Canto XXI

 

From bridge to bridge thus, speaking other things

  Of which my Comedy cares not to sing,

  We came along, and held the summit, when

 

We halted to behold another fissure

5  Of Malebolge and other vain laments;

  And I beheld it marvellously dark.

 

As in the Arsenal of the Venetians

  Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch

  To smear their unsound vessels o'er again,

 

10For sail they cannot; and instead thereof

  One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks

  The ribs of that which many a voyage has made;

 

One hammers at the prow, one at the stern,

  This one makes oars, and that one cordage twists,

15  Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen;

 

Thus, not by fire, but by the art divine,

  Was boiling down below there a dense pitch

  Which upon every side the bank belimed.

 

I saw it, but I did not see within it

20  Aught but the bubbles that the boiling raised,

  And all swell up and resubside compressed.

 

The while below there fixedly I gazed,

  My Leader, crying out: "Beware, beware!"

  Drew me unto himself from where I stood.

 

25Then I turned round, as one who is impatient

  To see what it behoves him to escape,

  And whom a sudden terror doth unman,

 

Who, while he looks, delays not his departure;

  And I beheld behind us a black devil,

30  Running along upon the crag, approach.

 

Ah, how ferocious was he in his aspect!

  And how he seemed to me in action ruthless,

  With open wings and light upon his feet!

 

His shoulders, which sharp-pointed were and high,

35  A sinner did encumber with both haunches,

  And he held clutched the sinews of the feet.

 

From off our bridge, he said: "O Malebranche,

  Behold one of the elders of Saint Zita;

  Plunge him beneath, for I return for others

 

40Unto that town, which is well furnished with them.

  All there are barrators, except Bonturo;

  No into Yes for money there is changed."

 

He hurled him down, and over the hard crag

  Turned round, and never was a mastiff loosened

45  In so much hurry to pursue a thief.

 

The other sank, and rose again face downward;

  But the demons, under cover of the bridge,

  Cried: "Here the Santo Volto has no place!

 

Here swims one otherwise than in the Serchio;

50  Therefore, if for our gaffs thou wishest not,

  Do not uplift thyself above the pitch."

 

They seized him then with more than a hundred rakes;

  They said: "It here behoves thee to dance covered,

  That, if thou canst, thou secretly mayest pilfer."

 

55Not otherwise the cooks their scullions make

  Immerse into the middle of the caldron

  The meat with hooks, so that it may not float.

 

Said the good Master to me: "That it be not

  Apparent thou art here, crouch thyself down

60  Behind a jag, that thou mayest have some screen;

 

And for no outrage that is done to me

  Be thou afraid, because these things I know,

  For once before was I in such a scuffle."

 

Then he passed on beyond the bridge's head,

65  And as upon the sixth bank he arrived,

  Need was for him to have a steadfast front.

 

With the same fury, and the same uproar,

  As dogs leap out upon a mendicant,

  Who on a sudden begs, where'er he stops,

 

70They issued from beneath the little bridge,

  And turned against him all their grappling-irons;

  But he cried out: "Be none of you malignant!

 

Before those hooks of yours lay hold of me,

  Let one of you step forward, who may hear me,

75  And then take counsel as to grappling me."

 

They all cried out: "Let Malacoda go;"

  Whereat one started, and the rest stood still,

  And he came to him, saying: "What avails it?"

 

"Thinkest thou, Malacoda, to behold me

80  Advanced into this place," my Master said,

  "Safe hitherto from all your skill of fence,

 

Without the will divine, and fate auspicious?

  Let me go on, for it in Heaven is willed

  That I another show this savage road."

 

85Then was his arrogance so humbled in him,

  That he let fall his grapnel at his feet,

  And to the others said: "Now strike him not."

 

And unto me my Guide: "O thou, who sittest

  Among the splinters of the bridge crouched down,

90  Securely now return to me again."

 

Wherefore I started and came swiftly to him;

  And all the devils forward thrust themselves,

  So that I feared they would not keep their compact.

 

And thus beheld I once afraid the soldiers

95  Who issued under safeguard from Caprona,

  Seeing themselves among so many foes.

 

Close did I press myself with all my person

  Beside my Leader, and turned not mine eyes

  From off their countenance, which was not good.

 

100They lowered their rakes, and "Wilt thou have me hit him,"

  They said to one another, "on the rump?"

  And answered: "Yes; see that thou nick him with it."

 

But the same demon who was holding parley

  With my Conductor turned him very quickly,

105  And said: "Be quiet, be quiet, Scarmiglione;"

 

Then said to us: "You can no farther go

  Forward upon this crag, because is lying

  All shattered, at the bottom, the sixth arch.

 

And if it still doth please you to go onward,

110  Pursue your way along upon this rock;

  Near is another crag that yields a path.

 

Yesterday, five hours later than this hour,

  One thousand and two hundred sixty-six

  Years were complete, that here the way was broken.

 

115I send in that direction some of mine

  To see if any one doth air himself;

  Go ye with them; for they will not be vicious.

 

Step forward, Alichino and Calcabrina,"

  Began he to cry out, "and thou, Cagnazzo;

120  And Barbariccia, do thou guide the ten.

 

Come forward, Libicocco and Draghignazzo,

  And tusked Ciriatto and Graffiacane,

  And Farfarello and mad Rubicante;

 

Search ye all round about the boiling pitch;

125  Let these be safe as far as the next crag,

  That all unbroken passes o'er the dens."

 

"O me! what is it, Master, that I see?

  Pray let us go," I said, "without an escort,

  If thou knowest how, since for myself I ask none.

 

130If thou art as observant as thy wont is,

  Dost thou not see that they do gnash their teeth,

  And with their brows are threatening woe to us?"

 

And he to me: "I will not have thee fear;

  Let them gnash on, according to their fancy,

135  Because they do it for those boiling wretches."

 

Along the left-hand dike they wheeled about;

  But first had each one thrust his tongue between

  His teeth towards their leader for a signal;

 

And he had made a trumpet of his rump.