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When I am in the presence of my Lord,
I will rehearse thy praise before the throne."
Ceasèd she then, and I took up the word ;
‘O sovran Lady, by whose aid alone
The feeble race of mánkind doth excel
All else contain'd within heaven's lesser zone,5
This thy commandment pleaseth me so well,
That were it done forthwith 'twere all too late :
No need thy purpose more to unfold—but tell
The reason why thou dost not hesitate
To venture down into this central gloom,
Who longest to regain thy blessed seat ?"
"Seeing thou would'st into these depths presume,
I will in brief unfold," she answer made,
"Why without fear amid these shades I come.
'Tis meet to hold only those things in dread
That tend to work another's woe or shame :
All else thou may'st encounter undismay'd.
I am so framed by God—unto whose name
Be all the praise—that this thy misery
Touches me not, this restless quenchless flame.6
A saint7 there is above, so piteously
Bewails this hindrance8 in her gentle breast, 95
Ev'n Heaven is moved, and changed the stern decree.
She to Lucia 9 call'd, and made request,
And said; “Now is thy faithful one in need
Of thee: arise, and to his succour haste.'
Lucia, foe to every cruel deed, 10 I ()()
Bestirr'd herself, and came unto the place
Where I with the ancient Rachel sat, and said ;
‘O Beatrice,” in whom Heaven's special grace
Abounds, why aid'st thou not who lovèd thee
So well, renouncing the vile herd and base? IOS
Hearest thou not his piteous agony
Seëst thou not how on the brimming river
With death he strives, where the resounding sea
Loseth its glory !’ Child of earth was never
More swift to follow gain or loss to fly I (O
Than I hearing those words from realms for ever
Blissful descended thro' the ample sky,
Relying on that eloquence of thine,
Thy glory and theirs who hear its melody."
7 St. Mary the Virgin, or Divine Clemency.
8 The forlorn condition of the Poet.
9 St. Lucy, or Illuminating Grace.
"This obviously refers, not to the ‘stern decree’ of v. 96, which is changed already, but to the “hindrance' of v. 95. *Theology.
Here ending her discourse, she bent on mine II 5
Her glowing eyes weeping, that I was made
More eager to obey her voice divine.
And so to thee I came, and brought thee aid
Against the fierceness of the beast that barr'd
The readiest way o'er the fair mountain glade. I 20
Why then, oh why let cowardice retard
Thy lingering steps, nor rather entertain
Boldness of soul meet for this labour hard—
Seeing how those three blessed ones are fain
To care for thee within the court of heaven, I25
And my words bid thee hope such good to attain ?'
As flowerets, by the chilling breath of even
Bow'd down and closed, their petals ope, and rear
Upright their stems, when the sun's light is given;
So did I with my spirit's drooping cheer, I 30
Till with fresh fervour all my bosom glow'd :
I spake as one broke free from bonds of fear;
'O she was very piteous, who bestow'd
Her aid, and courteous thou, who did'st obey
So soon the true words from her lips that flow'd. I 35
So doth thy precious speech my fear allay,
That all my heart is longing to fulfil
Its first resolve this journey to essay.
Now let us go, for we have both one will.
Thou art my guide, my lord and master thou.' I40
So said I : then he onward moved, until
We reach'd the woody path that leads below.
The inscription over the gate of Hell. Dante and his Guide pass into a region of unchanging darkness, peopled with those neutral spirits—a vast multitude—who in their life-time had neither incurred infamy nor merited praise. Here they view the souls of the lost gathering towards the river Acheron, and pressing with eagerness into Charon's bark.
Thro' me you go to Acheron's doleful river,
Thro' me you go to realms of endless pain,
Thro' me you go among the lost for ever.
Eternal Justice did my being ordain:
Power, Wisdom, Love, supreme primeval Trine, 5
Ere yet the perishable world began,
The lofty fabric rear'd with art divine.
With things eternal I endure eterne.
O ye who enter, every hope resign.