From the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri
Translated by S. Fowler Wright
Published by: Oliver And Boyd
Edinburgh, Tweedale Court. London: 98 Great Russell Street.
Printed by: Robert Cunningham & Sons Ltd., Alva
Inside Front Cover: Mr Sydney Fowler Wright's metrical version of Dante's Inferno received high praise when it was published in 1928. His Purgatorio is written on the same plan, and presents what to many is the most attractive part of the Divine Comedy in the form of a readable English poem.
Besides being a poet of some distinction, Mr. Fowler Wright has also an established reputation as a novelist, biographer and essayist, and his stories of the Mildew gang, published under the name of Sydney Fowler, will be familiar to many readers.
IT is now twenty-five years since I published a translation of the Inferno, which was received with at least as much favour as it deserved, and has long been out of print. The present translation of the Purgatorio was made at the same time and on the same principles, as was also the Paradiso, which I hope may yet be published. Meantime, for the benefit of such readers as do not know my Inferno, I repeat below part of the original preface which sufficiently explains what I have tried to do.
There are at least three obstacles to an English translation of Dante which shall be at once worthy and popular. First of all there is the initial and almost insuperable difficulty of translating poetry of any kind from or into any language whatsoever. Second, there is a special obstacle arising from the form in which the Divine Comedy was composed, hendecasyllabic terza rima, which cannot be successfully imitated in English. Third, there is the fact that a student of Dante is confronted by such a massed accretion of commentary that his approach to the poem is almost forced toward the pedantic rather than the poetic. Here I am tempted to say that my first qualification for this undertaking is that, while I have some knowledge of European poetry, and some practice in its composition, I make no claim whatever to Italian scholarship.
I conclude that Dante would certainly not have selected for an English poem the terza rima in which the Divine Comedy is written, but that he would, with equal certainty, have selected the decasyllabic line, which is the finest and most flexible of which our language is capable. This line can be used with equal success for blank and for rhymed verse. My decision (which must be justified, if at all, by the result) was to use it, introducing rhyme with an irregular freedom, but to endeavour to reach a quality of verse which would be so far independent of this subordinate feature that its irregularity, or even occasional absence, would be unobtrusive to the reader's mind.
Having selected a form in which I hoped to be able to move with sufficient freedom, and which, in English, is best adapted to the spirit of the poem, I had to face the larger questions of formal and spiritual fidelity. In regard to these I recognize two primary obligations: first, I regard it as inexcusable to introduce any word or phrase which discolours the meaning of the original, or deviates widely from it; second, I am bound to present the substance of the poem with such verbal beauty as I am capable of constructing, even though an adjective be omitted or added in the process, or some non-essential order of narration be changed to obtain it. This last freedom of rendering is not merely a translator's right, it is a clear duty, because the directness and vigour of the original cannot be reproduced by any verbal literality, and it is of the first importance that he inspire the poem with a new vitality.
My own approach having been poetic rather than pedantic, I have concerned myself very little with the subtleties of disputed words unless some fundamental question of spiritual interpretation be dependent thereon. Since notes and references are so freely available in many excellent editions and commentaries, I have not included any explanatory matter.
Some knowledge of the conditions of Europe, social, political, and intellectual, as Dante knew them, some knowledge of the corruptions of Church and State, and of the civil discords which distracted his native Florence, and prevailed in most of the cities of Northern Italy, may be essential to an understanding of the poem; a more detailed knowledge will add greatly to the enjoyment of many passages in it; but, finally, the Divine Comedy must stand or fall by its internal vitality, and it may gain more than it loses by being presented independently of the almost unbelievable accretions of disputation and commentary which have been piled upon it.
The cosmographical idea on which the poem is founded is extremely simple. The earth is a fixed point in the centre of the Universe. The northern hemisphere is inhabited by the race of Adam. Purgatory is an isolated mountain in the seas of the southern hemisphere, which was unexplored at the time at which the poem was written. The seven Heavens extended, one beyond the other, above the earth on every side, the seventh being infinite in extent. Hell is a central core of evil in the earth's interior.
Metaphorically, Dante represents himself as being entangled in the corruption of Florentine politics, and restrained from their temptations by his love of literature (Virgil) and by his memory of Beatrice, by which influences he is led through and out of this central Hell to the ultimate Heaven.
It would be absurd to suppose that Dante believed in this Hell of his imagination as a physical fact. It would have been contrary to the logic of this intellect to suppose that he could discover its locality, or that of a material Purgatory, by his own intuition; nor, had he intended his readers to regard it otherwise than allegorically, would he have peopled it with fabled monsters such as Minos, Cerberus. and the Minotaur; or with demons of Persian, and centaurs of Greek, mythology.
He drew widely and impartially from every source of human imagination. He faced the mystery of evil without flinching. He saw that good and evil are inevitable and everlasting, as long as life be free-willed and finite and recognizing this, he asserted confidently the divine supremacy of love, and its continual conquest, so that the whole conception becomes one magnificent metaphor of the preponderance of good and its eternal triumph, the residuum of evil being continually chased down and pressed into its central core, while the surrounding Heavens extend upwards, each of a larger orbit, and of a greater holiness than the one below, till the ultimate bliss of the seventh Heaven extends into infinity, so that even the vast extent of the six Heavens below is a triviality in comparison.
It has been said that the latter parts of the poem are of less general interest than the first, the Purgatorio being encumbered with a dead philosophy, and the Paradiso rendered monotonous by the fact that Dante had nothing but light and colour with which to build the Heavens of his imagination.
I venture to challenge these opinions. To me, the power and the imagination of the poem rise as it proceeds. I hope to have justified this assertion; and, should I have failed, should still hold that the fault is mine, and not that of the greater poet.
Certainly, he would not himself have given the place of honour to the Inferno, and if we consider it separately, we should not forget that the path through Hell is only a means of approach to a clearer atmosphere where his art
Reviving from that depth where beauty dies
Purgatorio, Canto I
can occupy itself with better things, till it culminates in the vision of the ultimate triumph of the Divine Love:
- For all the earth
That yearned for Heaven, and all the Heaven that bent
Toward it, separate by the gulf of sin,
Love bridges at last, and ye behold herein
The bridal joys of their so long desire.
Ye see the path God's suffering paved with fire;
And Christ comes down it.
Paradiso, Canto XXIII
At last my barque to cross no pitiless sea
Puts outward. Long the course before me lies;
But here are softer winds, and loftier skies,
And friendlier waters. O Calliope!
Exalt me now, for here are heights beyond
The fore-conception of the dismal pond
Where last I journeyed. All the art I bring,
Reviving from that depth where beauty dies,
Can scarce contrive the second realm to sing
Where the cleansed soul its final worth attains,
And wins ascent to Heaven. O sacred Nine!
