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Thus they return along the gloomy ring,
Each in his place to the opposing point,
Crying always in their opprobrious strain.
Then each one, after shock, wheels round again,
Thro' his half-circle, for another tilt.
I, all my heart thrill'd thro' with anguish keen,
Said; 'O my Master, now to me impart
What spirits are these, and if they all were priests—
These with the shaven crowns upon our left.'
And he replied; “All these in their first lives
Were so warped in their mental sight that they
In their expense no fitting measure kept—
Distinguish'd clearly by their piercing cries
When to those two points of the ring they come,
Where the conflicting faults drive them apart.
These without covering of hair upon
Their crowns were priests and Popes and Cardinals,
In whom the excess of avarice was found.'
Then I ; 'O Master, surely amongst all these
There needs must be whom I can recognise—
Souls that were tainted by those ills.' But he
Made answer thus; 'Vainly thou dost surmise :
The ingloriousness wherein their lives were spent
Makes it impossible to recognise
Their lineaments. They will for ever come
To the two shocks: these from the tomb will rise
With clenched fist, and these with hair all cropt. 2
Spending and hoarding ill hath reft from them
The beauteous world, and set them in this strife.
How drear it is no words could e'er unfold.
Now may'st thou learn, my son, of how short life
Those good things are, which Fortune doth control ;
For which mankind wageth perpetual strife.
For all the gold beneath the moon, and all
That ever was, for these poor weary souls
Could never gain one moment of repose.'
'Master,' I said, 'be pleased also to unfold
To me—this Fortune—who she is, by whom
The good things of the world are thus controlled '
And he replied ; 'O foolish creatures 1 how
Great is that ignorance which doth enfold
Your minds ! now to my words give heed.—He whose
Omniscience all else transcends, who made
The heavens, and gave them Angels ministrant—
So that each part to each part glory lends—
Distributing with equal hand the light ;
So for the glories of this world He hath
Ordain'd a general Minister and Guide,
To shift from time to time earth's fleeting toys
From race to race, from house to house, beyond
The feeble shifts which human sense employs.
Thus one race waxeth strong, another weak,
Following the guidance of her hand, which works
In secret, as within the grass the snake.
Your knowledge cannot vie with hers: she all
Events foreseeing orders each, and rules
Her kingdom, as the other Angels theirs.
Her work no rest or intermission knows ;
Necessity compels her to be swift :
So many are they whom sudden change o'erthrows.
'Tis she who is so often put to shame
Even by those who ought to give her praise,
Giving wrongful reproach, and evil fame.
But she hears not, and in the realms of bliss,
Amid the other primal creatures, rolls
Her sphere, rejoicing in her blessedness.
Descend we now to lower depths of woe.
Now falls each star that rose when we began
Our course: nor may we linger here.'—Across
The circle then we went to the other side, IOO
Hard by a fountain, which springs there, and pours
Down a slope channel from itself derived.
Gloomy and dark those waters were—more dark
Than purple: we with them found entrance soon
Into a pathway strange, that downward bore IOS
Our steps towards a lake, whose name is Styx,
Form'd by this rueful streamlet when it gains
The bottom of those black malignant plains.
And, as I stood to view the scene, I saw
Much people rolling on that putrid flood, I to
Slime-spatter'd, naked, and with furious mien.
These in their rage not with their hands alone
But with head breast and feet each other struck,
And tore themselves in pieces with their fangs.
My Guide then spake ; 'Here, O my son, thou seest 115
The spirits of those whom anger overcame :
And I would have thee know for certain that
Beneath this water there are souls whose sighing
Makes heave the bubbling surface, as thou seest,
Where'er the eye roves round.' And thus they sung— 120
Those spirits mire-ingulf'd ; 'All gloom were we
In the sweet air illumin'd by the sun,
Stifling our souls within with slothful fumes;
Now we have gloom in the black pool undone.'
This they repeat with gurgling sound within 125
Their throats, but words complete can utter none.
Thus long way round that loathsome pool, between
The dry bank and the waves, in haste we wound
Our course, with eyes down cast on those who filth
Ingorged : we came to a tower's base at last. I 30