Parts: I. – V.


ONE night, when half my life behind me lay,
I wandered from the straight lost path afar.
Through the great dark was no releasing way;
Above that dark was no relieving star.
If yet that terrored night I think or say,
As death’s cold hands its fears resuming are.

Gladly the dreads I felt, too dire to tell,
The hopeless, pathless, lightless hours forgot,
I turn my tale to that which next befell,
When the dawn opened, and the night was not.
The hollowed blackness of that waste, God wot,
Shrank, thinned, and ceased. A blinding splendour hot
Flushed the great height toward which my footsteps fell,
And though it kindled from the nether hell,
Or from the Star that all men leads, alike
It showed me where the great dawn-glories strike
The wide east, and the utmost peaks of snow.

How first I entered on that path astray,
Beset with sleep, I know not. This I know.
When gained my feet the upward, lighted way,
I backward gazed, as one the drowning sea,
The deep strong tides, has baffled, and panting lies,
On the shelved shore, and turns his eyes to see
The league-wide wastes that held him. So mine eyes
Surveyed that fear, the while my wearied frame
Rested, and ever my heart’s tossed lake became
More quiet.
Then from that pass released, which yet
With living feet had no man left, I set
My forward steps aslant the steep, that so,
My right foot still the lower, I climbed.

No more I gazed. Around, a slope of sand
Was sterile of all growth on either hand,
Or moving life, a spotted pard except,
That yawning rose, and stretched, and purred and leapt
So closely round my feet, that scarce I kept
The course I would.
That sleek and lovely thing,
The broadening light, the breath of morn and spring,
The sun, that with his stars in Aries lay,
As when Divine Love on Creation’s day
First gave these fair things motion, all at one
Made lightsome hope; but lightsome hope was none
When down the slope there came with lifted head
And back-blown mane and caverned mouth and red,
A lion, roaring, all the air ashake
That heard his hunger. Upward flight to take
No heart was mine, for where the further way
Mine anxious eyes explored, a she-wolf lay,
That licked lean flanks, and waited. Such was she
In aspect ruthless that I quaked to see,
And where she lay among her bones had brought
So many to grief before, that all my thought
Aghast turned backward to the sunless night
I left. But while I plunged in headlong flight
To that most feared before, a shade, or man
(Either he seemed), obstructing where I ran,
Called to me with a voice that few should know,
Faint from forgetful silence, “Where ye go,
Take heed. Why turn ye from the upward way?”

I cried, “Or come ye from warm earth, or they
The grave hath taken, in my mortal need
Have mercy thou!”
He answered, “Shade am I,
That once was man; beneath the Lombard sky,
In the late years of Julius born, and bred
In Mantua, till my youthful steps were led
To Rome, where yet the false gods lied to man;
And when the great Augustan age began,
I wrote the tale of Ilium burnt, and how
Anchises’ son forth-pushed a venturous prow,
Seeking unknown seas. But in what mood art thou
To thus return to all the ills ye fled,
The while the mountain of thy hope ahead
Lifts into light, the source and cause of all
Delectable things that may to man befall?”

I answered, “Art thou then that Virgil, he
From whom all grace of measured speech in me
Derived? O glorious and far-guiding star!
Now may the love-led studious hours and long
In which I learnt how rich thy wonders are,
Master and Author mine of Light and Song,
Befriend me now, who knew thy voice, that few
Yet hearken. All the name my work hath won
Is thine of right, from whom I learned. To thee,
Abashed, I grant it. . . Why the mounting sun
No more I seek, ye scarce should ask, who see
The beast that turned me, nor faint hope have I
To force that passage if thine aid deny.”
He answered, “Would ye leave this wild and live,
Strange road is ours, for where the she-wolf lies
Shall no man pass, except the path he tries
Her craft entangle. No way fugitive
Avoids the seeking of her greeds, that give
Insatiate hunger, and such vice perverse
As makes her leaner while she feeds, and worse
Her craving. And the beasts with which she breed
The noisome numerous beasts her lusts require,
Bare all the desirable lands in which she feeds;
Nor shall lewd feasts and lewder matings tire
Until she woos, in evil hour for her,
The wolfhound that shall rend her. His desire
Is not for rapine, as the promptings stir
Of her base heart; but wisdoms, and devoirs
Of manhood, and love’s rule, his thoughts prefer.
The Italian lowlands he shall reach and save,
For which Camilla of old, the virgin brave,
Turnus and Nisus died in strife. His chase
He shall not cease, nor any cowering-place
Her fear shall find her, till he drive her back,
From city to city exiled, from wrack to wrack
Slain out of life, to find the native hell
Whence envy loosed her.
For thyself were
To follow where I lead, and thou shalt see
The spirits in pain, and hear the hopeless woe,
The unending cries, of those whose only plea
Is judgment, that the second death to be
Fall quickly. Further shalt thou climb, and go
To those who burn, but in their pain content
With hope of pardon; still beyond, more high,
Holier than opens to such souls as I,
The Heavens uprear; but if thou wilt, is one
Worthier, and she shall guide thee there, where none
Who did the Lord of those fair realms deny
May enter. There in his city He dwells, and there
Rules and pervades in every part, and calls
His chosen ever within the sacred walls.
O happiest, they!”
I answered, “By that Go
Thou didst not know, I do thine aid entreat,
And guidance, that beyond the ills I meet
I safety find, within the Sacred Gate
That Peter guards, and those sad souls to see
Who look with longing for their end to be.”

