Thursday, March 13, 2014

Inferno XIV: The Old Poet's Story


Ox Herding Picture 10 by Rinzai Zen monk Shobun,
15th Century
 The Old Poet's Story

"My native place
constrained me.
Then came the confine,
the second where justice
is manifest upon its bed.
About as sad was fashion
made to be dreaded,
that which naked souls beheld
weeping over a law
drawn up about
who were less,
who fall upon the ground
extinguished.

Descending, shaking,
I ripen, become aware,
questioning,

'Am I dead?
Forge, force, torment, complete me!
Kings own ornaments.
So downward I enter
the gate whose threshold
no one is denied.'

These words I prayed wasted,
king of a moutain
worn out.
a grand old man who shoulders
refined, pure, kiln-baked clay
and stands."

So he narrated,
and I journeyed far
to new amazement and found
silent rain, water
where the burning are extinguished.



Inferno: Canto XIV, Longfellow, tr.

Because the charity of my native place   Constrained me, gathered I the scattered leaves,   And gave them back to him, who now was hoarse.  Then came we to the confine, where disparted   The second round is from the third, and where   A horrible form of Justice is beheld.  Clearly to manifest these novel things,   I say that we arrived upon a plain,   Which from its bed rejecteth every plant;  The dolorous forest is a garland to it   All round about, as the sad moat to that;   There close upon the edge we stayed our feet.  The soil was of an arid and thick sand,   Not of another fashion made than that   Which by the feet of Cato once was pressed.  Vengeance of God, O how much oughtest thou   By each one to be dreaded, who doth read   That which was manifest unto mine eyes!  Of naked souls beheld I many herds,   Who all were weeping very miserably,   And over them seemed set a law diverse.  Supine upon the ground some folk were lying;   And some were sitting all drawn up together,   And others went about continually.  Those who were going round were far the more,   And those were less who lay down to their torment,   But had their tongues more loosed to lamentation.  O'er all the sand-waste, with a gradual fall,   Were raining down dilated flakes of fire,   As of the snow on Alp without a wind.  As Alexander, in those torrid parts   Of India, beheld upon his host   Flames fall unbroken till they reached the ground.  Whence he provided with his phalanxes   To trample down the soil, because the vapour   Better extinguished was while it was single;  Thus was descending the eternal heat,   Whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder   Beneath the steel, for doubling of the dole.  Without repose forever was the dance   Of miserable hands, now there, now here,   Shaking away from off them the fresh gleeds.  "Master," began I, "thou who overcomest   All things except the demons dire, that issued   Against us at the entrance of the gate,  Who is that mighty one who seems to heed not   The fire, and lieth lowering and disdainful,   So that the rain seems not to ripen him?"  And he himself, who had become aware   That I was questioning my Guide about him,   Cried: "Such as I was living, am I, dead.  If Jove should weary out his smith, from whom   He seized in anger the sharp thunderbolt,   Wherewith upon the last day I was smitten,  And if he wearied out by turns the others   In Mongibello at the swarthy forge,   Vociferating, 'Help, good Vulcan, help!'  Even as he did there at the fight of Phlegra,   And shot his bolts at me with all his might,   He would not have thereby a joyous vengeance."  Then did my Leader speak with such great force,   That I had never heard him speak so loud:   "O Capaneus, in that is not extinguished  Thine arrogance, thou punished art the more;   Not any torment, saving thine own rage,   Would be unto thy fury pain complete."  Then he turned round to me with better lip,   Saying: "One of the Seven Kings was he   Who Thebes besieged, and held, and seems to hold  God in disdain, and little seems to prize him;   But, as I said to him, his own despites   Are for his breast the fittest ornaments.  Now follow me, and mind thou do not place   As yet thy feet upon the burning sand,   But always keep them close unto the wood."  Speaking no word, we came to where there gushes   Forth from the wood a little rivulet,   Whose redness makes my hair still stand on end.  As from the Bulicame springs the brooklet,   The sinful women later share among them,   So downward through the sand it went its way.  The bottom of it, and both sloping banks,   Were made of stone, and the margins at the side;   Whence I perceived that there the passage was.  "In all the rest which I have shown to thee   Since we have entered in within the gate   Whose threshold unto no one is denied,  Nothing has been discovered by thine eyes   So notable as is the present river,   Which all the little flames above it quenches."  These words were of my Leader; whence I prayed him   That he would give me largess of the food,   For which he had given me largess of desire.  "In the mid-sea there sits a wasted land,"   Said he thereafterward, "whose name is Crete,   Under whose king the world of old was chaste.  There is a mountain there, that once was glad   With waters and with leaves, which was called Ida;   Now 'tis deserted, as a thing worn out.  Rhea once chose it for the faithful cradle   Of her own son; and to conceal him better,   Whene'er he cried, she there had clamours made.  A grand old man stands in the mount erect,   Who holds his shoulders turned tow'rds Damietta,   And looks at Rome as if it were his mirror.  His head is fashioned of refined gold,   And of pure silver are the arms and breast;   Then he is brass as far down as the fork.  From that point downward all is chosen iron,   Save that the right foot is of kiln-baked clay,   And more he stands on that than on the other.  Each part, except the gold, is by a fissure   Asunder cleft, that dripping is with tears,   Which gathered together perforate that cavern.  From rock to rock they fall into this valley;   Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon they form;   Then downward go along this narrow sluice  Unto that point where is no more descending.   They form Cocytus; what that pool may be   Thou shalt behold, so here 'tis not narrated."  And I to him: "If so the present runnel   Doth take its rise in this way from our world,   Why only on this verge appears it to us?"  And he to me: "Thou knowest the place is round,   And notwithstanding thou hast journeyed far,   Still to the left descending to the bottom,  Thou hast not yet through all the circle turned.   Therefore if something new appear to us,   It should not bring amazement to thy face."  And I again: "Master, where shall be found   Lethe and Phlegethon, for of one thou'rt silent,   And sayest the other of this rain is made?"  "In all thy questions truly thou dost please me,"   Replied he; "but the boiling of the red   Water might well solve one of them thou makest.  Thou shalt see Lethe, but outside this moat,   There where the souls repair to lave themselves,   When sin repented of has been removed."  Then said he: "It is time now to abandon   The wood; take heed that thou come after me;   A way the margins make that are not burning,  And over them all vapours are extinguished."  

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