Since love for my own native place constrained me,
I gathered up the scattered twigs and leaves,
and gave them back to him who now was weak.
Thence to the bound we came, where from the third
the second ring is severed, and wherein
a frightful form of Justice may be seen.
To manifest aright what here was new,
I say that we had reached a barren plain,
which from its bed removeth every plant.
The woeful wood is as a garland round it,
as round the former is the dismal moat;
there on its very edge we stayed our steps.
Its soil was of a dense and arid sand,
whose nature differed in no way from that,
which once was trodden by the feet of Cato.
Vengeance of God, how much by every one
thou oughtest to be feared, who readeth here
what to these eyes of mine was manifest!
Of naked souls I many flocks beheld,
who all wept very sorely, while on each
a different law appeared to be imposed.
A few lay on the ground upon their backs;
and some were seated cuddled up together,
while others moved about continually.
Most numerous were those that moved around,
and least so those that under torment lay,
but all the freer had their tongues to wail.
Down on the whole great waste of sand there rained
with gentle fall dilated flakes of fire,
like flakes of snow that fall on windless Alps.
As were the flames which Alexander saw
in India's torrid regions, as they fell
upon his hosts, unbroken to the ground;
- and this he met, by ordering his troops
to trample on the soil, because the flames,
when single, were more easily put out -
even such descended here the eternal heat,
whereby the sand was set on fire, as tinder
is kindled under steel, to double pain.
And ever without resting was the dance
of wretched hands, that kept, now here, now there,
slapping away each latest burning flake.
"Thou, Teacher," I began, "that conquerest all,
except the stubborn devils who came out
against us at the entrance of the gate,
who is that great one who seems not to mind
the fire, but lies there scornful and awry,
so that the rain seems not to ripen him?"
And that same one, who had observed that I
concerning him was questioning my Leader,
cried: "As I was alive, such am I dead!
If Jove should tire that smith of his, from whom,
in wrath, he took the pointed thunderbolt,
wherewith I smitten was that final day;
or should he tire the others, each in turn,
in Mongibello's smithy black with smoke,
by calling out: 'Help, help, good Vulcan, help!'
even as he did on Phlegra's battle-field;
and should he shoot at me with all his might,
no glad revenge would he obtain thereby!"
Thereat my Leader spoke with so much force,
that I had never heard him use the like:
"In that thine arrogance, O Capaneus,
is not extinguished, art thou all the more
chastised; no torment, saving thine own rage,
were for thy furious pride a fitting pain."
Then with a gentler mien he turned to me,
and said: "One of the seven kings was he,
who Thebes besieged; he held, and seems to hold
God in disdain, and little seems to prize Him;
but, as I told him, his own spitefulness
is fit enough adornment for his breast.
Now follow me, and see that thou meanwhile
set not thy feet upon the burning sand,
but to the thicket keep them ever close."
In silence we went on, and came to where,
out of the wood a little stream spirts forth,
whose ruddy color makes me shudder still.
As from the Bulicāmë springs a brook,
which afterward the sinful women share,
even so went that one down across the sand.
Its bottom and both sides had turned to stone,
as also had the embankments on each side;
I hence perceived the crossing-place was there.
"Of all the other things which I have shown thee
since first we entered through the outer gate,
whose threshold unto no one is denied,
nothing has ever by thine eyes been seen
as notable as is this present brook,
which deadens o'er itself all little flames."
These were my Leader's words; I therefore begged
that he would freely grant to me the food,
desire of which he had so freely given.
"Amid the sea there lies a wasted land,"
he told me thereupon, "whose name is Crete,
under whose king the world of old was pure.
There is a mountain there, which, happy once
with waters and green leaves, was Ida called;
't is now abandoned like a thing outworn.
Whilom as trusty cradle for her son
Rhea selected it, and when he wept,
to hide him better, caused a shouting there.
Within that mountain stands a great Old Man,
who holds his shoulders toward Damiata turned,
and who, as at his mirror, looks at Rome.
His head is formed of finest gold, his arms
and breast are of the purest silver, then,
as far as to his loins, he 's made of brass;
all chosen iron is he down from there,
save that baked clay his right foot is, and straighter
he stands on that, than on the other foot.
Each of these parts, except the golden one,
is broken by a cleft, whence trickle tears,
which, when collected, perforate that cave.
From rock to rock they course into this vale;
then Acheron with Styx and Phlegethon
they form, and through this narrow duct descend
as far as where one goes no further down;
they form Cocytus there; and what that pool
is like, thou 'lt see; hence here it is not told.
And I to him: "If thus this present stream
hs from our world descended, why alone
on this ring's edge hath it appeared to us?"
And he: "Thou knowest that the place is round,
and though a long way thou hast gone already,
e'er to the left descending toward the bottom,
through the whole circle thou hast not yet gone;
wherefore, if aught that 's new appear to us,
it should not bring amazement to thy face."
And I again: "But where are Phlegethon
and Lethe, Teacher? For, of this one silent,
thou say'st the other of this rain is made."
And he replied: "Thou certainly dost please me
in all thy questions, but the red stream's boiling
ought surely to have answered one of them.
Lethe thou 'lt see, but there, outside this cave,
whither souls go to wash themselves, when once
their sin, repented of, has been removed."
And then he said: "It now is time for us
to leave the wood; see that thou follow me;
the banks, which are not burned, afford a path;
and up above them every flame is quenched."