The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXXII

COULD I command rough rhimes and hoarse, to suit

That hole of sorrow, o’er which ev’ry rock

His firm abutment rears, then might the vein

Of fancy rise full springing:  but not mine

Such measures, and with falt’ring awe I touch

The mighty theme; for to describe the depth

Of all the universe, is no emprize

To jest with, and demands a tongue not us’d

To infant babbling.  But let them assist

My song, the tuneful maidens, by whose aid

Amphion wall’d in Thebes, so with the truth

My speech shall best accord.  Oh ill-starr’d folk,

Beyond all others wretched!  who abide

In such a mansion, as scarce thought finds words

To speak of, better had ye here on earth

Been flocks or mountain goats.  As down we stood

In the dark pit beneath the giants’ feet,

But lower far than they, and I did gaze

Still on the lofty battlement, a voice

Bespoke me thus:  “Look how thou walkest.  Take

Good heed, thy soles do tread not on the heads

Of thy poor brethren.”  Thereupon I turn’d,

And saw before and underneath my feet

A lake, whose frozen surface liker seem’d

To glass than water.  Not so thick a veil

In winter e’er hath Austrian Danube spread

O’er his still course, nor Tanais far remote

Under the chilling sky.  Roll’d o’er that mass

Had Tabernich or Pietrapana fall’n,

Not e’en its rim had creak’d. As peeps the frog

Croaking above the wave, what time in dreams

The village gleaner oft pursues her toil,

So, to where modest shame appears, thus low

Blue pinch’d and shrin’d in ice the spirits stood,

Moving their teeth in shrill note like the stork.

His face each downward held; their mouth the cold,

Their eyes express’d the dolour of their heart.

A space I look’d around, then at my feet

Saw two so strictly join’d, that of their head

The very hairs were mingled.  “Tell me ye,

Whose bosoms thus together press,” said I,

“Who are ye?”  At that sound their necks they bent,

And when their looks were lifted up to me,

Straightway their eyes, before all moist within,

Distill’d upon their lips, and the frost bound

The tears betwixt those orbs and held them there.

Plank unto plank hath never cramp clos’d up

So stoutly.  Whence like two enraged goats

They clash’d together; them such fury seiz’d.

And one, from whom the cold both ears had reft,

Exclaim’d, still looking downward: “Why on us

Dost speculate so long?  If thou wouldst know

Who are these two, the valley, whence his wave

Bisenzio slopes, did for its master own

Their sire Alberto, and next him themselves.

They from one body issued; and throughout

Caina thou mayst search, nor find a shade

More worthy in congealment to be fix’d,

Not him, whose breast and shadow Arthur’s land

At that one blow dissever’d, not Focaccia,

No not this spirit, whose o’erjutting head

Obstructs my onward view:  he bore the name

Of Mascheroni:  Tuscan if thou be,

Well knowest who he was:  and to cut short

All further question, in my form behold

What once was Camiccione.  I await

Carlino here my kinsman, whose deep guilt

Shall wash out mine.”  A thousand visages

Then mark’d I, which the keen and eager cold

Had shap’d into a doggish grin; whence creeps

A shiv’ring horror o’er me, at the thought

Of those frore shallows.  While we journey’d on

Toward the middle, at whose point unites

All heavy substance, and I trembling went

Through that eternal chillness, I know not

If will it were or destiny, or chance,

But, passing ’midst the heads, my foot did strike

With violent blow against the face of one.

“Wherefore dost bruise me?” weeping, he exclaim’d,

“Unless thy errand be some fresh revenge

For Montaperto, wherefore troublest me?”

I thus:  “Instructor, now await me here,

That I through him may rid me of my doubt.

Thenceforth what haste thou wilt.”  The teacher paus’d,

And to that shade I spake, who bitterly

Still curs’d me in his wrath.  “What art thou, speak,

That railest thus on others?”  He replied:

“Now who art thou, that smiting others’ cheeks

Through Antenora roamest, with such force

As were past suff’rance, wert thou living still?”

“And I am living, to thy joy perchance,”

Was my reply, “if fame be dear to thee,

That with the rest I may thy name enrol.”

“The contrary of what I covet most,”

Said he, “thou tender’st:  hence; nor vex me more.

Ill knowest thou to flatter in this vale.”

Then seizing on his hinder scalp, I cried:

“Name thee, or not a hair shall tarry here.”

“Rend all away,” he answer’d, “yet for that

I will not tell nor show thee who I am,

Though at my head thou pluck a thousand times.”

Now I had grasp’d his tresses, and stript off

More than one tuft, he barking, with his eyes

Drawn in and downward, when another cried,

“What ails thee, Bocca?  Sound not loud enough

Thy chatt’ring teeth, but thou must bark outright?

What devil wrings thee?” — “ Now,” said I, “be dumb,

Accursed traitor!  to thy shame of thee

True tidings will I bear.” — “ Off,” he replied,

“Tell what thou list; but as thou escape from hence

To speak of him whose tongue hath been so glib,

Forget not:  here he wails the Frenchman’s gold.

‘Him of Duera,’ thou canst say, ’I mark’d,

Where the starv’d sinners pine.’  If thou be ask’d

What other shade was with them, at thy side

Is Beccaria, whose red gorge distain’d

The biting axe of Florence.  Farther on,

If I misdeem not, Soldanieri bides,

With Ganellon, and Tribaldello, him

Who op’d Faenza when the people slept.”

We now had left him, passing on our way,

When I beheld two spirits by the ice

Pent in one hollow, that the head of one

Was cowl unto the other; and as bread

Is raven’d up through hunger, th’ uppermost

Did so apply his fangs to th’ other’s brain,

Where the spine joins it.  Not more furiously

On Menalippus’ temples Tydeus gnaw’d,

Than on that skull and on its garbage he.

“O thou who show’st so beastly sign of hate

’Gainst him thou prey’st on, let me hear,” said I

“The cause, on such condition, that if right

Warrant thy grievance, knowing who ye are,

And what the colour of his sinning was,

I may repay thee in the world above,

If that, wherewith I speak be moist so long.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19he/canto32.html

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