Canto II

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With day departing, so the darkened air
relieved the living creatures of the earth
of their laborious tasks; and I, alone,
prepared myself for my ordeal, to face
the journey and the test of piety
which memory, unerring, shall depict.
Muses! High inspiration! Help me now.
You, Memory, that wrote down what I saw,
your prowess will be demonstrated here!
'My poet, and my guide,' I then began
'consider if my powers will match the task
before you trust me to the deep divide.
You tell how Silvius' father visited
the immortal zone while still corruptible,
and knew himself to be there in the flesh.
Yet, if the foe of all iniquity
behaved to him in such a courteous way,
when one considers what profound effect
his issue had, and who and what he was,
this wouldn't strike a man of throughtful mind
as being inappropriate; for he
within the heaven of the Empyrean Sphere
was chosen Father of Almighty Rome
and of her Empire, both of which in truth
were fixed upon to be the holy place
where each successor of St Peter sits.
And on the travels which you celebrate
he came to know those things which brought about
his conquest and the robes of Papacy.
Then later on the Chosen Vessel went
to bring back confirmation of that faith
with which salvation's road begins its course.
But I, why should I go there? By whose leave?
I'm no Aeneas, nor am I St Paul.
Not I, nor others think me fit for this.
And so, if I allow myself to go
I fear my going may be foolishness.
You're wise, you grasp much more than my words say.'
Then like a man who unwills what he's willed
and alters his resolve with second thoughts,
reversing the decision he first took,
so too did I upon that sombre slope,
and thinking undermined the enterprise
I'd taken on with such alacrity.
'If I have rightly understood your words,'
the ghost of that good-natured man replied,
'your spirit has succumbed to cowardice
which often proves a man's impediment
and makes him shun an enterprise of worth
like beasts that fly from shadows by mistake.
To free you from this fear I'll tell you now
just why I came and what it was I heard
when I became concerned about you first.
To me, among those souls held in suspense,
a lady called, so blessed and beautiful
I begged her to command me what to do.
Her eyes shone out with lovelier light than stars
and she addressed me softly, quietly
and with an angel's voice in her own tongue.
'Oh courteous Mantuan spirit whose renown
continues to endure on earth and shall
survive as long as earth itself endures,
that friend of mine who is not fortune's friend
has found his journey on the desert waste
so hindered that his fright has turned him back.
From what I've heard it said of him in heaven
I fear by now he's gone so far astray
that I'm too late in moving to his aid.
Go now, and with your skilful use of words
and with whatever means his rescue needs
assist him for my consolation's sake.
I, Beatrice, am the one who send you there.
I come from where I long to be again.
Love that his moved me causes me to speak.
When I am in the presence of my Lord
I'll talk of you to Him with frequent praise.'
She then fell silent and I spoke myself.
'Oh virtue's Lady, you through whom alone
the human race surpasses all contained
within that heaven of least circumference,
I am so pleased to serve you that indeed
to have obeyed already would be slow;
you merely need to indicate your will.
But tell me what has prompted you to come
to this deep centre here, unshrinkingly,
from that wide space you yearn to see again.'
'Since you're so keen to know the heart of things'
she answered me 'I'll tell you briefly why
I have no fear of entering this place.
One only should be fearful of those things
that have in them the power of doing harm
and nothing else should be a source of dread.
For God has so transformed me through His grace
that I'm not touched by what is suffered here
nor hurt by any flame in all this blaze.
There is a gentle lady up in heaven
who so much pities his predicament
I send you now to ease, that she cuts through
the strictures of stern judgement up above.
She summoned Lucy, making her request:
'Your faithful one is now in need of you,
and thus I recommend him to your care.'
Then Lucy, constant foe of hurtfulness,
rose up and made her way to where I sat
beside the Rachel of antiquity.
'Beatrice,' she said, 'true living praise of God,
should you not help that man who loved you so
that for your sake he set himself apart
from common men's concerns? Do you not hear
the desperation of his cries, not see
the death that fights him where that river runs
compared with which the sea is powerless?
In earthly life none could have been more swift
to seek advantage or to rush from hurt
than I was, when such words had been pronounced,
to come down here from my high blissful home
relying on your honest eloquence
which honours you and all who've heard you speak.'
When she had finished giving this account
she turned away, her bright eyes full of tears;
and so I came to you as she desired
and snatched you from the clutches of that beast
that barred you from the lovely hill's quick way.
Now what's amiss? Why, why hold back? And why
make cowardice the tenant of your heart?
Why not be confident and resolute
when three such ladies in their state of bliss
concern themselves for you in heaven's court,
and my words guarantee you so much good?'
As little flowers, folded and shut tight
by night-time's coldness, all rise straight again
when sunshine brightens them, and each one stands
unfurled upon its stem, so I became
as he restored my languishing morale,
and such enthusiasm swept my heart
that I spoke out like one who'd been released:
'How merciful she was who aided me!
And you, how kind, obeying with such speed
the words of truth that she addressed to you.
My heart is now inspired by what you've said
with such keen inclination to set off
that I've returned to what I first resolved.
So, onward; for one will is in us both.
You are my guide, my teacher and my lord.'
Thus with this speech, and he then moving on,
I entered on the deep and savage way.