|Canto V |
MOST like the spirals of a pointed shell,
But separate each, go downward, hell from hell,
The ninefold circles of the damned; but each
Smaller, concentrate in its greater pain,
Than that which overhangs it.
Those who reach
The second whorl, on entering, learn their bane
Where Minos, hideous, sits and snarls. He hears,
Decides, and as he girds himself they go.
Before his seat each ill-born spirit appear,
And tells its tale of evil, loath or no,
While he, their judge, of all sins cognizant,
Hears, and around himself his circling tail
Twists to the number of the depths below
To which they doom themselves in telling.
The crowding sinners: their turn they wait: they show
Their guilt: the circles of his tail convey
Their doom: and downward they are whirled away.
"O thou who callest at this doleful inn,"
Cried Minos to me, while the child of sin
That stood confessing before him, trembling stayed,
"Heed where thou enterest in thy trust, nor say,
I walk in safety, for the width of way
But my guide the answer took,
"Why dost thou cry? or leave thine ordered trade
For that which nought belongs thee? Hinder not
His destined path. For where he goeth is willed,
Where that is willed prevaileth."
Now was filled
The darker air with wailing. Wailing shook
My soul to hear it. Where we entered now
No light attempted. Only sound arose,
As ocean with the tortured air contends,
What time intolerable tempest rends
The darkness; so the shrieking winds oppose
For ever, and bear they, as they swerve and sweep,
The doomed disastrous spirits, and whirl aloft,
Backward, and down, nor any rest allow,
Nor pause of such contending wraths as oft
Batter them against the precipitous sides, and there
The shrieks and moanings quench the screaming air,
The cries of their blaspheming.
These are they
That lust made sinful. As the starlings rise
At autumn, darkening all the colder skies,
In crowded troops their wings up-bear, so here
These evil-doers on each contending blast
Were lifted upward, whirled, and downward cast,
And swept around unceasing. Striving airs
Lift them, and hurl, nor ever hope is theirs
Of rest or respite or decreasing pains,
But like the long streaks of the calling cranes
So came they wailing down the winds, to meet
Upsweeping blasts that ever backward beat
Or sideward flung them on their walls. And I -
"Master who are they next that drive anigh
So scourged amidst the blackness?"
"These," he said,
"So lashed and harried, by that queen are led,
Empress of alien tongues, Semiramis,
Who made her laws her lawless lusts to kiss,
So was she broken by desire; and this
Who comes behind, back-blown and beaten thus,
Love's fool, who broke her faith to Sichaus,
Dido; and bare of all her luxury,
Nile's queen, who lost her realm for Antony."
And after these, amidst that windy train,
Helen, who soaked in blood the Trojan plain,
And great Achilles I saw, at last whose feet
The same net trammelled; and Tristram, Paris, he showed;
And thousand other along the fated road
Whom love led deathward through disastrous things
He pointed as they passed, until my mind
Was wildered in this heavy pass to find
Ladies so many, and cavaliers and kings
Fallen, and pitying past restraint, I said,
"Poet, those next that on the wind appear
So light, and constant as they drive or veer
Are parted never, I fain would speak."
And he, -
"Conjure them by their love, and thou shalt see
Their flight come hither."
And when the swerving blast
Most nearly bent, I called them as they passed,
"O wearied souls, come downward, if the Power
That drives allow ye, for one restful hour."
As doves, desirous of their nest at night,
Cleave through the dusk with swift and open flight
Of level-lifting wings, that love makes light,
Will-borne, so downward through the murky air
Came those sad spirits, that not deep Hell's despair
Could sunder, parting from the faithless band
That Dido led, and with one voice, as though
One soul controlled them, spake,
Who comest through the black malignant air,
Benign among us who this exile bear
For earth ensanguined, if the King of All
Heard those who from the outer darkness call
Entreat him would we for thy peace, that thou
Hast pitied us condemned, misfortunate. -
Of that which please thee, if the winds allow,
Gladly I tell. Ravenna, on that shore
Where Po finds rest for all his streams, we knew;
And there love conquered. Love, in gentle heart
So quick to take dominion, overthrew
Him with my own fair body, and overbore
Me with delight to please him. Love, which gives
No pardon to the loved, so strongly in me
Was empired, that its rule, as here ye see,
Endureth, nor the bitter blast contrives
To part us. Love to one death led us. The mode
Afflicts me, shrinking, still. The place of Cain
Awaits our slayer."
They ceased, and I my head
Bowed down, and made no answer, till my guide
Questioned, "What wouldst thou more?" and replied,
"Alas my thought I what sweet keen longings led
These spirits, woeful, to their dark abode!"
And then to them, - "Francesca, all thy pain
Is mine. With pity and grief I weep. But say
How, in the time of sighing, and in what way,
Love gave you of the dubious deeds to know."
And she to me, "There is no greater woe
In all Hell's depths than cometh when those who
Look back to Eden. But if thou wouldst learn
Our love's first root, I can but weep and tell.
One day, and for delight in idleness,
- Alone we were, without suspicion, -
We read together, and chanced the page to turn
Where Galahad tells the tale of Lancelot,
How love constrained him. Oft our meeting eyes,
Confessed the theme, and conscious cheeks were hot,
Reading, but only when that instant came
Where the surrendering lips were kissed, no less
Desire beat in us, and whom, for all this pain,
No hell shall sever (so great at least our gain),
Trembling, he kissed my mouth, and all forgot,
We read no more."
As thus did one confess
Their happier days, the other wept, and I
Grew faint with pity, and sank as those who die.