To my weak words your songful strains combine
Which once the Magpie-minstrels heard, with pains
That dared to hope no pardon.
All the east
Was sapphire, deepening in the lucid air
To earth's horizon. Love's ambassador
With silver radiance made the Pisces dim,
Her regal escort. Think'st thou not, to him
So lately climbed from that dense atmosphere
Which choked his breathing, and his sight had blurred,
It seemed not earth but final Heaven were here?
I looked to southward, and the gleaming Cross
No eyes had gladdened since our parents' loss
Was splendour. All the wide sky banqueted
In that soft light. O widow North! debarred
Of so much beauty. Then I turned regard
To where the chariot of the northern skies
Had sunk already, when before us showed
A man so reverend in his age, so wise
In aspect, that it had not seemed too hard
With filial fear to serve him. Grizzled-grey
The hair that on his breast and shoulders lay;
And so the sacred lights reflected glowed
Of those four stars from off his face, it seemed
As though the sun's full glory backward gleamed.
'Who are ye,' shaking back his locks, he cried,
'Who thus escape the eternal dungeon? How
The river stemmed ye? Who was found for guide?
How came ye through the infernal night that now
Hath closed that vale for ever? Doth yet the abyss
Revolt against us? Or is it shown in this
That Heaven revokes its own decrees, and gives
Its aid to Hell's convicted fugitives?'
My Guide's firm hand was on me, and he spake
And signed me reverence on my knees to make,
Before he answered: 'Not unpiloted
We came, for One that in the Holiest lives
Commanded that this living man be led
From out such maze as else his end had meant,
By this sole rescue left. Were long to tell
The ways we traversed through the pits of hell.
Now must I show him those whose sins repent
In willing penance underneath thy care.
The virtue from the Utmost Heights derives
Which gave me power to guide him. Hence my prayer
Is bold to urge his freedom. Liberty
He seeks, and suffers. Those who gave their lives,
As thou didst once, no more constraining plea
Can hearken. In Utica, death for thee
Was not too bitter, nor thy garb of flesh
(That in God's Judgment shall outshine afresh)
Too dear to barter in such cause. We break
Eternal laws in nothing. For he yet lives;
And I no leave from condemnation take,
For Minos binds me not. My freedom lies
Where dwells thy Marcia, whose imploring eyes
Look up for thy remembrance. For her sake
Give favour. Grant thy seven wards we see,
And I will thank thee for thy words, if we
Who keep that circle are not held too low
For thy regarding.'
He replied: 'So fond
My thought to Marcia when on earth we dwelt
That all things that she willed, my love to show,
I gave her gladly. Now she stays beyond
The stream of condemnation, all I felt
Is stilled within me; Heavenly law compelled
This severance when I left the drear abode.
But since your right to this infrequent road
A high Madonna of the Heavens confers,
You need not flatter, for your course is held
Beyond my verdict. Go - but this regard;
The man is mortal, and the course is hard
For such to traverse. Thou shalt cleanse away
The filth of hell-fumes that his visage blurs,
And with a smooth rush gird him. Wrong it were
To face the Angel of the souls that dwell
In Paradise, the while the fogs of hell
Yet blind them. Round this isle, on every side,
Even where the tide's full force, with naught to stay,
Sweeps upward, osiers in an oozy bed
Grow thickly. (Nothing else is rooted there,
Nor could be. Naught that shooteth leaves should dare,
Nor aught that hardens into wood.) The tide
They thwart by yielding. Thither haste, nor try
To here return, for here ye go not by.
The sun, that nearly to the dawn is due
Will show the easier slope to take.'
And we, reluctant, left the steep descent
As one who wanders from the path he knew,
And counts each backward step a loss the more
To find it. Now the dawn advancing slew
Upon the rear of twilight where it fled,
And we, yet far, from higher ground could see
The shimmering of the dim, disclosing sea;
Till came we in a shady place to tread
Where still the sunlight had not chased the dew,
And here my Master bent with hands outspread
On the wet grass, and I, his purpose guessed,
Tendered my face, that all the sights of hell
With tears had streaked, and pestilent mists had stained,
And he unveiled me, till no trace remained
Of that distortion. Then we came to where
The barren beaches met the waters, bare
Of any traffic of returning men;
And he, obedient to the high behest,
A lowly rush to gird me pulled, and then
I watched a marvel. Where he plucked there came
Another like it, and their count the same.
The sun which darkened on Jerusalem
Was dawning here, while night from Ganges came,
Bearing the equal scales she casts away
When, in the late year, she outlasts the day.
Now from the fair Aurora's cheeks had fled
The youthful evidence of white and red,
Their beauty conquered, while we gazed at them
By age's mellower sign of tawny flame.
Still by the bare seashore we stayed, as they
Who travel in their thoughts, before the way
Their feet attempt, till, as the warrior star
Goes redly in the west above the sea,
When vapours thicken, so I watched afar
(God grant me yet once more that sight to see!)
A light so swiftly move, no earthly flight
Could equal. Once my Guide a glance I gave,
And looked back instant, but a larger light
Confronted. On each side a shape of white
Was forming, and emerging from below
A third shone later. Naught my guide would show,
Until the Angel's lifted wings were clear,
Then cried he to me 'Bend thy knees, and praise!
The Angel of the Eternal God is here.
For thou dost enter to the loftier sphere
Where of such kind He makes His ministers.
Behold how he rejects of sail or oar
The aid to use, but from the distant shore
With ever-youthful plumes he cleaves the air,
That do not moult, nor age as mortal hair.'
Thereat I bent, and looked again, and found
That my reluctant eyes desired the ground
And shrank that glory. But the Angel neared:
Beneath his feet a flying boat, that cleared
The waves so lightly that it scarce displaced
A ripple on the shining path it traced.
Upon the poop he stood. His wings divine
Impelled its passage, and his looks benign
Where on a hundred souls that there I knew,
As with one voice they sang: 'In exitu
Israel de Aegypto.' With the sign
Most holy, each he blessed, as each ashore
Stept from the boat; and backward course he bore,
Another load to find.
So left, looked round them with strange eyes, as they
Who dream they find an unfamiliar morn,
In scenes that not their waking eyes have viewed,
Wondrous. Behind their backs the breaking day
Had broadened, and the rout of Capricorn
The sun's swift arrows in mid-heaven had won.
Their glances found us. 'If ye know,' they said,
'The upward way by which our feet should tread,
Wilt lead us?'
Virgil answered them: 'Ye deem
We hold acquainted paths, but strange are we,
Even as yourselves. The hard ascent will seem
To us but pastime, from such dark degree
The spirits clustered round, and saw
My body breathing, and the outraged law
Confused their minds, and like the multitude
That crowd, uncaring on whose feet they tread,
The while the olived herald's news is read,
So came they, through the wonder that they viewed
Forgetful of their cleansing need.
