Poetry: Divine Comedy : Hell, Cantos 31–34 | clivejames.com
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Hell, Cantos 31–34

The self-same tongue that first had stung me so
It dyed my cheeks with shame by what it said,
Had offered me the medicine. As we know,
Achilles’ spear, that was his father’s, wed
Those same two properties. It first brought woe,
And then brought solace. Thus we turned away
From that sad valley, and went up the bank
Enclosing it, with no word left to say.
Here it was less than night—sight wasn’t blank
10Ahead—though it was also less than day,
So I could not see far. But I could hear
A horn’s blast, so loud that it would have made
A thunderclap sound faint. It rang so clear
That straight from me to it the path was laid
For my gaze to rebound. Not when Charlemagne
Lost to the Saracens in one sad rout
His sacred army, did Roland in pain
Raise up his horn in such an awful shout—
His ivory horn, lamenting for the slain,
20That his king heard three miles away. Not long
Was my head turned that way before I thought
To see tall towers in a looming throng.
“Master,” I said therefore, “tell me what sort
Of city stands out there.” And he to me:
“Because you gaze through shadows far too deep
Your fancy strays, and when you’re there you’ll see
How distance tricks the senses. Therefore keep
Your steps ahead. More speed.” And kindly he
Said as he took my hand: “Before we go
30Much further, so the fact may seem less strange:
Those things ahead aren’t towers. You should know
They’re giants, and around the pit they range,
Sunk, from the navel down, in its rock rim.”
As when the mist thins, and sight bit by bit
Gives shape again to what has been made dim
By air the cloud loads, so I conquered it,
That thick and foggy atmosphere, and neared
The brink, but as I did so, error fled
And was replaced by everything I feared,
40The hints and outlines of a sight to dread.
For just as on the circle of its walls
Montereggione has towers for a crown,
So, on this pit’s embankment, it befalls
That giants tower, although from halfway down
They are unseen. But what is seen bulks large
And horrible as when they first attacked
Olympus, and Jove had to stem their charge,
And still shouts thundering vengeance for that act.
Now I began to pick one out: the face,
50The shoulders and the chest, and a good part
Of the belly, and, by both sides held in place,
The arms. Yes, Nature, when she quit the art
Of making creatures of this kind, did right
To keep from Mars the warriors he would
Have wished for. Though she still smiles on the might
Of elephants and whales, we think that good,
If we look carefully. She’s just and wise,
For only when ill will and massive strength
Are joined with mental power does it arise
60That the invincible is born. The length
And bulk of the great man-high bronze pine cone
In Rome before St. Peter’s: thus his head.
And he was huge not in his head alone:
His bones were in proportion. As I said,
The bank, his apron, hid him from the waist
On down, but up above he was on show
To such an altitude you could have placed
Three Frieslanders, whose startling height we know,
One on the next and they would vainly hope
70To reach his hair. From that notch where a man
Buckles his cloak you could have hung a rope
Straight down for seven strides. The mouth began
To cry: “Palabra wort kotoba word parole!”
Such senseless sounds had no sweet psalms to fit.
My Master cut him off: “You stupid soul,
Keep to your horn. With that you may emit
Your rage, or any passion. At your neck
You’ll find the strap that holds it tied. It lies
Across your pompous chest, you poor sad wreck.”
80To me: “He stands accused by how he cries,
And so condemns himself with scrambled speech:
Nimrod. The wicked tower was his design
We call Babel, by which all countries each
Have different tongues, and even yours is mine
Only in part. Let’s leave him there. Why talk
When every tongue to him is random sound
As his to all the others? Come, let’s walk.”
And so we set off, turning left, and found,
A bow-shot further on, another one,
90Far bigger and more savage. He’d been bound
By expert hands. Whose? Still, the job was done:
His left arm caught in front, his right behind
By one chain wound around the half that showed
In five coils. “This proud one was of a mind
To scale the heavens by a giants’ road—
Made from piled mountains that they went to find—
And challenge Jove. And this is his reward.”
