John Ciardi (1954)
Anthony Esolen (2002)
Dorothy Sayers (1949)
Mark Musa (1981, 1984)
Robin Kirkpatrick (2004)
INFERNO, CANTO 3- Charon's Warning
"All this shall be made known to you when we stand
on the joyless beach of Acheron." And I
cast down my eyes, sensing a reprimand
in what he said, and so walked at his side
in silence and ashamed until we came
trhough the dead cavern to that sunless tide.
There, steering toward us in an ancient ferry,
came an old man with a white bush of hair,
bellowing: "Woe to you depraved souls! Bury
here and forever all hope of Paradise;
I come to lead you to the other shore,
into eternal dark, into fire and ice.
And you who are living yet, I say begone
from these who are dead." But when he saw me stand
against his violence he began again:
"By other windings and by other steerage
shall you cross to that other shore. Not here! Not here!
A lighter craft than mine must give you passage."
And my Guide to him: "Charon, bite back your spleen:
this has been willed where what is willed must be,
and is not yours to ask what it may mean."
And he responded, "These things will be made
plain to you when we fix our steps upon
the melancholy shores of Acheron.
Then with eyes fallen low and full of shame,
fearing that I had burdened him with talk,
I held my words until we reached the stream.
And look here—coming at us in a boat,
an old man, hair and lank skin white with age,
hollering, "Woe to you, you crooked souls!
Give up all hope to look upon the sky!
I come to lead you to the other shore,
into eternal darkness—fire and ice!
And as for you there, you the living soul,
get away from these others who are dead."
But when he saw that I would not depart
He said, "Another way, another port
will bring your passage to the shore—not here.
A lighter boat must carry you across."
"Quit grumbling, Charon," said my guide. "Be still!
No questions—only know that this is willed
where power is power to do whatever it will."
And he said to me: "The whole shall be made known;
Only have patience till we stay our feet
On yonder sorrowful shore of Acheron."
Abashed, I dropped my eyes; and, lest unmeet
Chatter should vex him, held my tongue, and so
Paced on with him, in silence and discreet,
To the riverside. When from the far bank lo!
A boat shot forth, whose white-haired boatman old
Bawled as he came: "Woe to the wicked! Woe!
Never you hope to look on Heaven—behold!
I come to ferry you hence across the tide
To endless night, fierce fires and shramming cold.
And thou, the living man there! stand aside
From these who are dead!" I budged not, but abode;
So, when he saw me hold my ground, he cried:
"Away with thee! for by another road
And other ferries thou shalt make the shore,
Not here; a lighter skiff must bear thy load."
Then said my guide: "Charon, why wilt thou roar
And chafe in vain? Thus it is willed where power
And will are one; enough; ask though no more."
And he: "All this will be made plain to you
as soon as we shall come to stop awhile
upon the sorrowful shore of Acheron."
And I, with eyes cast down in shame, for fear
that I perhaps had spoken out of turn,
said nothing more until we reached the river.
And suddenly, coming toward us in a boat,
a man of years whose ancient hair was white
shouted at us, "Woe to you, perverted souls!
Give up all hope of ever seeing Heaven:
I come to lead you to the other shore,
into eternal darkness, ice, and fire.
And you, the living soul, you over there,
get away from all these people who are dead."
But when he saw I did not move aside,
he said, "Another way, by other ports,
not here, shall you pass to reach the other shore;
a lighter skiff than this must carry you."
And my guide, "Charon, this is no time for anger!
It is so willed, there where the power is
for what is willed; that's all you need to know."
"That will, of course, be clear to you," he said,
"when once our footsteps are set firm upon
the melancholic shores of Acheron."
At this—ashamed, my eyes cast humbly down,
fearing my words had weighed on him too hard—
I held my tongue until we reached the stream.
Look now! Towards us in a boat there came
and old man, yelling, hair all white and aged,
"degenerates! Your fate is sealed! Cry woe!
Don't hope you'll ever see the skies again!
I'm here to lead you to the farther shore
into eternal shadow, heat and chill
And you there! You! Yes, you, the living soul!
Get right away from this gang! These are dead."
But then, on seeing that I did not move:
"You will arrive by other paths and ports.
You'll start your journey from a different beach.
A lighter hull must carry you across."
"Charon," my leader, "don't torment yourself.
