Introduction Canto II

Inferno: Canto I

IN the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray Gone from the path direct: and e'en to tell, It were no easy task, how savage wild That forest, how robust and rough its growth, Which to remember only, my dismay Renews, in bitterness not far from death. Yet, to discourse of what there good befell, All else will I relate discover'd there. How first I enter'd it I scarce can say, Such sleepy dulness in that instant weigh'd My senses down, when the true path I left; But when a mountain's foot I reach'd, where closed The valley that had pierced my heart with dread, I look'd aloft, and saw his shoulders broad Already vested with that planet's beam, Who leads all wanderers safe through every way. Then was a little respite to the fear, That in my heart's recesses deep had lain All of that night, so pitifully past: And as a man, with difficult short breath, Forespent with toiling, 'scaped from sea to shore, Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands At gaze; e'en so my spirit, that yet fail'd, Struggling with terror, turn'd to view the straits That none hath past and lived. My weary frame After short pause re-comforted, again I journey'd on over that lonely steep,
The hinder foot still firmer. Scarce the ascent Began, when, lo! a panther, nimble, light, And cover'd with a speckled skin, appear'd; Nor, when it saw me, vanish'd; rather strove To check my onward going; that ofttimes, With purpose to retrace my steps, I turn'd. The hour was morning's prime, and on his way Aloft the sun ascended with those stars That with him rose when Love divine first moved Those its fair works; so that with joyous hope All things conspired to fill me, the gay skin Of that swift animal, the matin dawn, And the sweet season. Soon that joy was chased, And by new dread succeeded, when in view
A lion came, 'gainst me as it appear'd, With his head held aloft and hunger-mad, That e'en the air was fear-struck. A she-wolf Was at his heels, who in her leanness seem'd Full of all wants, and many a land hath made Disconsolate ere now. She with such fear O'erwhelm'd me, at the sight of her appall'd, That of the height all hope I lost. As one Who, with his gain elated, sees the time When all unwares is gone, he inwardly Mourns with heart-griping anguish; such was I, Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace, Who coming o'er against me, by degrees Impell'd me where the sun in silence rests. While to the lower space with backward step I fell, my ken discern'd the form of one Whose voice seem'd faint through long disuse of speech When him in that great desert I espied, "Have mercy on me," cried I out aloud, "Spirit! or living man! whate'er thou be." He answer'd: "Now not man, man once I was, And born of Lombard parents, Mantuans both By country, when the power of Julius yet Was scarcely firm. At Rome my life was past, Beneath the mild Augustus, in the time Of fabled deities and false. A bard Was I, and made Anchises' upright son The subject of my song, who came from Troy, When the flames gfrey'd on Ilium's haughty towers. But thou, say wherefore to such perils past Return'st thou? wherefore not this pleasant mount Ascendest, cause and source of all delight?" "And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring From which such copious floods of eloquence Have issued?" I with front abash'd replied. "Glory and light of all the tuneful train! May it avail me, that I long with zeal Have sought thy volume, and with love immense Have conn'd it o'er. My master thou, and guide! Thou he from whom alone I have derived That style, which for its beauty into fame Exalts me. See the beast, from whom I fled. Oh, save me from her, thou illustrious sage! For every vein and pulse throughout my frame She hath made tremble." He, soon as he saw
That I was weeping, answer'd, "Thou must needs Another way pursue, if thou wouldst 'scape From out that savage wilderness. This beast, At whom thou criest, her way will suffer none To pass, and no less hindrance makes than death: So bad and so accursed in her kind, That never sated is her ravenous will, Still after food more cravings than before. To many an animal in wedlock vile She fastens, and shall yet to many more, Until that greyhound come, who shall destroy Her with sharp pain. He will not life support By earth nor its base metals, but by love, Wisdom, and virtue; and his land shall be The land 'twixt either Feltro. In his might Shall safety to Italia's plains arise, For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure, Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell. He, with incessant chase, through every town Shall worry, until he to hell at length Restore her, thence by envy first let loose. I, for thy profit pondering, now devise That thou mayst follow me; annd I, thy guide, Will lead thee hence through an eternal space, Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see Spirits of old tormented, who invoke A second death and those next view, who dwell Content in fire, for that they hope to come, Whene'er the time may be, among the blest, Into whose regions if thou then desire To ascend, a spirit worthier than I must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart, Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King, Who reigns above, a rebel to his law Adjudges me; and therefore hath decreed That, to his city, none through me should come. He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds His citadel and throne. Oh, happy those, Whom there he chooses!" I to him in few: "Bard! by that God, whom thou didst not adore, I do beseech thee ( that this ill and worse I may escape) to lead me where thou saidst, That I saint Peter's gate may view, and those Who, as thou tell'st, are in such dismal plight."
Onward he moved, I close his steps pursued.

Introduction Canto II