Approached me in a mood so arduous
That thrice to grasp its form, where form was none
(O form unsubstanced of the empty dead!)
Mine arms I lifted, and relaxed. As thus
I reached and wondered, with a smile the shade,
Retreated from me, and a sign it made
To hold me backward. 'Nay, desist,' it said,
'I pray thee', and the voice a memory stirred.
Whereat I answered: 'Nay, but speak, I pray!'
It said: 'When breathed I mortal life I heard
Thy voice with pleasure: therefore praise I now
Again to hear it. But I fail to see
Why pause be needed. Wilt thou not with me
The path continue?'
'O my Casella,'
I said, 'I journey to the world you left.
But tell me why, of mortal days bereft
So long time sooner. here defrauded still
He replied: 'No ill design
Hath held me. He who taketh whom he will
Hath justly others' larger claims than mine
Regarded, and deferred me, though I oft
Have pled for passage. But I came today
Because the three months of the Jubilee
A peaceful passage for all souls hath bought
That there desire it. So the place I sought
Where Tiber's waters meet the salter sea,
And he received me in his barque.
Forever gathering, all dead souls repair,
Except the sad descent to Acheron
Their sins have purchased. There again have gone
His wings of mercy.'
'If the later laws,'
I answered, 'that the ransomed shades obey
Will sanction, gladly would I hear once more
Thy gift of song, that in the far-away
Remembered leisures raptured all my soul,
Or soothed its grieving. Couldst thou still console
A body wearied, and a mind that wars
With darkest recollections?'
Commenced so sweetly on the canzonet
'Love in the kingdom of my mind confers'
That in mine ears its cadence lingers yet,
And not I only, but my gentle Guide,
And all the ransomed souls that grouped beside,
Were held in rapture.
On their feeding ground
Hast seen how quarrelsome doves their feuds forget,
And quieten to the scattering tares? Hast seen,
If any sound arise, or motion stir,
How with one lift their sudden wings appear,
Their hunger conquered by the sharper fear?
So now, forthright, another mood we found,
When came that venerable guide, and said,
In sharp reproof: 'Why pause ye here? What mean
- O sluggards on the path to holiness! -
This negligence, this hasteless pace to shed
The stainful vestures that your faults confess,
Which blinds ye from the presence of God?'
Thereat, as those in too much haste to heed
Their path of flight, I saw this company
Attempt the ascent; nor any less were we
Stirred by that chiding voice precipitate.
So fled they up their natural path; but I,
Who could not lightly from my mind abate
My conscious needing of my Master's aid,
Drew closer to his side. Who else but he
Could lead me? What my weaker steps rely,
If he were failure? Self-reproached he seemed
Beyond my concept. Slightest fault is great
To one pure-purposed. When his feet forebore
The haste unseemly that his mind betrayed,
- Haste that doth every human act degrade -
My mind was quieted by his peace, and grew
Conscious and eager for that height anew
That Heavenward rose.
The sun, that mounted red
Behind our backs, my shadow lengthened spread
Upon the rising steep. With startled dread
I saw it lonely, and too quickly deemed
My Guide had left me as I pressed ahead,
And turned to find him near my side.
'Why dost thou doubt? The shadow, once that fell
Before me as I walked, can fall no more,
Since that which cast it at Brundusium
(But since to Naples moved) I laid aside.
Yet naught that should perplex thy mind I tell,
Who knowest that Heavens on Heavens in circles wide
Include the Heavens below, which do not hide
Nor interrupt their rays. High Power ordains
That our unsubstanced shades must still succumb
To mortal weakness. Cold of falling rains,
Heats, wounds, disease, with all their varying pains,
Can still torment us, as thyself hast seen.
But how the Omnipotent brings such ends to be
Is hidden, and foolish in his thoughts is he
Who deems that mortal reason may discern
The trackless, infinite ways; or modes may learn
By which Three Persons in one Substance act.
Content ye with inexplicable fact.
For were all reason by our race possest
God had not lain a child on Mary's breast;
Nor had men yearned in vain that Light to see
Whose absence made their grief eternally. -
I speak of Plato and Aristotle,
And numerous others that thyself beheld.'
Then, by the thought perturbed, he sank his head,
And walked in silence.
Now we came to where
The mountain from its steep foundation swelled
So sheerly that our willing feet could find
No further footing. Like an easy stair
Between Lerici rise and Turbia
Their broken desolate heights in this compare.
My master needs must pause. 'Now where,' he said,
'Is access here? For gentler slopes, inclined
For men unpinioned, go we left or right?'
And while he bent his head, with thoughtful mind
Seeking resolve, and I that hopeless height
Surveyed, a crowd of souls advanced to sight
From leftward. But they came with feet so slow
They scantly moved the while I watched.
O Master,' spake I, 'if thou canst not tell
The advancing way, are others here who well
May help us.'
Then my Master smiled, and said:
'Thy doubt was needless, yet we best may go
To meet them faster than their pace. Do thou
Meantime reject a baseless fear.'
Their motion that a thousand yards we trod
And still a practised hand a stone could throw
No further distant than they seemed, who then
Drew sideward to the cliffs, and grouped as men
Who doubted all the path they came, and now
With undecided glances halt. My Guide
Hailed them. 'O ye that in the grace of God,
And in the peace of His election died,
I charge ye by that peace that here ye show
The upward path - the more of time we know,
The more to lose it irks us.'
As sheep that timorous leave the fold, or stand
Unsure, with drooping heads and downcast eyes,
Issuing by ones and twos (and if the first
Should pause, they bunch behind, not anywise
Attempting passage, nor to understand
The cause that stays them), so this fortunate band
Opposed us in a meek simplicity,
Not abject in its mien; but when they saw
My shadow blot the mountain-side, they drew
A little back, and those behind (who knew
No cause) did likewise, till my Leader said:
'Unasked, I tell ye. This that here ye see
Is human, and his body yet may flaw
The light's advance. But marvel not for this.
If one shall with you move who is not dead,
And enter living to the heights of bliss,
It is by virtue from those heights bestowed.'
To which they answered: 'Then the way ye came
Return before us', and reversed our road
With motions of their hands.
But one man cried:
'Whoe'er you be, regard me. If my name
Were onetime known in that left world, I pray
That now thou wilt recall it.'
Looked closely. One of gentle mien I saw,
And blond, and tall. A sword, before he died,
Had cleft an eyebrow. When I could but say,
Humbly, I had not seen him, he replied
(Showing a wound that broke his breast): 'See that.'
- Smiling - 'I am Manfredi. I am he,
Costanza's grandson, and my daughter she
Whose children rule today in Sicily
And Aragon. I pray thee her to tell
That though beneath the Church's curse I fell,
Yet, when these mortal wounds I felt, I gave
My soul to Him who hath the power to save.
