The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

Italian Literature

Page 3

From Limbo the poet descends into the second circle, where the sin of lust is punished. The souls in this circle are driven forever round in a tyrannous gust of wind. They see Cleopatra and Helen and Paris and Tristan and many others whom Virgil names to the poet. Finally he sees two spirits approaching, whom he asks permission to address. To these he spoke:

"O wearied spirits! come, and hold discourse

With us, if by none else restrain'd." As doves

By fond desire invited, on wide wings

And firm, to their sweet nest returning home,

Cleave the air, wafted by their will along;

Thus issued, from that troop where Dido ranks,

They, through the ill air speeding: with such force

My cry prevail'd, by strong affection urged.

"O gracious creatures and benign! who go'st

Visiting, through this element obscure,

Us, who the world with bloody stain imbrued;

If, for a friend, the King of all, we own'd,

Our prayer to him should for thy peace arise,

Since thou hast pity on our evil plight.

Of whatsoe'er to hear or to discourse

It pleases thee, that will we hear, of that

Freely with thee discourse, while e'er the wind,

As now, is mute. The land (8) that gave me birth

Is situate on the coast, where Po descends

To rest in ocean with his sequent streams.

"Love, that in gentle heart is quickly learnt,

Entangled him by that fair form, from me

Ta'en in such cruel sort, as grieves me still:

Love, that denial takes from none beloved,

Caught me with pleasing him so passing well,

That, as thou seest, he yet deserts me not.

Love brought us to one death: Caina (9) waits

The soul, who split our life." Such were their words;

At hearing which, downward I bent my looks,

And held them there so long, that the bard cried:

"What art thou pondering?" I in answer thus:

"Alas! by what sweet thoughts, what fond desire

Must they at length to that ill pass have reach'd!"

Then turning, I to them my speech addressed,

And thus began: "Francesca! your sad fate

Even to tears my grief and pity moves.

But tell me; in the time of your sweet sighs,

By what, and how Love granted, that ye knew

Your yet uncertain wishes?" She replied:

"No greater grief than to remember days

Of joy, when misery is at hand. That kens

Thy learn'd instructor. Yet so eagerly

If thou art bent to know the primal root,

From whence our love gat being, I will do

As one, who weeps and tells his tale. One day,

For our delight we read of Lancelot, (10)

How him love thrall'd. Alone we were, and no

Suspicion near us. Oft-times by that reading

Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue

Fled from our alter'd cheek. But at one point

Alone we fell. When of that smile we read,

The wished smile so rapturously kiss'd

By one so deep in love, then he, who ne'er

From me shall separate, at once my lips

All trembling kiss'd. The book and writer both

Were love's purveyors. In its leaves that day

We read no more." While thus one spirit spake,

The other wailed so sorely, that heart-struck

I, through compassion fainting, seem'd not far

From death, and like a corse fell to the ground.

III. Farinata. From the Inferno.

The poet and his guide descend through the third circle where the sin of gluttony is punished; through the fourth, where they find the prodigal and avaricious; through the fifth where immersed in a filthy pool are the souls of the irascible.

The sixth circle is the city of Dis, with walls of heated iron, filled within with open fiery tombs from which issue the groans of the heretics who are punished here. With two of these, Farinata degli Uberti (11) and Cavalcante Cavalcanti, (12) Dante holds converse.

Now by a secret pathway we proceed,

Between the walls that hem the region round,

And the tormented souls: my master first,

I close behind his steps. "Virtue supreme!"

I thus began: "who through these ample orbs

In circuit lead'st me, even as thou will'st;

Speak thou, and satisfy my wish. May those,

Who lie within these sepulchres, be seen?

Already all the lids are raised, and none

O'er them keeps watch." He thus in answer spake:

"They shall be closed all, what-time they here

From Josaphat (13) return'd shall come, and bring

Their bodies, which above they now have left.

The cemetary on this part obtain,

With Epicurus, all his followers,

Who with the body make the spirit die.

Here therefore satisfaction shall be soon,

Both to the question ask'd, and to the wish (14)

Which thou conceal'st in silence." I replied:

"I keep not, guide beloved! from thee my heart

Secreted, but to shun vain length of words;

Endnotes

8. The land that gave me birth---Ravenna.  (back)

9. Caina, the place to which murderers are doomed.  (back)

10. Lancelot, one of the knights of the Round Table, the lover of Queen Guinevere.  (back)

11. Farinata degli Uberti, a Florentine of great military ability, a leader of the Ghibelline, or imperial, party.  (back)

12. Cavalcante Cavalcanti, a Florentine, of the Guelph, or Papal, party.  (back)

13. It was a common opinion that the general judgment would be held in the valley of Josaphat, or Jehoshaphat. Joel iii., 2.  (back)

14. The wish---Dante's wish was to speak with the followers of Epicurus, of whom were Farinata and Cavalcante.  (back)

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