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Escape, lead thou me where thou said'st, that so
Then movèd he, and I held on behind.
Lo giorno se n' andava.
Dante fears that his strength will prove insufficient for the enterprise.
Now day declined, and Night with dusky wing
Myself to endure heart-piercing agony—
Deep graven on the unerring memory.
Ye sacred nine! aid my adventurous lay.
Tell, O my mind, that which did there betide me,
And all thy native nobleness display. I thus broke silence; 'Poet, that dost guide me, 10
Weigh well my merit, if it sufficient be,
Ere thou unto this perilous pass confide me. Thou tell'st how Silvius' great sire,1 while he
Was yet corruptible, unto the place
Immortal went, and was there sensibly. 15
Now, that the Enemy of all ill such grace
On him bestow'd, measuring the high effect
That was to ensue therefrom—the power—the race — Appears not strange to one who can reflect,
For that he was of Rome's imperial sway 20
The original author in high heaven elect. Which sway—not for itself alone—to say
The truth—was stablish'd for the holy place,
Where sitteth who succeeds to Peter's throne. By this descent, made famous in thy story, 25
He learn'd the sure foundation how to lay
Of his success, and of the Papal glory.2
Election's vessels did this path essay,
To gather confirmation for that Faith,
Which guideth us into salvation's way. 30
That I the attempt should make—who sanctioneth ?
I am not Paul, nor Rome's ancestral sage.
Equal who deemeth me the paths of death To traverse 1 On that uncouth pilgrimage
For me to go were a fond task and vain: 35
Wise are thou, knowing all my fears presage.' And like as one who what he will'd again
Unwills, with new thoughts from his purpose bending,
Which failing fadeth wholly from his brain; Ev'n so upon that darksome steep ascending 40
My thoughts consumed the enterprise of good,
Embraced so soon, whereon my steps were wending. 'If rightly from thy language I conclude,'
The shade of that great-minded one replied,
'Thy spirit is with cowardice imbued; 45
Which oft-times leadeth men to turn aside
In gloom of soul from loftiest enterprise,
Like restive beasts with shadows terrified.
Thou shalt what brought me hither understand, 50
And how I learn'd with thee to sympathise.
Erewhile in Limbo 4 'mid the hero band
Her eyes were gleaming when she thus began With angel voice in the sweet speech of heaven; "O gentle spirit of the Mantuan,
Whose name on earth with deathless glory blended
My friend, alas! by Fortune unbefriended,
That I to rescue him have risen in vain 65
From what I hear the ethereal people say.
I come from where I fain would be restored,
3 St. Paul. Acts ix. 15; and 2 Cor. xii. 2.
4 The first circle of Hell, described in Canto iv.