He thus: “Not yet unto that upper foss
By th’ evil talons guarded, where the pitch
Tenacious boils, had Michael Zanche reach’d,
When this one left a demon in his stead
In his own body, and of one his kin,
Who with him treachery wrought. But now put forth
Thy hand, and ope mine eyes.” I op’d them not.
Ill manners were best courtesy to him.
Ah Genoese! men perverse in every way,
With every foulness stain’d, why from the earth
Are ye not cancel’d? Such an one of yours
I with Romagna’s darkest spirit found,
As for his doings even now in soul
Is in Cocytus plung’d, and yet doth seem
In body still alive upon the earth.
“The banners of Hell’s Monarch do
Towards us; therefore look,” so spake my guide,
“If thou discern him.” As, when breathes a cloud
Heavy and dense, or when the shades of night
Fall on our hemisphere, seems view’d from far
A windmill, which the blast stirs briskly round,
Such was the fabric then methought I saw,
To shield me from the wind, forthwith I drew
Behind my guide: no covert else was there.
Now came I (and with fear I bid my strain
Record the marvel) where the souls were all
Whelm’d underneath, transparent, as through glass
Pellucid the frail stem. Some prone were laid,
Others stood upright, this upon the soles,
That on his head, a third with face to feet
Arch’d like a bow. When to the point we came,
Whereat my guide was pleas’d that I should see
The creature eminent in beauty once,
He from before me stepp’d and made me pause.
“Lo!” he exclaim’d, “lo Dis! and lo the place,
Where thou hast need to arm thy heart with strength.”
How frozen and how faint I then became,
Ask me not, reader! for I write it not,
Since words would fail to tell thee of my state.
I was not dead nor living. Think thyself
If quick conception work in thee at all,
How I did feel. That emperor, who sways
The realm of sorrow, at mid breast from th’ ice
Stood forth; and I in stature am more like
A giant, than the giants are in his arms.
Mark now how great that whole must be, which suits
With such a part. If he were beautiful
As he is hideous now, and yet did dare
To scowl upon his Maker, well from him
May all our mis’ry flow. Oh what a sight!
How passing strange it seem’d, when I did spy
Upon his head three faces: one in front
Of hue vermilion, th’ other two with this
Midway each shoulder join’d and at the crest;
The right ’twixt wan and yellow seem’d: the left
To look on, such as come from whence old Nile
Stoops to the lowlands. Under each shot forth
Two mighty wings, enormous as became
A bird so vast. Sails never such I saw