Canto XX

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   OF a new pain behoves me to make verses
2   And give material to the twentieth canto
3   Of the first song, which is of the submerged.
4   I was already thoroughly disposed
5   To peer down into the uncovered depth,
6   Which bathed itself with tears of agony;
7   And people saw I through the circular valley,
8   Silent and weeping, coming at the pace
9   Which in this world the Litanies assume.
10   As lower down my sight descended on them,
11   Wondrously each one seemed to be distorted
12   From chin to the beginning of the chest;
13   For tow’rds the reins the countenance was turned,
14   And backward it behoved them to advance,
15   As to look forward had been taken from them.
16   Perchance indeed by violence of palsy
17   Some one has been thus wholly turned awry;
18   But I ne’er saw it. nor believe it can be.
19   As God may let thee, Reader, gather fruit
20   From this thy reading,think now for thyself
21   How I could ever keep my face unmoistened,
22   When our own image near me I beheld
23   Distorted so, the weeping of the eyes
24   Along the fissure bathed the hinder parts.
25   Truly I wept, leaning upon a peak
26   Of the hard crag, so that my Escort said
27   To me: Art thou, too, of the other fools?
28   Here pity lives when it is wholly dead;
29   Who is a greater reprobate than he
30   Who feels compassion at the doom divine?
31   Lift up,lift up thy head, and see for whom
32   opened the earth before the Thebans’ eyes;
33   Wherefore they all cried: ‘ Whither rushest thou,
34   Amphiaraus? Why dost leave the war?’
35   And downward ceased he not to fall amain
36   As far as Minos, who lays hold on all.
37   See, he has made a bosom of his shoulders!
38   Because he wished to see too far before him
39   Behind he looks, and backward goes his way:
40   Behold Tiresias, who his semblance changed,
41   When from a male a female he became,
42   His members being all of them transformed;
43   And afterwards was forced to strike once more
44   The two entangled serpents with his rod,
45   Ere he could have again his manly plumes.
46   That Aruns is, who backs the other’s belly,
47   Who in the hills of Luni, there where grubs
48   The Carrarese who houses underneath,
49   Among the marbles white a cavern had
50   For his abode; whence to behold the stars
51   And sea, the view was not cut off from him.
52   And she there, who is covering up her breasts,
53   Which thou beholdest not, with loosened tresses,
54   And on that side has all the hairy skin,
55   Was Manto, who made quest through many lands,
56   Afterwards tarried there where I was born;
57   Whereof I would thou list to me a little.
58   After her father had from life departed,
59   And the city of Bacchus had become enslaved,
60   She a long season wandered through the world.
61   Above in beauteous Italy lies a lake
62   At the Alp’s foot that shuts in Germany
63   Over Tyrol, and has the name Benaco.
64   By a thousand springs, I think, and more, is bathed,
65   ‘Twixt Garda and Val Camonica, Pennino,
66   With water that grows stagnant in that lake.
67   Midway a place is where the Trentine Pastor,
68   And he of Brescia, and the Veronese
69   Might give his blessing, if he passed that way.
70   Sitteth Peschiera, fortress fair and strong,
71   To front the Brescians and the Bergamasks,
72   Where round about the bank descendeth lowest.
73   There of necessity must fall whatever
74   In bosom of Benaco cannot stay,
75   And grows a river down through verdant pastures.
76   Soon as the water doth begin to run
77   No more Benaco is it called, but Mincio,
78   Far as Governo, where it falls in Po.
79   Not far it runs before it finds a plain
80   In which it spreads itself, and makes it marshy,
81   And oft ’tis wont in summer to be sickly.
82   Passing that way the virgin pitiless
83   Land in the middle of the fen descried,
84   Untilled and naked of inhabitants;
85   There to escape all human intercourse,
86   She with her servants stayed, her arts to practise
87   And lived, and left her empty body there.
88   The men, thereafter, who were scattered round,
89   Collected in that place, which was made strong
90   By the lagoon it had on every side;
91   They built their city over those dead bones,
92   And, after her who first the place selected,
93   Mantua named it, without other omen.
94   Its people once within more crowded were,
95   Ere the stupidity of Casalodi
96   From Pinamonte had received deceit.
97   Therefore I caution thee, if e’er thou hearest
98   Originate my city otherwise,
99   No falsehood may the verity defraud.
100   And I: My Master, thy discourses are
101   To me so certain, and so take my faith,
102   That unto me the rest would be spent coals.
103   But tell me of the people who are passing,
104   If any one note-worthy thou beholdest,
105   For only unto that my mind reverts.
106   Then said he to me: He who from the cheek
107   Thrusts out his beard upon his swarthy shoulders
108   Was, at the time when Greece was void of males,
109   So that there scarce remained one in the cradle,
110   An augur, and with Calchas gave the moment,
111   In Aulis, when to sever the first cable.
112   Eryphylus his name was, and so sings
113   My lofty Tragedy in some part or other;
114   That knowest thou well, who knowest the whole of it.
115   The next, who is so slender in the flanks,
116   Was Michael Scott, who of a verity
117   Of magical illusions knew the game.
118   Behold Guido Bonatti, behold Asdente
119   Who now unto his leather and his thread
120   Would fain have stuck, but he too late repents.
121   Behold the wretched ones, who left the needle,
122   The spool and rock, and made them fortune-tellers;
123   They wrought their magic spells with herb and image.
124   But come now, for already holds the confines
125   Of both the hemispheres, and under Seville
126   Touches the ocean-wave, Cain and the thorns,
127   And yesternight the moon was round already;
128   Thou shouldst remember well it did not harm thee
129   From time to time within the forest deep.
130   Thus spake he to me, and we walked the while.