Onward he mov’d, I close his steps pursu’d.
Now was the day departing, and the air,
Imbrown’d with shadows, from their toils releas’d
All animals on earth; and I alone
Prepar’d myself the conflict to sustain,
Both of sad pity, and that perilous road,
Which my unerring memory shall retrace.
O Muses! O high genius! now vouchsafe
Your aid! O mind! that all I saw hast kept
Safe in a written record, here thy worth
And eminent endowments come to proof.
I thus began: “Bard! thou who art my guide,
Consider well, if virtue be in me
Sufficient, ere to this high enterprise
Thou trust me. Thou hast told that Silvius’ sire,
Yet cloth’d in corruptible flesh, among
Th’ immortal tribes had entrance, and was there
Sensible present. Yet if heaven’s great Lord,
Almighty foe to ill, such favour shew’d,
In contemplation of the high effect,
Both what and who from him should issue forth,
It seems in reason’s judgment well deserv’d:
Sith he of Rome, and of Rome’s empire wide,
In heaven’s empyreal height was chosen sire:
Both which, if truth be spoken, were ordain’d
And ’stablish’d for the holy place, where sits
Who to great Peter’s sacred chair succeeds.
He from this journey, in thy song renown’d,
Learn’d things, that to his victory gave rise
And to the papal robe. In after-times
The chosen vessel also travel’d there,
To bring us back assurance in that faith,
Which is the entrance to salvation’s way.
But I, why should I there presume? or who
Permits it? not, Aeneas I nor Paul.
Myself I deem not worthy, and none else
Will deem me. I, if on this voyage then
I venture, fear it will in folly end.
Thou, who art wise, better my meaning know’st,
Than I can speak.” As one, who unresolves
What he hath late resolv’d, and with new thoughts
Changes his purpose, from his first intent
Remov’d; e’en such was I on that dun coast,
Wasting in thought my enterprise, at first
So eagerly embrac’d. “If right thy words
I scan,” replied that shade magnanimous,
“Thy soul is by vile fear assail’d, which oft
So overcasts a man, that he recoils
From noblest resolution, like a beast
At some false semblance in the twilight gloom.
That from this terror thou mayst free thyself,
I will instruct thee why I came, and what
I heard in that same instant, when for thee
Grief touch’d me first. I was among the tribe,
Who rest suspended, when a dame, so blest
And lovely, I besought her to command,
Call’d me; her eyes were brighter than the star
Of day; and she with gentle voice and soft
Angelically tun’d her speech address’d:
“O courteous shade of Mantua! thou whose fame
Yet lives, and shall live long as nature lasts!
A friend, not of my fortune but myself,