I was not guiltless; but the sins I did,
They could not from the arms of God forbid:
The arms of Infinite Good, that reach so wide
That none who seeks them shall be closed outside.
'If he, Costanza's priest, this truth had read
With understanding in the Writ Divine,
He had not then, by Clement's urging led,
So dealt with those rain-beaten bones of mine
That now the homeless winds consort, beside
Garigliano's desert banks, that lie
Beyond the lands I lost. Those bones he bore
In ritual darkness excommunicate
To that dishonour. But the hope denied
Still lives. Before such curse Love Crucified,
The Eternal Love, is not so lost but still
The shadow of hope is dimly seen. Yet those
Who die repentant but unreconciled
Must wait delayed without the Sacred Hill
For thirty times the space of years that saw
The fault of their presumption unsubdued;
Unless the assault of prayers importunate
Be heard in Heaven, and their doom abate.
'I would that thou shouldst tell my dear-loved child
The nature of this interdict that she
Should mourn no longer that the Church's feud
Expelled me from the holiest rites. - But say
Still potent are the living lips that pray.'
We know that when the soul doth concentrate,
At pleasure's impulse, or the call of pain,
Upon one object, or the exercise
Of one roused function, all beside abate
Their clamour at this urge importunate.
Refuting the Manichaean falsity
That plural are the souls our frames contain;
And therefore when assault of sight or sound
Invades, and wins the soul's surrender thus,
To all besides it grows oblivious.
Yet sight or hearing is not soul: for free
The soul remains, and these it doth constrain
Or else release to serve it.
Thus I found
That, while I wondered at Manfredi's word,
My mind, in marvel at the things I heard,
Perceived not that the sun three hours had left
The earth's horizon, till the souls around
Cried with one voice: 'The place ye seek is here.'
I think that with a single fork of thorns
A husbandman would close a wider cleft
That gaps the boundary of the vines, than that
Which here they showed. San Leo's fortressed height
And Noli's steep descent a man may tread
With feet unaided, or the crest attain
Of Bismantova, but the peaks ahead
That faced us now, must very wings require,
- The wings, at least, of hot and swift desire
To follow closely where my Master led.
We left these gentle guiding souls; we clomb
With foot and hand the riven rocks between,
A path so narrow that the walls would brush
At once both shoulders, till we came to where
The gullet ended, and the ultimate dome
Of the precipitous mount beyond our sight
Aspired to Heaven. When this new height was seen,
I asked my Master: 'Turn we left or right?'
He answered: 'Neither. Do not shirk nor fail.
We go straight upward; till some Guide appear
More competent than I.'
I could but lean,
Panting, against a slope that rose more sheer
Than would a line from middle quadrant drawn
To reach the centre. 'Father,' I began,
'Kind father, turn thou; here I needs must stay.
Thou wilt not leave me thus?' He answered: 'Nay,
My son, take courage. Will thy strength avail
To drag thee there?' And with a pointing hand
He showed a terrace that aloft was seen
Girdling the mountain. By his words inspired,
I strove anew, with sinews toiled and tired,
To crawl behind him, till that cincture lay
Beneath our feet that trod it.
Here we sat,
And eastward turned our downward eyes to gaze
Upon the vanquished path; for conquered ill
Is pleasant to regard. From off the flat
And reed-grown shore, and mountainous slope, I raised
Mine eyes toward the morning light, amazed,
Perceiving that the sun's assailing rays
From leftward came. My poet-guide observed
My mute bewilderment. The sun's bright car
To northern heaven its shining circuit curved.
He told me: 'If, beside the lordlier star
That lights the earth above, and then below,
Castor and Pollux moved in company,
Then wouldst thou see the Zodiac's golden bow
Lie closer to the Bears; its ancient way
Not changing therefor. Rouse thy mind to see
The simple solving of this mystery;
And think of Zion as the mount that stands
So opposite, that round us here expands
Another hemisphere that spreads to meet
The same horizon; and the heavenly street,
Where Phaeton's chariot fell, must hold its way
To right of Zion, and to leftward here.'
'Master,' I answered, 'never yet so clear
My mind perceived it. That dividing line
By some men called Equator, severing sheer
The summer from the winter hemisphere,
Is now our north horizon bound, as far
In distance as the Hebrews once beheld,
Gazing to southward. . . But I pray thee tell
How far we yet must climb. These heights exceed
My furthest gaze.'
He answered: 'Heed thou this.
The mount is hard. But though at first it swelled
So steeply, yet its earlier ills decline
With each advancing step, until the ascent
Will easeful grow as doth a boat descend
A stream's smooth current. When this ease is thine,
At once the summit and thy rest are near.'
This thing he pledged me, and no more would say;
And in the silence, close beside the way,
Another voice we heard: 'Perchance a need
Of earlier rest will be.' We turned to heed.
Left was a slab of upward stone, and here
We looked, and loitered in its shade we found
An indolent-seeming group, and on the ground
Was seated one with arms his knees around,
And head that bowed upon them 'Lord,' I said,
'He loungeth lazier than his sister Sloth '
Thereat the figure slightly raised its head
From off the thigh's support, more to regard
Our own approach, and answered: 'Strong art thou.
Go upward.' But the lifted face I knew,
And though I panted yet, my feet unloth
Made haste to reach him.
'Nay, Belacqua, now
I grieve thy death no more,' I made reply,
'But tell me, wait'st thou here how long, and why?
Is escort needed? Or doth ease retard,
- The old mode enduring still?'
And he to me:
'Brother, what use to ask? God's angel sits
To guard the portal. Would he let me in?
For those who drift through unrepentant days
Will find that here an equal law delays
Their upward passage - save that prayer remits
Some portion of the wasted years, that else
I now must balance with the like delay -
Prayer surgent from a heart God's grace inspires,
For else the wingless thought in mounting tires,
And no sound reaches through the Heavenly choirs '
But, while he drawled his hasteless speech, my Guide
Had turned once more to breast the mountain-side,
And called me: 'Come! Behold, the mounting sun
Hath reached mid-heaven, and half its course is run;
And on the horizon-line, beyond our sight,
Morocco darkens at the feet of night.'
Following my Leader's steps, I left behind
That slothful band, when one that watched me cried,
With pointed finger at myself 'Doth mind
How he to rearward blocks the light? Methinks
He might be living!'
Then I turned and eyed
A group awake with wonder, while they viewed
My body's shadow on the slope. But he,
My Master, spake with sharp reproof: 'Why so
Doth all delay thee? Let their whispering be.
Wilt thou regard their talk, or come with me?
Strong towers unmoved by wandering winds remain,
But vacillant minds, where thought by thought is slain,
Are futile in their ends.'
To this rebuke
What answer could I give, except 'I come',
And with such colour, though the lips be dumb,
As wins forgiveness?
