Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dante 9

From Inferno: Canto IV:
Broke the deep lethargy within my head
  A heavy thunder, so that I upstarted,
  Like to a person who by force is wakened;

And round about I moved my rested eyes,
  Uprisen erect, and steadfastly I gazed,
  To recognise the place wherein I was.

True is it, that upon the verge I found me
  Of the abysmal valley dolorous,
  That gathers thunder of infinite ululations.

Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous,
  So that by fixing on its depths my sight
  Nothing whatever I discerned therein.

"Let us descend now into the blind world,"
  Began the Poet, pallid utterly;
  "I will be first, and thou shalt second be."

And I, who of his colour was aware,
  Said: "How shall I come, if thou art afraid,
  Who'rt wont to be a comfort to my fears?"

And he to me: "The anguish of the people
  Who are below here in my face depicts
  That pity which for terror thou hast taken.

Let us go on, for the long way impels us."
  Thus he went in, and thus he made me enter
  The foremost circle that surrounds the abyss.

There, as it seemed to me from listening,
  Were lamentations none, but only sighs,
  That tremble made the everlasting air.

And this arose from sorrow without torment,
  Which the crowds had, that many were and great,
  Of infants and of women and of men.

To me the Master good: "Thou dost not ask
  What spirits these, which thou beholdest, are?
  Now will I have thee know, ere thou go farther,

That they sinned not; and if they merit had,
  'Tis not enough, because they had not baptism
  Which is the portal of the Faith thou holdest;

And if they were before Christianity,
  In the right manner they adored not God;
  And among such as these am I myself.

For such defects, and not for other guilt,
  Lost are we and are only so far punished,
  That without hope we live on in desire."

Great grief seized on my heart when this I heard,
  Because some people of much worthiness
  I knew, who in that Limbo were suspended.

"Tell me, my Master, tell me, thou my Lord,"
  Began I, with desire of being certain
  Of that Faith which o'ercometh every error,

"Came any one by his own merit hence,
  Or by another's, who was blessed thereafter?"
  And he, who understood my covert speech,

Replied: "I was a novice in this state,
  When I saw hither come a Mighty One,
  With sign of victory incoronate.

Hence he drew forth the shade of the First Parent,
  And that of his son Abel, and of Noah,
  Of Moses the lawgiver, and the obedient

Abraham, patriarch, and David, king,
  Israel with his father and his children,
  And Rachel, for whose sake he did so much,

And others many, and he made them blessed;
  And thou must know, that earlier than these
  Never were any human spirits saved."

We ceased not to advance because he spake,
  But still were passing onward through the forest,
  The forest, say I, of thick-crowded ghosts.

Not very far as yet our way had gone
  This side the summit, when I saw a fire
  That overcame a hemisphere of darkness.

We were a little distant from it still,
  But not so far that I in part discerned not
  That honourable people held that place.

"O thou who honourest every art and science,
  Who may these be, which such great honour have,
  That from the fashion of the rest it parts them?"

And he to me: "The honourable name,
  That sounds of them above there in thy life,
  Wins grace in Heaven, that so advances them."

In the mean time a voice was heard by me:
  "All honour be to the pre-eminent Poet;
  His shade returns again, that was departed."

After the voice had ceased and quiet was,
  Four mighty shades I saw approaching us;
  Semblance had they nor sorrowful nor glad.

To say to me began my gracious Master:
  "Him with that falchion in his hand behold,
  Who comes before the three, even as their lord.

That one is Homer, Poet sovereign;
  He who comes next is Horace, the satirist;
  The third is Ovid, and the last is Lucan.

Plate 8 of Blake's Illustrations of Dante's Infermo
Homer and the Ancient Poets
Wikipedia Commons

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