Canto XXI

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   FROM bridge to bridge thus, speaking other things
2   Of which my Comedy cares not to sing,
3   We came along, and held the summit, when
 
4   We halted to behold another fissure
5   Of Malebolge and other vain laments;
6   And I beheld it marvellously dark.
 
7   As in the Arsenal of the Venetians
8   Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch
9   To smear their unsound vessels o’er again,
 
10   For sail they cannot; and instead thereof
11   One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks
12   The ribs of that which many a voyage has made;
 
13   One hammers at the prow, one at the stern,
14   This one makes oars, and that one cordage twists,
15   Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen;
 
16   Thus, not by fire, but by the art divine,
17   Was boiling down below there a dense pitch
18   Which upon every side the bank belimed.
 
19   I saw it, but I did not see within it
20   Aught but the bubbles that the boiling raised,
21   And all swell up and resubside compressed.
 
22   The while below there fixedly I gazed,
23   My Leader, crying out: Beware, beware!
24   Drew me unto himself from where I stood.
 
25   Then I turned round, as one who is impatient
26   To see what it behoves him to escape,
27   And whom a sudden terror doth unman.
 
28   Who, while he looks, delays not his departure;
29   And I beheld behind us a black devil,
30   Running along upon the crag, approach.
 
31   Ah, how ferocious was he in his aspect!
32   And how he seemed to me in action ruthless,
33   With open wings and light upon his feet!
 
34   His shoulders, which sharp-pointed were and high,
35   A sinner did encumber with both haunches,
36   And he held clutched the sinews of the feet.
 
37   From off our bridge, he said: O Malebranche,
38   Behold one of the elders of Saint Zita;
39   Plunge him beneath, for I return for others
 
40   Unto that town, which is well furnished with them.
41   All there are barrators, except Bonturo;
42   No into Yes for money there is changed.
 
43   He hurled him down, and over the hard crag
44   Turned round, and never was a mastiff loosened
45   In so much hurry to pursue a thief.
 
46   The other sank, and rose again face downward;
47   But the demons, under cover of the bridge,
48   Cried: Here the Santo Volto has no place!
 
49   Here swims one otherwise than in the Serchio;
50   Therefore, if for our gaffs thou wishest not,
51   Do not uplift thyself above the pitch.
 
52   They seized him then with more than a hundred rakes;
53   They said: It here behoves thee to dance covered,
54   That, if thou canst, thou secretly mayest pilfer.
 
55   Not otherwise the cooks their scullions make
56   Immerse into the middle of the caldron
57   The meat with hooks, so that it may not float.
 
58   Said the good Master to me: That it be not
59   Apparent thou art here, crouch thyself down
60   Behind a jag, that thou mayest have some screen;
 
61   And for no outrage that is done to me
62   Be thou afraid, because these things I know,
63   For once before was I in such a scuffle.
 
64   Then he passed on beyond the bridge’s head,
65   And as upon the sixth bank he arrived,
66   Need was for him to have a steadfast front.
 
67   With the same fury, and the same uproar,
68   As dogs leap out upon a mendicant,
69   Who on a sudden begs, where’er he stops,
 
70   They issued from beneath the little bridge,
71   And turned against him all their grappling-irons;
72   But he cried out: Be none of you malignant!
 
73   Before those hooks of yours lay hold of me,
74   Let one of you step forward, who may hear me,
75   And then take counsel as to grappling me.
 
76   They all cried out: Let Malacoda go;
77   Whereat one started, and the rest stood still,
78   And he came to him, saying: What avails it?
 
79   Thinkest thou, Malacoda, to behold me
80   Advanced into this place,my Master said,
81   Safe hitherto from all your skill of fence,
 
82   Without the will divine, and fate auspicious?
83   Let me go on, for it in Heaven is willed
84   That I another show this savage road.
 
85   Then was his arrogance so humbled in him,
86   That he let fall his grapnel at his feet,
87   And to the others said: Now strike him not.
 
88   And unto me my Guide: O thou, who sittest
89   Among the splinters of the bridge crouched down,
90   Securely now return to me again.
 
91   Wherefore I started and came swiftly to him;
92   And all the devils forward thrust themselves,
93   So that I feared they would not keep their compact.
 
94   And thus beheld I once afraid the soldiers
95   Who issued under safeguard from Caprona,
96   Seeing themselves among so many foes.
 
97   Close did I press myself with all my person
98   Beside my Leader, and turned not mine eyes
99   From off their countenance, which was not good.
 
100   They lowered their rakes, and Wilt thou have me hit him,
101   They said to one another, on the rump?
102   And answered: Yes; see that thou nick him with it.
 
103   But the same demon who was holding parley
104   With my Conductor turned him very quickly,
105   And said: Be quiet, be quiet, Scarmiglione;
 
106   Then said to us: You can no farther go
107   Forward upon this crag, because is Iying
108   All shattered, at the bottom, the sixth arch.
 
109   And if it still doth please you to go onward,
110   Pursue your way along upon this rock;
111   Near is another crag that yields a path.
 
112   Yesterday, five hours later than this hour,
113   One thousand and two hundred sixty-six
114   Years were complete, that here the way was broken.
 
115   I send in that direction some of mine
116   To see if any one doth air himself;
117   Go ye with them; for they will not be vicious.
 
118   Step forward, Alichino and Calcabrina,
119   Began he to cry out, and thou, Cagnazzo;
120   And Barbariccia, do thou guide the ten.
 
121   Come forward, Libicocco and Draghignazzo,
122   And tusked Ciriatto and Graffiacane,
123   And Farfarello and mad Rubicante;
 
124   Search ye all round about the boiling pitch;
125   Let these be safe as far as the next crag,
126   That all unbroken passes o’er the dens.
 
127   O me! what is it, Master, that I see?
128   Pray let us go, I said, without an escort,
129   If thou knowest how, since for myself I ask none.
 
130   If thou art as observant as thy wont is,
131   Dost thou not see that they do gnash their teeth,
132   And with their brows are threatening woe to us?
 
133   And he to me: I will not have thee fear;
134   Let them gnash on, according to their fancy,
135   Because they do it for those boiling wretches.
 
136   Along the left-hand dike they wheeled about;
137   But first had each one thrust his tongue between
138   His teeth towards their leader for a signal;
 
139   And he had made a trumpet of his rump.