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Translations: Dante - Inferno Canto XXVI

Written by: Alan Seeger | Biography
 | Quotes (2) |
 Florence, rejoice! For thou o'er land and sea 
So spread'st thy pinions that the fame of thee 
Hath reached no less into the depths of Hell. 
So noble were the five I found to dwell 
Therein -- thy sons -- whence shame accrues to me 
And no great praise is thine; but if it be 
That truth unveil in dreamings before dawn, 
Then is the vengeful hour not far withdrawn 
When Prato shall exult within her walls 
To see thy suffering. Whate'er befalls, 
Let it come soon, since come it must, for later, 
Each year would see my grief for thee the greater. 


We left; and once more up the craggy side 
By the blind steps of our descent, my guide, 
Remounting, drew me on. So we pursued 
The rugged path through that steep solitude, 
Where rocks and splintered fragments strewed the land 
So thick, that foot availed not without hand. 
Grief filled me then, and still great sorrow stirs 
My heart as oft as memory recurs 
To what I saw; that more and more I rein 
My natural powers, and curb them lest they strain 
Where Virtue guide not, -- that if some good star, 
Or better thing, have made them what they are, 
That good I may not grudge, nor turn to ill. 


As when, reclining on some verdant hill -- 
What season the hot sun least veils his power 
That lightens all, and in that gloaming hour 
The fly resigns to the shrill gnat -- even then, 
As rustic, looking down, sees, o'er the glen, 
Vineyard, or tilth where lies his husbandry, 
Fireflies innumerable sparkle: so to me, 
Come where its mighty depth unfolded, straight 
With flames no fewer seemed to scintillate 
The shades of the eighth pit. And as to him 
Whose wrongs the bears avenged, dim and more dim 
Elijah's chariot seemed, when to the skies 
Uprose the heavenly steeds; and still his eyes 
Strained, following them, till naught remained in view 
But flame, like a thin cloud against the blue: 
So here, the melancholy gulf within, 
Wandered these flames, concealing each its sin, 
Yet each, a fiery integument, 
Wrapped round a sinner. 


On the bridge intent, 
Gazing I stood, and grasped its flinty side, 
Or else, unpushed, had fallen. And my guide, 
Observing me so moved, spake, saying: "Behold 
Where swathed each in his unconsuming fold, 
The spirits lie confined." Whom answering, 
"Master," I said, "thy words assurance bring 
To that which I already had supposed; 
And I was fain to ask who lies enclosed 
In the embrace of that dividing fire, 
Which seems to curl above the fabled pyre, 
Where with his twin-born brother, fiercely hated, 
Eteocles was laid." He answered, "Mated 
In punishment as once in wrath they were, 
Ulysses there and Diomed incur 
The eternal pains; there groaning they deplore 
The ambush of the horse, which made the door 
For Rome's imperial seed to issue: there 
In anguish too they wail the fatal snare 
Whence dead Deidamia still must grieve, 
Reft of Achilles; likewise they receive 
Due penalty for the Palladium." 
"Master," I said, "if in that martyrdom 
The power of human speech may still be theirs, 
I pray -- and think it worth a thousand prayers -- 
That, till this horned flame be come more nigh, 
We may abide here; for thou seest that I 
With great desire incline to it." And he: 
"Thy prayer deserves great praise; which willingly 
I grant; but thou refrain from speaking; leave 
That task to me; for fully I conceive 
What thing thou wouldst, and it might fall perchance 
That these, being Greeks, would scorn thine utterance." 


So when the flame had come where time and place 
Seemed not unfitting to my guide with grace 
To question, thus he spoke at my desire: 
"O ye that are two souls within one fire, 
If in your eyes some merit I have won -- 
Merit, or more or less -- for tribute done 
When in the world I framed my lofty verse: 
Move not; but fain were we that one rehearse 
By what strange fortunes to his death he came." 
The elder crescent of the antique flame 
Began to wave, as in the upper air 
A flame is tempest-tortured, here and there 
Tossing its angry height, and in its sound 
As human speech it suddenly had found, 
Rolled forth a voice of thunder, saying: "When, 
The twelvemonth past in Circe's halls, again 
I left Gaeta's strand (ere thither came 
Aeneas, and had given it that name) 
Not love of son, nor filial reverence, 
Nor that affection that might recompense 
The weary vigil of Penelope, 
Could so far quench the hot desire in me 
To prove more wonders of the teeming earth, -- 
Of human frailty and of manly worth. 
In one small bark, and with the faithful band 
That all awards had shared of Fortune's hand, 
I launched once more upon the open main. 
Both shores I visited as far as Spain, -- 
Sardinia, and Morocco, and what more 
The midland sea upon its bosom wore. 
The hour of our lives was growing late 
When we arrived before that narrow strait 
Where Hercules had set his bounds to show 
That there Man's foot shall pause, and further none shall go. 
Borne with the gale past Seville on the right, 
And on the left now swept by Ceuta's site, 
`Brothers,' I cried, `that into the far West 
Through perils numberless are now addressed, 
In this brief respite that our mortal sense 
Yet hath, shrink not from new experience; 
But sailing still against the setting sun, 
Seek we new worlds where Man has never won 
Before us. Ponder your proud destinies: 
Born were ye not like brutes for swinish ease, 
But virtue and high knowledge to pursue.' 
My comrades with such zeal did I imbue 
By these brief words, that scarcely could I then 
Have turned them from their purpose; so again 
We set out poop against the morning sky, 
And made our oars as wings wherewith to fly 
Into the Unknown. And ever from the right 
Our course deflecting, in the balmy night 
All southern stars we saw, and ours so low, 
That scarce above the sea-marge it might show. 
So five revolving periods the soft, 
Pale light had robbed of Cynthia, and as oft 
Replenished since our start, when far and dim 
Over the misty ocean's utmost rim, 
Rose a great mountain, that for very height 
Passed any I had seen. Boundless delight 
Filled us -- alas, and quickly turned to dole: 
For, springing from our scarce-discovered goal, 
A whirlwind struck the ship; in circles three 
It whirled us helpless in the eddying sea; 
High on the fourth the fragile stern uprose, 
The bow drove down, and, as Another chose, 
Over our heads we heard the surging billows close."



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