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Always before him many stand : they go,
Each in his turn, and one by one, to judgment:
They speak, and hear, and then are hurl'd below.
'O thou that comest to this house of sorrow,'
Cried Minos unto me, when he beheld me,
Leaving the business of that dreadful office;
'See how thou enterest, and on what reliest :
Be not deceived by the broad entrance way.'
To whom the Master; 'Wherefore vainly criest?
It lieth not with thee his course to stay.
'Tis thus by fate decreed, and will'd where power
Effectuates will ; forbear; and ask no more.'
Thereon the notes of woe began to sound
Nearer and yet more near, till we alight
There where loud anguish smites upon the ear.
I found me in a place void of all light,
That moaneth as the troubled ocean moaneth,
When roused in conflict with the tempest's might.
The infernal hurricane, that never resteth,
Gathers the spirits in its swift career,
And turns about and drives them where it listeth.
When yawns the precipice before their eyes,
Shrieks, moans, and lamentations rend the air,
And blasphemies against the heavenly Power.
I understood that to this torment dire
The souls of carnal sinners were condemn'd,
Whose rebel wills rejected reason's lore.
And like as starlings, on their wings upborne,
Large flocks together in the wintry season,
So by that blast were those ill spirits borne
This way and that, now up, now downward driven:
Nor any hope their wretchedness allays
Or of repose, or of less grievous pain:
And like as cranes chanting their dolorous lays
Drift thro' the air in far extending train;
So came they uttering long drawn wailings drear—
Those shadows urged by the wild hurricane :
Whereat I said ; 'O Master, who are these
Spirits whom the black whirlwind scourges thus ?'
And he then said to me; 'The first of these,
Of whom thou seekest to have knowledge, held
Imperial sway o'er many languages.
She was so lapsed in lawless wantonness,
All lust she licensed by her laws, in faith
Thus to remove the shame wherein she was—
Semiramis, of whom the legend saith
That she gave suck to Ninus, and was his spouse:
She held the land which now the Sultan swayeth.
Next cometh one by hapless love self-slain—
She, who broke faith with the ashes of Sichaeus : 1
Cleopatra next to her, luxurious dame.'
Helen I saw, for whom so many years
Of wasteful strife prevail'd ; and great Achilles,
Who join'd the fray at last, by love 2 impell'd.
Paris was there, and Tristan; . . . . and the place
Was rife with hundreds more—by him then named
And shown to me—whom love bereft of life.
Thus having heard the experienced Guide recount
By name the knights and dames of ancient time,
My grief o'ercame me, and I almost swoon'd.
At length I spake thus ; 'Poet, I would fain
Converse with yonder pair, 3 who come together,
And seem to float so lightly on the air.'
Whereto he thus replied; 'Watch thou, till they
Approach nearer to us: then summon them
By that love which is theirs, and they will come.'
Soon as the wind bore them to where we stood,
I lifted up my voice; 'O wearied ones,
Come hither, and speak with us, if nought forbids.'
Then, as two doves that by desire call'd
With moveless wings outspread to their sweet nest
Float thro' the air by longing hearts impell'd ;
Forth from the crowd where Dido was they pass'd,
They came to us thro' the dun air malign,
So vehement was my passionate cry. And thus
One spake ; 'O being gracious and benign,
Who comest thro' the black wind visiting
Us, who by violent hands erewhile were slain ;
Were He our friend, who sways the universe,
We would beseech Him for thy peace, who thus
Pitiest our evil plight, and wills perverse.
And seeing thou would'st hold discourse with us,
We too will listen and converse with thee,
While the fierce whirlwind keepeth silence thus.
The land where I was born lies by the sea,
That gleams along that coast, where Po descends,
To have repose with his attendant streams.
Love, that in gentle heart soon glows, o'ercame
Him for that beauty which was reft from me
So foully that the anguish yet remains.
Love, that to none beloved remitteth lovers
Return, seized me for his enchanting self
So strongly that it still lingers as thou seest.
Love brought us to one grave : the lowest hell
Awaiteth him by whom our lives were sped.'
Such was the utterance from her lips that fell.
At hearing which from those woe-wearied souls,
I bow'd my head, and held it down so long I IO
That the Bard said to me; 'What ponderest thou?'
After some pause, I thus began ; 'Alas!
What yearnings, and what blissful reveries
impelled them to that lamentable pass l’
And then I turn'd to them, and thus again I 15
My speech renewed ; 'Francesca, thy afflictions
Bring tears of grief and pity to mine eyes.
But tell me—at the time of those sweet sighs
How happen'd it that Love enabled you
Each other's dubious wish to recognise ?' I2O
And she replied; 'There is no greater sorrow
Than recollecting times of happiness
In misery: and this thy Teacher 4 knows.
But if thou hast so great desire to know
How that entrancing love began to sway I25
Our hearts, I will repeat the tale of woe.