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In dusky colouring traced I could discern 10
Over a gate these words; whereat I said
But he as one who all my thought had read;
For we have reach'd the place where thou wilt find
With this he put his hand in mine, and thro'
Into the hidden world my steps he drew.
Sighings, and moans, and piercing shrieks were here
Tongues divers, speeches foul, of human breath, 25
Each utterance of pain and wrath that telleth,
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.
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. And after it there came so long a train 55
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 60
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 65
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, 70
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.' 75
But he replied; 'This will appear anon,
When we our travell'd footsteps shall have placed
Upon the doleful shore of Acheron.'
1 Pope Celestine V.
And then, with eyes in reverent awe depress'd,
Fearing that he my questioning would blame, 80
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: 85
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 90
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 95
Are one: nor seek his going to restrain.'
Of the grim pilot of the livid lake,
Who round his eyes had rings of fiery light. But those poor weary naked souls forsake 100
Their colour, gnashing all in furious wrath,
Heart-stricken by the savage words he spake—
Blaspheming the Holy One of heaven—the earth
And then, loud wailing all, with echoing pace
Demonian Charon's eyes of blazing coal
Beckon them on ; he marshals all together; 110
Strikes with uplifted oar each lagging soul.
As leaves, that in the drear autumnal weather
Ev'n in like manner Adam's evil brood 115
That desolate shore abandon one by one,
Thus are they borne across the waters dun;
The Master said with courteous accent bland,
And they are eager to pass o'er the flood,
Because Heaven's justice goadeth them, till fear 125
Is heard no more, by strong desire subdued.