Dante's Inferno

(Alexis Brooks de Vita)

Dante's Inferno



Halfway down life’s road

I found myself in a dark jungle,

lost off the straight path. 


It’s hard to describe

this jungle, so savage and harsh and strong

that just thinking about it again scares me!


Death is only a little more bitter;

but to tell you about the good I found there

I have to tell you what else I discovered.


I don’t know how I got there;

I was so out of it

when I wandered off the right road.


But then I was at the foot of a hill,

there at the end of the valley

where fear shot through my heart;


I looked up to its shoulders

wearing rays of light from that planet

that leads everyone on every path right.


The fear calmed,

in the lake of my heart where all

that night I’d been so stressed.


And like people out of breath

who rise from the sea to the shore

and then turn back to the dangerous water,


so my mind, still running away,

turned to look back

where no other person had ever gotten through alive.


I rested my tired body

and started again up the desert hillside,

the foot lowest down always on firmest ground.


And there, at the bottom of the highest point,

a leopard lightweight and very fast,

its fur all spotted,


wouldn’t back off from me

and blocked my path,

so I kept turning to go back down.


It was early in the morning,

and the sun rose with those stars

that were with it when divine love


first stirred up beautiful things;

I felt I could still hope for the best,

despite that furred cat


because of the hour and the sweet season;

until the fear that struck me

at the sight of a lion.


He came at me

with his head high and crazy hungry,

so the air itself trembled.


And a she-wolf, all bony,

ravenous in her skinniness

—so many people live hungry—


so weighed me down

with fear at the sight of her

that I lost hope of reaching the top.


And like the man who’s happy to win,

but when the time comes to lose, he does it

all crying and sad,


that’s how the restless beast

coming at me, little by little,

drove me down to where the sun is silent. 


While I went down low,

to my eyes was offered the sight of

a figure in the long silence.


When I saw him in the huge desert,

“Have pity on me,” I shouted to him,

“whatever you are, ghost or real man!”


He answered me:  “Not a man, though I was a man,

my parents from Lombardy,

both from Mantua.


I was born at the end of the reign of King Julius

and lived in Rome under good King Augustus

with false and lying gods.


I was a poet and sang of

Aeneas who came from Troy

after Ilium burned down.


But you, why are you going back to so much pain?

Why not just go up this delightful hill

of joy?”


“So you’re that Virgil who is a fountain

of speech like a river?”

I asked, shamefaced.


Honored light of poets,

value the long study and great love

that made me search your volume.


You are my teacher and my author,

the one whose beautiful style I took

that brought me honor.


You see the beast that forced me back;

help me, famous wise man,

because she makes my blood tremble in my veins.”


“It would be better for you to go another way,”

he said when he saw my tears,

“if you want to get out of this crazy jungle;


that beast that makes you want to scream

doesn’t let anyone pass,

but stops him and kills him;


her nature is so evil

she never satisfies her desire,

and after she feeds she’s hungrier than ever.


She mates with lots of animals

and will keep on, until the one

will come who’ll make her die in pain.


He won’t feast on earth and wealth

but on wisdom, love and virtue,

and his nation will be between Messiahs.


He’ll save humble Italy

that virgin Cammilla died for,

Euralyus and Turnus and Niso, who died of their wounds.


He’ll hunt for her in every town

until he’s sent her back to Hell,

where jealousy set her loose.


So I think you should follow me,

and I’ll be your guide

and take you to a place that lasts forever,


where you’ll hear desperate cries,

see ancient spirits suffer

as if they’re crying for the Second Death,


and you’ll see those content

to burn, because they hope to

be with the blessed.


When you want to rise up there,

I’ll leave you with a soul more worthy than I am,

when I go. 


The ruler up there,

because I rebelled against his laws,

doesn’t want me in his city.


He rules everywhere;

here’s his city and there’s his throne;

his chosen ones are happy!”


I said to him:  “Poet, I ask you

for the sake of that god you didn’t know,

help me escape this harm and worse,


lead me where you’ve talked about going,

so I can see St. Peter’s gate

and those people you say are so sad.”

He moved, and I kept behind him.