.

 

 

CANTO THE FIFTEENTH

 

 

ARGUMENT.

 

Before the Poets leave the Regions of Burning Sand, they meet a detachment of Spirits who had been guilty of Crimes against Nature. Among those, with some difficulty, Dante recognizes the Shade of the celebrated Brunetto  Latini, who had been his tutor in his early days, from whom he learns the cause of his Punishment, and the Names of his Associates.

 

 

Along the founding rock our footsteps sweep

While, overhead, exhaling from the deep,

The cloudy canopy repels the flame!

Such is th’ eternal mound that met the flood

As those on Belgia’s ancient bounds that stood

The fury of the rapid Scheld to tame:

 

II.

Or such old Padua rears  against the waves,

Where headlong Brenta thro’ the valley raves,

And Chiarantana sees her snows distil:

But humbler mounds the Alpine surge repel

Than those huge moles that bank the surge of Hell

And shew a mightier hand and master’s skill.

 

III.

Now far behind we left the sinking wood,

When, by the margin of the silent flood,

A shadowy band in flying march we meet,

As objects seen by Phoebe’s glimm’ring light,

When her pale crescent half illumes the night,

With hollow gaze the wond’ring spectres greet.

 

IV.

Keen as the guiding steel the artist views,

Their eager eyes my mortal form peruse:

When straight a voice, exclaiming from the croud,

Was heard; and soon a strong arresting hand

Seiz’d me alarm’d;—and, “Oh! what strange command

Hath sent thee here?” the Phantom cry’d aloud.

 

V.

Soon disengaging from the foul embrace,

I strove his horrid lineaments to trace

With sulph’rous blast ensear’d, and thunders scar,

And soon Brunetto’s ruin’d form, I found,[1]

Tho’ deep conceal’d beneath the fiery wound,

Ah! who,” I cry’d, “that honour’d form could mar?”

 

VI.

The ruin’d man reply’d, “if ever dear

You held Latini’s name, vouchsafe to hear

His piteous tale, and let your guide retire.”

“Approach,” I cry’d, “within this calm retreat

(If he allows) and take thy shady seat

Far from the tempest of descending fire.”

 

VII.

“Alas! in vain thy friendly wish,” he cry’d,

“Repose even for a moment is deny’d!

The sentenc’d soul for ever fleets around.—

—Who dares the rig’rous mandate to despise,

In chains twice fifty  Stygian summers lies,

Struggling in vain to shift his burning ground?

 

VIII.

“But still ‘tis giv’n me from yon’ band to stray,

A sad attendant on thy destin’d way;

Go on!—I follow thro’ the vale beneath,

’Till overpow’ring fate my steps compel

To join yon’ restless band that measures Hell,

And mourns the fiery fall of heav’nly wrath.”

 

IX.

Full o’er the burning verge my head reclin’d,

Caught his sad accents in the passing wind;

As from the vale the following Shade exclaims:

“What fury led thee down the darksome way,

A breathing soul in tenement of clay?

Say, who conducts thee thro’ the parting flames.

 

X.

“Forlorn,” I cry’d, “and smit with chilling dread,

As late I wander’d thro’ adarksome glade,

And fought with trembling feet a devious way;

Pitying my deep despair this gentle Ghost

With welcome words my troubled mind compos’d,

And led me hither from the walks of day.”

 

XI.

“If right,” he cry’d, “I read thy natal star,

The port of glory opens from afar;

And, had not fate my kindred aid deny’d,

This friendly hand thy future course had shew’d,

Such early gifts the hand of Heav’n bestow’d,

Nor had my friend despis’d his ancient Guide.

 

XII.

“But that obdurate tribe, whose souls retain

The black impression of their ancient stain,

Shall push thee from their walls with hostile hate.

In vain the gen’rous plant of juice refin’d[2]

Adopts the wildings rough, ungentle, kind,

And bears with yielding trunk the alien freight.