For this is willed where all is possible
that is willed there. And so demand no more."
INFERNO, CANTO 20- Punishment of the Fortune
Tellers and Diviners
My vantage point permitted a clear view
of the depths of the pit below: a desolation
bathed with the tears of its tormented crew,
who moved about the circle of the pit
at about the pace of a litany procession.
Silent and weeping, they wound round and round it.
And when I looked down from their faces, I saw
that each of them was hideously distorted
between the top of the chest and the lines of the jaw;
for the face was reverse on the neck, and they came on
backwards, staring backwards at their loins,
for to look before them was forbidden. Someone,
sometime, in the grip of a palsy may have been
distorted so, but never to my knowledge;
nor do I believe the like was ever seen.
I was disposed already to look down
upon the bottom of the pouch in sight,
bathed as it was in anguish and laments,
And I saw people in that rounding vale
silently weeping, walking at a pace
as slow and solemn as a litany.
And when my eyes observed them farther down,
they seemed miraculously screwed about
between the chin and where the torso starts,
For backward to the kidneys turned the face,
and backward always did they have to go,
as they had lost the sight of things ahead.
Maybe in wrenchings of paralysis
a man may be so wholly twisted round;
I've never seen it, and I have my doubts.
I now stood read to observe the full
Extent of the new chasm thus laid bare,
Drenched as it was in tears most miserable.
Through the round vale I saw folk drawing near,
Weeping and silent, and at such slow pace
As litany processions keep, up here.
And presently, when I had dropped my gaze
Lower than the head, I saw them strangely wried
'Twixt collar-bone and chin, so that the face,
Of each was turned towards his own backside,
And backwards must they needs creep with their feet,
All power of looking forward being denied.
Perhaps some kind of paralytic fit
Could twist men so—such cases may have been
I never saw it, nor can I credit it...
Already I was where I could look down
into the depths of the ditch: I saw its floor
was wet with anguished tears shed by the sinners,
and I saw people in the valley's circle,
silent, weeping, walking at a litany pace
the way processions push along in our world.
And when my gaze moved down below their faces,
I saw all were incredibly distorted,
the chin was not above the chest, the neck
was twisted—their faces looked down on their backs;
they had to move ahead by moving backward,
for they never saw what was ahead of them.
Perhaps there was a case of someone once
in a palsy fit becoming so distorted,
but non that I know of! I doubt there could be!
Already I had set myself to peer
intently on those now-discovered depths,
washed as they were with agonizing tears.
I saw there people circling round that trench.
And on they came in silence, weeping still—
as slow in pace as litanies on earth.
Then, as my gaze sank lower down these forms,
each was revealed (the wonder of it all!)
twisted around between the chin and thorax.
The face of each looked down towards its coccyx.
And each, deprived of vision to the front,
came, as it must, reversed along its way.
Seized by some paralytic fit, others,
perhaps, have been so turned awry. But I—
not having seen, myself,—don't credit it.
INFERNO, CANTO 32- Traitors In The Ice
I heard a voice cry: "Watch which way you turn:
take care you do not trample on the heads
of the forworn and miserable brethren."
Whereat I turned and saw beneath my feet
and stretching out ahead, a lake so frozen
it seemed to be made of glass. So think a sheet
never yet hid the Danube's winter course,
nor, far away beneath the frigid sky,
locked the Don up in its frozen source:
for were Tanbernick and the enourmous peak
of Pietrapana to crash down on it,
not even the edges would so much as creak.
The way frogs sit to croak, their muzzles leaning
out of the water, at the time and season
when the peasant woman dreams of her day's gleaning—
Just so the livid dead are sealed in place
up to the part at which they blushed for shame,
and they beat their teeth like storks. Each holds his face
bowed toward the ice, each of them testifies
to the cold with his chattering mouth, to his heart's grief
with tears that flood forever from his eyes.
I heard a voice cry out, "Watch where you step!
Go on, but do not tread upon the heads
of the exhausted brothers, spirits damned."
At that I turned, and saw before my feet
a lake of ice, which in the terrible cold
looked not like frozen water, but like glass.
So thick an ice veil never blocks the course
of the Danube in wintry Austria,
nor of the Don under the frigid sky,
As was this ice; and if Mount Tambernic
had fallen on it, or Mout Pietrapan,
even its edge would not have made a creak.
