Side by Side Translations of Dante's Inferno - Canto 1

1st Canto of the Inferno

Longfellow Translation

Inferno: Canto I

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet's rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously.

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o'er!

And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion's aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires,
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E'en such made me that beast withouten peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
"Have pity on me," unto him I cried,
"Whiche'er thou art, or shade or real man!"

He answered me: "Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

'Sub Julio' was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb'st thou not the Mount Delectable,
Which is the source and cause of every joy?"

"Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?"
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

"O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble."

"Thee it behoves to take another road,"
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
"If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
That never doth she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
'Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,
Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whene'er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects!"

And I to him: "Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate."

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

Cary Translation


IN the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e'en to tell
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet to discourse of what there good befell,
All else will I relate discover'd there.
How first I enter'd it I scarce can say,
Such sleepy dullness in that instant weigh'd
My senses down, when the true path I left,
But when a mountain's foot I reach'd, where clos'd
The valley, that had pierc'd my heart with dread,
I look'd aloft, and saw his shoulders broad
Already vested with that planet's beam,
Who leads all wanderers safe through every way.

Then was a little respite to the fear,
That in my heart's recesses deep had lain,
All of that night, so pitifully pass'd:
And as a man, with difficult short breath,
Forespent with toiling, 'scap'd from sea to shore,
Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands
At gaze; e'en so my spirit, that yet fail'd
Struggling with terror, turn'd to view the straits,
That none hath pass'd and liv'd. My weary frame
After short pause recomforted, again
I journey'd on over that lonely steep,

The hinder foot still firmer. Scarce the ascent
Began, when, lo! a panther, nimble, light,
And cover'd with a speckled skin, appear'd,
Nor, when it saw me, vanish'd, rather strove
To check my onward going; that ofttimes
With purpose to retrace my steps I turn'd.

The hour was morning's prime, and on his way
Aloft the sun ascended with those stars,
That with him rose, when Love divine first mov'd
Those its fair works: so that with joyous hope
All things conspir'd to fill me, the gay skin
Of that swift animal, the matin dawn
And the sweet season. Soon that joy was chas'd,
And by new dread succeeded, when in view
A lion came, 'gainst me, as it appear'd,

With his head held aloft and hunger-mad,
That e'en the air was fear-struck. A she-wolf
Was at his heels, who in her leanness seem'd
Full of all wants, and many a land hath made
Disconsolate ere now. She with such fear
O'erwhelmed me, at the sight of her appall'd,
That of the height all hope I lost. As one,
Who with his gain elated, sees the time
When all unwares is gone, he inwardly
Mourns with heart-griping anguish; such was I,
Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace,
Who coming o'er against me, by degrees
Impell'd me where the sun in silence rests.

While to the lower space with backward step
I fell, my ken discern'd the form one of one,
Whose voice seem'd faint through long disuse of speech.
When him in that great desert I espied,
"Have mercy on me!" cried I out aloud,
"Spirit! or living man! what e'er thou be!"

He answer'd: "Now not man, man once I was,
And born of Lombard parents, Mantuana both
By country, when the power of Julius yet
Was scarcely firm. At Rome my life was past
Beneath the mild Augustus, in the time
Of fabled deities and false. A bard
Was I, and made Anchises' upright son
The subject of my song, who came from Troy,
When the flames prey'd on Ilium's haughty towers.
But thou, say wherefore to such perils past
Return'st thou? wherefore not this pleasant mount
Ascendest, cause and source of all delight?"
"And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring,
From which such copious floods of eloquence
Have issued?" I with front abash'd replied.
"Glory and light of all the tuneful train!
May it avail me that I long with zeal
Have sought thy volume, and with love immense
Have conn'd it o'er. My master thou and guide!
Thou he from whom alone I have deriv'd
That style, which for its beauty into fame
Exalts me. See the beast, from whom I fled.
O save me from her, thou illustrious sage!"

"For every vein and pulse throughout my frame
She hath made tremble." He, soon as he saw
That I was weeping, answer'd, "Thou must needs
Another way pursue, if thou wouldst 'scape
From out that savage wilderness. This beast,
At whom thou criest, her way will suffer none
To pass, and no less hindrance makes than death:
So bad and so accursed in her kind,
That never sated is her ravenous will,
Still after food more craving than before.
To many an animal in wedlock vile
She fastens, and shall yet to many more,
Until that greyhound come, who shall destroy
Her with sharp pain. He will not life support
By earth nor its base metals, but by love,
Wisdom, and virtue, and his land shall be
The land 'twixt either Feltro. In his might
Shall safety to Italia's plains arise,
For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure,
Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell.
He with incessant chase through every town
Shall worry, until he to hell at length
Restore her, thence by envy first let loose.
I for thy profit pond'ring now devise,
That thou mayst follow me, and I thy guide
Will lead thee hence through an eternal space,
Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see
Spirits of old tormented, who invoke
A second death; and those next view, who dwell
Content in fire, for that they hope to come,
Whene'er the time may be, among the blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
T' ascend, a spirit worthier then I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,
Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,
That to his city none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne. O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!" I to him in few:
"Bard! by that God, whom thou didst not adore,
I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse
I may escape) to lead me, where thou saidst,
That I Saint Peter's gate may view, and those
Who as thou tell'st, are in such dismal plight."

Onward he mov'd, I close his steps pursu'd.

