ARISING thunder from the vast Abyss
First roused me, not as he that rested wakes
From slumbrous hours, but one rude fury shakes
Untimely, and around I gazed to know
The place of my confining.
Dark beyond sight, and choked with doleful sound,
Sheer sank the Valley of the Lost Abyss,
Beneath us. On the utmost brink we stood,
And like the winds of some unresting wood
The gathered murmur from those depths of woe
Soughed upward into thunder. Out from this
The unceasing sound comes ever. I might not tell
How deep the Abyss down sank from hell to hell,
It was so clouded and so dark no sight
Could pierce it.
"Downward through the worlds of night
We will descend together. I first, and thou
My footsteps taking," spake my guide, and I
Gave answer, "Master, when thyself art pale,
Fear-daunted, shall my weaker heart avail
That on thy strength was rested?"
"Nay," said he,
"Not fear, but anguish at the issuing cry
So pales me. Come ye, for the path we tread
Is long, and time requires it." Here he led
Through the first entrance of the ringed abyss,
Inward, and I went after, and the woe
Softened behind us, and around I heard
Nor scream of torment, nor blaspheming word,
But round us sighs so many and deep there came
That all the air was motioned. I beheld
Concourse of men and women and children there
Countless. No pain was theirs of cold or flame,
But sadness only. And my Master said,
"Art silent here? Before ye further go
Among them wondering, it is meet ye know
They are not sinful, nor the depths below
Shall claim them. But their lives of righteousness
Sufficed not to redeem. The gate decreed,
Being born too soon, we did not pass ( for I,
Dying unbaptized, am of them). More nor less
Our doom is weighed, - to feel of Heaven the need,
To long, and to be hopeless."
Grief was mine
That heard him, thinking what great names must be
In this suspense around me. "Master, tell,"
I questioned, "from this outer girth of Hell
Pass any to the blessed spheres exalt,
Through other's merits or their own the fault.
Condoned?" And he, my covert speech that read,
- For surance sought I of my faith, - replied,
"Through the shrunk hells there came a Great One, crowned
And garmented with conquest. Of the dead,
He rescued from us him who earliest died,
Abel, and our first parent. Here He found,
Abraham, obedient to the Voice he heard;
And Moses, first who wrote the Sacred Word;
Isaac, and Israel and his sons, and she,
Rachel, for whom he travailed; and David, king;
And many beside unnumbered, whom he led
Triumphant from the dark abodes, to be
Among the blest for ever. Until this thing
I witnessed, none, of all the countless dead,
But hopeless through the somber gate he came."
Now while he spake he paused not, but pursued,
Through the dense woods of thronging spirits, his aim
Straight onward, nor was long our path until
Before us rose a widening light, to fill
One half of all the darkness, and I knew
While yet some distance, that such Shades were there
As nobler moved than others, and questioned, "Who,
Master, are those that in their aspect bear
Such difference from the rest?"
"All these," he said,
"Were named so glorious in thy earth above
That Heaven allows their larger claim to be
Select, as thus ye see them."
While he spake
A voice rose near us: "Hail!" it cried, "for he
Returns, who was departed."
Scarce it ceased
When four great spirits approached. They did not show
Sadness nor joy, but tranquil-eyed as though
Content in their dominion moved. My guide
Before I questioned told, "That first ye see,
With hand that fits the swordhilt, mark, for he
Is Homer, sovereign of the craft we tried,
Leader and lord of even the following three, -
Horace, and Ovid, and Lucan. The voice ye heard,
That hailed me, caused them by one impulse stirred
Approach to do me honour, for these agree
In that one name we boast, and so do well
Owning it in me." There was I joyed to meet
Those shades, who closest to his place belong,
The eagle course of whose out-soaring song
Is lonely in height.
Some space apart (to tell,
It may be, something of myself ), my guide
Conversed, until they turned with grace to greet
Me also, and my Master smiled to see
They made me sixth and equal. Side by side
We paced toward the widening light, and spake
Such things as well were spoken there, and here
Were something less than silence.
