Inferno: Canto XII

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

Doré, Centaurs
Centaurs, by Gustave Doré

            The place where we’d descend into the void
            was alpine, and from what was on the bank,
            was such a place that all eyes would avoid.

4          As is that ruin which struck into the flank
            of the Adige on this side of Trent, because
            of earthquakes or eroding struts, which sank

7          from off the mountaintop, from which it budged,
            down to the plain and crumbled in a heap,
            and thus provides a path for those above:

10        so too was the descent of that ravine;
            and on the brink of the broken crevasse,
            sprawling out, was the infamy of Crete,

13        which was conceived in the false cow; and as
            he saw us standing there, he bit himself,
            like one whose inner anger makes him crack.

16        “Perhaps,” my sage in his direction yelled,
            “you believe this is the Duke of Athens here,
            who brought you to your death in the upper realm?

19        Begone, beast, for he hasn’t come down here
            with his instructions from your sister, but
            to see your punishments he goes through here.”

22        As is that bull which breaks loose when he’s just
            in that moment received the mortal blow,
            who cannot go, but back and forth he bucks,

25        I saw the Minotaur do even so;
            and the shrewd guide yelled: “Run to the pass, run hard;
            while he is raging, you should scale below.”

28        So we picked our way down through that discharge
            of stones, which often moved and wobbled under
            my feet, by the strange weight of this new charge.

31        I went pensively; and he said: “You wonder
            perhaps about this ruin which is blockaded
            by that bestial wrath which I just smothered.

34        Now I would have you know, on the first occasion
            that I came down here to the lower Inferno,
            this rock had not yet fallen and cascaded.

37        But surely just before, if I discern well,
            the coming of the One to Dis who reaved
            the great plunder of the supernal circle,

40        upon all sides the valley vile and deep
            so trembled, that I thought the universe had
            felt love, by which there are those who believe

43        that many times the world has been converted
            to chaos; and at that point, these old boulders
            made such a downpour, here and elsewhere surging.

46        But fix your eyes down there, for now comes closer
            the river of blood which boils in its draft
            whoever by violence does harm to others.”

49        Oh blind cupidity and foolish wrath,
            which spurs us on so much in the short life,
            and in the eternal steeps us in this bath!

52        I saw an ample moat in an arc, like
            a bow that was embracing all the plain,
            exactly as my guide had just described;

55        and between this and the bank’s foot, in train
            ran centaurs, armed with bolts, as they were bowmen
            in the world above where they would hunt for game.

58        Seeing us scaling down, each one stood frozen,
            and three departed from their troop, with bows
            withdrawn and with prime shafts already chosen;

61        and one yelled from a distance: “To what woe
            are you two coming who descend the shore?
            Speak from right there; if not, I draw my bow.”

64        “We’ll answer,” said my master in retort,
            “to Chiron, over there beside of him:
            always so hasty, that ill will of yours.”

67        And nudging me: “That’s Nessus,” he said then,
            “who died for Deianira’s loveliness
            and for himself had wrought his own revenge.

70        And in the middle, gazing at his chest,
            is the great Chiron, who once nurtured Achilles;
            Pholus, who was so full of wrath, is next.

73        Thousands and thousands go round the moat, drilling
            their bolts in any soul that pulls its roots
            out of the blood more than its culpability

76        allots.”  We came closer to those lithe brutes:
            Chiron seized an arrow, and with the notch
            he pulled his beard back to his jaw, to shoot.

79        When he had bared his great mouth doing such,
            he said to his companions: “Do you see,
            the one behind moves anything he’s touched?

82        They’re not inclined to do so…dead men’s feet.”
            And my good guide, already at his chest,
            where his two natures meet, part man, part beast,

85        replied: “Yes he’s alive, and so it rests
            on me alone to show the vale of shade
            to him; need, not pleasure, compels our quest.

88        One singing hallelujah slipped away
            to pass this novel office on to me:
            he is no bandit, and I’m no thieving shade.

91        But by that Power by which I move my feet
            through such a savage road, give one of yours
            to us, that we may let him take the lead,

94        and who may show us where to find a ford,
            and who may carry this one on his back,
            for he’s no spirit of the air who soars.”

97        Chiron turned upon his right breast: “Turn back,”
            he said to Nessus, “and so, be their guide,
            and ward off other troops who block your path.”

100      Now we moved along, with the loyal guide,
            on the shore of the vermillion boiling flood,
            in which the boiled screamed and made shrill cries.

103      I saw some to their brows submerged in blood;
            and the great centaur said: “These are tyrants here
            who plunged their hands in pockets and in blood.

106      Here, for their ruthless cruelties, they shed tears;
            here’s Alexander, and fierce Dionysius there,
            who gave Sicily many painful years.

109      That forehead over there with such black hair
            is Ezzelino; and the other which is blond
            is Obizzo d’Este, who, I aver,

112      was smothered in the world by his wife’s son.”
            Then I turned to the poet, and he said:
            “He’ll now be first, and I the second one.”

115      The centaur paused a little more ahead,
            above a group who came up from within
            that boiling bloodspring only to their necks.

118      He showed us a lone shade off on the fringe,
            saying: “He stabbed, in the bosom of God,
            the heart that still drips blood upon the Thames.”

121      Then I saw people with their heads atop
            the stream, and even all their ribs afloat;
            and out of those, I recognized a lot.

124      Thus more and more the blood grew shallow, so
            that farther on it simmered just the feet;
            and through there was our way across the moat.

127      “Just as it is that from this side you see
            the boiling bloodspring constantly subsides,”
            the centaur said, “I want you to believe

130      that its bed deepens on this other side,
            more and more, ‘til it overtakes itself
            where tyranny is made to groan and whine.

133      There, divine justice stings Attila still,
            who was a scourge on earth, and Pyrrhus also,
            and Sextus; and eternally it milks

136      the tears that the boiling frees from Rinier Pazzo,
            from Rinier da Corneto, who waged such war
            upon the people trafficking the highroads.”

139      Then he turned back again, and crossed the ford.

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