The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto VII

“AH me!  O Satan!  Satan!” loud exclaim’d

Plutus, in accent hoarse of wild alarm:

And the kind sage, whom no event surpris’d,

To comfort me thus spake:  “Let not thy fear

Harm thee, for power in him, be sure, is none

To hinder down this rock thy safe descent.”

Then to that sworn lip turning, “ Peace!”  he cried,

“Curs’d wolf!  thy fury inward on thyself

Prey, and consume thee!  Through the dark profound

Not without cause he passes.  So ’t is will’d

On high, there where the great Archangel pour’d

Heav’n’s vengeance on the first adulterer proud.”

As sails full spread and bellying with the wind

Drop suddenly collaps’d, if the mast split;

So to the ground down dropp’d the cruel fiend.

Thus we, descending to the fourth steep ledge,

Gain’d on the dismal shore, that all the woe

Hems in of all the universe.  Ah me!

Almighty Justice!  in what store thou heap’st

New pains, new troubles, as I here beheld!

Wherefore doth fault of ours bring us to this?

E’en as a billow, on Charybdis rising,

Against encounter’d billow dashing breaks;

Such is the dance this wretched race must lead,

Whom more than elsewhere numerous here I found,

From one side and the other, with loud voice,

Both roll’d on weights by main forge of their breasts,

Then smote together, and each one forthwith

Roll’d them back voluble, turning again,

Exclaiming these, “Why holdest thou so fast?”

Those answering, “And why castest thou away?”

So still repeating their despiteful song,

They to the opposite point on either hand

Travers’d the horrid circle:  then arriv’d,

Both turn’d them round, and through the middle space

Conflicting met again.  At sight whereof

I, stung with grief, thus spake:  “O say, my guide!

What race is this?  Were these, whose heads are shorn,

On our left hand, all sep’rate to the church?”

He straight replied:  “In their first life these all

In mind were so distorted, that they made,

According to due measure, of their wealth,

No use.  This clearly from their words collect,

Which they howl forth, at each extremity

Arriving of the circle, where their crime

Contrary’ in kind disparts them.  To the church

Were separate those, that with no hairy cowls

Are crown’d, both Popes and Cardinals, o’er whom

Av’rice dominion absolute maintains.”

I then:  “Mid such as these some needs must be,

Whom I shall recognize, that with the blot

Of these foul sins were stain’d.”  He answering thus:

“Vain thought conceiv’st thou.  That ignoble life,

Which made them vile before, now makes them dark,

And to all knowledge indiscernible.

Forever they shall meet in this rude shock:

These from the tomb with clenched grasp shall rise,

Those with close-shaven locks.  That ill they gave,

And ill they kept, hath of the beauteous world

Depriv’d, and set them at this strife, which needs

No labour’d phrase of mine to set if off.

Now may’st thou see, my son!  how brief, how vain,

The goods committed into fortune’s hands,

For which the human race keep such a coil!

Not all the gold, that is beneath the moon,

Or ever hath been, of these toil-worn souls

Might purchase rest for one.”  I thus rejoin’d:

“My guide! of thee this also would I learn;

This fortune, that thou speak’st of, what it is,

Whose talons grasp the blessings of the world?”

He thus:  “O beings blind!  what ignorance

Besets you?  Now my judgment hear and mark.

He, whose transcendent wisdom passes all,

The heavens creating, gave them ruling powers

To guide them, so that each part shines to each,

Their light in equal distribution pour’d.

By similar appointment he ordain’d

Over the world’s bright images to rule.

Superintendence of a guiding hand

And general minister, which at due time

May change the empty vantages of life

From race to race, from one to other’s blood,

Beyond prevention of man’s wisest care:

Wherefore one nation rises into sway,

Another languishes, e’en as her will

Decrees, from us conceal’d, as in the grass

The serpent train.  Against her nought avails

Your utmost wisdom.  She with foresight plans,

Judges, and carries on her reign, as theirs

The other powers divine.  Her changes know

Nore intermission:  by necessity

She is made swift, so frequent come who claim

Succession in her favours.  This is she,

So execrated e’en by those, whose debt

To her is rather praise; they wrongfully

With blame requite her, and with evil word;

But she is blessed, and for that recks not:

Amidst the other primal beings glad

Rolls on her sphere, and in her bliss exults.

Now on our way pass we, to heavier woe

Descending:  for each star is falling now,

That mounted at our entrance, and forbids

Too long our tarrying.”  We the circle cross’d

To the next steep, arriving at a well,

That boiling pours itself down to a foss

Sluic’d from its source.  Far murkier was the wave

Than sablest grain:  and we in company

Of the’ inky waters, journeying by their side,

Enter’d, though by a different track, beneath.

Into a lake, the Stygian nam’d, expands

The dismal stream, when it hath reach’d the foot

Of the grey wither’d cliffs.  Intent I stood

To gaze, and in the marish sunk descried

A miry tribe, all naked, and with looks

Betok’ning rage.  They with their hands alone

Struck not, but with the head, the breast, the feet,

Cutting each other piecemeal with their fangs.

The good instructor spake; “Now seest thou, son!

The souls of those, whom anger overcame.

This too for certain know, that underneath

The water dwells a multitude, whose sighs

Into these bubbles make the surface heave,

As thine eye tells thee wheresoe’er it turn.

Fix’d in the slime they say: “Sad once were we

In the sweet air made gladsome by the sun,

Carrying a foul and lazy mist within:

Now in these murky settlings are we sad.”

Such dolorous strain they gurgle in their throats.

But word distinct can utter none.”  Our route

Thus compass’d we, a segment widely stretch’d

Between the dry embankment, and the core

Of the loath’d pool, turning meanwhile our eyes

Downward on those who gulp’d its muddy lees;

Nor stopp’d, till to a tower’s low base we came.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19he/canto7.html

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