Strong and wide
Before us rose a castled height, beset
With sevenfold-circling walls, unscalable,
And girdled with a rivulet round, but yet
We passed thereover, and the water clear
As dry land bore me; and the walls ahead
Their seven strong gates made open one by one,
As each we neared, that where my Master led
With ease I followed, although without were none
But deep that stream beyond their wading spread,
And closed those gates beyond their breach had been,
Had they sought entry with us.
Of coolest green
Stretched the wide lawns we midmost found, for there,
Intolerant of itself, was Hell made fair
To accord with its containing.
Quiet-voiced and slow, of seldom words were they
That walked that verdure.
To a place aside
Open, and light, and high, we passed, and here
Looked downward on the lawns, in clear survey
Of such great spirits as are my glory and pride
That once I saw them.
There, direct in view,
Electra passed, among her sons. I knew
Hector and &AELIG;neas there; and Cæsar too
Was of them, armed and falcon-eyed; and there
Camilla and Penthesilea. Near there sate
Lavinia, with her sire the Latian king;
Brutus, who drave the Tarquin; and Lucrece
Julia, Cornelia, Marcia, and their kin;
And, by himself apart, the Saladin.
Somewhat beyond I looked. A place more high
Than where these heroes moved I gazed, and knew
The Master of reasoned thought, whose hand withdrew
The curtain of the intellect, and bared
The secret things of nature; while anigh,
But lowlier, grouped the greatest names that shared
His searchings. All regard and all revere
They gave him. Plato there, and Socrates
I marked, who closeliest reached his height; and near
Democritus, who dreamed a world of chance
Born blindly in the whirl of circumstance;
And Anaxagoras, Diogenes,
Thales, Heraclitus, Empedocles,
Zeno, were there; and Dioscorides
Who searched the healing powers of herbs and trees;
And Orpheus, Tullius, Livius, Seneca,
Euclid and Ptolemæus; Avicenna,
Galen, Hippocrates; Averrhoës,
The Master's great interpreter, - but these
Are few to those I saw, an endless dream
Of shades before whom Hell quietened and cowered. My theme,
With thronging recollections of mighty names
That there I marked impedes me. All too long
They chase me, envious that my burdened song
Forgets. - But onward moves my guide anew:
The light behind us fades: the six are two:
Again the shuddering air, the cries of Hell
Compassed, and where we walked the darkness fell.
MOST like the spirals of a pointed shell,
But separate each, go downward, hell from hell,
The ninefold circles of the damned; but each
Smaller, concentrate in its greater pain,
Than that which overhangs it.
Those who reach
The second whorl, on entering, learn their bane
Where Minos, hideous, sits and snarls. He hears,
Decides, and as he girds himself they go.
Before his seat each ill-born spirit appear,
And tells its tale of evil, loath or no,
While he, their judge, of all sins cognizant,
Hears, and around himself his circling tail
Twists to the number of the depths below
To which they doom themselves in telling.
The crowding sinners: their turn they wait: they show
Their guilt: the circles of his tail convey
Their doom: and downward they are whirled away.
"O thou who callest at this doleful inn,"
Cried Minos to me, while the child of sin
That stood confessing before him, trembling stayed,
"Heed where thou enterest in thy trust, nor say,
I walk in safety, for the width of way
But my guide the answer took,
"Why dost thou cry? or leave thine ordered trade
For that which nought belongs thee? Hinder not
His destined path. For where he goeth is willed,
Where that is willed prevaileth."
Now was filled
The darker air with wailing. Wailing shook
My soul to hear it. Where we entered now
No light attempted. Only sound arose,
As ocean with the tortured air contends,
What time intolerable tempest rends
The darkness; so the shrieking winds oppose
For ever, and bear they, as they swerve and sweep,
The doomed disastrous spirits, and whirl aloft,
Backward, and down, nor any rest allow,
Nor pause of such contending wraths as oft
Batter them against the precipitous sides, and there
The shrieks and moanings quench the screaming air,
The cries of their blaspheming.
