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Dante's Inferno
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Canto II

Dante, doubtful of his own powers, is discouraged at the outset.—Virgil cheers him by telling him that he has been sent to his aid by a blessed Spirit from Heaven.—Dante casts off fear, and the poets proceed.

The day was going, and the dusky air was taking the living things that are on earth from their fatigues, and I alone was preparing to sustain the war alike of the road, and of the woe which the mind that erreth not shall retrace. O Muses, O lofty genius, now assist me! O mind that didst inscribe that which I saw, here shall thy nobility appear! I began: -"Poet, that guidest me, consider my virtue, if it is sufficient, ere to the deep pass thou trustest me. Thou sayest that the parent of Silvius while still corruptible went to the immortal world and was there in the body. Wherefore if the Adversary of every ill was then courteous, thinking on the high effect that should proceed from him, and on the Who and the What,[1] it seemeth not unmeet to the man of understanding; for in the empyreal heaven he had been chosen for father of revered Rome and of her empire; both which (to say truth indeed) were ordained for the holy place where the successor of the greater Peter hath his seat. Through this going, whereof thou givest him vaunt, he learned things which were the cause of his victory and of the papal mantle. Afterward the Chosen Vessel went thither to bring thence comfort to that faith which is the beginning of the way of salvation. But I, why go I thither? or who concedes it? I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul; me worthy of this, neither I nor others think; wherefore if I give myself up to go, I fear lest the going may be mad. Thou art wise, thou understandest better than I speak."

[1] Who he was, and what should result.

And as is he who unwills what he willed, and because of new thoughts changes his design, so that he quite withdraws from beginning, sucb I became on that dark hillside: wherefore in my thought I abandoned the enterprise which had been so hasty in the beginning.

"If I have rightly understood thy speech," replied that shade of the magnanimous one, "thy soul is hurt by cowardice, which oftentimes encumbereth a man so that it turns him back from honorable enterprise, as false seeing does a beast when it is startled. In order that thou loose thee from this fear I will tell thee wherefore I have come, and what I heard at the first moment that I grieved for thee. I was among those who are suspended,[1] and a Lady called me, so blessed and beautiful that I besought her to command. Her eyes were more lucent than the star, and she began to speak to me sweet and low, with angelic voice, in her own tongue: 'O courteous Mantuan soul, of whom the fame yet lasteth in the world, and shall last so long as the world endureth! a friend of mine and not of fortune upon the desert hillside is so hindered on his road that he has turned for fear, and I am afraid, through that which I have heard of him in heaven, lest already he be so astray that I may have risen late to his succor. Now do thou move, and with thy speech ornate, and with whatever is needful for his deliverance, assist him so that I may be consoled for him. I am Beatrice who make thee go. I come from a place whither I desire to return. Love moved me, and makes me speak. When I shall be before my Lord, I will commend thee often unto Him.' Then she was silent, and thereon I began: 'O Lady of Virtue, thou alone through whom the human race surpasseth all contained within that heaven which hath the smallest circles! [2] so pleasing unto me is thy command that to obey it, were it already done, were slow to me. Thou hast no need further to open unto me thy will; but tell me the cause why thou guardest not thyself from descending down here into this centre, from the ample place whither thou burnest to return.' 'Since thou wishest to know so inwardly, I will tell thee briefly,' she replied to me, 'wherefore I fear not to come here within. One ought to fear those things only that have power of doing harm, the others not, for they are not dreadful. I am made by God, thanks be to Him, such that your misery toucheth me not, nor doth the flame of this burning assail me. A gentle Lady[3] is in heaven who hath pity for this hindrance whereto I send thee, so that stern judgment there above she breaketh. She summoned Lucia in her request, and said, "Thy faithful one now hath need of thee, and unto thee I commend him." Lucia, the foe of every cruel one, rose and came to the place where I was, seated with the ancient Rachel. She said, "Beatrice, true praise of God, why dost thou not succor him who so loved thee that for thee he came forth from the vulgar throng? Dost thou not hear the pity of his plaint? Dost thou not see the death that combats him beside the stream whereof the sea hath no vaunt?" In the world never were persons swift to seek their good, and to fly their harm, as I, after these words were uttered, came here below, from my blessed seat, putting my trust in thy upright speech, which honors thee and them who have heard it.' After she had said this to me, weeping she turned her lucent eyes, whereby she made me more speedy in coming. And I came to thee as she willed. Thee have I delivered from that wild beast that took from thee the short ascent of the beautiful mountain. What is it then? Why, why dost thou hold back? why dost thou harbor such cowardice in thy heart? why hast thou not daring and boldness, since three blessed Ladies care for thee in the court of Heaven, and my speech pledges thee such good?"

[1] In Limbo, neither in Hell nor Heaven.

[2] The heaven of the moon, nearest to the earth.

[3] The Virgin.

As flowerets, bent and closed by the chill of night, after the sun shines on them straighten themselves all open on their stem, so I became with my weak virtue, and such good daring hastened to my heart that I began like one enfranchised: "Oh compassionate she who succored me! and thou courteous who didst speedily obey the true words that she addressed to thee! Thou by thy words hast so disposed my heart with desire of going, that I have returned unto my first intent. Go on now, for one sole will is in us both: Thou Leader, thou Lord, and thou Master." Thus I said to him; and when he had moved on, I entered along the deep and savage road.

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