Then he moved forward, and behind I trod.

  • Canto II

THE day was falling, and the darkening air
Released earth’s creatures from their toils, while I,
I only, faced the bitter road and bare
My Master led. I only, must defy
The powers of pity, and the night to be.
So thought I, but the things I came to see,
Which memory holds, could never thought forecast.
O Muses high! O Genius, first and last!
Memories intense! Your utmost powers combine
To meet this need. For never theme as mine
Strained vainly, where your loftiest nobleness
Must fail to be sufficient.
I said,
Fearing, to him who through the darkness led,
“O poet, ere the arduous path ye press
Too far, look in me, if the worth there be
To make this transit. &Aelig;neas once, I know,
Went down in life, and crossed the infernal sea;
And if the Lord of All Things Lost Below
Allowed it, reason seems, to those who see
The enduring greatness of his destiny,
Who in the Empyrean Heaven elect was called
Sire of the Eternal City, that throned and walled
Made Empire of the world beyond, to be
The Holy Place at last, by God’s decree,
Where the great Peter’s follower rules. For he
Learned there the causes of his victory.

“And later to the third great Heaven was caught
The last Apostle, and thence returning brought
The proofs of our salvation. But, for me,
I am not &Aelig;neas, nay, nor Paul, to see
Unspeakable things that depths or heights can show,
And if this road for no sure end I go
What folly is mine? But any words are weak.
Thy wisdom further than the things I speak
Can search the event that would be.”
Here I
My steps amid the darkness, and the Shade
That led me heard and turned, magnanimous,
And saw me drained of purpose halting thus,
And answered, “If thy coward-born thoughts be clear,
And all thy once intent, infirmed of fear,
Broken, then art thou as scared beasts that shy
From shadows, surely that they know not why
Nor wherefore. . . Hearken, to confound thy fear,
The things which first I heard, and brought me here.
One came where, in the Outer Place, I dwell,
Suspense from hope of Heaven or fear of Hell,
Radiant in light that native round her clung,
And cast her eyes our hopeless Shades among
(Eyes with no earthly like but heaven’s own blue),
And called me to her in such voice as few
In that grim place had heard, so low, so clear,
So toned and cadenced from the Utmost Sphere,
The Unattainable Heaven from which she came.
‘O Mantuan Spirit,’ she said, ‘whose lasting fame
Continues on the earth ye left, and still
With Time shall stand, an earthly friend to me,
– My friend, not fortune’s – climbs a path so ill
That all the night-bred fears he hastes to flee
Were kindly to the thing he nears. The tale
Moved through the peace of I leaven, and swift I sped
Downward, to aid my friend in love’s avail,
With scanty time therefor, that half I dread
Too late I came. But thou shalt haste, and go
With golden wisdom of thy speech, that so
For me be consolation. Thou shalt say,
“I come from Beatricл.” Downward far,
From Heaven to I leaven I sank, from star to star,
To find thee, and to point his rescuing way.
Fain would I to my place of light return;
Love moved me from it, and gave me power to learn
Thy speech. When next before my Lord I stand
I very oft shall praise thee.’
she ceased,
And I gave answer to that dear command,
‘Lady, alone through whom the whole race of those
The smallest Heaven the moon’s short orbits hold
Excels in its creation, not thy least,
Thy lightest wish in this dark realm were told
Vainly. But show me why the Heavens unclose
To loose thee from them, and thyself content
Couldst thus continue in such strange descent
From that most Spacious Place for which ye burn,
And while ye further left, would fain return.’