These are they
That lust made sinful. As the starlings rise
At autumn, darkening all the colder skies,
In crowded troops their wings up-bear, so here
These evil-doers on each contending blast
Were lifted upward, whirled, and downward cast,
And swept around unceasing. Striving airs
Lift them, and hurl, nor ever hope is theirs
Of rest or respite or decreasing pains,
But like the long streaks of the calling cranes
So came they wailing down the winds, to meet
Upsweeping blasts that ever backward beat
Or sideward flung them on their walls. And I -
"Master who are they next that drive anigh
So scourged amidst the blackness?"
"These," he said,
"So lashed and harried, by that queen are led,
Empress of alien tongues, Semiramis,
Who made her laws her lawless lusts to kiss,
So was she broken by desire; and this
Who comes behind, back-blown and beaten thus,
Love's fool, who broke her faith to Sichæus,
Dido; and bare of all her luxury,
Nile's queen, who lost her realm for Antony."
And after these, amidst that windy train,
Helen, who soaked in blood the Trojan plain,
And great Achilles I saw, at last whose feet
The same net trammelled; and Tristram, Paris, he showed;
And thousand other along the fated road
Whom love led deathward through disastrous things
He pointed as they passed, until my mind
Was wildered in this heavy pass to find
Ladies so many, and cavaliers and kings
Fallen, and pitying past restraint, I said,
"Poet, those next that on the wind appear
So light, and constant as they drive or veer
Are parted never, I fain would speak."
And he, -
"Conjure them by their love, and thou shalt see
Their flight come hither."
And when the swerving blast
Most nearly bent, I called them as they passed,
"O wearied souls, come downward, if the Power
That drives allow ye, for one restful hour."
As doves, desirous of their nest at night,
Cleave through the dusk with swift and open flight
Of level-lifting wings, that love makes light,
Will-borne, so downward through the murky air
Came those sad spirits, that not deep Hell's despair
Could sunder, parting from the faithless band
That Dido led, and with one voice, as though
One soul controlled them, spake,
Who comest through the black malignant air,
Benign among us who this exile bear
For earth ensanguined, if the King of All
Heard those who from the outer darkness call
Entreat him would we for thy peace, that thou
Hast pitied us condemned, misfortunate. -
Of that which please thee, if the winds allow,
Gladly I tell. Ravenna, on that shore
Where Po finds rest for all his streams, we knew;
And there love conquered. Love, in gentle heart
So quick to take dominion, overthrew
Him with my own fair body, and overbore
Me with delight to please him. Love, which gives
No pardon to the loved, so strongly in me
Was empired, that its rule, as here ye see,
Endureth, nor the bitter blast contrives
To part us. Love to one death led us. The mode
Afflicts me, shrinking, still. The place of Cain
Awaits our slayer."
They ceased, and I my head
Bowed down, and made no answer, till my guide
Questioned, "What wouldst thou more?" and replied,
"Alas my thought I what sweet keen longings led
These spirits, woeful, to their dark abode!"
And then to them, - "Francesca, all thy pain
Is mine. With pity and grief I weep. But say
How, in the time of sighing, and in what way,
Love gave you of the dubious deeds to know."
And she to me, "There is no greater woe
In all Hell's depths than cometh when those who
Look back to Eden. But if thou wouldst learn
Our love's first root, I can but weep and tell.
One day, and for delight in idleness,
- Alone we were, without suspicion, -
We read together, and chanced the page to turn
Where Galahad tells the tale of Lancelot,
How love constrained him. Oft our meeting eyes,
Confessed the theme, and conscious cheeks were hot,
Reading, but only when that instant came
Where the surrendering lips were kissed, no less
Desire beat in us, and whom, for all this pain,
No hell shall sever (so great at least our gain),
Trembling, he kissed my mouth, and all forgot,
We read no more."
