DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 3
Hell: Chapter 3
ENTER THROUGH ME A CITY OF ENDLESS WOE.
ENTER THROUGH ME ETERNAL AGONY
ENTER AND JOIN THE DAMNED LOST SOULS BELOW. 3
CREATIVE LOVE, CREATIVE INTELLECT
ESTABLISHED ME FOR ALL ETERNITY.
INFINITE JUSTICE IS MY ARCHITECT. 6
NOTHING EXISTED BEFORE I WAS MADE.
NOTHING EXISTING WILL ESCAPE MY SCOPE.
ALL YOU WHO ENTER HERE, ABANDON HOPE! 9
These fearful words carved deeply I could see
above a great dark doorway, so I cried,
“O master, do these words apply to me?” 12
Like a good teacher giving calm advice,
“Don’t think that I mislead you,” he replied.
“By now you should have lost your cowardice. 15
I am assigned (recall) to help you view
the final state of those dead sinners who
choose to corrupt the goodness of their mind.” 18
Smiling to cheer me on, he took my hand
and led me in beside a dreadful band
who hurt my ears with horrid lamentation. 21
Screams, wails, howls, groans and other ugly cries
went blasting by us in a starless dark
with skirls of rancorous denunciation, 24
arguments yelled in tongues of every nation
or hoarsely growled, or hissed in execration,
mingled with bitter moaning, sobs and sighs 27
that had me weeping too in emulation.
This madly squealing, roaring, snarling throng
arms flailing, clutching hands and trampling feet, 30
went reeling, shambling, charging, tumbling by,
like sands in whirlwinds, birling round and round
until their foggy billows hide the sky. 33
This ghastly crowd and din so filled my head
I gazed upon my guide and whispered, “Why?”
“These timid sinners stood aside,” he said, 36
“when strong oppressors tyrannise and slay.
They may feel sympathetic to the weak
but think it wise to keep out of the way. 39
When Satan, God’s prime minister, first planned
to rule the universe, he raised a band
of rebels who split Heaven in two, it seemed, 42
until some moderate angels formed a team
to stay aloof from holiness and sin
until they saw which side was going to win. 45
They were the foremost damned when virtue won.
Outcasts of Hell and Heaven, here they run.”
“But Master,” I asked, “why do they yell so loud?” 48
He said, “This sorry crowd have the distress
of being altogether meaningless.
They envy now the fate of everyone 51
whose deeds and misdeeds will preserve their name
in memory, through good or evil fame.
Justice and mercy both reject them, so 54
we’ll speak no more of them. Look, and let’s go.”
I looked and saw a whirling flag ahead,
chased by such multitudes, I never knew 57
such millions had been numbered with the dead,
but one I knew, that cowardly Pope, who
elected to reform the church’s sins, 60
fearing to foul his hands by that, withdrew,
true to himself, but to our God untrue.
Hornets that stung like daggers sped this race 63
of frantic nudity, so tears, sweat, blood,
splashing the ground from every limb and face
were sucked by worms wriggling in trampled mud. 66
Beyond that rushing rabble I could see,
though dimly lit, a mighty river’s shore
with quite a different crowd congesting it, 69
pressing and jostling. They looked to me
like people keen to reach the other side.
I asked my guide, “What are they waiting for?” 72
“Wait and you’ll see,” was all that he replied.
We reached the river. From the other shore
I saw a ferry-boat come shooting out, 75
rowed by a hoary ancient with white hair
who, when he neared our side, began to shout,
“Welcome to grief and welcome to despair 78
you wicked ghosts! No glimpse of heavenly light
for you again, condemned to endless night,
with scorching heat or agonising frost. 81
Welcome to what forever hurts you most!
But you – a living man – cannot cross here.
My only business is to shift the dead 84
so go another way, and fast!” he said.
I did not move. “Trespasser, go!” he roared,
“I cannot carry you! Ghosts are my freight! 87
This boat can’t bear a living body’s weight.”
“Don’t bluster, Charon. You’ll convey this man,”
my master said. “On high it has been willed 90
your boat shall take him, so of course it can.”
The quiet reasoning of this reply
shut the grim captain’s mouth, although his rage 93
glowed in a ring of flame around each eye
glaring upon the crowded landing stage
where his rude voice turned the bare bodies white 96
and set teeth chattering. Gibbering with fright
or wailing with it, those damned souls cursed God,
mankind, themselves, cursed worst their parents’ bed, 99
the genitals and womb whence they were bred.
Beckoned by Charon, one by one they fell
downward like hawks swooping into his boat 102
or spinning down like drifts of autumn leaves
abandoning a tree to coat the ground.
That demon with the eyes like flaming coals 105
packed tightly in his cargo of damned souls,
whacking the hindmost smartly with his oar.
I went out with them over the dark water 108
and as we left behind the nearest shore
I saw it was as crowded as before.
My kindly teacher said to me, “My son, 111
no nation is without a downward path
on which the dead are flocking here – each one
who dies within the shadow of God’s wrath. 114
Their weight of guilt, by force of gravity,
drags them all quickly down for punishment
at the true depth of their iniquity, 117
a state they want, yet dread. No gleam of light
(which they reject) diverts that downward flight
to the right pain. Charon conveys them there, 120
so hates conveying you who go elsewhere.”
We reached the further shore and disembarked
onto a desolate and gloomy plain 123
shaking with earthquakes, and I saw it split
by a great gust of wind erupting out
black coiling clouds with crimson lightning lit. 126
So shocking was the sight that even yet,
despite worse things I later saw in Hell,
the recollection soaks my skin with sweat. 129
Exhausted then, I fell down in a fit.