When past the threshold of the Gate we were,
whose use the evil love of souls impairs,
because it makes the crooked path seem straight,
't was by its sound I knew that it had closed;
and, had I turned mine eyes in its direction,
what would have fittingly excused my fault?
We mounted through a fissure in the rock,
which moved about to this side and to that,
as moves a wave that flees and draweth near.
"A little skill must here be used by us,"
my Leader then began, "in keeping close,
now here, now there, to the receding side."
This caused our steps to be so slow and short,
that to her bed the waning moon had gone
to rest herself again, ere we had issued
forth from that needle's eye; but when set free
we were, and in the open up above,
where back the Mountain's side recedes, I, weary,
and both of us uncertain of our way,
stopped short upon a level place up there,
more lonely than are roads through desert lands.
From where its margin borders on the void,
up to the foot of that high rising bank,
would measure thrice a human body's length;
and far as e'er mine eye could wing its flight,
now on the right, and now upon the left,
such did this girding ledge appear to me.
Our feet had not been moving on it yet,
when I perceived the bank surrounding it -
which, being perpendicular, could not
be climbed - white marble was, and so adorned
with carvings, that not only Polyclètus,
but Nature, too, would there be put to shame.
The Angel who to earth came with the word
of peace, which, wept-for during many years,
had after its long closure opened Heaven,
appeared before us there in gentle mien,
sculptured so truthfully, it did not seem
that he could be an image that is dumb.
One would have sworn that he was saying: "Hail!"
for She was there portrayed in effigy,
who turned the key that opened Love on high;
and in her mien and acts she had the words
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord" impressed
as clearly as a figure stamped in wax.
"Keep not thy mind on one place only fixed!"
my gentle Teacher said, who had me there
on that side of him, where one has his heart;
I therefore moved my eyes, and further on
than Mary, on the side where him I had,
who urged me to go on, I then beheld
another story graven in the rock;
passing by Virgil, therefore, I drew near
so that it might be set before mine eyes.
Cut in the marble there the cart and oxen
were drawing up the holy Ark, which made
men dread a charge not given them in trust.
People in front appeared; and all of them,
forming seven choirs, made one of my two senses
say "No," and the other one say "Yes, they sing."
So, too, by reason of the incense-smoke,
which there was pictured forth, my eyes and nose
became discordant as to Yes and No.
The humble Psalmist there, with loins girt up,
came dancing on, before the blessèd Vessel,
and, doing so, was more and less than king.
And Michal, opposite to this portrayed,
was from a palace window looking down,
as would an angry woman filled with scorn.
From where I was, I onward moved my feet,
that I might closely note another tale,
which after Michal gleamed upon me white.
The glorious action of that Roman prince
was storied here, whose worth moved Gregory
to win his mighty triumph; I refer
to Emperor Trajan; at his bridle stood
a widow who, in tears, showed signs of grief.
The space around him there seemed trampled down
and thronged with horsemen, while above his head
eagles, it seemed, upon a field of gold
were fluttering in the wind. Among all these
the sorrowing woman seemed to say: "My lord,
avenge me for the slaying of my son,
which breaks my heart." And he to answer her:
"Wait now till I return." And she, like one
whom sorrow makes impatient, said: "But what,
my lord, if thou shouldst not return?" And he:
"That one will do it, who shall hold my place."
"How shall another's goodness help thy case,"
she answered him, "if thou forget thine own?"
Then he: "Now be thou comforted; for needs
must I perform my duty ere I leave;
justice so wills, and pity keeps me here."
He to whose vision naught was ever new,
created this seen language, new to us,
since not found here on earth. While with delight
I looked upon the pictures of such great
humilities, which for their Maker's sake
are also dear to see, "On this side, lo,
much people come, but slow the steps they take;"
the Poet murmured, "toward the grades above
these souls will send us forward on our way."
Mine eyes, intent on gazing, to behold
new things, for which with eagerness they long,
in turning toward him were not slow to move.
Yet I 'd not have thee, Reader, shrink dismayed
from thy good purposes, through hearing how
God wills that what is due be paid. Heed not
the nature of the torment! Think of what
comes after! Think that, at the very worst,
beyond the Judgment-day it cannot go.
Then I began: "That, Teacher, which toward us
I see advancing does not look like people,
nor know I what, my sight is so deceived."
And he to me: "Their torment's heavy nature
so bows them toward the ground, that my eyes, too,
struggled therewith at first. But steadily
gaze there, and disentangle with thine eyes
what underneath those stones is coming on;
thou now canst see how each one smites himself."
O ye proud Christians, sad and weary creatures,
who, sick in mental vision, put your trust
in backward moving steps; perceive ye not
that worms we are, created but to form
the angelic butterfly, which flies unscreened
to judgment? Why, then, is it that your mind
soars up in pride, since ye are, as it were,
defective insects, even as is a worm,
in which formation is not yet complete?
As, to hold up a ceiling or a roof,
in lieu of corbel, one perceives at times
a human figure joining knees to breast,
which out of unreality gives birth
to real distress in him who sees it; such
seemed these to me, when I had given good heed.
They were, in truth, both more and less bowed down,
as each had more or less upon his back;
but he that in his acts most patient was,
seemed to say, weeping: "I can bear no more!"