As thus did one confess
Their happier days, the other wept, and I
Grew faint with pity, and sank as those who die.
WHILE Nessus yet recrossed the purple stream
A wood we entered where no path appeared,
No cool wind stirred, nor any sun came through,
But all the foliage, as by winter seared,
Was brittle and brown, and gnarled and twisted grew
The branches, and if any fruit did seem
They were but poisonous pods to closer view.
No denser holts the lurking beasts have found
Beneath Corneto, where the marshy ground,
Uncoultered, to Cecina's stream declines.
Foul harpies nest amidst the loathly vines,
Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades,
With their drear wail of some awaiting woe.
Their wings are wide: and like gross birds below
Their bellies feathered, and their feet are clawed.
Strange cries come from them through the sickly trees.
My Master told me, "Through this dismal land,
The second circlet pass we, till we reach
The place of that intolerable sand
Which forms the third, and in its place completes
The outer round. Recall my earlier speech
That taught the order of these woes. Look well
For confirmation of the things I tell "
I looked, but saw not. Every side there rose
A wailing burdened with unnumbered woes,
While all the woods were vacant. From ground
It came not - rather from the boughs around
It beat upon us, as voiced by those who hid
Before our coming, the tangled growth amid.
My Master taught me. "If thou break away
The nearest twig that meets thine hand, wilt see
How far thy dreaming from the truth astray."
Thereat I reached, and from a twisted thorn
That rose before us, withered, gaunt, forlorn,
Broke short a twig, and from the trunk a cry
Came sharply, "Tear not!" and a blood-gout
Dark on the wound, the while the trunk anew
Entreated, "Rend not; does no mercy lie
In those that still their human forms retain?
Men were we, till we left on earth self-slain
The bodies given of God. But had we been
The souls of serpents, in this hopeless dole
We had not thought that any mortal soul
Would wound us, helpless to their hands."
Cast on the coals a living branch and green?
One end already burns, and one projects
Clear of the heat, but from the fire's effects
Moisture exudes and hissing wind. So here
Blood welled and words from out the wound. The fear
Of this strange voice, and pity, so in me wrought
I dropt the broken shoot, and fixed in thought
On my side my leader spake,
"O wounded spirit, had his heart believed
The truth that earlier in my verse he read,
He had not with unthinking violence grieved
The most unhappy of the hapless dead.
But mine the word that caused his hand to break,
Who knew that truth's incredibility
Would else confound him. It was grief to me
To prompt him to it. But if thou speak and tell
Of whom thou wast, he may requite thee well,
Thy fame renewing in the world, for there
He soon returneth."
And the voice replied,
"The sound of thy seducing words and fair
Constrains me to forgive thee, and confide
The bitter grief that in my trunk I hide,
Which else were silent always. With me bear
In patience somewhat, if I talk too long,
Caught in this bait of words, when all my wrong
Returneth to me. In this toil is he,
The second Frederick's confident, who held
His heart's two keys, and turned them. Here ye see
The ruin of too great fidelity,
That sleep and life gave forfeit. Yea, for she,
That harlot who in Cæsar's court rebelled
Against all virtue round his throne, the bane
And vice of all high concourse, Envy, stirred
And slandered, till my Master half believed.
And I, who all things at his hands received,
And all myself had rendered, in disdain
Gave silence only to the accusing word,
And in contempt of life I broke the chain
That held me to it. Just to others, I wrought
Injustice to myself. But here I swear,
By these sad roots that hold me, word nor thought,
Nor deed nor negligence was mine in aught
Against him faithless. Ye that upward bear
The news and burden of our griefs below,
Rebuild my memory in the world, I pray,
That my rash hand prostrated."
Here his woe
Found silence, and the things I sought to say
I lacked the heart. Until, at last, my guide
Enquired me, "Wouldst thou more?" and I replied,
"Ask for me."
