Along the journey of our life half way,
I found myself again in a dark wood
Wherein the straight road no longer lay.
Ah, tongue can never make it understood:
So harsh and dense and savage to traverse
That fear returns in thinking an that wood.
lt is so bitter death is hardly worse.
But, for the good it was my chance to gain,
The other things I saw there I'll rehearse.
- Yet still I cannot readily explain
How I had entered it, so near to sleep
I was, an losing that true way and plain.
But, when I trod the rising of a steep,
Toward the ending of that fearful vale
Whose terror pierced into my heart so deep,
And then my fear lulled somewhat from its height
That on my heart's sea gathered more and more
Where I so piteously had passed the night.
As one who has escaped from sea to shore
With panting breath turns round to catch the sight
Again of all the dangerous waves that roar,
Exactly so, my mind, though still in flight,
Turned itself round to see that defile where
None had passed through alive before this night.
And, when my weary frame had rested there,
I took my way along the barren strand,
The firmer foot the lower of the pair.
Then, see, near to the start of rising land,
A leopard stood, of swift and nimble grace,
With mottled coat, opposing on the sand.
It would not give its ground before my face;
No, but impeded me so that I turned
Often away, and faltered in my pace.
The time was earliest morning. I discerned
The sun mount with those stars that ever climb
Beside him, since first God's Love had yearned
And moved those lovely things; so that the prime
Of day, and the sweetness of the season's air,
Inspired good hopes in me at the same time
Towards this beast of the bright fur; but there
Were none to quell my fear of the next sight:
A lion that appeared with ravenous stare,
And head erect, before me, in its might
So that the air itself began to quake,
It seemed, with fear, and trembled in the light.
And, with it, came a she-wolf that seemed to ache
With craving in her leanness; she has compelled
Many to live in sorrow for her sake.
The terror of that visage I beheld
Brought so much heaviness I felt hope drain
Of ever rising till that brute were quelled.
And, as a person keen to make some gain,
When comes a time he sees what loss he'II meet,
His thoughts all turn to sadness, tears and pain,
Like that, the restless beast made me, and beat
Me backward step by step, till its defiance,
Down where the sun is silent, forced my retreat.
And, as I rushed back downward in compliance,
It seemed, before my eyes someone drew near
Whose voice was hoarse out of a long silence.
Seeing him in that Barren tract appear,
I cried, 'Haue pity on me; pity me,
Whether a spirit or truly man out here.'
He answered: 'No man; I used to be.
My parents were both Lombards and their state
Was Mantua from their nativity.
And I was born sub Julio, though late;
In good Augustus' Rome my life was run,
When false and lying gods still carried weight.
I was a poet; I sang Anchises' son,
The just one, who embarked from Trojan ground
When haughty Ilium was burned and done.
But you, why panicked now and turning round?
Why not ascend to that Delectable Height,
The source and cause where every joy is found?'
'Are you that Vergil, then, the spring so bright
That pours abroad so rich a stream of speech?'
I answered him, my face abashed and white.
'Glory and Light of poets, may my long zeal teach
Me, and the deep love that made me pore
Upon your volume stead me well, I now beseech.
You are my origin and master. You're
The one alone from whom I take my style,
The good style that I'm so honoured for.
Ah, famous seer, look an that beast awhile
From which I ran away, and rescue me.
It makes my pulses tremble at the trial.'
'You ought to go another way,' said he,
When he had seen my tearful eyes, 'if you
Expect to flee this place of savagery.
The beast you cry out at lets no one through;
Lets no one pass this way at all, unless
To tangle with her. She kills them as her due.
She has a nature steeped in viciousness,
And satiates her appetite in vain,
For, having fed, she's hungry to excess.
She mates with many brutes and then again
With many more until the hound shall rise
And kill her in an agony of pain.
Lucre and Land he will not gourmandize;
But valour, wisdom, love shall be his fare.
His land between a Feltro and Feltro lies.
He'll save that Italy of lowly air,
For which the virgin Camilla has died -
A death Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, share.
Through every town he'll chase her, far and wide,
Until he turn her back to Hell, the base
From which pure envy let her take her stride.
Therefore, I think this course the best you face:
That I should be your guide; you, follow me.
I'll lead you out through an eternal place,
Where you will hear the hopeless cry, and see
The ancient spirits in such pain they quest
A second time for death's mortality.
And you will also see, among the rest,
Others, contented with the fire, aspire
To dwell, when they are due, among the blest.
If scaling to those Heights is your desire,
There shall arrive a worthier than I,
When I depart, and she will lead you higher.
That Emperor who holds his reign on high,
Because his law I never could obey,
Wills that his city never greet my eye.
He rules all parts and there he holds his sway.
There is his city, there is his high throne.
O blessèd ones whom he elects to stay.'
And I replied: 'Poet, by the God unknown
To you, I beg: so that I obviate
This trial, or worse, lead me through that zone
That you have mentioned, so I see the Gate
St Peter guards and, in the interim,
Those who are so saddened with your state.'
Then he moved onward and I followed him.