As the frog in the summer sits to croak
his mug above the pond, while hazy dreams
of gleaning come upon the peasant girl,
so were the grieving spirits, livid gray,
fixed in the ice up to where shame appears,
chattering their teeth like storks that snap their bills.
Each held his face down low, while every mouth
gave evidence of the cold, and every eye
testified to the sorrow in the heart.
I heard it said: "Take heed how thou dost go,
for fear they feet should trample as they pass
On the heads of the weary brotherhood of woe."
I turned and saw, stretched out before my face
And 'neath my feet, a lake so bound with ice,
It did not look like water but like glass.
Danube in Austria never could disguise
His wintry course beneath a shroud so think
As this, nor Tanais under frozen skies
Afar; if Pietrapan or Tambernic
Had crashed full weight on it, the very rim
Would not have given so much as even a creak.
And as with muzzles peeping from the stream
The frogs sit croaking in the time of year
When gleaning haunts the peasant-woman's dream,
So, wedged in ice to the point at which appear
The hues of shame, livid, and with their teeth
Chattering like storks, the dismal shades stood here.
Their heads were bowed toward the ice beneath,
their eyes attest their grief; their mouths proclaim
The bitter airs that through that dungeon breathe.
I heard somebody say: "Watch where you step!
Be careful that you do not kick the heads
of this brotherhood of miserable souls."
At that I turned around and saw before me
a lake of ice stretching beneath my feet,
more like a sheet of glass than frozen water.
In the depths of Austria's wintertime, the Danube
never in all its course showed ice so thick,
nor did the Don beneath its frigid sky,
as this crust here; for if Mount Tambernic
or Pietrapana would crash down upon it,
not even at its edges would a crack creak.
The way the frogs (in the season when the harvest)
will often haunt the dreams of the peasant girl)
sit croaking with their muzzles out of water,
so these frigid, livid shades were stuck in ice
up to where a person's shame appears;
their teeth clicked notes like stork's beaks snapping shut.
And each one kept his face bowed toward the ice:
the mouth bore testimony to the cold,
the eyes, to the sadness welling in the heart.
When, out of nowhere, I heard: "Watch your step!
Don't plant those feet of yours on some poor head;
we're here all brothers in this sorry crowd."
I turned ad this, and now could see—around,
and all beneath, my feet—a lake of ice
that seemed far less like water than clear glass.
The Danube, even in winter Osterreich,
never congealed its currents to so thick
a veil (the Don, neither, under freezing skies)
as this. And if the crags of Tambernic
had crashed down here—or Pike Pietrapana—
its very fringe would not have cracked or craked.
As frogs sit croaking in the harvest month
(when country girls will dream of gleaning corn),
their snouts just poking from the water line,
so too these shadows, fixed in ice lead-blue
to where, in shame, we start to blush, their teeth
as rhythmic, beakily, as chattering storks.
And each one kept his face bent down. From mouths
the cold, from hearts their miseries force
a public testament to suffering.
PURGATORY, CANTO 27- Dante Faces The Fire
As the day stands when the Sun begins to glow
over the land where his Maker's blood was shed,
and the scales of Libra ride above the Ebro,
while Ganges' waters stream in the noonday glare—
so it stood, the light being nearly faded,
when we met God's glad Angel standing there
on the rocky ledge beyond the reach of the fire,
and caroling "Beati mundo corde"
in a voice to which no mortal could aspire.
Then: "Blessed ones, till by flame purified
no soul may pass this point. Enter the fire
and heed the singing from the other side."
These were his words to us when we had come
near as we could, and hearing them, I froze
as motionless as one laid in his tomb.
I lean forward over my clasped hands and stare
into the fire, thinking of human bodies
I once saw burned, and once more see them there.
My kindly escorts heard me catch my breath
and turned, and Virgil said: "Within that flame
there may be torment, but there is no death.
Think well, my son, what dark ways we have trod...
I guided you unharmed on Geryon:
shall I do less now we are nearer God?
Believe this past all doubt: were you to stay
within that womb of flame a thousand years,
it would not burn a singlee hair away.
And if you still doubt my sincerity,
but reach the hem of your robe into the flame:
your hands and eyes will be your guarantee.
My son, my son, turn here with whole assurance.
Put by your fears and enter to your peace."
