations uttered,
23   And person none beheld I who might make them,
24   Whence, utterly bewildered, I stood still.
25   I think he thought that I perhaps might think
26   So many voices issued through those trunks
27   From people who concealed themselves from us;
28   Therefore the Master said: If thou break off
29   Some little spray from any of these trees,
30   The thoughts thou hast will wholly be made vain.
31   Then stretched I forth my hand a little forward,
32   And plucked a branchlet off from a great thorn,
33   And the trunk cried, Why dost thou mangle me?
34   After it had become embrowned with blood,
35   It recommenced its cry: Why dost thou rend me
36   Hast thou no spirit of pity whatsoever ?
37   Men once we were, and now are changed to trees;
38   Indeed, thy hand should be more pitiful,
39   Even if the souls of serpents we had been.
40   As out of a green brand, that is on fire
41   At one of the ends, and from the other drips
42   And hisses with the wind that is escaping;
43   So from that splinter issued forth together
44   Both words and blood; whereat I let the tip
45   Fall, and stood like a man who is afraid.
46   ‘:Had he been able sooner to believe,
47   My Sage made answer, O thou wounded soul,
48   What only in my verses he has seen,
49   Not upon thee had he stretched forth his hand;
50   Whereas the thing incredible has caused me
51   To put him to an act which grieveth me.
52   But tell him who thou wast, so that by way
53   Of some amends thy fame he may refresh
54   Up in the world, to which he can return.
55   And the trunk said: So thy sweet words allure me,
56   I cannot silent be; and you be vexed not,
57   That I a little to discourse am tempted.
58   I am the one who both keys had in keeping
59   Of Frederick’s heart, and turned them to and fro
60   So softly in unlocking and in locking,
61   That from his secrets most men I withheld;
62   Fidelity I bore the glorious office
63   So great, I lost thereby my sleep and pulses.
64   The courtesan who never from the dwelling
65   Of Caesar turned aside her strumpet eyes,
66   Death universal and the vice of courts,
67   Inflamed against me all the other minds,
68   And they, inflamed, did so inflame Augustus,
69   That my glad honours turned to dismal mournings.
70   My spirit, in disdainful exultation,
71   Thinking by dying to escape disdain,
72   Made me unjust against myself, the just.
73   I, by the roots unwonted of this wood,
74   Do swear to you that never broke I faith
75   Unto my lord, who was so worthy of honour;
76   And to the world if one of you return,
77   Let him my memory comfort, which is lying
78   Still prostrate from the blow that envy dealt it.
79   Waited awhile, and then: Since he is silent,
80   The Poet said to me, lose not the time,
81   But speak, and question him, if more may please thee.
82   Whence I to him: Do thou again inquire
83   Concerning what thou thinks’t will satisfy me;
84   For I cannot, such pity is in my heart.
85   Therefore he recommenced: So may the man
86   Do for thee freely what thy speech implores,
87   Spirit incarcerate, again be pleased
88   To tell us in what way the soul is bound
89   Within these knots; and tell us, if thou canst
90   If any from such members e’er is freed.
91   Then blew the trunk amain, and afterward
92   The wind was into such a voice converted:
93   With brevity shall be replied to you.
94   When the exasperated soul abandons
95   The body whence it rent itself away,
96   Minos consigns it to the seventh abyss.
97   It falls into the forest, and no part
98   Is chosen for it; but where Fortune hurls it,
99   There like a grain of spelt it germinates.
100   It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
101   The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
102   Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.
103   Like others for our spoils shall we return;
104   But not that any one may them revest,
105   For ’tis not just to have what one casts off.
106   Here we shall drag them, and along the dismal
107   Forest our bodies shall suspended be,
108   Each to the thorn of his molested shade.
109   We were attentive still unto the trunk,
110   Thinking that more it yet might wish to tell us,
111   When by a tumult we were overtaken,
112   In the same way as he is who perceives
113   The boar and chase approaching to his stand,
114   Who hears the crashing of the beasts and branches;
115   And two behold! upon our left-hand side,
116   Naked and scratched, fleeing so furiously,
117   That of the forest, every fan they broke.
118   He who was in advance: Now help, Death, help !
119   And the other one, who seemed to lag too much,
120   Was shouting: Lano, were not so alert
121   Those legs of thine at joustings of the Toppo!
122   And then, perchance because his breath was failing,
123   He grouped himself together with a bush.
124   Behind them was the forest full of black
125   She-mastiffs, ravenous, and swift of foot
126   As greyhounds, who are issuing from the chain.
127   On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
128   And him they lacerated piece by piece,
129   Thereafter bore away those aching members.
130   Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
131   And led me to the bush, that all in vain
132   as weeping from its bloody lacerations.
133   O Jacopo, it said, of Sant’ Andrea,
134   What helped it thee of me to make a screen?
135   What blame have I in thy nefarious life ?
136   When near him had the Master stayed his steps,
137   He said: Who wast thou, that through wounds so many
138   Art blowing out with blood thy dolorous speech?
139   And he to us: O souls, that hither come
140   To look upon the shameful massacre
141   That has so rent away from me my leaves,
142   Gather them up beneath the dismal bush;
143   I of that city was which to the Baptist
144   Changed its first patron, wherefore he for this
145   Forever with his art will make it sad.
146   And were it not that on the pass of Arno
147   Some glimpses of him are remaining still,
148   Those citizens, who afterwards rebuilt it
149   Upon the ashes left by Attila,
150   In vain had caused their labour to be done.
151   Of my own house I made myself a gibbet.