Translated by Rev. H.F. Cary, M.A.
In middle of the journey of our days I found that I was in a darksome wood-- The right road lost and vanished in the maze. Ah me! how hard to make it understood How rough that wood was, wild, and terrible: By the mere thought my terror is renewed. More bitter scarce were death. But ere I tell At large of good which there by me was found, I will relate what other things befell. Scarce know I how I entered on that ground, So deeply, at the moment when I passed From the right way, was I in slumber drowned. But when beneath a hill arrived at last, Which for the boundary of the valley stood, That with such terror had my heart harassed, I upwards looked and saw its shoulders glowed, Radiant already with that planet's light Which guideth surely upon every road. A little then was quieted by the sight The fear which deep within my heart had lain Through all my sore experience of the night. And as the man, who, breathing short in pain, Hath 'scaped the sea and struggled to the shore, Turns back to gaze upon the perilous main; Even so my soul which fear still forward bore Turned to review the pass whence I egressed, And which none, living, ever left before. My wearied frame refreshed with scanty rest, I to ascend the lonely hill essayed; The lower foot still that on which I pressed. And lo! ere I had well beginning made, A nimble leopard, light upon her feet, And in a skin all spotted o'er arrayed: Nor ceased she e'er me full in the face to meet, And to me in my path such hindrance threw That many a time I wheeled me to retreat. It was the hour of dawn; with retinue Of stars that were with him when Love Divine In the beginning into motion drew Those beauteous things, the sun began to shine; And I took heart to be of better cheer Touching the creature with the gaudy skin, Seeing 'twas morn, and spring-tide of the year; Yet not so much but that when into sight A lion came, I was disturbed with fear. Towards me he seemed advancing in his might, Rabid with hunger and with head high thrown: The very air was tremulous with fright. A she-wolf, too, beheld I further on; All kinds of lust seemed in her leanness pent: Through her, ere now, much folk have misery known. By her oppressed, and altogether spent By the terror breathing from her aspect fell, I lost all hope of making the ascent. And as the man who joys while thriving well, When comes the time to lose what he has won In all his thoughts weeps inconsolable, So mourned I through the brute which rest knows none: She barred my way again and yet again, And thrust me back where silent is the sun. And as I downward rushed to reach the plain, Before mine eyes appeared there one aghast, And dumb like those that silence long maintain. When I beheld him in the desert vast, 'Whate'er thou art, or ghost or man,' I cried, 'I pray thee show such pity as thou hast.' 'No man, though once I was; on either side Lombard my parents were, and both of them For native place had Mantua,' he replied. 'Though late, sub Julio, to the world I came, And lived at Rome in good Augustus' day, While yet false gods and lying were supreme. Poet I was, renowning in my lay Anchises' righteous son, who fled from Troy What time proud Ilion was to flames a prey. But thou, why going back to such annoy? The hill delectable why fear to mount, The origin and ground of every joy?' 'And thou in sooth art Virgil, and the fount Whence in a stream so full doth language flow?' Abashed, I answered him with humble front. 'Of other poets light and honour thou! Let the long study and great zeal I've shown In searching well thy book, avail me now! My master thou, and author thou, alone! From thee alone I, borrowing, could attain The style consummate which has made me known. Behold the beast which makes me turn again: Deliver me from her, illustrious Sage; Because of her I tremble, pulse and vein.' 'Thou must attempt another pilgrimage,' Observing that I wept, he made reply, 'If from this waste thyself thou 'dst disengage. Because the beast thou art afflicted by Will suffer none along her way to pass, But, hindering them, harasses till they die. So vile a nature and corrupt she has, Her raging lust is still insatiate, And food but makes it fiercer than it was. Many a creature hath she ta'en for mate, And more she'll wed until the hound comes forth To slay her and afflict with torment great. He will not batten upon pelf or earth; But he shall feed on valour, love, and lore; Feltro and Feltro 'tween shall be his birth. He will save humbled Italy, and restore, For which of old virgin Camilla died; Turnus, Euryalus, Nisus, died of yore. Her through all cities chasing far and wide, He at the last to Hell will thrust her down, Whence envy first unloosed her. I decide Therefore and judge that thou hadst best come on With me for guide; and hence I'll lead thee where A place eternal shall to thee be shown. There shalt thou hear the howlings of despair In which the ancient spirits make lament, All of them fain the second death to share. Next shalt thou them behold who are content, Because they hope some time, though now in fire, To join the blessed they will win consent. And if to these thou later wouldst aspire, A soul shall guide thee, worthier far than I; When I depart thee will I leave with her. Because the Emperor who reigns on high Wills not, since 'gainst His laws I did rebel, That to His city I bring any nigh. O'er all the world He rules, there reigns as well; There is His city and exalted seat: O happy whom He chooses there to dwell!' And I to him: 'Poet, I thee entreat, Even by that God who was to thee unknown, That I may 'scape this present ill, nor meet With worse, conduct me whither thou hast shown, That I may see Saint Peter's gate, and those Whom thou reportest in such misery thrown.' He moved away; behind him held I close.