The Divine Comedy, Inferno "In The Midway Of This Our Mortal Life"

Dante Alighieri

"In The Midway Of This Our Mortal Life"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Dante's allegorical story of his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise begins at the "middle of the journey of our life"; that is, at his thirty-fifth year, since the span of man's life, according to the Psalmist, is three score years and ten. Thus, on the literal level, the poem begins on Good Friday of the year 1300 in a dark wood. It must be borne in mind that the story is intended, according to Dante, to be read on four levels: the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. The "dark wood" has been explained as representing the politically troubled state of Italy at this particular time and also the "wood of error" or spiritual alienation from God–that is to say, sin or error. It is, as Dorothy Sayers points out, not a matter of a particular sin; rather, of being so hard of heart as not to know which way to turn to God. With its famous first line of the translation by H. F. Cary, the poem opens:

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 befel,
All else will I relate discover'd there.