When I had journeyed half of our life's way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.
Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
that savage forest dense and difficult,
which even in recall renews my fear:
so bitter - death is hardly more severe!
But to retell the good discovered there,
I'll also tell the other things I saw.
I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path.
But when I'd reached the bottom of a hill-
it rose along the boundary of the valley
that had harassed my heart with so much fear-
I looked on high and saw its shoulders clothed
already by the rays of that same planet
which serves to lead men straight along all roads.
At this my fear was somewhat quieted;
for through the night of sorrow I had spent,
the lake within my heart felt terror present.
And just as he who, with exhausted breath,
having escaped from sea to shore, turns back
to watch the dangerous waters he has quit,
so did my spirit, still a fugitive,
turn back to look intently at the pass
that never has let any man survive.
I let my tired body rest awhile.
Moving again, I tried the lonely slope-
my firm foot always was the one below.
And almost where the hillside starts to rise-
look there!-a leopard, very quick and lithe,
a leopard covered with a spotted hide.
He did not disappear from sight, but stayed;
indeed, he so impeded my ascent
that I had often to turn back again.
The time was the beginning of the morning;
the sun was rising now in fellowship
with the same stars that had escorted it
when Divine Love first moved those things of beauty;
so that the hour and the gentle season
gave me good cause for hopefulness on seeing
that beast before me with his speckled skin;
but hope was hardly able to prevent
the fear I felt when I beheld a lion.
His head held high and ravenous with hunger-
even the air around him seemed to shudder-
this lion seemed to make his way against me.
And then a she-wolf showed herself; she seemed
to carry every craving in her leanness;
she had already brought despair to many.
The very sight of her so weighted me
with fearfulness that I abandoned hope
of ever climbing up that mountain slope.
Even as he who glories while he gains
will, when the time has come to tally loss,
lament with every thought and turn despondent,
so was I when I faced that restless beast
which, even as she stalked me, step by step
had thrust me back to where the sun is speechless.
While I retreated down to lower ground,
before my eyes there suddenly appeared
one who seemed faint because of the long silence.
When I saw him in that vast wilderness,
"Have pity on me," were the words I cried,
"whatever you may be-a shade, a man."
He answered me: "Not man; I once was man.
Both of my parents came from Lombardy,
and both claimed Mantua as native city.
And I was born, though late, sub Julio,
and lived in Rome under the good Augustus-
the season of the false and lying gods.
I was a poet, and I sang the righteous
son of Anchises who had come from Troy
when flames destroyed the pride of Ilium.
But why do you return to wretchedness?
Why not climb up the mountain of delight,
the origin and cause of every joy?"
"And are you then that Virgil, you the fountain
that freely pours so rich a stream of speech?"
I answered him with shame upon my brow.
"O light and honor of all other poets,
may my long study and the intense love
that made me search your volume serve me now.
You are my master and my author, you-
the only one from whom my writing drew
the noble style for which I have been honored.
You see the beast that made me turn aside;
help me, o famous sage, to stand against her,
for she has made my blood and pulses shudder,"
"It is another path that you must take,"
he answered when he saw my tearfulness,
"if you would leave this savage wilderness;
the beast that is the cause of your outcry
allows no man to pass along her track,
but blocks him even to the point of death;
her nature is so squalid, so malicious
that she can never sate her greedy will;
when she has fed, she's hungrier than ever.
She mates with many living souls and shall
yet mate with many more, until the Greyhound
arrives, inflicting painful death on her.
That Hound will never feed on land or pewter,
but find his fare in wisdom, love, and virtue;
his place of birth shall be between two felts.
He will restore low-lying Italy for which
the maid Camilla died of wounds,
and Nisus, Turnus, and Euryalus.
And he will hunt that beast through every city
until he thrusts her back again to Hell,
for which she was first sent above by envy.
Therefore, I think and judge it best for you
to follow me, and I shall guide you, taking
you from this place through an eternal place,
where you shall hear the howls of desperation
and see the ancient spirits in their pain,
as each of them laments his second death;
and you shall see those souls who are content
within the fire, for they hope to reach-
whenever that may be-the blessed people.
If you would then ascend as high as these,
a soul more worthy than I am will guide you;
I'll leave you in her care when I depart,
because that Emperor who reigns above,
since I have been rebellious to His law,
will not allow me entry to His city.
He governs everywhere, but rules from there;
there is His city, His high capital:
o happy those He chooses to be there!"
And I replied: "O poet-by that God
whom you had never come to know-I beg you,
that I may flee this evil and worse evils,
to lead me to the place of which you spoke,
that I may see the gateway of Saint Peter
and those whom you describe as sorrowful."
Then he set out, and I moved on behind him.