So said my Leader. “He made his assault
When gods feared giants. Order was restored.
100  Ephialtes, this is, come to a halt.
The arms that once moved mountains move no more.”
And I to him: “Please may I see the vast
Briareus with my own eyes? You swore
In your book he had fifty heads. At last
I’ll see him for myself.” “The one for you,”
My Master said, “is near and speaks unchained:
Antaeus. He will lead us down into
The depths of guilt. There’s little to be gained
From him you want to see, who’s far ahead,
110  Bound up like this one and built much the same,
Except his face is fiercer.” So he said.
Ephialtes then shook his hulking frame
More violently than ever earthquake shook
A tower, and more than ever I feared death.
The terror of the sight was all it took,
Even without that chain, to take my breath.
So we went on and came to Antaeus,
Whose top half, from the rock up, stood the full
Five ells, or seven strides, and all this plus
120  The head. “You that once stood where Hannibal
And all his army lost to Scipio
In Libya, and turned their backs and ran—
That fateful valley—you that could not know
All that would happen there of Heaven’s plan,
But took for prey a thousand lions, you—
Through whom, had you been with your brothers when
They fought the gods, the dreams could have come true
Of those sons of the earth, who might have then
Had powers of conquest—now have this to do:
130  Take us below and set us down—nor should
You show disdain at this—down where the cold
Locks up Cocytus. It will do no good
To take us on to Tityus, that bold
Titan Apollo burned, nor to Typhon,
Buried in Etna. This man here can give
The thing you crave. Come, then, and take us on.
Forget that curling lip. By him you live:
He can restore your waning fame up there.
He is alive, and plans to stay that way
140  For a long time, unless Grace calls him where
It wants him sooner.” This I heard him say.
The giant then reached out the hands in haste
Whose mighty grip was felt by Hercules
And took my Guide. Feeling himself embraced,
Virgil looked down and said: “Come closer, please:
It’s your turn.” And he held me round the waist
To make one bundle of us both. Just as
Bologna’s tower, the Garisenda, seen
From underneath, persuades you that it has
150  An even greater angle to its lean
When clouds go over in the contrary
Direction to the way it hangs, so seemed
Antaeus when I watched him bend. For me
It was a moment when I might have deemed
A different road the better bet. But he
Set us down lightly there where Lucifer
I knew must be with Judas, in the deep,
Engulfed. Somewhere down here was where they were.
Our bending giant had a gate to keep.
160  He couldn’t stay like that, but like a mast
He straightened up—and we were there at last.
Had I the bitter, grating rhymes to fit
This grim hole on which all the other rocks
Bear down, I’d do a better job of it
When pressing out my thought’s sap. But what blocks
The flow is just that: my soft, childish tongue.
It is with fear that I begin to speak,
Because a language we employ when young
To call our mother “mummy” is too weak
To use, even in sport, when touching on
10The lowest level of the universe.
But may the Muses who helped Amphion
To build the walls of Thebes now reimburse
My service to them and give me the tools
To match the brute facts with the tale I tell.
Ah, traitors! Beyond all the separate schools
Of misbegotten sinners in this well
So hard to speak of, you had best have been
Brought here as sheep and goats! Down in the dark
Cistern below the giants’ feet we’d seen
20Only the wall above us, high and stark,
When I heard said to me: “Watch where you tread.
The wretched weary brothers locked below
Can’t move, and you might tread on someone’s head.”
At which I turned, and saw that it was so:
Before me and beneath my feet, a lake
Was made by ice to look much more like glass
Than water. Northern rivers, though you take
The Danube or the Don, could not surpass
This hardness even under their cold sky
30Of winter, when their veils grow thick to freeze
Their flow. A mountain would have had to fly
And fall on this from any height you please—
Mount Tambernic, or Pietrapana, I
Leave you to choose—for it to show a crack,
Or creak at the thin edge. And as the frog
That sits, with muzzle out and body slack
Below the water, will croak through the fog
Of reverie that wraps the peasant maid
Who gleans her flax, so, livid up to where
40Shame flushes in the face, each suffering shade
Lay in the ice, and all with their teeth bare
And set to make the sound of the stork’s bill.