And I stood fixed, at war with my own conscience.
As the first rays were trembling in the dawn
in the land where its Maker shed his blood,
and high in Heaven the Scales loomed over Spain,
And noonday burned the waves of the Ganges
so here the day was ready to depart,
when the herald of God appeared in joy
Beyond the flame, at the edge of the ring,
singing, "How blest are they the pure in heart,"
far livelier than a human voice can sing.
Then, "Holy souls, you pass no farther on
unless you're bitten by the fire. Come, enter,
and turn no deaf ear to the hymns beyond."
So did he say to us when we drew near,
and I was like a corpse put in the grave,
the words I heard so touched my heart with fear.
I joined my hands and stretched them to the flames,
gazing, seeing too sharply in my mind
bodies I'd seen die burning at the stake.
My worthy guides then turned around to me
and Virgil said, "My son, there may indeed
be torment here, but death can never be!
Remember, just remember! When we rode
on Geryon's back I led you safely down—
what will I do now that we're nearer God?
Stand in this fire's belly a thousand years—
you must believe it for a certainty—
you wouldn't be balder by a single hair.
If you think what I tell you is a lie,
come closer, test it for yourself, come here,
put your hands to your tunic's hem, and try!
Now set aside, set aside all your fear—
turn round this way—be confident, come in."
Yet I stood firm, against my conscience.
As when his earliest shaft of light assails
The city where his Maker shed His blood,
When Ebro lies beneath the lifted Scales
And noontide scorches down on Ganges' flood,
So rode the sun; thus day was nightward winging
When there before us God's glad angel stood.
He on the bank, across the flames, stood singing
Beati mundo corde, with a sound
More than all earthly music sweet and ringing.
Then: "Holy souls, there's no way on or round
But through the bite of fire; in then and come!
Nor be you deaf to what is sung beyond."
As we approached him, thus his words struck home;
And it was so with me when this I heard
Even as with one who's carried to the tomb.
I leaned across my clasped hands, staring hard
Into the fire, picturing vividly
Sights I had seen, of bodies burned and charred.
Then both my friendly escorts turned to me,
And Virgil spoke and said: "My son, though here
There may be torment, death there cannot be.
From harm I brought thee, even on Geryon's back,
What shall I now, with God so much more near?
Rest though assured that though this fiery track
Should lap thee while a thousand years went by
Thy head should not be singed nor one hair lack;
And if thou think that I deceive thee, why,
Prove it—go close, hold out a little bit
Of thy skirt's hem in thine own hand, and try.
Have done with fear henceforth, have done with it—
Turn and go safe." And there was I, for all
My conscience smote me, budging ne'er a whit.
It was the hour the sun's first rays shine down
upon the land where its Creator shed
his own life's blood, the hour the Ebro flows
beneath high Scales, and Ganges' waters boil
in noonday heat: so day was fading, then,
when God's angel of joy appeared to us.
Upon the bank beyond the fire's reach
he stood, singing Beati mundo corde!
The living beauty of his voice rang clear.
Then: "Holy souls, no farther can you go
without first suffering fire. So, enter now,
and be not deaf to what is sung beyond,"
he said to us as we came up to him.
I, when I heard these words, felt like a man
who is about to be entombed alive.
Gripping my hands together, I leaned forward
and, staring at the fire, I recalled
what human bodies look like burned to death.
Both of my friendly guides turned toward me then,
and Virgil said to me: "O my dear son,
there may be pain here, but there is no death.
Remember all your memories! If I
took care of you when we rode Geryon,
shal I do less when we are nearer God?
Believe me when I say that if you spent
a thousand years within the fire's heart,
it would not singe a single hair of yours;
and if you still cannot believe my words,
approach the fire and test it for yourself
on your own robe: just touch it with the hem.
It's time, high time, to put away your fears;
turn towards me, come, and enter without fear!"
But I stood there, immobile—and ashamed.
As when it strikes its first vibrating rays
where once its own Creator shed His blood
(the river Ebro falling under Libra's height,
while Ganges' waves are scorched by noon-time heat)
at that degree the sun now stood. So day
was leaving when, in joy, God's angel showed.
Beyond the flame, he stood there on the bank,
and sang the words "Beati mundo corde!",
his voice more alive than ours can be.
