Canto VIII

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To carry on from there I should explain
that long before we'd reached the high tower's base
our eyes were drawn toward its topmost point
by two small flames which suddenly appeared.
Far off, and scarcely visible at all
another sent its signal in reply.
And, turning to that ocean of good sense,
I asked him, "What does this thing signify?
What kind of answer is that other fire?
And who are those that make it?' He replied,
'Unless the marsh fumes veil it from your sight
already there, above the filthy tide,
you should make out what they are waiting for.'
No arrow ever hurtling from the string
came rushing through the air with greater speed
than what I saw right then, a tiny boat
that skimmed the water straight to where we stood,
a single oarsman steering it. He yelled,
'We've got you now, you crime-infested soul!'
'Now, Phlegyas! You waste your breath this time,'
my leader cried, 'you'll have us in your charge
no longer than it takes to cross the mire.
Then Phlegyas in his frustrated rage
reacted just as one, who having heard
he's victim of a fraud, begins to sulk.
My guide stepped down inside the boat; safe in
he had me enter also. Only then,
when I was in, it seemed to take some weight.
Then straight away, my guide and I on board,
the old prow cut the water, deeper now
than ever with its customary load.
And as we rode the stagnant waterway
a mud-caked figure loomed in front of me
and cried, 'Who are you, come before your time?'
And I replied, 'Yes, come, but not to stay.
But who are you, who've so befouled yourself?'
He answered, As you see, I'm one that weeps.'
I answered him, 'Unenviable soul,
stay here amidst your tears and miseries.
I know you, even smothered in this muck.'
And then he reached both hands towards the boat,
at which my master promptly pushed him back
and shouted, 'Off, go join the other dogs.'
Then, putting both his arms around my neck,
he kissed my face and said, 'Indignant friend,
a blessing on her womb that carried you.
This fellow was all arrogance in life
with no good deeds to grace his memory:
that's why his ghost is mad with anger here.
How many up above now count themselves
great kings, who'll wallow here like swine in filth,
and leave behind an ugly hated name.'
'Master,' I said, 'what wouldn't I give now
to see him dunked well down inside this soup
before it's time for us to leave the lake.'
And he to me, 'Before the further bank
comes into view you shall be satisfied
for such desires should have their due reward.'
Soon after this I saw him torn apart
by mud-encrusted souls, in such a way
that still I thank and praise my God for it.
'Get Filippo Argenti!' they all screamed.
The spirit of the Florentine, beserk,
turned round upon himself with his own teeth.
We left him there: I'll say no more of him.
Now such a sound of wailing strikes my ears
I start to strain my eyes to peer ahead.
The gentle master said, And here my son
that city fast approaches men call Dis,
great garrison of bitter citizens.
And I, 'Yes master, I can make out now
its mosques, distinctly, rising from low ground,
vermilion as if bright from furnaces.'
And he, 'The blazing of eternal fire
is in them all and gives them as you see
a ruddy glow in this far depth of hell'
Arrived here at long last we were inside
the deep entrenchments serving as a moat
encircling all that comfortless terrain:
the walls, it seemed to me, were solid iron.
Then not until we'd travelled some way round
did we arrive at where the boatman yelled,
'You get out here: this is the entranceway.'
Above the gates I saw a multitude
of those that fell from paradise like rain.
They shouted harshly, "Who's this, without death,
who passes through the kingdom of the dead.'
My knowledgeable master made a sign
to show he wanted private words with them.
Suppressing some of their resentful scorn
they said, 'Come by yourself; dismiss the one
who's stepped so rashly into this domain.
Let him return, if he can manage it,
along his crazy road alone: but you,
his escort through this darkened land, must stay.'
Imagine, reader, how my spirits sank
to hear this sentence with its curse ring out
and feel I'd never reach this world again.
'Oh my dear guide, who seven times and more
have given me new confidence,' I said,
'and saved me from grave dangers on the way,
don't leave me now in this extremity:
and if the route ahead is barred to us
let's both retrace our steps immediately.'
That lord who'd led me to this point replied,
'Don't be afraid, for none can bar our way:
our leave has come from such a special source.
Stay here and wait for me now, comforting
your downcast spirits; feed them on good hope.
I'll not desert you in this Underworld.'
And so the gentle father goes away
and leaves me there still suffering from doubt
as 'yes' conflicts with 'no' inside my head.
I couldn't hear what he proposed to them,
but hardly had he been there any time
when all of them dashed off to get back in.
These enemies of ours just slammed the doors
right in my master's face: he was shut out.
Then he returned to me with halting steps,
his eyes fixed on the ground, and from his brow
all bold assurance gone: he spoke in sighs.
'Who bans me from the tenements of pain?'
and then to me, 'But you must not lose heart
because of my distress: I'll prove their match
whatever traps they may devise inside.
This insolence of theirs is nothing new;
they tried it once at that less secret gate
which stands there to this day without a lock,
and over which you saw the written death.
Already on this side of it, there comes
one moving down the slope and passing through
the circles without escort; one whose power
shall cause the citadel to open up.'