Halfway along our journey to life's end
I found myself astray in a dark wood,
Since the right way was nowhere to be found.
How hard a thing it is to express the horror
Of that wild wood, so difficult, so dense!
Even to think of it renews my terror.
It is so bitter death is scarcely more.
But to convey what goodness I discovered,
I shall tell everything that I saw there.
How I got into it I cannot say:
I'd fallen into such a heavy sleep
The very instant that I went astray.
Dante has lost the 'Right Way' through life: he has stumbled into the Dark Wood of sin and error. He is trying to climb the Mountain - image of the soul's Return to God. He is confronting what we might call his own kind of mid-life crisis, re-evaluating his ambitions, values - trying to find meaning in his life
Dante finds his way forward blocked first by a Leopard, image of the self-indulgent sins of youth, including lust and incontinence in general.
And then, just where the hill began to rise,
I saw a leopard, light upon its paws,
Covered all over in a spotted hide!
It would not move, but stood in front of me,
And so obstructed me upon my journey
I kept on turning round to turn and flee.
Then a Lion, symbol of Pride and representing the violent and bestial aspects of human nature - the sins of manhood and middle age.
It seemed to me the beast was drawing near
With head held high, and so irate with hunger
The air itself seemed shivering in fear.
…. and a She-Wolf representing avarice, fraud and the sins of old age.
And then a she-wolf! Though she was so lean
She looked about to burst, being crammed with cravings,
She who'd made many draw their breath in pain.
The pain she caused me was so terrible,
And such the terror coming from her sight,
I lost all hope of climbing the hill.