Each keeps his face bent down, but testifies,
With how his mouth looks, to the killing chill,
Confessing his heart’s misery with his eyes.
I looked around awhile: then, at my feet,
I saw two pressed together so the hair
Of their heads mingled. I said: “You that meet
With such strain chest to chest while lying there,
50Who are you?” They bent back their necks, those two,
And when their faces were raised up, I saw
Their eyes, which had held tears as sad eyes do,
But all within the lids, now shed far more,
That spilled over the brim, and the frost tied
Their tears between them, and the two were locked
As hard as beam and beam lie side by side,
Squeezed by the clamp’s jaws. Whereupon, each shocked
The other. Butting heads, like goats they vied,
Such fury ruled them. And one who had lost
60Both ears from cold, his face still turned down, spoke:
“Why do you gaze so long into the frost
And see yourself with us, like frozen smoke?
If you would know who these two were, the stream
So sweetly named Bisenzio flows through
Their father’s valley, which it was the scheme
Of each to own, and that’s what led them to
Their crime against each other. From one womb
They came, and all of Caina you may search
And find no shade more suited to a tomb
70Of crystal ice. Their fate was to besmirch
Their father’s name, Alberto. Even he
Whose breast and shadow, pierced with just one blow
From Arthur, gaped so deep that men could see
Right through him, I mean Mordred, isn’t so
Deserving of the place that these hold, nor
Focaccia of Pistoia, who began
The feud of Blacks and Whites, nor him before
My eyes here, this infuriating man
Who constantly obstructs me with his head
80So that I can’t see past. He was Sassol
Mascheroni, who thought he merited
His nephew’s wealth, and killed him. If the roll
Of Florentines includes you, then his fame
Is known to you. But now, that you spare me
The task of talking further, know my name
Is Camicion de’ Pazzi. I will be
Exonerated by a greater shame,
Carlino’s, when a castle of the Whites
Is given up by him.” And after that
90I saw a thousand faces from dogfights
All snarling with the cold, so, looking at
A frozen pond, I shudder still today.
And when we neared the central point where all
Of gravity converges, on my way
In fear along the strange floor of that hall,
I shivered in the long chill. Then—by fate
Or chance, I can’t be sure which—as I stepped
Among the heads, I trod on one full weight,
Square in its face. It shouted as it wept:
100  “Why do you trample me? Unless you come
Because you think revenge for your defeat
At Montaperti has not reached a sum
Sufficient, why choose my poor cheeks to beat?
Because my face is cold, you think it numb?”
And I: “My Master, wait now for me here,
Before you make me hasten as you wish.
But first, through this man, I have doubts to clear.”
My Master stopped, and to the feverish
Blasphemer I said: “You that so revile
110  Another, who are you?” “And who are you,”
The answer came, “that walks the dreadful mile
Through Antenora—named for that man who
Betrayed Troy to the Greeks—and kicks my face
Harder than if he lived?” “I live indeed,”
I said, “And if in fame you seek a place
So that your name is seen by all who read,
My noting it may be worth much to you.”
And he to me: “I crave the opposite.
Get out of here, if that’s all you can do,
120  And give me no more grief. You lack the wit
To flatter at this depth.” And then I took
Him by the hair and said: “Your name, right now,
Or I will make your scalp an open book.”
And then he said: “Even if you knew how
To strip me bald, my name you’ll not be told,
Nor would I tell you even if you fell
Upon my helpless head a thousandfold.”
I had his hair already in my fist,
Twisted, one tuft torn out, and set for more.
130  He barked but held his head down as my wrist
Quivered to tear again. “But why so sore,
Bocca?” cried someone else. “You’re not content
With jawbone music? Now you have to bark?