Where a path transgressed
Some space before us, while we spake, there showed
Another band that on their upward road
Sang Miserere verse by verse, but when
They saw me in the wise of earthly men,
They changed their word, and like a raven's croak
A long-drawn Oh! came hoarsely, while there broke
Two spirits from the band, that herald-wise
Approached us and besought: 'Disclose the state
Of thine invasion here.' My Guide replied:
'Return to those that sent ye. If their eyes
Observed his shadow, say he hath not died
Who here walks with me. Mortal evident frame
He yet inhabits. Let their thoughts abate
No honour therefor: that they grant today,
His service to themselves may soon repay.'
I have not seen shot stars at midnight fall,
Nor lightnings that ignited clouds display
In August sunsets, with such speed, as now
These spirits to their band returned; and all
Their comrades with them wheeled, and came, as though
A herd of horses galloped unreined, unrid,
Loose-maned upon us.
My Master spake: 'Do thou
Attend, but pause not. All these people throng
With one petition.'
'Soul, who yet dost know
The mortal members that thy birth supplied
To work thy pleasure, turn thy steps aside
Awhile to hear us.' So they wailed. 'Survey
If here be those familiar, that thy word
May take good tidings to our earthly kin.
Alas! Dost thou not pity? Hast thou not heard?
Wilt thou not pause? For in the throes of sin
By violence died we. Yet the light Divine
In that last hour redeemed us, that we died
Pardoning and pardoned; pregnant of desire
To reach the Love that saved us.'
Down their line
I looked intently, yet I could but say:
'I know not any. What your hearts require,
Speak freely. By the peace I seek, I swear
I will not fail to help you.'
'We do not ask thine oath, but trust thee more
Of kindness, if the power be thine. And I,
Who speak thee first, beseech, that if thine eyes
Behold once more the pleasant vale that lies
Between Romagna and King Carlo's land,
Be fervent for me in thy prayers, for there
I saw the light in Fano; but the gore
That welled from out my wounds, in Padua ran.
Too late I journeyed westward, where I planned
My greater safety. That D'Este did,
Whom wrath made blind to justice. Had I fled
Toward La Mira when pursuit was nigh,
It may be that today I were not dead,
Who died at Oriaco. There I ran
For succour to the marsh, but had not hid
Before they found me. In the reeds and mire
I stumbled forward, till the pool I saw
Which was my blood that made it.'
Another: 'When fulfilled thine own desire,
And the high mount is won, I pray thee aid
The longing that I show thee. I was bred
In Montefeltro; Buonconte I.
There is no voice that on my part hath prayed,
Not even Giovanna. Hence I go
Downcast, amidst of these more fortunate.'
I said: 'What chanced at Campaldino? Trace
Was found not of thee; nor thy burial place
Was known to any.'
'Truth I speak,' he said,
For thy repeating. Archiano's flow
In Apennine, above the Hermitage,
Runs down to Casentino's vale, to blend
With Arno's wider stream. Thither I came
Dismounted, wearied, fugitive. I bled
With every step, throat-wounded. There I fell.
Sight failed me, and my voice on Mary's name
Called, and was stilled forever. My empty course
Alone was left, for there God's Angel came
And took me. But there cried a voice from hell:
"O Thou of Heaven, can one poor word redeem?
One tear win pardon? Wilt thou rob my right?
At least, his mortal part is mine, to end
In different wise!" Thou knowest the mists that rise
From Pratomagno to the mountain-ridge,
Filling the great vale at times, until the skies
Congeal them as they reach the colder height?
This mist hell's angel called. At falling night
The valley filled, until the impregnate air
Poured rain in torrents, and every swollen stream
Rushed to the river in irresistible force.
The Archian foam, from narrow banks unpenned,
Found at its mouth my stiffening form, and there
Breaking apart the cross mine arms had made,
It flung me into Arno. There at last,
Swept down by swift deep currents, my bones are laid
Where the land's spoils in muddied depths are cast.'
Then sighed a voice behind: 'When home once more
In restful peace from thy long wandering,
Recall La Pia. That Siena bore,
Maremma ended. This he knows too well
Who on this hand, that wore an earlier ring,
Placed his own gem. I have no place in hell,
Who died unguilty. This I charge thee tell.'
When the last dice are thrown, the loser still
Remains disconsolate. Again he throws,
To test experience. But the victor goes,
With elbowing friends around him. One retains
His side; another pulls his cloak; a third
Obstructs his path. He does not pause to fill
The expectant hands that reach to share his gains,
But moving onward still, with casual word
To right and left contents them. As they hear
The promised boon, their importunity
Is stayed, and in this wise he shakes them clear
And finds his exit. In that multitude
So felt I, facing right and left to stay
Their prayers with pledges. Benincasa here,
Who learnt his death from Ghino, pressed beside
That other from Arezzo - he who died
By drowning, in his foes' pursuit. Here too
Novello with appealing hands I viewed,
And him of Pisa, who the fortitude
Of good Marzucco could not break. I saw
Count Orso; and that soul whom envy slew,
As his last words maintained. She well may heed,
The Lady of Brabant, while yet she lives,
Lest haply at the last a juster law
Consign her to a fouler company
Than this, where Dalla Broccia came.
At last from all these pleading souls, who sought
The prayer of those yet living, that themselves
Might gain a sooner sanctity, I asked:
'O guiding light! my thoughts recall thy line
Which taught that prayer is vain, high Heaven's decree
To shake or change. It seems thy verdict gives
The pleadings that we heard to end in naught.
Are those who pray for souls so prisoned self-tasked
In wasted effort? Or these words of thine
Transcend mine understanding?'
'My words were clear, and, justly weighed, decline
Thy mind's assertion. Not in vain they pray;
Nor is God's justice foiled because the fire
Of Love makes instant satisfaction
To the full sum that earthly faults require.
I spoke of only those whose hope is gone.
There is no power in any prayer from hell.
It has no access to the Throne. But yet
Rest not thy mind in this suspicion,
Nor take my teaching here, except it be
Confirmed by Her to whom thou goest, for She
Shall guide thee to the truth. You may not guess
My thought is of Beatrice. On this height
She waits thee, radiant in felicity.'
Then said I: 'Good my Leader, let us press
At better speed ahead. My weariness
Hath fallen from me; and the shades of night,
That lengthen round us, urge our haste.'
'We shall advance our upward course today
As light allows, but different is the way
From that thou thinkest. Ere thy feet are set
On that far summit, the retreating sun
Again shall greet us. . . But that spirit observe
Who stands alone and silent. He will show
The swiftest passage where thy heart would go.'
At that, we turned toward it. Cold disdain,
O Lombard spirit, was in thine eyes, aloof
And silent, as we passed. A drowsing lion
Might thus have scorned us, till my Master spake,
Enquiring for the best ascent. And then
It did not answer, but enquired again
Whence and who were we in the world of men?
