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In dusky colouring traced I could discern i o
Over a gate these words; whereat I said
'Ah! Master, for their sense is dark and stern.'
But he as one who all my thought had read ;
‘Here must thou each misgiving leave behind,
And every coward thought must here lie dead. 15
For we have reach'd the place where thou wilt find
Plunged in deep woe those hapless people, who
Have lost for aye the chief good of the mind.'
With this he put his hand in mine, and thro'
The gloom, with cheerful face, that silenced fear, 2C
Into the hidden world my steps he drew. -
Sighings, and moans, and piercing shrieks were here
Resounding thro' the starless air beneath,
That I upon the threshold wept to hear.
Tongues divers, speeches foul, of human breath, 25
Each utterance of pain and wrath that telleth,
Hoarse notes and shrill, and smiting hands therewith
A tumult made that ever eddying welleth
Up thro' that realm in changeless gloom enshrouded,
Like sand which the Scirocco's blast impelleth. 30
And 'Say,' I thus began with error clouded,
'Say, Master, what tumultuous sounds amaze
Mine ear, and who are these in sorrow shrouded ?’
Whereto he made response; 'Here thou survey'st
The portion of those wretched creatures, who 35
Lived without infamy and without praise.
Mix'd are they with those worthless angels, who
Conspired not with the rebel host, nor yet
To God were faithful, but were self-enthrall'd.
Heaven cast them forth from its refulgent coast, 40
Nor doth the Deep of Hell their souls receive, -
Lest spirits damn'd should have whereof to boast.'
Then I; 'O Master, what great cause of grief
Afflicts them, that they wail so vehemently ?'
And he thus ; 'Briefest answer will suffice. 45
These have no hope the day of death to see,
And their obscure existence is so base,
They long for every other destiny.
Earth in its records hath for them no place ;
Mercy and Justice shun their state forlorn : 50
Speak we no more of them, but look, and pass.'
And, as I looked, I saw an ensign borne
Aloft, and whirling round and round—it ran
So swiftly that all rest it seem'd to scorn.
Of spirits that I could never have believed
That Death so vast a multitude had slain.
Gazing till I their lineaments perceived,
I saw the shade of him whose cowardice
Of Peter's glorious throne himself bereaved.1
Forthwith I knew with certainty that this
Was the vile herd of caitiff souls that were
Hateful to God and to His enemies.
These miserable beings, that never were
Alive, went naked, and were sorely stung
By hornets and by wasps that gather'd there.
Around their faces quivering gore-drops hung,
That mingled with their tears, and trickling o'er
Their bodies fell disgustful worms among.
Then, bending forward further to explore,
I saw much folk by a broad river's stream;
Whereat I said; 'Master, now let thy lore
Unfold who these are, and what makes them seem
So eager to embark those waves upon,
As I discern by yonder fitful gleam.'
But he replied; 'This will appear anon,
When we our travell'd footsteps shall have placed
Upon the doleful shore of Acheron.'
And then, with eyes in reverent awe depress'd,
Fearing that he my questioning would blame,
Up to the river I my thoughts suppress'd.
And lo! towards us o'er the wave there came
White with his hoary hair a boatman old,
Crying aloud, Woe to ye, sons of shame !
Hope not the empyreal heaven to behold :
I come to bear ye to the other shore,
Amid the eternal darkness heat and cold.
But thou, that comest ere thy life be o'er,
Get thee away from these—for they are dead.'
And, when he saw that I moved not the more
For that, 'By other paths—not here,' he said,
'By other waters thou shalt reach the plain:
A lighter bark must bear the living head.'
Whereto my Guide ; 'Fret not thyself in vain,
Charon, for so 'tis will'd where will and might
Are one : nor seek his going to restrain.'
Then were the shaggy jaws dumb-founder'd quite
Of the grim pilot of the livid lake,
Who round his eyes had rings of fiery light.
But those poor weary naked souls forsake
Their colour, gnashing all in furious wrath,
Heart-stricken by the savage words he spake—
Blaspheming the Holy One of heaven—the earth
And human kind—their sires—the time, the place,
The seed of their begetting—and their birth. And then, loud wailing all, with echoing pace To that accursed shore in heaps they roll,
That waits each mortal man who spurn'd Heaven's grace.
Demonian Charon's eyes of blazing coal
Beckon them on ; he marshals all together;
Strikes with uplifted oar each lagging soul.
As leaves, that in the drear autumnal weather
Scatter and fall, until the umbrageous wood
All its fair spoils unto the earth doth gather;
Ev'n in like manner Adam's evil brood
That desolate shore abandon one by one,
As falcons by the fowler's voice pursued.
Thus are they borne across the waters dun;
And, ere they light upon the farther strand,
Another crew doth muster here. 'My son,'
The Master said with courteous accent bland,
'Those who have perish'd in the wrath of God
Hither assemble all from every land.
And they are eager to pass o'er the flood,
Because Heaven's justice goadeth them, till fear
Is heard no more, by strong desire subdued.