” ‘That which thou wouldst,’ she said, ‘I briefly tell.
There is no fear nor any hurt in Hell,
Except that it be powerful. God in me
Is gracious, that the piteous sights I see
I share not, nor myself can shrink to feel
The flame of all this burning. One there is
In height among the Holiest placed, and she
– Mercy her name – among God’s mysteries
Dwells in the midst, and hath the power to see
His judgments, and to break them. This sharp
I tell thee, when she saw, she called, that so
Leaned Lucia toward her while she spake – and said,
“One that is faithful to thy name is sped,
Except that now ye aid him.” She thereat,
– Lucia, to all men’s wrongs inimical –
Left her High Place, and crossed to where I sat
In speech with Rachel (of the first of all
God saved). “O Beatrice, Praise of God,”
– So said she to me – “sitt’st thou here so slow
To aid him, once on earth that loved thee so
That all he left to serve thee? Hear’st thou not
The anguish of his plaint? and dost not see,
By that dark stream that never seeks a sea,
The death that threats him?”
None, as thus she
None ever was swift on earth his good to chase,
None ever on earth was swift to leave his dread,
As came I downward from that sacred place
To find thee and invoke thee, confident
Not vainly for his need the gold were spent
Of thy word-wisdom.’ Here she turned away,
Her bright eyes clouded with their tears, and I,
Who saw them, therefore made more haste to reach
The place she told, and found thee. Canst thou say
I failed thy rescue? Is the beast anigh
From which ye quailed? When such dear saints beseech
– Three from the Highest – that Heaven thy course allow
Why halt ye fearful? In such guards as thou
The faintest-hearted might be bold.”

As flowers,
Close-folded through the cold and lightless hours,
Their bended stems erect, and opening fair
Accept the white light and the warmer air
Of morning, so my fainting heart anew
Lifted, that heard his comfort. Swift I spake,
“O courteous thou, and she compassionate!
Thy haste that saved me, and her warning true,
Beyond my worth exalt me. Thine I make
My will. In concord of one mind from now,
O Master and my Guide, where leadest thou
I follow.”
And we, with no more words’ delay,
Went forward on that hard and dreadful way.

  • Canto III 

THE gateway to the city of Doom. Through me
The entrance to the Everlasting Pain.
The Gateway of the Lost. The Eternal Three
Justice impelled to build me. Here ye see
Wisdom Supreme at work, and Primal Power,
And Love Supernal in their dawnless day.
Ere from their thought creation rose in flower
Eternal first were all things fixed as they.
Of Increate Power infinite formed am I
That deathless as themselves I do not die.
Justice divine has weighed: the doom is clear.
All hope renounce, ye lost, who enter here.
This scroll in gloom above the gate I read,
And found it fearful. “Master, hard,” I said,
“This saying to me.” And he, as one that long
Was customed, answered, “No distrust must wrong
Its Maker, nor thy cowarder mood resume
If here ye enter. This the place of doom
I told thee, where the lost in darkness dwell.
Here, by themselves divorced from light, they fell,
And are as ye shall see them.” Here he lent
A hand to draw me through the gate, and bent
A glance upon my fear so confident
That I, too nearly to my former dread
Returned, through all my heart was comforted,
And downward to the secret things we went.

Downward to night, but not of moon and cloud,
Not night with all its stars, as night we know,
But burdened with an ocean-weight of woe
The darkness closed us.
Sighs, and wailings loud,
Outcries perpetual of recruited pain,
Sounds of strange tongues, and angers that remain
Vengeless for ever, the thick and clamorous crowd
Of discords pressed, that needs I wept to hear,
First hearing. There, with reach of hands anear,
And voices passion-hoarse, or shrilled with fright,
The tumult of the everlasting night,
As sand that dances in continual wind,
Turns on itself for ever.
And I, my head
Begirt with movements, and my ears bedinned
With outcries round me, to my leader said,
“Master, what hear I? Who so overborne
With woes are these?”
He answered, “These be they
That praiseless lived and blameless. Now the scorn
Of Height and Depth alike, abortions drear;
Cast with those abject angels whose delay
To join rebellion, or their Lord defend,
Waiting their proved advantage, flung them here. –
Chased forth from Heaven, lest else its beauties end
The pure perfection of their stainless claim,
Out-herded from the shining gate they came,
Where the deep hells refused them, lest the lost
Boast something baser than themselves.”

And I,
“Master, what grievance hath their failure cost,
That through the lamentable dark they cry?”

