Midway this way of life we're bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.
Canst thou be Virgil? Thou that fount of splendour
Whence poured so wide a stream of lordly speech?
For the Emperor of that high Imperium
Wills not that I, once rebel to His crown,
Into that city of His should lead men home.
Beatrice am I, who thy good speed beseech;
Love that first moved me from the blissful place
Whither I'd fain return, now moves my speech.
Justice moved my great maker; God eternal
Wrought me: the power, and the unsearchably
High wisdom, and the primal love supernal.
They sinned not; yet their merit lacked its chiefest
Fulfillment, lacking baptism, which is
The gateway to the faith which thou believest;
Or, living before Christendom, their knees
Paid not aright those tributes that belong
To God; and I myself am one of these.
And greater honour yet they [Homer, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan] did me—yea,
Into their fellowship they deigned invite
And make me sixth among such minds as they.
Nay, but I tell not all that I saw then;
The long theme drives me hard, and everywhere
The wondrous truth outstrips my staggering pen.
Love, that so soon takes hold in the gentle breast,
Took this lad with the lovely body they tore
From me; the way of it leaves me still distrest.
Love, that to no loved heart remits love's score,
Took me with such great joy of him, that see!
It holds me yet and never shall leave me more.
Love to a single death brought him and me.
So we stirred
Our footsteps citywards, with hearts reposed,
Safely protected by the heavenly word.
Of all malicious wrong that earns Heaven's hate
The end is injury; all such ends are won
Either by force or fraud. Both perpetrate
Evil to others; but since man alone
Is capable of fraud, God hates that worst;
The fraudulent lie lowest, then, and groan
Deepest. Of these three circles, all the first
Holds violent men; but as threefold may be
Their victims, in three rings they are dispersed.
[...] the second circle opens to receive
Hypocrites, flatterers, dealers in sorcery,
Panders and cheats, and all such filthy stuff,
With theft, and simony and barratry.
[...] in the smallest circle, that dark spot,
Core of the universe and throne of Dis,
The traitors lie.
Keep handy my Thesaurus, where I yet
Live on; I ask no more.
So may thy soul these many years abide
Housed in thy body, and the after-light
Of fame shine long behind thee.
Because he tried to see too far ahead,
He now looks backward and goes retrograde.
Put off this sloth [...]
Sitting on feather-pillows, lying reclined
Beneath the blanket is no way to fame—
Fame, without which man's life wastes out of mind,
Leaving on earth no more memorial
Than foam in water or smoke upon the wind.
Florence, rejoice, because thy soaring fame
Beats its broad wings across both land and sea,
And all the deep of Hell rings with thy name!
Five of thy noble townsmen did I see
Among the thieves; which makes me blush anew,
And mighty little honour it does to thee.
Tormented there [...] Ulysses goes
With Diomede, for as they ran one course,
Sharing their wrath, they share the avenging throes.
Who, though with words unshackled from the rhymes,
Could yet tell full the tale of wounds and blood
Now shown me, let him try ten thousand times?
The self-same tongue that first had wounded me,
Bringing the scarlet blood to both my cheeks,
Thus to my sore applied the remedy.
That's Nimrod, by whose fault the gracious bands
Of common speech throughout the world were loosed.
We'll waste no words, but leave him where he stands,
For all speech is to him as is to all
That jargon of his which no one understands.
As ‘tis, I tremble lest the telling mar
The tale; for, truly, to describe the great
Fundament of the world is very far
From being a task for idle wits at play,
But may those heavenly ladies aid my lay
That helped Amphion wall high Thebes with stone,
Lest from the truth my wandering verses stray.
How cold I grew, how faint with fearfulness,
Ask me not, Reader; I shall not waste breath
Telling what words are powerless to express.
Each mouth devoured a sinner clenched within,
Frayed by the fangs like flax beneath a brake;
Three at a time he tortured them for sin.