Norton Translation

CANTO I. Dante, astray in a wood, reaches the foot of a hill
which he begins to ascend; he is hindered by three beasts; he
turns back and is met by Virgil, who proposes to guide him into
the eternal world.

Midway upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark
wood, for the right way had been missed. Ah! how hard a thing it
is to tell what this wild and rough and dense wood was, which in
thought renews the fear! So bitter is it that death is little
more. But in order to treat of the good that there I found, I
will tell of the other things that I have seen there. I cannot
well recount how I entered it, so full was I of slumber at that
point where I abandoned the true way. But after I had arrived at
the foot of a hill, where that valley ended which had pierced my
heart with fear, I looked on high, and saw its shoulders clothed
already with the rays of the planet[1] that leadeth men aright
along every path. Then was the fear a little quieted which in the
lake of my heart had lasted through the night that I passed so
piteously. And even as one who with spent breath, issued out of
the sea upon the shore, turns to the perilous water and gazes, so
did my soul, which still was flying, turn back to look again upon
the pass which never had a living person left.

[1] The sun, a planet according to the Ptolemaic system.

After I had rested a little my weary body I took my way again
along the desert slope, so that the firm foot was always the
lower. And ho! almost at the beginning of the steep a
she-leopard, light and very nimble, which was covered with a
spotted coat. And she did not move from before my face, nay,
rather hindered so my road that to return I oftentimes had

The time was at the beginning of the morning, and the Sun was
mounting upward with those stars that were with him when Love
Divine first set in motion those beautiful things;[1] so that the
hour of the time and the sweet season were occasion of good hope
to me concerning that wild beast with the dappled skin. But not
so that the sight which appeared to me of a lion did not give me
fear. He seemed to be coming against me, with head high and with
ravening hunger, so that it seemed that the air was affrighted at
him. And a she-wolf,[2] who with all cravings seemed laden in her
meagreness, and already had made many folk to live forlorn,--she
caused me so much heaviness, with the fear that came from sight
of her, that I lost hope of the height And such as he is who
gaineth willingly, and the time arrives that makes him lose, who
in all his thoughts weeps and is sad,--such made me the beast
without repose that, coming on against me, little by little was
pushing me back thither where the Sun is silent.

[1] According to old tradition the spring was the season of the

[2] These three beasts correspond to the triple division of sins
into those of incontinence, of violence, and of fraud. See Canto

While I was falling back to the low place, before mine eyes
appeared one who through long silence seemed hoarse. When I saw
him in the great desert, "Have pity on me!" I cried to him,
"whatso thou art, or shade or real man." He answered me: "Not
man; man once I was, and my parents were Lombards, and Mantuans
by country both. I was born sub Julio, though late, and I lived
at Rome under the good Augustus, in the time of the false and
lying gods. Poet was I, and sang of that just son of Anchises who
came from Troy after proud Ilion had been burned. But thou, why
returnest thou to so great annoy? Why dost thou not ascend the
delectable mountain which is the source and cause of every joy?"

"Art thou then that Virgil and that fount which poureth forth so
large a stream of speech?" replied I to him with bashful front:
"O honor and light of the other poem I may the long seal avail
me, and the great love, which have made me search thy volume!
Thou art my master and my author; thou alone art he from whom I
took the fair style that hath done me honor. Behold the beast
because of which I turned; help me against her, famous sage, for
she makes any veins and pulses tremble." "Thee it behoves to hold
another course," he replied, when he saw me weeping, "if thou
wishest to escape from this savage place; for this beast, because
of which thou criest out, lets not any one pass along her way,
but so hinders him that she kills him! and she has a nature so
malign and evil that she never sates her greedy will, and after
food is hungrier than before. Many are the animals with which she
wives, and there shall be more yet, till the hound [1] shall come
that will make her die of grief. He shall not feed on land or
goods, but wisdom and love and valor, and his birthplace shall be
between Feltro and Feltro. Of that humble[2] Italy shall he be the
salvation, for which the virgin Camilla died, and Euryalus, Turnus
and Nisus of their wounds. He shall hunt her through every town
till he shall have set her back in hell, there whence envy first
sent her forth. Wherefore I think and deem it for thy best that
thou follow me, and I will be thy guide, and will lead thee hence
through the eternal place where thou shalt hear the despairing
shrieks, shalt see the ancient spirits woeful who each proclaim
the second death. And then thou shalt see those who are contented
in the fire, because they hope to come, whenever it may be, to the
blessed folk; to whom if thou wilt thereafter ascend, them shall be
a soul more worthy than I for that. With her I will leave thee at
my departure; for that Emperor who reigneth them above, because I
was rebellious to His law, wills not that into His city any one
should come through me. In all parts He governs and them He reigns:
there in His city and His lofty seat. O happy he whom thereto He
elects!" And I to him, "Poet, I beseech thee by that God whom thou
didst not know, in order that I may escape this ill and worse, that
thou lead me thither whom thou now hest said, so that I may see the
gate of St. Peter, and those whom thou makest so afflicted."

[1] Of whom the hound is the symbol, and to whom Dante looked for
the deliverance of Italy from the discorda and misrule that made
her wretched, is still matter of doubt, after centuries of

[2] Fallen, humiliated.

Then he moved on, and I behind him kept.

Browse the cantos of the Inferno:

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34]