What devil drives you to this new lament?”
“Well, now that I’m no longer in the dark,”
I said, “foul traitor, I can take, in spite
Of you, a true report.” “Say what you like,
Just go,” he said. “But back there in the light
Be sure, of him just now so keen to strike,
140  You tell the tale. For down here he laments
The silver the French gave him when he waved
Them into Italy. Speak in this sense:
Just say ‘I saw him of Duero, saved
To cool with all the other traitors.’ Should
They ask you who was here, beside you lies,
From Beccheria, he that planned no good
Against the Guelphs in Florence, and his prize
Was getting his throat slit. Sent by the Pope,
And then sent here. And then there’s that two-faced
150  Gianni de’ Soldanier, at last, we hope,
Pleased that he knows exactly how he’s placed,
Who should have hung from both ends of a rope.
And further on is Ganelon, the cause
Of Roland’s death, traitor to Charlemagne,
And Tebaldello who flung wide the doors
Of slumbering Faenza so that pain
Could enter in.” But we had left him there
Already, when I saw two in one hole,
Fast frozen so that one head seemed to wear
160  The other for a hood, and the damned soul
Above was fastened on the one below
As hungry men chew bread, but at the spot
Where brain and neck’s nape meet. Exactly so,
Tydeus of the Seven Kings, who got
His mortal wound from Menalippus, chewed
The temples of his killer, from sheer rage.
This one assaulted, as if they were food,
The skull and other parts. “You there, that wage
A war of hatred against him you eat
170  And prove it with the signs of a mad beast,
Why do you do this?” I asked. “Let us meet
In this agreement. If there is at least
Some reason for your manner of complaint
Against him, I, if only I knew you
And what his sin was, could remove the taint
From your name in the world above. It’s true
The tongue I talk with has to stay intact.
So far it has. So far it hasn’t cracked.”
Lifting his mouth from that most savage kind
Of meal, the sinner wiped it on the hair
Of just the head he’d wasted from behind,
And thus began: “You ask me to declare
A desperate grief which, merely in my mind,
Torments my heart before I talk. And yet
If what I say could be the seed that bore
The fruit of infamy for him I get
My only food from, I will speak, and more:
10I’ll speak and weep together. I can’t guess
Who you might be, and by what means you came
Down here, but when I hear your bold address
I sense a Florentine. So know my name:
Count Ugolino. The Archbishop here,
Ruggieri, is my neighbour. Let me tell
You why. How by his wiles he drew me near
To him, and won my trust so that I fell
Beneath his thrall, was captured, and was slain:
I needn’t say all that. But what you don’t
20Know yet—just how my death in pain
Was cruel beyond imagining—you won’t
Be spared from hearing, and then you may see
How wrong he was. A mere slit in the wall
Of that loft they named Hunger after me—
And in which others yet, beyond recall
Will be shut up—had shown me through its chink
Already several moons, when a bad dream
Shredded the veil of all I liked to think
The future held. This man was made to seem
30A lord and master hunting wolf and whelps
On that high hill for which the Pisans can’t
See Lucca. With hounds lean, trained, their cruel yelps
Echoing eagerly, he’d sent—I shan’t
Pretend I didn’t see the wolves were meant
For people—his prey racing out ahead,
And soon, from fear and effort, the legs went
In father and in son, and then they bled
From flanks pulled open, slain where they fell spent,
Ripped up by sharp fangs. The Gualandi died,
40Along with the Sismondi. Pieces torn
From the Lanfranchi were strewn far and wide.
It was a shambles. Then, before the dawn,
When I awoke, I heard my children cry
While still asleep—but I forgot to warn
You of this news, that they were there—and I
Could hear them beg for bread. You’re cruel indeed
If you do not grieve, now you have in view
What my sad heart foresaw: and if you need
Worse things to make you weep, then when do you
50Weep ever? But by now they were awake.
Our meagre daily ration was now due.