My Master answered: 'Mantua -" and thereat
The solitary spirit rose to take
A swift embrace. 'O Mantuan friend,' he cried,
'I am Sordello, of thine own town!' His pride
Forgotten at once.
O Italy, faction-rent!
O servile! Storm-flung vessel unpiloted!
Hostel of sorrows! A queen of lands no more,
But house of prostitution! Here was said
Merely the name of his loved home, for him,
That gentle spirit, all else to forget
And clasp the speaker.
Search from shore to shore
Of all thy seas - thine inmost glades explore,
And where is peace within thee? Where is set
A moat that doth not in its girth contain
The strife of factious foes? What continent wall
But townsmen at the hands of townsmen fall
Within the mockery of its girdle vain?
What boots Justinian gave thy reins repair
If none can mount thee, and thy seat is bare?
Thy shame is greater. Ah! thou race misled,
Couldst thou not give the glory to God, and yet
Maintain thy Caesar in his temporal power?
O Austrian Albert! in that fatal hour
When the wild beast thy bridle owned, oh, then
Why was thy spur left bloodless? Now she rears
Fierce, savage, tameless. In the sight of men
May some strange vengeance find thy race, to awe
The princes that succeed thee. Heaven's just law
Shall doom thee, and thy father, who beheld
The wider German lands, and in that greed
Left his fair garden to the invading weed.
Behold them, Capulet and Montague;
Monaldi, Filippeschi; one with fears,
The other with arrived calamity,
In turn confounded. Callous to all our need!
Behold the sufferings of thy nobles - nude
Of all things through thy service; then conclude
How safe Santafiore! Come, behold
Thy widowed Rome - the Rome that was thy bride
Deserted, destitute, who calleth now,
My Caesar, hast thou left me? If no ruth
Disturb thee to behold our griefs, let shame
Find entrance, for our state defouls thy fame.
And if my words may dare such flight - O Thou,
Almighty! who for us wast crucified,
Are Thy just eyes withdrawn? Or dost Thou plan
Within Thy counsels, deep, inscrutable,
Some ultimate good, beyond the thought of man,
From all this evil? For the land we love
Is ruined by tyrants. Each side-serving cheat
Becomes Marcellus in his own conceit.
But thou, my Florence, well content wilt see
The shaft of censure winged that nears not thee,
By reason ruled, and subtle argument.
For though in many hearts is justice set,
Yet counsel hinders, and the shaft is slow,
Late fixed, and loosened from a slackening bow.
But thine have justice on their lips! The weight
Of public office, and the cares of state,
Are shirked by many; but thy people cry:
'I charge myself unasked, not backward I.'
Be happy in thy wisdom: rest content.
Regard thy wealth, thy peace! If scorn were meant
When thus I praise thee, needst thou care for that?
Will not the event resolve it?
Once were named
Athens and Lacedaemon not for naught.
Their gracious living, and the laws they framed,
Gave them repute well founded; but to thee
What were they at their greatest? Thou canst weave
Such subtle counsels that a month will find
The last month's wisdom left a mock behind.
How often hast thou in remembered time
Changed coinage, customs - all but race and clime -
So that, if to thyself thyself be clear,
Thou must in all this restless change appear
As one who on her sickbed turns to gain
A moment's respite from returning pain.
Three times and four their glad embraces met,
By those dear native memories urged, before
Past loss he might for present gain forget,
And asked what name my noble Leader bore.
He answered: 'Ere the herewith flight began
Of souls that by this Mount to God ascend,
My bones were buried by Octavian.
For I am Virgil. By no fault of sin
Debarred of Heaven, but lacking faith to win
The ultimate crown.'
As one whose eyes are set
Upon a scene that dumb amazement breeds,
So that 'It is not' to 'It is' succeeds
As sight and reason war, so looked he then.
But as the incredible doubt resolved, he bent
And humbly he embraced my Leader's knees.
'Oh, glory of the Latin race,' he said.
'Revealer of our tongue's high potencies,
Eternal jewel of the place wherein
My life began, what merit of mine could win
The grace of thy regarding? Wilt thou deign
To say if Hell, and from which ward of pain,
Thy spirit hath freed?'
He answered: 'All the woe
That fills the circles of the realm below
Mine eyes have seen, but not as one misled
To earn its scourging. Neither rise I free
As one released therefrom. A Power constrains
That I, who led through Hell's interior pains,
Lead upward also. But mine own abode
Immutable Justice hath decreed; for through
Not what I did but what I did not do
I stand excluded from the Light Divine
Which thou canst hope. There is a place below
From bliss made absent but reserved from woe,
Where no fire enters though no sun may shine,
And sorrow ends in sighing. There I stay
With those newborn whom Death's sharp teeth betray
Too soon for sin's release. With those am I
Who knew not faith, nor hope, nor charity,
Yet virtues all besides the holy three
They practised, faultless in themselves. . . But tell,
I pray thee, if thou canst, what upward way
Will lead us to the gate we seek, wherethrough
We reach the purgatorial wards.'
'We are not hindered to one place. We go
Upward at will, or else around, and so
I need not speak a path myself can show.
But see! the day declines. It were not well
To wander blindly, by the dark misled.
It were but wisdom of the hour to seek
A place of harbour for the night. Nearby,
But somewhat to the right, a rest is set
Where spirits apart until the morn will lie
In ease of concord which you might not share
Without delight in converse.'
'Nay, but why,'
My Leader answered, 'need we loiter thus?
Is there to reach that Gate no path for us
But night will hinder? Or will those be there
Whose mission is denial?'
'None will stay,'
Sordello answered, 'where you walk. But not'
- He drew a finger on the ground - 'so far
As is that short line's length from where you are
Would you make progress in the night. The will
Fails with the light. You would but blindly stray:
Most likely down.'
My Master looked as one
Who wonders but accepts. 'Then lead,' he said,
'To where this pleasure will requite delay.'
A little distance from that place away,
And sidelong to the rising Mount, he led.
Until we came to where a valley lay
Hollowing its side (our native hills include
Such lofty clefts), and here a pathway fell
At times, or levelled as it wound, from which,
Half downward now, the valley's floor we viewed.
Gold and fine silver, cochineal and lead,
The Indian wood-blue lucid and serene,
The fresh-flaked shining of the emerald green,
Would fade defeated from too hard compare
With the bright flowers and spreading verdure there.
Not colour only, but their fragrant scent
- Nature to one a thousand odours blent -
A large anonymous delight supplied,
Sweetness unsingled, unidentified.
And in the midst a group of souls were seen
Salve Regina singing.
'Where they sit,'
The Mantuan said, 'I will not lead as yet.
For we can view them, till the sun be set,
Better than when you join them there below. . .