 

XIII.

“Hell mark’d of old the ignominious race,

And still the horrid lineaments we trace;

(Purge thou thy soul, if any spos remain!)

’Till civil rage the arts of peace shall learn

And factions reconcil’d thy worth discern;

But, wise too late, discern thy worth in vain.

 


XIV.

“Then deadly rage shall seize the alien brood,[3]

And bathe their ruffian hands in kindren blood;.

Yet still their wrath shall spare the Roman stem,

In mem’ry of her kind protecting Shade;

When erst her height the rising vale survey’d,

Ere alien tribes had stain’d her ancient name.

 

XV.

If ceaseless pray’r could make th’ avenger mild,

Thou shouldst not wander thus, a soul exil’d;”

Sad, I rejoin’d! “For yet my heart retains,

And ever shall retain, in sacred store,

The treasures of thy soul‑ennobling lore,

While life’s warm current fill thy pupil’s veins.

 

XVI.

“Nor, till my grateful heart forgets to heave,

Will this unwearied tongue the subject leave:

And, if disasters cloud my days to come,

Let her whose voice dispell’d my gloomy care,

Who led me thro’ the caverns of despair,

Dispense with sov’reign hand her Poet’s doom.

 

XVII.

“Nor ever shall the frown of fate control

The fix’d intent of this determin’d soul,

Whatever plague the wayward pow’rs intend:

Whether she raise my buoyant hopes in air,

Or hurl them to the depths of low despair,

Pleas’d shall  her captive sink, and pleas’d ascend.

 

XVIII.

“Unhappy is the man,” exclim’d my Guide,

“From whose weak mind the words of wisdom glide.”

Blushing I heard, but ask’d, unfated still

With the high converse of the sentenc’d dead,

“What Chiefs renown’d the dark procession lead,

And who were doom’d the hideous line to fill?”

 

XIX.

Prompt he replies, “the souls of nobler name

’Tis giv’n to know, but on the doleful theme

The parting moments steal with envious pace;

Of those, the chief at Learning’s altar bow’d

Prelates and Priests, a long, selected crowd,

All stigmatiz’d with Sodom’s deep disgrace.

 

XX.

“There holy Priscian[4] leads the letter’d throng,

Here fam’d Accorso[5] tow’rs their files among.

He too is there, who late at Rome’s request,

Forsook proud Florence for Vicenza’s plain,[6]

The living scandal of the hallow’d train,

’Till the kind clay his tainted limbs opprest.

 

XXI.

“No time is giv’n of other names to tell;

For hark! on yonder plain what clamours swell!

And see! in tempests roll’d, the burning sand,

Mingled with smoke, ascends the glowing sky!

I see! I see! A dire assembly nigh,

Nor dare I mingle with the hostile band.”

 

XII.

“Love my remains,” he cry’d, and fled forlorn,

In a cross whirlwind o’er the desert borne;

Our aching eyes his sounding flight pursue:

Nor speeds the kindling racer to the goal

With foot so fleet, when conquest fires his soul,

As o’er the glist’ning sand the Phantom flew.

 

END OF THE FIFTEENTH CANTO.

 



[1] Brunetto Latini, a famous Professor of Philosophy and Rhetoric, and no contemptible Poet. From a piece of his, called Il Terretto, Dante took the:Exordium of the Inferno.­—See Warton’s Summary, &c. He was tutor to Dante in his early days, and was banished from Florence for forgery, but condemned (says his pupil) to the infernal Regions for crimes of a different nature.

[2] Dante pretended to derive his blood in a right line from the old Roman Colony that first settled in Florence.

[3] See Life of Dante, last page.

[4] The famous Grammarian.

[5] A celebrated Civilian, better known by the name of Accursius.

[6] Andrea Mezzo, first bishop of Florence, where his flagitious course of life became so notorious, that his friends got him translated to Vicenza, a less frequented place, where he died.