He answered, “Briefly at a thing not worth
We glance, and pass forgetful. Hope in death
They have not. Memory of them on the earth
Where once they lived remains not. Nor the breath
Of Justice shall condemn, nor Mercy plead,
But all alike disdain them. That they know
Themselves so mean beneath aught else constrains
The envious outcries that too long ye heed.
Move past, but speak not.”
Then I looked, and
Were souls in ceaseless and unnumbered trains
That past me whirled unending, vainly led
Nowhither, in useless and unpausing haste.
A fluttering ensign all their guide, they chased
Themselves for ever. I had not thought the dead,
The whole world’s dead, so many as these. I saw
The shadow of him elect to Peter’s seat
Who made the great refusal, and the law,
The unswerving law that left them this retreat
To seal the abortion of their lives, became
Illumined to me, and themselves I knew,
To God and all his foes the futile crew
How hateful in their everlasting shame.

I saw these victims of continued death
– For lived they never – were naked all, and loud
Around them closed a never-ceasing cloud
Of hornets and great wasps, that buzzed and clung,
– Weak pain for weaklings meet, – and where they stung,
Blood from their faces streamed, with sobbing breath,
And all the ground beneath with tears and blood
Was drenched, and crawling in that loathsome mud
There were great worms that drank it.
I gazed far forward. Dark and wide the flood
That flowed before us. On the nearer shore
Were people waiting. “Master, show me whence
These came, and who they be, and passing hence
Where go they? Wherefore wait they there content,
– The faint light shows it, – for their transit o’er
The unbridged abyss?”
He answered, “When we stand
Together, waiting on the joyless strand,
In all it shall be told thee.” If he meant
Reproof I know not, but with shame I bent
My downward eyes, and no more spake until
The bank we reached, and on the stream beheld
A bark ply toward us.
Of exceeding eld,
And hoary showed the steersman, screaming shrill,
With horrid glee the while he neared us, “Woe
To ye, depraved! – Is here no Heaven, but ill
The place where I shall herd ye. Ice and fire
And darkness are the wages of their hire
Who serve unceasing here – But thou that there
Dost wait though live, depart ye. Yea, forbear!
A different passage and a lighter fare
Is destined thine.”
But here my guide replied,
“Nay, Charon, cease; or to thy grief ye chide.
It There is willed, where that is willed shall be,
That ye shall pass him to the further side,
Nor question more.”
The fleecy cheeks thereat,
Blown with fierce speech before, were drawn and flat,
And his flame-circled eyes subdued, to hear
That mandate given. But those of whom he spake
In bitter glee, with naked limbs ashake,
And chattering teeth received it. Seemed that then
They first were conscious where they came, and fear
Abject and frightful shook them; curses burst
In clamorous discords forth; the race of men,
Their parents, and their God, the place, the time,
Of their conceptions and their births, accursed
Alike they called, blaspheming Heaven. But yet
Slow steps toward the waiting bark they set,
With terrible wailing while they moved. And so
They came reluctant to the shore of woe
That waits for all who fear not God, and not
Them only.
Then the demon Charon rose
To herd them in, with eyes that furnace-hot
Glowed at the task, and lifted oar to smite
Who lingered.
As the leaves, when autumn shows,
One after one descending, leave the bough,
Or doves come downward to the call, so now
The evil seed of Adam to endless night,
As Charon signalled, from the shore’s bleak height,
Cast themselves downward to the bark. The brown
And bitter flood received them, and while they passed
Were others gathering, patient as the last,
Not conscious of their nearing doom.

“My son,”
– Replied my guide the unspoken thought – “is none
Beneath God’s wrath who dies in field or town,
Or earth’s wide space, or whom the waters drown,
But here he cometh at last, and that so spurred
By Justice, that his fear, as those ye heard,
Impels him forward like desire. Is not
One spirit of all to reach the fatal spot
That God’s love holdeth, and hence, if Char
Ye well may take it. – Raise thy heart, for now,
Constrained of Heaven, he must thy course allow.”

Yet how I passed I know not. For the ground
Trembled that heard him, and a fearful sound
Of issuing wind arose, and blood-red light
Broke from beneath our feet, and sense and sight
Left me. The memory with cold sweat once more
Reminds me of the sudden-crimsoned night,
As sank I senseless by the dreadful shore.

  • Canto IV 

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.
Deep, profound,
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.”
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?”
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.”
he spake
A voice rose near us: “Hail!” it cried, “for he
Returns, who was departed.”
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
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.
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
Electra passed, among her sons. I knew
Hector and &Aelig;neas there; and Cжsar 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 Ptolemжus; Avicenna,
Galen, Hippocrates; Averrhoлs,
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.

  • Canto V 

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.
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.”
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.
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 Sichжus,
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,

“O Animate!
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.

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