He who sits highest, and alone, as though
Repenting negligence too late, with lips
That move not to his comrades' chant, is he
Who might have healed the wounds of Italy,
The Emperor Rudolph, through whose fault she sought
A new physician. He who sits beside,
As offering comfort, ruled the land wherein
The waters rise that to the Moldau flow,
And Moldau to the Elbe conveys, and she
Receives and carries to the distant sea.
Ottocar was he named. His life began
Better in childhood than, a bearded man,
His son, King Wenceslas, could boast to be,
Sloughed in soft ease and hindering luxury.
'And he, the short-nosed man, who beats his breast,
And seems to share their counsel, it was he
Who died in flight that soiled the lilies' pride,
Outhounded from Verona. He beside
Sighs with like woe, the while his cheek is pressed
Into the bed his palm provides. Aware
Is either of the common woes they share.
Father, and father of his bride, are they
To him who lives as France's curse today;
And hence the grief that irks them.
The large-limbed man who chants in unison,
In life with every kingly virtue girt,
Is Peter, once the Third of Aragon;
And he, the youth who sits behind, his son,
Who, had he long retained the crown, had shown
Worth following worth. But those succeeding heirs,
Frederick and James, have proved that he who wears
The father's crown not often emulates
The father's virtues, which from God alone
Must each derive.
'This truth, to equal pains,
The large-nosed man who sings with Peter knows,
By which Apulia's and Provence's banes
Already appear. So much the plant it bore
The virtue of the seed excelled, as more
Than could Beatrice or than Margaret
Constance still boasts her husband's worth.
From these, is Henry Third of England set:
He of the simple blameless life. To him
Was nobler issue.
'At the feet of all,
With lifted eyes, the Marquis William sits.
For whom, immured in Alessandria's wall,
On Monferrato and the Cevanese
Did war's intolerable scourging fall.'
It was that hour when they who seaward fare
Look back with longing through the darkened air,
Tender of heart for those dear friends whom they
Left at the morn; and if the pilgrim hear
A bell far, love stirs at the sweet sound
That spreads its sorrow to the dusk around,
Lamenting, as it seems, the death of day;
When I my sight upon one Shade anear
So fixed, I failed my Leader's words to hear.
I saw it signal with a lifted hand
To those around, and then its arms expand,
Stretched to the East, as though to God it said:
There is naught else I hear, naught else I see,
Only I reach to lose my soul in Thee.
Then from its mouth Te lucis ante came
In such sweet notes, with such devoutness wed,
That my surrendered spirit caught the flame,
Oblivious of myself; and every Shade
Gesture and song of aspiration made,
Following the hymn, and with their eyes intent
On those supernal wheels, God's firmament.
Oh, reader, here the hiding veil is thin,
Make keen thine eyes to seek the truth within.
Humble and pale, I saw that noble troop
Gaze upward, silent at the ended hymn,
As though they waited till the Heavens should stoop.
Till downward through the dusk, that now was dim,
Two angels in a single wonder came,
And in their hands two swords of shortened flame,
Shorn of their points; and their down-planing wings
Were green, and all their wind-blown raiment, green
As leaves newborn, as when on Earth is seen
The tender break of her returning Springs.
One settled near above to where we stayed;
The second on the further bank delayed;
The Shades assembling in the space between.
I saw their heads, of Heaven's high comeliness,
Except their eyes, that none might face to see.
Virtue, invisible through its own excess,
So hides itself from those as weak as we.
'They come from Mary's heart,' Sordello said,
'To guard this vale; for when the night is spread
The serpent else would make of these his prey.'
At which I shrank, who knew not by what way
The evil might approach, more close beside
The backward shoulder of my trusted Guide,
Chilled by that fear. Sordello's words the while
Continued thus: 'But let us downward go
Without more pause these noble Shades amid.
Well will it please them ye who come to know.'
Three steps - if recollection hold, but three -
Sufficed to bring us to the Shades below.
Close came I there to one I might not see
At distance that the darkening twilight hid,
Whose eyes to me, as my glad eyes to him,
Joined in one glance. Gallura's ruler he.
The noble Nino. Much I joyed to see
Hell had not closed him in its portals grim.
No salutation failed of courtesy
Between us twain, before he asked how long
Since I, across the intervening sea,
Had come to the desirable Mount. Whereto
I answered: 'Nay, but through the place of woe,
With limbs that to my human life belong,
I came by Heaven's excepting choice, and go
Such path that yet the second life to know
Good hope is mine.'
At this, in like amaze
Sordello and the Pisan backward drew.
Sordello on my Guide bewildered gaze
Directed. Nino, to a Shade who sat
On the near bank, exclaimed: 'Up, Conrad, see
What God in grace hath willed.' And then to me:
'I pray thee by this favour singular,
Thy debt to Him whose purpose none may read,
Whose wherefores lie to deep for human wit,
That when you cross once more the waters far
You charge Giovanna to intercede
Where the petitions of the innocent
Will not be vain to aid me. Scarce I think
Her mother loves me longer, since she changed
Her widow's wimple, shortly to repent
That thus she showed how women's hearts estranged
From the dead love, unpraised and uncaressed,
Forget so quickly. But she will not find
More sculptured honour on her tomb designed
By the coiled viper of the Milanese
Than had her faith retained Gallura's crest.'
He spake assured, as one made confident
Within his own integrity. But I
Mine eyes had lifted to the central sky
Wherein the process of the stars is slow,
As near its axle moves the wheel. My Guide
Observed and questioned: 'Son, what point on high
Attracts thee thus?' And I to him: 'The glow
Of those three torches on this side the pole.'
To which he answered: 'Those four stars are low
Which pleased thee at their morning height, and these
Are risen to where they were.'
But while he spake
Sordello drew toward him. 'See,' he cried,
'How comes our foe.' And where the vale was wide
From its unguarded end advanced a snake
Such as perchance the bitter dole supplied
That ruined Eden. Through the flowers it came
Of that fair valley, with a backward head
At times, that licked and sleeked its scales, as though
Assured and leisured for the overthrow
Of those it sought.
I did not see their flight
When first the hawks of heaven beheld their prey,
And that I did not see I will not say.
But, as I watched the snake, the sound I heard
Above me, as the swift green pinions beat,
And raised mine eyes toward the heavenly sight,
The while the hasting of the snake's retreat
Confessed their power. The angels wheeled abreast,
And backward to their perches soared.
That Nino called, through all the snake's attack,
Held his fixed gave upon me. Now he said:
'So may the candle of thy will provide
Sufficient that the lantern shall not lack
That leads thee upward, till the emerald track
Disclose the summit, as thy lips shall tell
True news of Valdimagra. I who speak
Am Conrad Malaspina - not the first,
But from that first derived. To those who dwell
In that dear vale, my love, now purified,
Is constant ever.'
