Inferno: Canto II

The following is an excerpt from my translation of Dante's Inferno in terza rima, the rhyme scheme of the original Italian poem.

Doré, Poets in Limbo
Poets in Limbo, by Gustave Doré

            The day was going off, and the brown air
            removed the creatures of the earth from their
            fatigue and toil; and I alone prepared

4          myself to carry on the battle there
            of both the journey and the pity as well,
            which memory will retrace that does not err.

7          O muses, o high genius, give me help;
            o memory, which kept what I saw inscribed,
            here your nobility will show itself.

10        I began: “Poet who would be my guide,
            see if my virtue’s strong enough to send
            me on into the passage deep and wide.

13        You say that the father of Silvius went
            himself into the deathless and primeval
            world, corruptible still and with his sense.

16        But, if the adversary of all evil
            was kind to him, judging the high effect
            that issued from him, and the things and people,

19        he seems worthy to a man of intellect;
            for he was chosen for imperial Rome,
            by empyreal Heaven, as father elect:

22        which state and empire, if the truth be known,
            were then established as the holy place
            where great Peter’s successor sits the throne.

25        Through this venture for which you give him praise,
            he came to know the things that would occasion
            his victory and the papal mantle’s place.

28        The chosen Vessel then went to those places,
            to bring us comfort in that faith and creed
            that starts us on the pathway to salvation.

31        But why should I come there? who chooses me?
            I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul;
            in my worth, I and others don’t believe.

34        If I allow myself to come at all,
            I fear the coming may be foolish still.
            You’re wise; and you hear better than I talk.”

37        And as is he who unwills what he wills,
            and for new thoughts exchanges his intent,
            so all that he began is unfulfilled,

40        so I became on that dark hillside then,
            for, thinking, I consumed the enterprise
            that I had been so ready to begin.

43        “If I have clearly heard your words,” replied
            that shadow of the magnanimous man,
            “your soul is stung by cowardice; which lies

46        so heavy, many times, upon a man,
            it turns him back from honored enterprise,
            like false shapes in the shadows that beasts glance.

49        That you may free yourself now from this fright,
            I’ll tell you why I came and what I heard
            when I first grieved for you and for your plight.

52        I was among those in suspense, at first,
            and a beautiful blessed woman from afar
            came calling, so I asked to be at her

55        command.  Her eyes shone brighter than the stars;
            and she began to speak so soft and plain,
            that in her speech, a voice angelic starts:

58        ‘O gracious Mantuan soul, of whom the fame
            is still enduring in the world today,
            and will endure as long as the world remains,

61        a friend of mine, and not a friend of fate,
            is so impeded in his journey on
            the desert slope, that fear turns him away;

64        and I’m afraid he may be so far gone,
            that I’m too late to rise to give him help,
            from what I’ve heard of him in Heaven beyond.

67        Now move, and with your ornate words as well
            as anything you need to help him flee,
            so I may be consoled, you give him help.

70        I am Beatrice who now makes you leave;
            I come from where I wish to go again;
            love has moved me, which also makes me speak.

73        When I shall be before my Lord again,
            I will commend you often to him now.’
            Then she was silent, and so I commenced:

76        ‘O woman of virtue, who alone are how
            the human race exceeds all else beneath
            that Heaven with its circles lowest down,

79        so pleasing your commandment is to me,
            that to obey it now is still too late;
            there’s no more need to show me what you need.

82        But tell me why you do not hesitate
            to come down here into this center, when
            you’re burning to return to the ample place.’

85        ‘Because you want to know so much within,
            I’ll tell you briefly,’ she replied to me,
            ‘why I am not afraid to come herein.

88        One ought to be afraid of just those things
            that have the power to harm others; but
            not other things, for they aren’t frightening.

91        I have been made by God, His mercy, such
            that no flame from this blaze harasses me,
            nor by your misery can I be touched.

94        A noble woman is in Heaven, who weeps
            for this impediment I send you to,
            so that hard judgment there above is breached.

97        She asked for Lucy in her plea for you,
            and said: —Now he has need of you, your faithful
            believer, and I’m trusting him to you.—

100      Lucy, enemy of everything hateful,
            moved off, and then she came upon the spot
            where I was sitting with the ancient Rachel.

103      She said: —Beatrice, the true praise of God,
            why aren’t you helping him who loved you so,
            that he emerged, for you, from the vulgar mob?

106      Do you not hear the pity of his moan?
            do you not see the death he fights against
            on the torrent where the sea can’t even boast?—

109      No persons in the world have ever been
            so quick to seek their profit nor to flee
            their loss, as I, upon such words, was then

112      to come down here from off my blessed seat,
            and trusting in your true and honest speech,
            which honors you and those who’ve heard you speak.’

115      After she’d reasoned all of this with me,
            she turned her bright and tearful eyes aside;
            which only made me come more rapidly.

118      And as she wished, I came here by your side;
            I raised you from the beast that took away
            the short walk up the beautiful mountainside.

121      And so: what is it? why, why do you stay?
            why lodge such cowardice into your heart?
            why does your liberty and courage fade?

124      as long as three such blessed women are
            in Heaven’s court who care for you, and all
            my words promise such good if you depart?”

127      As little flowers in a cold night’s frost
            bent and furled, when the sunlight strikes them, stand
            up straight and fully open on their stalks,

130      so I did, with my strength exhausted, and
            throughout my heart such wholesome courage coursed,
            that I began a liberated man:

133      “Oh merciful, she who helped me out before!
            and gracious, you who did obey right then
            the true and honest words that she put forth!

136      With such desire to come, my heart has been
            disposed, that only with the words you spoke,
            I’ve turned to my original intent.

139      Now go, for a single will is in us both:
            you guide, you lord, you master, lead the way.”
            So I told him; and when he turned to go,

142      I entered on the deep and wild way.

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