Each boy was still afraid from the heartache
Felt in his dream, and then I heard, below,
That foul keep’s front door being shut with nails.
At which, without a word, lest they should know
From my voice how a heart feels when it fails,
I looked into the faces of my sons.
I didn’t weep, for I had turned to stone
Within. They wept, and of my little ones,
60Anselm, the smallest, said, all on his own,
‘Father, why do you look like that? What’s wrong?’
And still I shed no tears, nor all that day
Gave answer. And the next night was so long,
And still I didn’t, till the first small ray
Of light from the next sun had reached the world,
And as that beam invaded our sad cell
I saw, lit clearly where its flag unfurled,
Four faces, and I knew then, all too well,
Those faces looked like mine. I bit my hands
70For grief, but why they thought it must have been
For hunger, any starved man understands.
They rose as one. You must know what I mean
When I say that all four said the same thing:
Their voices added up to this. ‘Far less
Pain there will be for us if you should feed
On us, Father. For you gave us the dress
Of mortal flesh. Now it is what you need,
So take it back.’ And, not to make them more
Unhappy, I was silent. For two days
80We all were. And how was it you forbore
To open up, hard Earth? Did you want praise
For steadfastness? And then the fourth day dawned,
And Gaddo threw himself down at my feet.
‘Father,’ he cried, ‘how is it you have scorned
To help me? Is there anything to eat?’
He died then, and, as you see me, I saw
My other three, in two days, dying one
By one, and though I heard them breathe no more
I held them close, and stroked them, while the sun
90Came back twice. I kept calling them by name,
And felt for them, for I was blind by then.
And then the strength of hunger overcame
Even my grief.” That said, he seized again
Just as before, but with his eyes aslant,
That wretched skull, and how his teeth were strong
You’d have to measure by the way dogs plant
Their fangs in bones. Ah, Pisa! Though the song
Of our word “yes” joins all of Italy
Including you, you still shame all the rest.
100  Your neighbours for some reason leave you free
Of punishment. Here’s how it would be best:
Capraia and Gorgona, out to sea,
Shift in and bar the Arno’s mouth, to drown
Your every soul. Count Ugolino had
The name of selling out and bringing down
Your strongholds, and that fault, I grant, was bad:
But torturing his children, that was worse—
And that was you. Youth made them innocent.
Besides the two I just named in my verse,
110  Brigata, Uguccione also went
Through agony because of you we call
The new Thebes for your barbarous cruelties.
And further on, another tribe were all
Swathed roughly in thick ice but did not freeze
Face downward. They froze face up. Weeping there
Allows no weeping. Pain, trapped in the eyes,
Turns inward to increase itself, for where
The first tears coalesce, they crystallize
Into a visor: underneath the brow
120  Each cup was full. And though my frozen face
Felt nothing, like a callus, still somehow
I felt the wind, and more than just a trace.
“Master,” I said, “What causes this? I thought
All heat down here was quenched.” And he to me:
“Your eyes will soon be able to report
Directly, for the cause you’ll plainly see
That drives the blast.” And from his frozen crust
One of the wretches cried: “O souls so cruel
You roam free in the last pit of despair,
130  Lift off my brittle veils and break the rule,
That I might just a little give release
To the sadness that swells my heart, before
My tears freeze up again. So they will cease
Where they began.” And I to him: “You wish
My help? Then tell me who you are, and should
I fail you, may I go down like a fish
To the bottom of the ice.” He understood,
And spoke. “I am the evil garden’s fruit,
Fra Alberigo, he who called down doom
140  On his own brother, and his son to boot.
I asked for fruit there in the dining room.
That was the sign. Now, here, in this cold tomb,
It’s date for fig: which means that my return
On outlay is far more than I foresaw.”
I said: “You mean you’re dead? I live and learn.”
