The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XVII

NOW upward rose the flame, and still’d its light

To speak no more, and now pass’d on with leave

From the mild poet gain’d, when following came

Another, from whose top a sound confus’d,

Forth issuing, drew our eyes that way to look.

As the Sicilian bull, that rightfully

His cries first echoed, who had shap’d its mould,

Did so rebellow, with the voice of him

Tormented, that the brazen monster seem’d

Pierc’d through with pain; thus while no way they found

Nor avenue immediate through the flame,

Into its language turn’d the dismal words:

But soon as they had won their passage forth,

Up from the point, which vibrating obey’d

Their motion at the tongue, these sounds we heard:

“O thou!  to whom I now direct my voice!

That lately didst exclaim in Lombard phrase,

Depart thou, I solicit thee no more,’

Though somewhat tardy I perchance arrive

Let it not irk thee here to pause awhile,

And with me parley:  lo! it irks not me

And yet I burn.  If but e’en now thou fall

into this blind world, from that pleasant land

Of Latium, whence I draw my sum of guilt,

Tell me if those, who in Romagna dwell,

Have peace or war.  For of the mountains there

Was I, betwixt Urbino and the height,

Whence Tyber first unlocks his mighty flood.”

Leaning I listen’d yet with heedful ear,

When, as he touch’d my side, the leader thus:

“Speak thou: he is a Latian.”  My reply

Was ready, and I spake without delay:

“O spirit!  who art hidden here below!

Never was thy Romagna without war

In her proud tyrants’ bosoms, nor is now:

But open war there left I none.  The state,

Ravenna hath maintain’d this many a year,

Is steadfast.  There Polenta’s eagle broods,

And in his broad circumference of plume

O’ershadows Cervia. The green talons grasp

The land, that stood erewhile the proof so long,

And pil’d in bloody heap the host of France.

“The’ old mastiff of Verruchio and the young,

That tore Montagna in their wrath, still make,

Where they are wont, an augre of their fangs.

“Lamone’s city and Santerno’s range

Under the lion of the snowy lair.

Inconstant partisan! that changeth sides,

Or ever summer yields to winter’s frost.

And she, whose flank is wash’d of Savio’s wave,

As ’twixt the level and the steep she lies,

Lives so ’twixt tyrant power and liberty.

“Now tell us, I entreat thee, who art thou?

Be not more hard than others.  In the world,

So may thy name still rear its forehead high.”

Then roar’d awhile the fire, its sharpen’d point

On either side wav’d, and thus breath’d at last:

“If I did think, my answer were to one,

Who ever could return unto the world,

This flame should rest unshaken.  But since ne’er,

If true be told me, any from this depth

Has found his upward way, I answer thee,

Nor fear lest infamy record the words.

“A man of arms at first, I cloth’d me then

In good Saint Francis’ girdle, hoping so

T’ have made amends.  And certainly my hope

Had fail’d not, but that he, whom curses light on,

The’ high priest again seduc’d me into sin.

And how and wherefore listen while I tell.

Long as this spirit mov’d the bones and pulp

My mother gave me, less my deeds bespake

The nature of the lion than the fox.

All ways of winding subtlety I knew,

And with such art conducted, that the sound

Reach’d the world’s limit.  Soon as to that part

Of life I found me come, when each behoves

To lower sails and gather in the lines;

That which before had pleased me then I rued,

And to repentance and confession turn’d;

Wretch that I was! and well it had bested me!

The chief of the new Pharisees meantime,

Waging his warfare near the Lateran,

Not with the Saracens or Jews (his foes

All Christians were, nor against Acre one

Had fought, nor traffic’d in the Soldan’s land),

He his great charge nor sacred ministry

In himself, rev’renc’d, nor in me that cord,

Which us’d to mark with leanness whom it girded.

As in Socrate, Constantine besought

To cure his leprosy Sylvester’s aid,

So me to cure the fever of his pride

This man besought: my counsel to that end

He ask’d:  and I was silent:  for his words

Seem’d drunken:  but forthwith he thus resum’d:

“From thy heart banish fear:  of all offence

I hitherto absolve thee.  In return,

Teach me my purpose so to execute,

That Penestrino cumber earth no more.

Heav’n, as thou knowest, I have power to shut

And open:  and the keys are therefore twain,

The which my predecessor meanly priz’d.”

Then, yielding to the forceful arguments,

Of silence as more perilous I deem’d,

And answer’d:  “Father! since thou washest me

Clear of that guilt wherein I now must fall,

Large promise with performance scant, be sure,

Shall make thee triumph in thy lofty seat.”

“When I was number’d with the dead, then came

Saint Francis for me; but a cherub dark

He met, who cried: “’Wrong me not; he is mine,

And must below to join the wretched crew,

For the deceitful counsel which he gave.

E’er since I watch’d him, hov’ring at his hair,

No power can the impenitent absolve;

Nor to repent and will at once consist,

By contradiction absolute forbid.”

Oh mis’ry! how I shook myself, when he

Seiz’d me, and cried, “Thou haply thought’st me not

A disputant in logic so exact.”

To Minos down he bore me, and the judge

Twin’d eight times round his callous back the tail,

Which biting with excess of rage, he spake:

“This is a guilty soul, that in the fire

Must vanish.’  Hence perdition-doom’d I rove

A prey to rankling sorrow in this garb.”

When he had thus fulfill’d his words, the flame

In dolour parted, beating to and fro,

And writhing its sharp horn.  We onward went,

I and my leader, up along the rock,

Far as another arch, that overhangs

The foss, wherein the penalty is paid

Of those, who load them with committed sin.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19he/canto27.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53