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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Inferno [Hell]
 
Canto II
 
 
ARGUMENT.—After the invocation, which poets are used to prefix to their works, he shows that, on a consideration of his own strength, he doubted whether it sufficed for the journey proposed to him, but that, being comforted by Virgil, he at last took courage, and followed him as his guide and master.
 
 
NOW was the day departing, and the air,
Imbrown’d with shadows, from their toils released
All animals on earth; and I alone
Prepared myself the conflict to sustain,
Both of sad pity, and that perilous road,        5
Which my unerring memory shall retrace.
  O Muses! O high genius! now vouchsafe
Your aid. O mind! that all I saw hast kept
Safe in a written record, here thy worth
And eminent endowments come to proof.        10
  I thus began: “Bard! thou who art my guide,
Consider well, if virtue be in me
Sufficient, ere to this high enterprise
Thou trust me. Thou hast told that Silvius’ sire, 1
Yet clothed in corruptible flesh, among        15
The immortal tribes had entrance, and was there
Sensibly present. Yet if Heaven’s great Lord,
Almighty foe to ill, such favor show’d
In contemplation of the high effect,
Both what and who from him should issue forth,        20
It seems in reason’s judgment well deserved;
Sith he of Rome and of Rome’s empire wide,
In Heaven’s imperial height was chosen sire:
Both which, if truth be spoken, were ordain’d
And stablish’d for the holy place, where sits        25
Who to great Peter’s sacred chair succeeds.
He from this journey, in thy song renown’d,
Learn’d things, that to his victory gave rise
And to the papal robe. In after-times
The Chosen Vessel 2 also travel’d there,        30
To bring us back assurance in that faith
Which is the entrance to salvation’s way.
But I, why should I there presume? or who
Permits it? not Æneas I, nor Paul.
Myself I deem not worthy, and none else        35
Will deem me. I, if on this voyage then
I venture, fear it will in folly end.
Thou, who art wise, better my meaning know’st,
Than I can speak.” As one, who unresolves
What he hath late resolved, and with new thoughts        40
Changes his purpose, from his first intent
Removed; e’en such was I on that dun coast,
Wasting in thought my enterprise, at first
So eagerly embraced. “If right thy words
I scan,” replied that shade magnanimous,        45
“Thy soul is by vile fear assail’d, which oft
So overcasts a man, that he recoils
From noblest resolution, like a beast
At some false semblance in the twilight gloom.
That from this terror thou mayst free thyself,        50
I will instruct thee why I came, and what
I heard in that same instant, when for thee
Grief touch’d me first. I was among the tribe,
Who rest suspended, 3 when a dame, so blest
And lovely I besought her to command,        55
Call’d me; her eyes were brighter than the star
Of day; and she, with gentle voice and soft,
Angelically tuned, her speech address’d:
‘O courteous shade of Mantua! thou whose fame
Yet lives, and shall live long as nature lasts!        60
A friend, not of my fortune but myself,
On the wide desert in his road has met
Hindrance so great, that he through fear has turn’d.
Now much I dread lest he past help have stray’d,
And I be risen too late for his relief,        65
From what in heaven of him I heard. Speed now,
And by thy eloquent persuasive tongue,
And by all means for his deliverance meet,
Assist him. So to me will comfort spring.
I, who now bid thee on this errand forth,        70
Am Beatrice; 4 from a place I come
Revisited with joy. Love brought me thence,
Who prompts my speech. When in my Master’s sight
I stand, thy praise to him I oft will tell.’
  “She then was silent, and I thus began:        75
‘O Lady! by whose influence alone
Mankind excels whatever is contain’d
Within that heaven which hath the smallest orb,
So thy command delights me, that to obey,
If it were done already, would seem late.        80
No need hast thou further to speak thy will:
Yet tell the reason, why thou art not loth
To leave that ample space, where to return
Thou burnest, for this centre here beneath.’
  “She then: ‘Since thou so deeply wouldst inquire,        85
I will instruct thee briefly why no dread
Hinders my entrance here. Those things alone
Are to be fear’d whence evil may proceed;
None else, for none are terrible beside.
I am so framed by God, thanks to His grace!        90
That any sufferance of your misery
Touches me not, nor flame of that fierce fire
Assails me. In high Heaven a blessed Dame 5
Resides, who mourns with such effectual grief
That hindrance, which I send thee to remove,        95
That God’s stern judgment to her will inclines.’
To Lucia, 6 calling, her she thus bespake:
‘Now doth thy faithful servant need thy aid,
And I commend him to thee.’ At her word
Sped Lucia, of all cruelty the foe,        100
And coming to the place, where I abode
Seated with Rachel, her of ancient days,
She thus address’d me: “Thou true praise of God!
Beatrice! why is not thy succour lent
To him, who so much loved thee, as to leave        105
For thy sake all the multitude admires?
Dost thou not hear how pitiful his wail,
Nor mark the death, which in the torrent flood,
Swoln mightier than a sea, him struggling holds?”
Ne’er among men did any with such speed        110
Haste to their profit, flee from their annoy,
As, when these words were spoken, I came here,
Down from my blessed seat, trusting the force
Of thy pure eloquence, which thee, and all
Who well have mark’d it, into honor brings.’        115
  “When she had ended, her bright beaming eyes
Tearful she turn’d aside; whereat I felt
Redoubled zeal to serve thee. As she will’d,
Thus am I come: I saved thee from the beast,
Who thy near way across the goodly mount        120
Prevented. What is this comes o’er thee than?
Why, why dost thou hang back? why in thy breast
Harbour vile fear? why hast not courage there,
And noble daring; since three maids, 7 so blest,
Thy safety plan, e’en in the court of Heaven;        125
And so much certain good my words forebode?”
  As florets, by the frosty air of night
Bent down and closed, when day has blanch’d their leaves,
Rise all unfolded on their spiry stems;
So was my fainting vigor new restored,        130
And to my heart such kindly courage ran,
That I as one undaunted soon replied:
“O full of pity she, who undertook
My succour! and thou kind, who didst perform
So soon her true behest! With such desire        135
Thou hast disposed me to renew my voyage,
That my first purpose fully is resumed.
Lead on: one only will is in us both.
Thou art my guide, my master thou, and lord,”
  So spake I; and when he had onward moved,        140
I enter’d on the deep and woody way.
 
Note 1. “Silvius’ sire.” Æneas. [back]
Note 2. “The Chosen Vessel.” St. Paul. [back]
Note 3. The spirits in Limbo, neither admitted to a state of glory nor doomed to punishment. [back]
Note 4. “Beatrice.” The daughter of Folco Portinari, who is here invested with the character of celestial wisdom or theology. [back]
Note 5. “A blessed Dame.” The Divine Mercy. [back]
Note 6. “Lucia.” The enlightening Grace of Heaven; as it is commonly explained. [back]
Note 7. “Three maids.” The Divine Mercy, Lucia and Beatrice. [back]
 

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