Canto I

 

To run o'er better waters hoists its sail

  The little vessel of my genius now,

  That leaves behind itself a sea so cruel;

 

And of that second kingdom will I sing

5  Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself,

  And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy.

 

But let dead Poesy here rise again,

  O holy Muses, since that I am yours,

  And here Calliope somewhat ascend,

 

10My song accompanying with that sound,

  Of which the miserable magpies felt

  The blow so great, that they despaired of pardon.

 

Sweet colour of the oriental sapphire,

  That was upgathered in the cloudless aspect

15  Of the pure air, as far as the first circle,

 

Unto mine eyes did recommence delight

  Soon as I issued forth from the dead air,

  Which had with sadness filled mine eyes and breast.

 

The beauteous planet, that to love incites,

20  Was making all the orient to laugh,

  Veiling the Fishes that were in her escort.

 

To the right hand I turned, and fixed my mind

  Upon the other pole, and saw four stars

  Ne'er seen before save by the primal people.

 

25Rejoicing in their flamelets seemed the heaven.

  O thou septentrional and widowed site,

  Because thou art deprived of seeing these!

 

When from regarding them I had withdrawn,

  Turning a little to the other pole,

30  There where the Wain had disappeared already,

 

I saw beside me an old man alone,

  Worthy of so much reverence in his look,

  That more owes not to father any son.

 

A long beard and with white hair intermingled

35  He wore, in semblance like unto the tresses,

  Of which a double list fell on his breast.

 

The rays of the four consecrated stars

  Did so adorn his countenance with light,

  That him I saw as were the sun before him.

 

40"Who are you? ye who, counter the blind river,

  Have fled away from the eternal prison?"

  Moving those venerable plumes, he said:

 

"Who guided you? or who has been your lamp

  In issuing forth out of the night profound,

45  That ever black makes the infernal valley?

 

The laws of the abyss, are they thus broken?

  Or is there changed in heaven some council new,

  That being damned ye come unto my crags?"

 

Then did my Leader lay his grasp upon me,

50  And with his words, and with his hands and signs,

  Reverent he made in me my knees and brow;

 

Then answered him: "I came not of myself;

  A Lady from Heaven descended, at whose prayers

  I aided this one with my company.

 

55But since it is thy will more be unfolded

  Of our condition, how it truly is,

  Mine cannot be that this should be denied thee.

 

This one has never his last evening seen,

  But by his folly was so near to it

60  That very little time was there to turn.

 

As I have said, I unto him was sent

  To rescue him, and other way was none

  Than this to which I have myself betaken.

 

I've shown him all the people of perdition,

65  And now those spirits I intend to show

  Who purge themselves beneath thy guardianship.

 

How I have brought him would be long to tell thee.

  Virtue descendeth from on high that aids me

  To lead him to behold thee and to hear thee.

 

70Now may it please thee to vouchsafe his coming;

  He seeketh Liberty, which is so dear,

  As knoweth he who life for her refuses.

 

Thou know'st it; since, for her, to thee not bitter

  Was death in Utica, where thou didst leave

75  The vesture, that will shine so, the great day.

 

By us the eternal edicts are not broken;

  Since this one lives, and Minos binds not me;

  But of that circle I, where are the chaste

 

Eyes of thy Marcia, who in looks still prays thee,

80  O holy breast, to hold her as thine own;

  For her love, then, incline thyself to us.

 

Permit us through thy sevenfold realm to go;

  I will take back this grace from thee to her,

  If to be mentioned there below thou deignest."

 

85"Marcia so pleasing was unto mine eyes

  While I was on the other side," then said he,

  "That every grace she wished of me I granted;

 

Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,

  She can no longer move me, by that law

90  Which, when I issued forth from there, was made.

 

But if a Lady of Heaven do move and rule thee,

  As thou dost say, no flattery is needful;

  Let it suffice thee that for her thou ask me.

 

Go, then, and see thou gird this one about

95  With a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face,

  So that thou cleanse away all stain therefrom,

 

For 'twere not fitting that the eye o'ercast

  By any mist should go before the first

  Angel, who is of those of Paradise.

 

100This little island round about its base

  Below there, yonder, where the billow beats it,

  Doth rushes bear upon its washy ooze;

 

No other plant that putteth forth the leaf,

  Or that doth indurate, can there have life,

105  Because it yieldeth not unto the shocks.

 

Thereafter be not this way your return;

  The sun, which now is rising, will direct you

  To take the mount by easier ascent."

 

With this he vanished; and I raised me up

110  Without a word, and wholly drew myself

  Unto my Guide, and turned mine eyes to him.

 

And he began: "Son, follow thou my steps;

  Let us turn back, for on this side declines

  The plain unto its lower boundaries."

 

115The dawn was vanquishing the matin hour

  Which fled before it, so that from afar

  I recognised the trembling of the sea.

 

Along the solitary plain we went

  As one who unto the lost road returns,

120  And till he finds it seems to go in vain.

 

As soon as we were come to where the dew

  Fights with the sun, and, being in a part

  Where shadow falls, little evaporates,

 

Both of his hands upon the grass outspread

125  In gentle manner did my Master place;

  Whence I, who of his action was aware,

 

Extended unto him my tearful cheeks;

  There did he make in me uncovered wholly

  That hue which Hell had covered up in me.

 

130Then came we down upon the desert shore

  Which never yet saw navigate its waters

  Any that afterward had known return.

 

There he begirt me as the other pleased;

  O marvellous! for even as he culled

135  The humble plant, such it sprang up again

 

Suddenly there where he uprooted it.