“My body’s life up there is a closed door
To me,” he said. “This zone that gathers in
The treacherous to guests—and so is named
For Ptolemy, exemplar of that sin—
150  Is ranked so high that some who have been shamed
Come sooner to their fate than Atropos
Determines death. That you might lift the glaze
Of grief from my eyes with less sense of loss,
Know that a soul like mine, when it betrays,
Loses its body to a devil who
Controls it henceforth till its time comes round:
And then, this tank is where the soul comes to,
Falling headlong. The body might be found
Above of this shade spending winter here
160  Behind me. You must know. You just came down.
Ser Branca d’Oria. And many a year
Has passed since he fell to his cold renown,
Locked in the ice.” “You’re fooling me, I fear,”
I said, “For Branca d’Oria never died.
He eats and drinks, wears clothes, lies down in sleep.”
And he: “Up in the ditch of the black tide,
Where Evil-Claws tend sticky pitch and keep
Watch on the bubbles, they had not yet seen
A sign of Michael Zanche when this shade
170  Gave up its body to an imp. He’d been
In league with a near kinsman. They both made—
With Branca’s father-in-law caught in between—
The mischief, and that other, there, acquired
A devil for his body so his soul
Could come to us. Now do what I desired.
Reach out your hand and make my poor eyes whole.
Open them up.” And I did not, and felt
That it was courtesy to scorn the hopes
Of that man. Let his eyes wait till they melt.
180  Ah, Genoese, you that know all the ropes
Of deep corruption yet know not the first
Thing of good custom, how are you not flung
Out of this world? For right there with the worst
Romagna has to offer I was faced
With one of you who for his deeds is cursed:
In soul, to lie there in the frozen lake—
In body, through the world to walk awake.
“Vexilla Regis,” said my Leader in
His tongue, “perveneunt inferni.” I
Thus knew the banners of the Prince of Sin
Were near upon us. Virgil: “Therefore try
To look ahead. See if you can discern
The Evil One.” As when thick fog or night
Comes to our hemisphere and we see turn
A windmill in the distance, such a sight
I seemed to see, a structure of that kind.
10Then, for the wind, and lacking barricades
Against its brute force, I drew back behind
My Guide. I was already where the shades—
It is with fear I set this down in rhymes—
Were wholly covered, and showed through the ice
Like straws in glass, and there, a thousand times
In different ways, they all paid the same price.
Some lay down either way, some were erect,
With either head or feet up. Some were bows
Bent face to feet. Deep down, I could detect,
20Were more, and off to either side, who knows?
When we’d gone far enough that my Guide thought
It good to show me him who once was fair,
The brightest of the Seraphim who fought
Michael in Heaven, Virgil moved aside
From just in front of me and made me halt.
“Behold Dis, and the sad place,” said my Guide,
“Where your resolve must be without a fault.”
Reader, don’t ask how chill and faint I turned:
I couldn’t write it. All the words would fail.
30I didn’t die, but couldn’t live. I learned
What living death and death-in-life entail.
But you must ponder, if you have the wit,
What I, denied both life and death, became.
The evil Emperor stood forth in his pit
From his mid-chest on up, and just the same
Or worse as my arm to a giant’s arm,
A giant’s arm to his compares, so think
How huge his whole capacity for harm
Must be. His mighty strength gives you the link
40Between his two lives. If his beauty was
A match for all the foulness he has now,
We see that all our sorrow came because
He set his face against his Maker. How
Miraculous it seemed, what I now saw.
He had three faces: the front one was red,
And on each side of that he had one more,
Each ending at mid-shoulder. Overhead
All three joined at the crown. The right-hand face
Was whitish yellow, and the left-hand one
50Recalled in looks the people of that place
The Nile comes down from, stared at by the sun.
Between each face two giant wings emerged
Of size to suit so big a head, and sails
At sea I never saw like these. Quite purged
Of feathers, like a bat’s, they beat like flails
To generate the three winds by which all
Cocytus is kept frozen. With six eyes
He wept, and three chins let the foul tears fall,
And bloody foam. Each mouth was of a size
60To take a sinner, torn up by the teeth
As with a harrow, and worse were the claws
That stripped their backs to show the bones beneath.
