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Chapter 13 The Wood of Thorns. The Harpies. The Violent against themselves. Suicides. Pier della Vigna. Lano and Jacopo da Sant' Andrea.

  • Not yet had Nessus reached the other side,
  • When we had put ourselves within a wood,
  • That was not marked by any path whatever.
  • Not foliage green, but of a dusky colour,
  • Not branches smooth, but gnarled and intertangled,
  • Not apple-trees were there, but thorns with poison.
  • Such tangled thickets have not, nor so dense,
  • Those savage wild beasts, that in hatred hold
  • 'Twixt Cecina and Corneto the tilled places.
  • There do the hideous Harpies make their nests,
  • Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades,
  • With sad announcement of impending doom;
  • Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human,
  • And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged;
  • They make laments upon the wondrous trees.
  • And the good Master: "Ere thou enter farther,
  • Know that thou art within the second round,"
  • Thus he began to say, "and shalt be, till
  • Thou comest out upon the horrible sand;
  • Therefore look well around, and thou shalt see
  • Things that will credence give unto my speech."
  • I heard on all sides lamentations uttered,
  • And person none beheld I who might make them,
  • Whence, utterly bewildered, I stood still.
  • I think he thought that I perhaps might think
  • So many voices issued through those trunks
  • From people who concealed themselves from us;
  • Therefore the Master said: "If thou break off
  • Some little spray from any of these trees,
  • The thoughts thou hast will wholly be made vain."
  • Then stretched I forth my hand a little forward,
  • And plucked a branchlet off from a great thorn;
  • And the trunk cried, "Why dost thou mangle me?"
  • After it had become embrowned with blood,
  • It recommenced its cry: "Why dost thou rend me?
  • Hast thou no spirit of pity whatsoever?
  • Men once we were, and now are changed to trees;
  • Indeed, thy hand should be more pitiful,
  • Even if the souls of serpents we had been."
  • As out of a green brand, that is on fire
  • At one of the ends, and from the other drips
  • And hisses with the wind that is escaping;
  • So from that splinter issued forth together
  • Both words and blood; whereat I let the tip
  • Fall, and stood like a man who is afraid.
  • "Had he been able sooner to believe,"
  • My Sage made answer, "O thou wounded soul,
  • What only in my verses he has seen,
  • Not upon thee had he stretched forth his hand;
  • Whereas the thing incredible has caused me
  • To put him to an act which grieveth me.
  • But tell him who thou wast, so that by way
  • Of some amends thy fame he may refresh
  • Up in the world, to which he can return."
  • And the trunk said: "So thy sweet words allure me,
  • I cannot silent be; and you be vexed not,
  • That I a little to discourse am tempted.
  • I am the one who both keys had in keeping
  • Of Frederick's heart, and turned them to and fro
  • So softly in unlocking and in locking,
  • That from his secrets most men I withheld;
  • Fidelity I bore the glorious office
  • So great, I lost thereby my sleep and pulses.
  • The courtesan who never from the dwelling
  • Of Caesar turned aside her strumpet eyes,
  • Death universal and the vice of courts,
  • Inflamed against me all the other minds,
  • And they, inflamed, did so inflame Augustus,
  • That my glad honours turned to dismal mournings.
  • My spirit, in disdainful exultation,
  • Thinking by dying to escape disdain,
  • Made me unjust against myself, the just.
  • I, by the roots unwonted of this wood,
  • Do swear to you that never broke I faith
  • Unto my lord, who was so worthy of honour;
  • And to the world if one of you return,
  • Let him my memory comfort, which is lying
  • Still prostrate from the blow that envy dealt it."
  • Waited awhile, and then: "Since he is silent,"
  • The Poet said to me, "lose not the time,
  • But speak, and question him, if more may please thee."
  • Whence I to him: "Do thou again inquire
  • Concerning what thou thinks't will satisfy me;
  • For I cannot, such pity is in my heart."
  • Therefore he recommenced: "So may the man
  • Do for thee freely what thy speech implores,
  • Spirit incarcerate, again be pleased
  • To tell us in what way the soul is bound
  • Within these knots; and tell us, if thou canst,
  • If any from such members e'er is freed."
  • Then blew the trunk amain, and afterward
  • The wind was into such a voice converted:
  • "With brevity shall be replied to you.
  • When the exasperated soul abandons
  • The body whence it rent itself away,
  • Minos consigns it to the seventh abyss.
  • It falls into the forest, and no part
  • Is chosen for it; but where Fortune hurls it,
  • There like a grain of spelt it germinates.
  • It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
  • The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
  • Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.
  • Like others for our spoils shall we return;
  • But not that any one may them revest,
  • For 'tis not just to have what one casts off.
  • Here we shall drag them, and along the dismal
  • Forest our bodies shall suspended be,
  • Each to the thorn of his molested shade."
  • We were attentive still unto the trunk,
  • Thinking that more it yet might wish to tell us,
  • When by a tumult we were overtaken,
  • In the same way as he is who perceives
  • The boar and chase approaching to his stand,
  • Who hears the crashing of the beasts and branches;
  • And two behold! upon our left-hand side,
  • Naked and scratched, fleeing so furiously,
  • That of the forest, every fan they broke.
  • He who was in advance: "Now help, Death, help!"
  • And the other one, who seemed to lag too much,
  • Was shouting: "Lano, were not so alert
  • Those legs of thine at joustings of the Toppo!"
  • And then, perchance because his breath was failing,
  • He grouped himself together with a bush.
  • Behind them was the forest full of black
  • She-mastiffs, ravenous, and swift of foot
  • As greyhounds, who are issuing from the chain.
  • On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
  • And him they lacerated piece by piece,
  • Thereafter bore away those aching members.
  • Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
  • And led me to the bush, that all in vain
  • Was weeping from its bloody lacerations.
  • "O Jacopo," it said, "of Sant' Andrea,
  • What helped it thee of me to make a screen?
  • What blame have I in thy nefarious life?"
  • When near him had the Master stayed his steps,
  • He said: "Who wast thou, that through wounds so many
  • Art blowing out with blood thy dolorous speech?"
  • And he to us: "O souls, that hither come
  • To look upon the shameful massacre
  • That has so rent away from me my leaves,
  • Gather them up beneath the dismal bush;
  • I of that city was which to the Baptist
  • Changed its first patron, wherefore he for this
  • Forever with his art will make it sad.
  • And were it not that on the pass of Arno
  • Some glimpses of him are remaining still,
  • Those citizens, who afterwards rebuilt it
  • Upon the ashes left by Attila,
  • In vain had caused their labour to be done.
  • Of my own house I made myself a gibbet."