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Chapter 3 The Gate of Hell. The Inefficient or Indifferent. Pope Celestin_. The Shores of Acheron. Charon. The Earthquake and the Swoon.

  • "Through me the way is to the city dolent;
  • Through me the way is to eternal dole;
  • Through me the way among the people lost.
  • Justice incited my sublime Creator;
  • Created me divine Omnipotence,
  • The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.
  • Before me there were no created things,
  • Only eterne, and I eternal last.
  • All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"
  • These words in sombre colour I beheld
  • Written upon the summit of a gate;
  • Whence I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!"
  • And he to me, as one experienced:
  • "Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,
  • All cowardice must needs be here extinct.
  • We to the place have come, where I have told thee
  • Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
  • Who have foregone the good of intellect."
  • And after he had laid his hand on mine
  • With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,
  • He led me in among the secret things.
  • There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
  • Resounded through the air without a star,
  • Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
  • Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
  • Accents of anger, words of agony,
  • And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,
  • Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
  • For ever in that air for ever black,
  • Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.
  • And I, who had my head with horror bound,
  • Said: "Master, what is this which now I hear?
  • What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"
  • And he to me: "This miserable mode
  • Maintain the melancholy souls of those
  • Who lived withouten infamy or praise.
  • Commingled are they with that caitiff choir
  • Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
  • Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.
  • The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;
  • Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
  • For glory none the damned would have from them."
  • And I: "O Master, what so grievous is
  • To these, that maketh them lament so sore?"
  • He answered: "I will tell thee very briefly.
  • These have no longer any hope of death;
  • And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
  • They envious are of every other fate.
  • No fame of them the world permits to be;
  • Misericord and Justice both disdain them.
  • Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."
  • And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,
  • Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,
  • That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;
  • And after it there came so long a train
  • Of people, that I ne'er would have believed
  • That ever Death so many had undone.
  • When some among them I had recognised,
  • I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
  • Who made through cowardice the great refusal.
  • Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,
  • That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches
  • Hateful to God and to his enemies.
  • These miscreants, who never were alive,
  • Were naked, and were stung exceedingly
  • By gadflies and by hornets that were there.
  • These did their faces irrigate with blood,
  • Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet
  • By the disgusting worms was gathered up.
  • And when to gazing farther I betook me.
  • People I saw on a great river's bank;
  • Whence said I: "Master, now vouchsafe to me,
  • That I may know who these are, and what law
  • Makes them appear so ready to pass over,
  • As I discern athwart the dusky light."
  • And he to me: "These things shall all be known
  • To thee, as soon as we our footsteps stay
  • Upon the dismal shore of Acheron."
  • Then with mine eyes ashamed and downward cast,
  • Fearing my words might irksome be to him,
  • From speech refrained I till we reached the river.
  • And lo! towards us coming in a boat
  • An old man, hoary with the hair of eld,
  • Crying: "Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!
  • Hope nevermore to look upon the heavens;
  • I come to lead you to the other shore,
  • To the eternal shades in heat and frost.
  • And thou, that yonder standest, living soul,
  • Withdraw thee from these people, who are dead!"
  • But when he saw that I did not withdraw,
  • He said: "By other ways, by other ports
  • Thou to the shore shalt come, not here, for passage;
  • A lighter vessel needs must carry thee."
  • And unto him the Guide: "Vex thee not, Charon;
  • It is so willed there where is power to do
  • That which is willed; and farther question not."
  • Thereat were quieted the fleecy cheeks
  • Of him the ferryman of the livid fen,
  • Who round about his eyes had wheels of flame.
  • But all those souls who weary were and naked
  • Their colour changed and gnashed their teeth together,
  • As soon as they had heard those cruel words.
  • God they blasphemed and their progenitors,
  • The human race, the place, the time, the seed
  • Of their engendering and of their birth!
  • Thereafter all together they drew back,
  • Bitterly weeping, to the accursed shore,
  • Which waiteth every man who fears not God.
  • Charon the demon, with the eyes of glede,
  • Beckoning to them, collects them all together,
  • Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.
  • As in the autumn-time the leaves fall off,
  • First one and then another, till the branch
  • Unto the earth surrenders all its spoils;
  • In similar wise the evil seed of Adam
  • Throw themselves from that margin one by one,
  • At signals, as a bird unto its lure.
  • So they depart across the dusky wave,
  • And ere upon the other side they land,
  • Again on this side a new troop assembles.
  • "My son," the courteous Master said to me,
  • "All those who perish in the wrath of God
  • Here meet together out of every land;
  • And ready are they to pass o'er the river,
  • Because celestial Justice spurs them on,
  • So that their fear is turned into desire.
  • This way there never passes a good soul;
  • And hence if Charon doth complain of thee,
  • Well mayst thou know now what his speech imports."
  • This being finished, all the dusk champaign
  • Trembled so violently, that of that terror
  • The recollection bathes me still with sweat.
  • The land of tears gave forth a blast of wind,
  • And fulminated a vermilion light,
  • Which overmastered in me every sense,
  • And as a man whom sleep hath seized I fell.