Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno - Canto 01
C. H. Sisson - The Divine Comedy - Hell - Canto 01

Half way along the road we have to go,
I found myself obscured in a great forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way.

It is hard to say just what the forest was like,
How wild and rough it was, how overpowering;
Even to remember it makes me afraid.

So bitter it is, death itself is hardly more so;
Yet there was good there, and to make it clear
I will speak of other things that I perceived.

I cannot tell exactly how I got there,
I was so full of sleep at that point of my journey
When, somehow, I left the proper way.

But when I had arrived at the foot of a hill
Which formed the far end of that menacing valley
Where fear had already entered into my heart,

I looked up, and saw the edges of its outline
Already glowing with the rays of the planet
Which shows us the right way on any road.

Then my fear was a little put at rest,
Although it had lain in the pool of my heart throughout
The night which I had passed in that pitiful state.

And, as a man who, practically winded,
Staggers out of the sea and up the beach,
Turns back to the dangerous water, and looks at it,

So my mind, which still felt as if it was in flight,
Turned back to take another look at the defile
No living person had ever passed before.

When I had rested my weary body a little,
I took up my journey again on that stretch of desert,
Walking so that my firm foot was always the lower.

And, almost at the point where the slope began,
I saw a leopard, extremely light and active,
The skin of which was mottled.

And somehow it managed to stay in front of me
In such a manner that it blocked my way so much
That I was often forced to turn back the road I had come.

The time was the beginning of the morning;
And the sun was climbing in company with those stars
Which were with him when the divine love

First set those lovely things in motion; and this,
With the hour it was, and the delightful season,
Gave me reason to entertain good hope

Of that wild animal with the brilliant skin:
But not so that I found myself without fear
When a lion appeared before me, as it did.

When he came, he made his way towards me
With head high, and seemed ravenously hungry,
So that the air itself was frightened of him;

And a she-wolf, who seemed, in her thinness,
To have nothing but excessive appetites,
And she has already made many miserable.

She weighed down so heavily upon me
With that fear, which issued from her image,
That I lost hope of reaching the top of the hill.

And, like a man whose mind is on his winnings,
When the time comes for him to lose,
And all his thoughts turn into sorrow and tears:

So I was transformed by that restless animal
Who came against me, and gradually drove me down,
Back to the region where the sun is silent.

While I rushed headlong to the lower slopes,
Before my eyes a man offered himself,
One who, for long silence, seemed to be hoarse.

When I saw that fellow in the great desert,
I cried out to him: 'Have pity on me,
Whatever you are, shadow or definite man.'

And he replied: 'Not a man, though I was one,
And my parents were people of Lombardy,
Mantuans, both of them, they were born and bred there.

I was born sub Julio, although it was late
And I lived in Rome under the good Augustus
In the time of the gods who were false and told lies.

I was a poet, and I sang of the just
Son of Anchises, the man who came from Troy,
After the proud Ilion had been burnt down.

But you, why do you come back to such disturbance?
Why do you not climb the delightful mountain
Which is the beginning and reason of all joy?'

'Are you indeed that Virgil, are you the spring
Which spreads abroad that wide water of speech?'
When I had spoken, 1 bowed my head for shame.

'You are the honour and light of other poets;
My long study and great love give me strength
Now, as they made me pore over your book.

You are my master, and indeed my author;
It is from you alone that I have taken
The exact style for which I have been honoured.

Look at the animal which made me turn back;
Help me to handle her, you are famous for wisdom,
For she makes my veins and pulse shudder.'

'You will have to go another way than this,'
He answered, when he saw that I was weeping,
'If you want to get away from this wild place:

For that beast, which has made you so call out,
Does not allow others to pass her way,
But holds them up, and in the end destroys them;

And is by nature so wayward and perverted
That she never satisfies her wilful desires,
But, after a meal, is hungrier than before.

Many are the animals she makes herself a wife to,
And there will be more of them, until the Greyhound
Comes, who will make her die a painful death.

He will not feed on land nor yet on money,
But upon wisdom, love, and upon courage;
His nation will be between Feltro and Feltro.

What he will save is that unassuming Italy
For which the girl Camilla died, Euryalus,
Turnus and Nisus, all of whom died of wounds;

He will pursue that wolf in every city
And put her back in Hell where she belongs,
And from which envy first let her out.

The course I think would be the best for you,
Is to follow me, and I will act as your guide,
And show a way out of here, by a place in eternity,

Where you will hear the shrieks of men without hope,
And will see the ancient spirits in such pain
That every one of them calls out for a second death;

And then you will see those who, though in the fire,
Are happy because they hope that they will come,
Whenever it may be, to join the blessed;

Among whom you may climb, but if you do,
It will be with a spirit more worthy than I am;
With her I will leave you, when I depart:

Because the Emperor, who reigns up there,
Since I was one of the rebels against his law,
Does not wish me to enter into his city.

He commands everywhere, and there he rules,
There is his city, there he has his throne:
Happy are those he chooses for that place!'

I said to him: 'Poet, now by that God,
Who is unknown to you, I ask your assistance:
Help me to escape both this evil, and worse;

Lead me now, as you have promised to do,
So that I come to see St Peter's Gate
And those whom you represent as being so sad.'

Then he moved forward, and I kept behind him.

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