Through me the road to the city of desolation,
Through me the road to the sorrows diuturnal,
Through me the road among the lost creation.
Justice moved my great maker; god eternal
Wrought me: the power, and the unsearchably
High wisdom, and the primal love supernal.
Nothing ere I was made was made to be
Save things eterne, and I eterne abide;
Lay down all hope, you that go in by me.
These words, of sombre colour, I descried
Writ on the lintel of a gateway; "Sir,
This sentence is right hard for me," I cried.
And like a man of quick discernment: "Here
Lay down all thy distrust," said he, "reject
Dead from within thee every coward fear;
We've reached the place I told thee to expect,
Where thou shoudst see the miserable race,
Those who have lost the good of intellect."
He laid his hand on mine, and with a face
So joyous that it comforted my quailing,
Into the hidden things he led my ways.
Here sighing, and here crying, and loud railing
Smote on the starless air, with lamentation,
So that at first I wept to hear such wailing.
Tongues mixed and mingled, horrible execration,
Shrill shrieks, hoarse groans, fierce yells and hideous blether
And clapping of hands thereto, without cessation
Made tumult through the timeless night, that hither
And thither drives in dizzying circles sped,
As whirlwind whips the spinning sands together.
Whereat, with horror flapping round my head:
"Master, what's this I hear? Who can they be,
These people so distraught with grief?" I said.
And he replied: "The dismal company
Of wretched spirits thus find their guerdon due
Whose lives knew neither praise nor infamy;
They're mingled with that caitiff angle-crew
Who against God rebelled not, nor to Him
Were faithful, but to self alone were true;
Heaven cast them forth - their presence there would dim
The light; deep Hell rejects so base a herd,
Lest sin should boast itself because of them.
Then I: "But, Master, by what torment spurred
Are they driven on to vent such bitter breath?"
He answered: "I will tell thee in a word:
This dreary huddle has no hope of death,
Yet its blind life trails on so low and crass
That every other fate it envieth.
No reputation in the world it has,
Mercy and doom hold it alike in scorn -
Let us not speak of these; but look, and pass."
So I beheld, and lo! an ensign borne
Whirling, that span and ran, as in disdain
Of any rest; and there the folk forlorn
Rushed after it, in such an endless train,
It never would have entered in my head
There were so many men whom death had slain.
And when I'd noted here and there a shade
Whose face I knew, I saw and recognised
The coward spirit of the man who made
The great refusal; and that proof sufficed;
Here was that rabble, here without a doubt,
Whom God and whom His enemies despised.
This scum, who'd never lived, now fled about
Naked and groaned, for a swarm of fierce
Hornets and wasps stung all the wretched rout
Until their cheeks ran blood, whose slubbered smears,
Mingled with brine , around their footsteps fell,
Where loathly worms licked up their blood and tears.
Then I peered on ahead, and soon quite well
Made out the hither bank of a wide stream,
Where stood much people. "Sir," said I, "pray tell
Who these are, what their custom, why they seem
So eager to pass over and be gone -
If I may trust my sight in this pale gleam."
And he to me: "The whole shall be made known;
Only have patience till we stay our feet
On yonder sorrowful shore of Acheron."
Abashed, I dropped my eyes; and, lest unmeet
Chatter should vex him, held my tongue, and so
Paced on with him, in silence and discreet,
To the riverside. When from the far bank lo!
A boat shot forth, whose white-haired boatman old
Bawled as he came: "Woe to the wicked! Woe!
Never you hope to look on Heaven - behold!
I come to ferry you hence across the tide
To endless night, fierce fires and shammering cold.
And thou, the living man there! stand aside
From these who are dead!" I budged not, but abode;
So, when he saw me hold my ground, he cried:
"Away with thee! for by another road
And other ferries thou shalt make the shore,
Not here; a lighter skiff must bear thy load."
Then said my guide: "Charon, why whilt thou roar
And chafe in vain? Thus it is willed where power
And will are one; enough; ask thou no more."
This shut the saggy mouth up of that sour
Infernal ferryman of the livid wash,
Only his flame-ringed eyeballs rolled a-glower.
But those outwearied, naked souls - how gash
And pale they grew, chattering their teeth for dread,
When first they felt his harsh tongue's cruel lash.
God they blaspheme, blaspheme their parents' bed,
The human race, the place, the time, the blood,
The seed that got them, and the womb that bred;
Then, huddling hugger-mugger, down they scud,
Dismally wailing, to the accursed strand
Which waits for every man that fears not God.
Charon, his eyes red like a burning brand,
Thumps with his oar the lingerers that delay,
And rounds them up, and beckons with his hand.
And as, by one and one, leaves drift away
In autumn, till the bough from which they fall
Sees the earth strewn with all its brave array,
So, from the bank there, one by one drop all
Adam's ill seed, when signalled off the mark,
As drops the falcon to the falconer's call.
Away they're borne across the waters dark,
And ere they land that side the stream, anon
Fresh troops this side come flocking to embark.
Then said my courteous master: "See, my son,
All those that died beneath God's righteous ire
From every country come here every one.
They press to pass the river, for the fire
Of heavenly justice stings and spurs them so
That all their fear is changed into desire;
And by this passage, good souls never go;
Therefore, if Charon chide thee, do thou look
What this may mean - 'tis not so hard to know."
When he thus said, the dusky champaign shook
So terribly that, thinking on the event,
I feel the sweat pour off me like a brook.
The sodden ground belched wind, and through the rent
Shot the red levin, with a flash and sweep
That robbed me of my wits, incontinent;
And down I fell, as one that swoons on sleep.
-Dante Alighieri 1302 A.D. (The Divine Comedy, Vol. I: Inferno, Canto III)