To the prisoned grief he said,
"That this man gladly when he leave the dead
Uplift thy record, as thy words entreat,
Inform us further how this fate ye meet,
How the bent soul these twisted knots allows;
Or ever any from these tortured boughs
Erect himself to manhood."
Then the tree
Blew strongly, and the wind was words that said,
"In brief thou shalt be answered. When the dead,
Self-slaughtered, from the unready corse is torn,
Then Minos, in the seventh gulf to mourn,
Consigns it. Here on no set space it falls,
But cast at random, and its roots it strikes
In marsh or rock, and boughs and thorny spikes
Grow upward. On its leaves the harpies feed,
Tearing, and where the broken twiglets bleed
Pain finds its outlet.
When the trumpet calls,
We all, with those who earthly flesh regain,
Shall upward troop, but that our hand hath slain
We may not enter, as is just. The Vale
Of Judgment when we leave we each shall hale
Our bodies slain behind us, till we reach
The dismal thorns we left, and each on each
Shall hang them. Every trunk of every shade
Bent with the weight of that itself betrayed."
We still were listening, lest more words should come
From this sad spirit, when rose such noise anear
That all the wailings of the woods were dumb
Before it, and we paused, as those who hear
The boar-hunt plunging through the brake, and nigh,
Crashed boughs, and rush of beasts that chase and fly,
Approaching where they stand; and forth there burst
Two spirits torn and bare, and cried the first,
"Befriend me, Death!" and cried the one behind,
"Ah, Lano, swifter legs than mine ye show,
But Toppo's tourney found thy limbs more slow."
Thereat he made no further pace, but low
Crawled 'neath the densest bush the woods contained,
And the next instant, as the shade he gained,
A rush of hell-hounds on his chase there came.
Wild on the bush they leapt to trace and claim
Their hiding victim, sinking fang and claw
In him who squatted in its midst. They rent
The writhing limbs, and diverse ways they went,
Carrying the fragments that they tore.
Now led my steps the damaged bush beside,
That loud lamented. Severed boughs we saw,
And torn twigs bleeding. In its pain it made
Protest, "Jacopo da Sant' Andrea!
What gain was here to make my leaves thy shade?
What condemnation for thy sins is mine?"
My Master questioned it, "Who art thou, say,
So bruised and injured in a strife not thine?"
It answered, "Ye that some strange fate hath led
To see me mangled and discomfited,
I pray ye closely round my foot to lay
The boughs and leaves their violence strawed away.
In that fair city of the plain I dwelt
Which once to Mars, its earliest patron, knelt,
And then the Baptist in his place preferred,
And earned thereby the war-god's enmity.
So that, except on Arno's bridge there stands
His statue yet, those men with useless hands
Had toiled, from ashes of the Huns, again
To build it in the years of Charlemagne.
"I have no name: I have no tale to say.
I made a gibbet of my house. Ye see
The end in this, the doleful price I pay."
THE lifted banners of the King of Hell,"
- My leader roused me from my thought -
Look therefore." I beheld, as in such sky
As foul mist hides, or murk of night obscures,
A turning windmill loom; and such the gale
Its motions caused, that I, of strength too frail
To meet it longer, shrank behind my guide.
Beneath our feet - but memory fears to tell -
The sinners here contained in Hell's last sewers
Were frozen solid in firm ice, and shone
Like straw in glass; and as we walked thereon
We saw some flat, and some with heads below,
And some pulled backward like a bended bow,
And some were upright.
When we got so near
I needs must see, my leader stepped aside.
He said, "Let fortitude reject thy fear,
For Dis confronts thee."
There I think I died,
Though living. Not the icy blast I met
A living man could face, a dead could feel.
But here speech fails me. Reader, words are nought
To help me further. To thy livelier thought
I leave it.
Breast-deep in the ice was set
The Emperor of the dolorous realm; but yet
So huge he towered that I should seem more fit
With giants to consort, than a giant compare
With one arm only. He, that once so fair
Could walk assured in Heaven, the lordliest there
Beneath his Maker, fills this glacial pit
If by his woe we price his earlier weal,
Or judge his glory by his aspect now,
Well may he fount affliction. For one head
I saw three faces. One was fiery red.