And then: "None can, you holy souls, proceed
until the fire has bitten them. Go in.
And do not turn deaf ears to what is sung!"
he said to us, as we came near to him.
And I became, on seeing what he meant,
as though, still living, placed within a tomb.
Over my suppliant hands entwined, I leaned
just staring at the fire, imagining
bodies of human beings I'd seen burn,
And both my trusted guides now turned to me.
And Virgil spoke, to say: "My dearest son,
here may be agony but never death.
Remember this! Remember! And if I
led you to safety on Geryon's back,
what will I do when now so close to God?
Believe this. And be sure. Were you to stay
a thousand years or more wombed in this fire,
You'd not be made the balder by one hair.
And if, perhaps, you think I'm tricking you
approach the fire and reassure yourself,
trying with your own hands your garment's hem.
Have done, I say, have done with fearfulness.
Turn this way. Come and enter safely in!"
But I, against all conscience, stood stock still.
PARADISE, CANTO 33- The End
...that second aureole which shone forth in Thee,
conceived as a reflection of the first—
or which appeared so to my scrutiny—
seemed in Itself of Its own coloration
to be painted with man's image. I fixed my eyes
on that alone in rapturous contemplation.
Like a geometer wholly dedicated
to squaring a circle, but who cannot find,
think as he may, the principle indicated—
so did I study the supernal face.
I yearned to know just how our image merges
into that circle, and how it there finds place;
but mine were not the wings for such a flight.
Yet, as I wished, the truth I wished for came
cleaving my mind in a great flash of light.
Here my powers rest from their high fantasy,
but already I could feel my being turned—
instinct and intellect balanced equally
as in a wheel whose motion nothing jars—
by the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.
That circle which appeared—in my poor style—
like a reflected radience in Thee,
after my eyes had studied it awhile,
Within, and in its own hue, seemed to be
tinted with the figure of a Man,
and so I gazed on it absorbedly.
As a geometer struggles all he can
to measure out the circle by the square,
but all his cogitation cannot gain
The principle he lacks: so did I stare
at this strange sight, to make the image fit
the auerole, and see it enter there:
But mine were not the feathers for that flight,
Save that the truth I longed for came to me,
smiting my mind like lightening flashing bright.
Here ceased the powers of my high fantasy.
Already were all my will and my desires
turned—as a wheel in equal balance—by
The Love that moves the sun and the other stars.
The sphering thus begot, perceptible
In thee like mirrored light, now to my view—
When I had looked on it a little while—
Seemed in itself, and in its own self-hue,
Limned with our image; for which cause mine eyes
Were altogether drawn and held thereto.
As the geometer his mind applies
To square the circle, nor for all his wit
Finds the right formula, howe'er he tries,
So strove I with that wonder—how to fit
The image to the sphere; so sought to see
How it maintained the point of rest in it.
Thither my own wings could not carry me,
But that a flash my understanding clove,
Whence its desire came to it suddenly.
High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,
My will and my desire were turned by love,
The love that moves the sun and the other stars.
That circling which, as I conceived it, shone
in You as Your own first reflected light
when I had looked deep into It a while,
seemed in Itself and in Its own Self-color
To be depicted with man's very image.
My eyes were totally absorbed in It.
As the geometer who tries so hard
to square the circle, but cannot discover,
think as he may, the principle involved,
so did I strive with this new mystery:
I yearned to know how could our image firt
into that circle, how could it conform;
but my own wings could not take me so high--
then a great flash of understanding struck
my mind, and suddenly its wish was granted.
At this point power failed high fantasy
but, like a wheel in perfect balance turning,
I felt my will and my desire impelled
By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.
An inter-circulation, thus conceived,
appears in you like mirrored brilliancy.
But when a while my eyes had looked this round,
deep in itself, it seemed—as painted now,
in those same hues—to show our human form.
At which, my sight was set entirely there.
As some geometer may fix his mind
to find a circle-area, yet lack,
in thought, the principle his thoughts require,
likewise with me at this sight seen so new.
I willed myself to see what fit there was,
image to circle, how this all in-where'd.
But mine were wings that could not rise to that
save that, with this, my mind, was stricken through
by sudden lightning bringing what it wished.
All powers of high imagining here failed.
But now my will and my desire were turned,
as wheels that move in equilibrium,
by love that moves the sun and other stars.