I had a cord that brac’d my girdle round,
Wherewith I erst had thought fast bound to take
The painted leopard. This when I had all
Unloosen’d from me (so my master bade)
I gather’d up, and stretch’d it forth to him.
Then to the right he turn’d, and from the brink
Standing few paces distant, cast it down
Into the deep abyss. “And somewhat strange,”
Thus to myself I spake, “signal so strange
Betokens, which my guide with earnest eye
Thus follows.” Ah! what caution must men use
With those who look not at the deed alone,
But spy into the thoughts with subtle skill!
“Quickly shall come,” he said, “what
Thine eye discover quickly, that whereof
Thy thought is dreaming.” Ever to that truth,
Which but the semblance of a falsehood wears,
A man, if possible, should bar his lip;
Since, although blameless, he incurs reproach.
But silence here were vain; and by these notes
Which now I sing, reader! I swear to thee,
So may they favour find to latest times!
That through the gross and murky air I spied
A shape come swimming up, that might have quell’d
The stoutest heart with wonder, in such guise
As one returns, who hath been down to loose
An anchor grappled fast against some rock,
Or to aught else that in the salt wave lies,
Who upward springing close draws in his feet.
“Lo! the fell monster with the deadly sting!
Who passes mountains, breaks through fenced walls
And firm embattled spears, and with his filth
Taints all the world!” Thus me my guide address’d,
And beckon’d him, that he should come to shore,
Near to the stony causeway’s utmost edge.
Forthwith that image vile of fraud appear’d,
His head and upper part expos’d on land,
But laid not on the shore his bestial train.
His face the semblance of a just man’s wore,
So kind and gracious was its outward cheer;
The rest was serpent all: two shaggy claws
Reach’d to the armpits, and the back and breast,
And either side, were painted o’er with nodes
And orbits. Colours variegated more
Nor Turks nor Tartars e’er on cloth of state
With interchangeable embroidery wove,
Nor spread Arachne o’er her curious loom.
As ofttimes a light skiff, moor’d to the shore,
Stands part in water, part upon the land;
Or, as where dwells the greedy German boor,
The beaver settles watching for his prey;
So on the rim, that fenc’d the sand with rock,
Sat perch’d the fiend of evil. In the void
Glancing, his tail upturn’d its venomous fork,
With sting like scorpion’s arm’d. Then thus my guide:
“Now need our way must turn few steps apart,
Far as to that ill beast, who couches there.”