“The soul up there most punished, and for cause,
Is Judas,” said my Guide. “With just his legs
He signals pain. His head is not on show.
We do not see or hear the way he begs
For that same mercy he did not bestow.
And of the other two with heads outside
That triple throat, the noble one that hangs
70From the black face is Brutus, once the pride
Of Rome. But now his words, pierced by those fangs,
Are lost. And there’s his fellow regicide,
Cassius. So they expiate their crime.
But night ascends again. We ought to move,
For we have seen all, and we’re short of time.
This journey took time even to approve.”
Just as he wished, I clasped him round the neck.
He watched his chance of time and place and when
Those wings were spread he left the icy deck
80And caught hold of the furry flank, and then,
From tuft to tuft between the matted hair
And frozen crusts, went down. When we had found
The thigh’s turn, at the swelling haunch, just there,
My Leader strained to bring his head around
To where his legs had been, and caught the fur
Like someone climbing up. I thought for one
Bad moment we’d be back to where we were,
In Hell. “Hold on,” he panted as if done,
“From so much evil we need stairs like these
90To get away.” And he passed through the cleft
Of a great rock, just squeezing by degrees,
And sat me on the edge, where I was left
To wait until his cautious step reached out.
I raised my eyes to Satan. There he was,
As he had been, but he was turned about,
Legs upward. If I was perplexed, I pause
To let the dull decide, who do not guess
The point that I had passed. (The central knot
Of this world: there, I’ve said it.) Saying less,
100  My Master, thus: “Get up, for we have got
A long, hard road to go, and yet the first
Hour after sunrise is exhausted.” This
Place was a dungeon carved when crushed cliffs burst.
No palace hall, it had floors you could miss
Your footing on if light were not the worst,
And yet it swayed me to analysis.
“Master, before I extricate myself
From this abyss,” I said as I arose,
“I have perplexities still on the shelf.
110  Clear them a little. Here’s one case to close:
Where is the ice? And how did he get fixed
Heels over head? How is it sunlight flies
Without a pause, as if the two were mixed,
Unhindered between sunset and sunrise?”
And he to me: “You think you linger yet
On the far side of the centre, where I took
Hold of the pelt of him you can’t forget,
That evil worm who pierces with his nook
The middle of the world. But just so long
120  As I descended, you were on that side,
And when I turned, you passed where all weights throng
Together, drawn from all parts by the tide
Of heaviness, and now you are below
The hemisphere opposed to that which swathes
The great dry land, whose zenith, as we know,
Shines on Jerusalem, and therefore bathes
The hill where that Man who was born to live
Without a single sin was brought to die
For all of you. There’s none he can’t forgive
130  Except us who were born too soon. But try
To think of where you are now as a sphere:
A little sphere you stand on, the reverse
Face of Judecca. When it’s morning here
It’s evening there, and him that we so curse,
Whose hair we made a ladder of, is still
Fixed as he was. On this side he fell down
From Heaven, and the land which used to fill
This space, before the sea came in to drown
The whole lot, chose the sea to make a veil
140  For fear of him, and came up to our sky:
Perhaps to flee from him, all here turned tail
And rushed up, leaving emptiness. That’s why
This Hell-hole parallels on such a scale
A mountain you will soon see.” Down there is
A place set at the far end of the tomb
From where Beelzebub presides in his
Grim glory, a place known from the long boom,
Not for the sight, of that stream which descends
Through rock worn hollow by its winding course
150  And gentle slope. And here the journey ends
Through Hell, where that sad flood is a spent force—
Which later on, as Lethe, makes amends.
My Guide and I were on the hidden road
That leads back out to where the world is bright.
No need for rest. We bore an easy load:
The task of getting back to the sweet light.
And up we went, he first, I second, to
The point where I could see an opening.
And it was there I saw, when I looked through,
160  A sight more wonderful than anything—
Some of the loveliness revealed to men
By Heaven. We could see the stars again.