Canto XXIV

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   IN that part of the youthful year wherein
2   The Sun his locks beneath Aquarius tempers,
3   And now the nights draw near to half the day,
 
4   What time the hoar-frost copies on the ground
5   The outward semblance of her sister white,
6   But little lasts the temper of her pen,
 
7   The husbandman, whose forage faileth him,
8   Rises, and looks, and seeth the champaign
9   All gleaming white, whereat he beats his flank,
 
10   Returns in doors, and up and down laments,
11   Like a poor wretch, who knows not what to do;
12   Then he returns and hope revives again,
 
13   Seeing the world has changed its countenance
14   In little time, and takes his shepherd’s crook,
15   And forth the little lambs to pasture drives.
 
16   Thus did the Master fill me with alarm
17   When I beheld his forehead so disturbed,
18   And to the ailment came as soon the plaster.
 
19   For as we came unto the ruined bridge
20   The Leader turned to me with that sweet look
21   Which at the mountain’s foot I first beheld.
 
22   His arms he opened, after some advisement
23   Within himself elected, looking first
24   Well at the ruin, and laid hold of me.
 
25   And even as he who acts and meditates,
26   For aye it seems that he provides beforehand,
27   So upward lifting me towards the summit
 
28   Of a huge rock, he scanned another crag,
29   Saying: To that one grapple afterwards,
30   But try first if ’tis such that it will hold thee.
 
31   This was no way for one clothed with a cloak;
32   For hardly we, he light, and I pushed upward,
33   Were able to ascend from jag to jag.
 
34   And had it not been, that upon that precinct
35   Shorter was the ascent than on the other,
36   He I know not, but I had been dead beat.
 
37   But because Malebolge tow’rds the mouth
38   Of the profoundest well is all inclining,
39   The structure of each valley doth import
 
40   That one bank rises and the other sinks.
41   Still we arrived at length upon the point
42   Wherefrom the last stone breaks itself asunder.
 
43   The breath was from my lungs so milked away,
44   When I was up, that I could go no farther,
45   Nay, I sat down upon my first arrival.
 
46   Now it behoves thee thus to put off sloth,
47   My Master said; for sitting upon down,
48   Or under quilt, one cometh not to fame,
 
49   Withouten which whoso his life consumes
50   Such vestige leaveth of himself on earth.
51   As smoke in air or in the water foam.
 
52   And therefore raise thee up, o’ercome the anguish
53   With spirit that o’ercometh every battle,
54   If with its heavy body it sink not.
 
55   A longer stairway it behoves thee mount;
56   ‘Tis not enough from these to have departed;
57   Let it avail thee, if thou understand me.
 
58   Then I uprose,showing myself provided
59   Better with breath than I did feel myself,
60   And said: Go on, for I am strong and bold.
 
61   Upward we took our way along the crag,
62   Which jagged was, and narrow, and difficult,
63   And more precipitous far than that before.
 
64   Speaking I went,not to appear exhausted;
65   Whereat a voice from the next moat came forth,
66   Not well adapted to articulate words.
 
67   I know not what it said, though o’er the back
68   I now was of the arch that passes there;
69   But he seemed moved to anger who was speaking
 
70   I was bent downward, but my living eyes
71   Could not attain the bottom, for the dark;
72   Wherefore I: Master, see that thou arrive
 
73   At the next round, and let us descend the wall;
74   For as from hence I hear and understand not,
75   So I look down and nothing I distinguish.
 
76   Other response,he said,I make thee not,
77   Except the doing; for the modest asking
78   Ought to be followed by the deed in silence.
 
79   We from the bridge descended at its head,
80   Where it connects itself with the eighth bank,
81   And then was manifest to me the Bolgia;
 
82   And I beheld therein a terrible throng
83   Of serpents, and of such a monstrous kind,
84   That the remembrance still congeals my blood
 
85   Let Libya boast no longer with her sand;
86   For if Chelydri, Jaculi, and Pharae
87   She breeds, with Cenchri and with Ammhisbaena.
 
88   Neither so many plagues nor so malignant
89   E’er showed she with all Ethiopia,
90   Nor with whatever on the Red Sea is!
 
91   Among this cruel and most dismal throng
92   People were running naked and affrighted.
93   Without the hope of hole or heliotrope.
 
94   They had their hands with serpents bound behind them;
95   These riveted upon their reins the tail
96   And head, and were in front of them entwined.
 
97   And lo! at one who was upon our side
98   There darted forth a serpent, which transfixed him
99   There where the neck is knotted to the shoulders.
 
100   Nor O so quickly e’er, nor I was written,
101   As he took fire, and burned; and ashes wholly
102   Behoved it that in falling he became.
 
103   And when he on the ground was thus destroyed,
104   The ashes drew together, and of themselves
105   Into himself they instantly returned.
 
106   Even thus by the great sages ’tis confessed
107   The phoenix dies, and then is born again,
108   When it approaches its five-hundredth year;
 
109   On herb or grain it feeds not in its life,
110   But only on tears of incense and amomum,
111   And nard and myrrh are its last winding-sheet.
 
112   And as he is who falls, and knows not how,
113   By force of demons who to earth down drag him,
114   Or other oppilation that binds man,
 
115   When he arises and around him looks,
116   Wholly bewildered by the mighty anguish
117   Which he has suffered, and in looking sighs;
 
118   Such was that sinner after he had risen.
119   Justice of God! O how severe it is,
120   That blows like these in vengeance poureth down!
 
121   The Guide thereafter asked him who he was;
122   Whence he replied: I rained from Tuscany
123   A short time since into this cruel gorge.
 
124   A bestial life, and not a human, pleased me,
125   Even as the mule I was; I’m Vanni Fucci,
126   Beast, and Pistoia was my worthy den.
 
127   And I unto the Guide: Tell him to stir not,
128   And ask what crime has thrust him here below,
129   For once a man of blood and wrath I saw him.
 
130   And the sinner, who had heard, dissembled not,
131   But unto me directed mind and face,
132   And with a melancholy shame was painted.
 
133   Then said: It pains me more that thou hast caught me
134   Amid this misery where thou seest me,
135   Than when I from the other life was taken.
 
136   What thou demandest r cannot deny;
137   So low am I put down because I robbed
138   The sacristy of the fair ornaments,
 
139   And falsely once ’twas laid upon another;
140   But that thou mayst not such a sight enjoy,
141   If thou shalt e’er be out of the dark places,
 
142   Thine ears to my announcement ope and hear:
143   Pistoia first of Neri groweth meagre;
144   Then Florence doth renew her men and manners;
 
145   Mars draws a vapour up from Val di Magra,
146   Which is with turbid clouds enveloped round,
147   And with impetuous and bitter tempest
 
148   Over Campo Picen shall be the battle;
149   When it shall suddenly rend the mist asunder,
150   So that each Bianco shall thereby be smitten
 
151   And this I’ve said that it may give thee pain.