The others slanting from each shoulder rose
To form one crest that shapes creation's woes.
One pallid yellow, one the sable hue
Of those who wander from the tropic land
Wherefrom the sources of the Nile expand.
There were two wings the three foul heads below
Such bird to suit. I never saw such spread
Of ocean canvas to the wind: but these
Were bat-like, plumeless, and the wind they bred,
- They flapped unceasing - caused the glacier freeze
Down which we traversed. With six eyes he wept,
The while a sinner in each mouth he kept,
And chewed, and loosed not. Tears and foam unite
With dribbling blood, that spurts from every bite
Down his three chins. The midmost was not bit
So much as torn. At times his back was flayed
All bare of skin.
"That soul that most endures,
Whose head Apollyon in his mouth hath got,
Whose legs kick outward, is Iscariot:"
My Master told, "of those whose heads may quit
The teeth that chew them, down the swarthier chin
Is Brutus dangling. Mark how silently
He writhes. The comrade of his doom is he
Who shared that treason, Cassius. - But the night
Is rising in the world without, and we
Must hasten. All is seen that lies herein,
And hence depart we."
At his word I put
My arm around him. He with lifted foot
His opening watched, and when the wings were wide
Leapt from the glacier to the tangled side,
And midst the shaggy tufts of frozen hair
The scaly hide descended.
When we came
To pass the swelling of the haunch, my guide
With arduous effort turned, till where his head
Had been before, he placed his feet instead,
And gripped the hair as one that mounts. I thought
That backwards into Hell his path he sought.
But he, hard-panting with that toil, replied,
"Hold fast - be silent - by this only stair
We find Hell's exit."
Thus he climbed to where
An opening gashed the rock, and reaching there
He placed me on the ledge, and warily
Himself stepped after. Here I looked to see
Again the front of Lucifer, and lo!
His legs stuck upward.
Were a man too dense
To understand the point we passed, he still
Might judge the toil before me, to return
To earth's far surface. "Gain thy feet, for ill
The pathway climbs," my guide enjoined, "that hence
Shall take us, as thy weary steps must learn,
And in the outer skies the sun midway
To noon is lifted."
Round I looked, and saw
No palace, but such cleft in earth's deep maw
As likest to a natural dungeon showed,
"Ere this evil road,"
I answered, rising, "leave the deep abyss,
I pray thee tell me, lest my thought should err,
Why upward rise the legs of Lucifer,
And where the icy plain we crossed? and how
The morning shines without, which was but now
To night descending?"
"Dost thou spare to think
Its meaning? Downward through the central sink
We passed. We have not backward climbed to where
I leapt, but holding by the frozen hair
We scaled this maggot of the evil core
To which all weights conclude; and when, midway,
We turned with effort, then beneath us lay
That half the world from which we came, and we
Look upward to that other world of sea
Which those who sail beyond thine hemisphere
Have found, and left uncharted. Standing here
Beneath us is the great dry land that lies
Within the cover of the northern skies,
And centres round the Sacred Mount whereon
The Holiest died. Above us reaches far
The region where the pathless oceans are;
For this side fell from Heaven the Worm of Hell
And all the land drew backward where he fell,
And hid beneath the waters. There is morn
When nightfall closes on thy northern land;
And there our issue, for a stream has worn
A tortuous passage from the outer skies
To this foul pit where Beelzebub lies,
And through the darkness of the toilsome way
Its sound must lead us."
Nothing more we said,
Nor paused for rest, however jagged and rough
And dark the path we climbed, and long enough
For mortal feet to weary. Fast he led:
And I made tireless by that hope ahead
Pursued him upward, till the rocks were rent
With first a sight of Heaven's clear firmament,
And then the earth's clean airs with learnt delight
I breathed, and round me was the beauteous night,
And overhead the stars.