I to this replied:
'I was not ever in thy land, but through
All Europe's numerous tribes were vain to seek
For those who had not heard its name. So loud
Thy House's fame proclaims it. - This I swear
By all my hope of heaven: in all men's view
It hath not ceased its honour. Its sword is clean:
Its wealth untarnished. While the general crowd
Follows the evil road the Church's Head
Misleads them to their loss, in cleaner air
Thy gentler race, by use and custom led,
Keep the straight path.'
He answered: 'Yea, but go -
With this assurance go: The sun shall lie
Not seven times more in that nocturnal bed
Which with four feet the Ram bestrides, but thou,
If naught the natural course divert, shalt know
The truth of this thou sayest in courtesy,
By the sharp impact of thy private woe.'
The concubine of ancient Tithonus
Was rising whitely from her leman's bed
Along the gallery of the East, her head
Gemmed with cold radiance of the Scorpion's stars,
While the two steps had passed beneath her feet
By which she mounts upon the Night's retreat,
And planed the third its downward wings, when I,
Whose spirit had not cast its mortal bars,
As had those others, might no more deny
The needs of rest, and on the ground, where they,
My five companions, still conversing sat,
I stretched, and soon in sleep's oblivion lay.
What time the swallow stirs to plaintive song,
Ere the dawn widens in the East, as though
She wakes to memory of her ancient woe,
And when it seems our spirits least belong
To earth, or bonds of human thought, but stray,
Or follow guides divine pilgrim way
To visions that approach celestial kind,
Then saw I in the far blue heights of air,
With wide-stretched wings, a golden eagle soar:
An eagle poised to swoop. And I was where
The friends of Ganymede he left behind
Stood (so it seemed) and upward gazed, when he
Was raped aloft to Heaven's consistory.
'Perhaps,' I thought, 'it soars by custom here
Disdaining else to strike an earthly prey.'
And, as I thought, it wheeled, and stooped, and came
Swifter than any bolt, and yet more dread,
And bore me upward in its claws. . . The flame
Of Heaven was round us now. I felt it sear
My shrinking flesh, and in that tortured fear
Perforce I waked. Achilles once, as I,
Looked with astonished wakened eyes around,
What time his mother, who from Chiron fled,
Bore him asleep to Scyros, from which place
The Greeks expelled him at a later day.
Thus was I, as from my bewildered face
Slumber's oblivion passed, for air and ground
Were strange and different, and I felt as one
Frozen by fear to deathly cold. The sun
Two hours had risen. I looked around to see
A steep bare height. Beneath, the distant sea.
Only my Comforter was there, of all
I knew when sleep approached us. But his voice
Gave swift assurance. 'Do not fear at all.
Shrink not, but rouse thy senses. Here are we
Well placed for our ascension. Purgatory
Is here before us. See the galleried girth:
The gap suggesting entrance. . . At the birth
Of twilight, while the dawn was not the day,
And while thy soul within thee slept, there came
A spirit downward from the heights, who said:
'Lucia am I: upon his upward way
It is my part to speed him.' With the word
She took thee, sleeping, in her arms, and so
Led upward, while our friends remained below.
She laid thee here. With starbright eyes she showed
That gap that opens to the further road:
And sleep and she together went their way.'
As one whose fear slow-entering truths expel
For doubt and then for comfort, so was I
Transformed by this disclosure. All my dread
Fell from me. Seeing this, the path he led
Between the rampart and the steep descent,
To where that gate for ransomed souls was set.
(See, reader, how I guide my theme on high,
Nor wonder if my conscious art shall vie
To reach its exaltation.)
Now we neared
The place we sought, and that which first appeared
A fissure upright in the wall, became
A gateway entrance, with three steps that shone
Three colours; and in blinding light thereat,
Foiling mine eyes, a silent porter sat.
Sometime this silence held, the while the flame
His sword reflected, with my sight at war
Half baffled, half allowed, and glimpses saw
And faltered off his face: the light thereon
Too near to Heaven's for mortal eyes. He said
At last: 'Ye who so strangely stand, beware
Of hurt that waits for those who nearer dare,
And have no escort to release their way. -
Stand backward, while your present cause you say.'
My Master answered: 'How these things may be
Is ours to ask, but not unwarranted
We come. A dame of Heaven, it was but now,
Said to us: "There the entrance gates you see:
'May she guide your steps to good,'
The porter answered, with an altered brow,
Then we boldly drew
To those three steps. The first was marble white,
So finely polished that, as there I stood,
Myself was mirrored. Basalt, born of fire,
Darker than purple, was the next. Its face
Was rugged, and two cracks, the sacred sign,
Divided breadth and length. The third in hue
Was flaming porphyry. No blood so bright
From the pierced artery spouts. The angel's place
Was granite, where he sat, his feet the while
On the third step.
Upward my Leader drew
My diffident feet. 'Ask humbly thy desire,'
His voice was urgent, 'that he let thee through.'
Devoutly at the holy feet I fell.
Three times I smote my breast the while I pled
For mercy and for entrance. He thereat
The point of that sight-blinding sword applied
Upon my forehead while I knelt. He traced
Seven Ps thereon, the mortal sins to tell.
'Fail not, within, to wash these signs,' he said.
From out his raiment, cinder-brown in hue,
Or like to earth that cracks with drought, he drew
Two keys, one gold, one silver. These he placed
- The silver, then the gold - within the lock,
Which yielded, to my hearts content.
Must smoothly turn, for if the wards should block
It means,' he said, 'that entrance is denied.
More costly one; but that of worth the less
Needs more of art to turn, and more of wit.
The intricacies of the lock by it
Are solved and conquered. Peter's hand supplied
These keys, and charged me that mine own should err
Rather, with those who come in humbleness,
To open than refuse.'
The while he spake
He pushed the gate wide open. 'Go,' he said,
'Right upward, only with one thought for spur:
Those who look back are backward brought.'
Tarpeia bellowed for Metellus' loss,
Whereby she languished with lean flanks unfed,
Than on their pins those metal hinges swung.
But I turned from them, more intent to hear
A higher music, which did faintly break
On doubtful ears.
As when some chant is sung
To organ music which prevails so high
That half the words are heard and half are drowned,
So through that sweet and distant harmony
I caught Te Deum in uncertain sound.
Within that gate which love of evil leaves
Too little sought of human souls, because
To it the tortuous way seems straight, I heard
The clanging close. But did I therefore pause,
Or backward glance? For such a fault as that
What plea could hope for pardon?
The difficult way, through rocks that here recede,
And here come forward, like a moving tide.
My Leader cautioned: 'Here, from side to side,
Our crooked passage, as the rocks allow,
And with some art, we need to choose.'
So true became, the waning moon had set
Before we issued from that toilsome net.
It was a cornice where we came, no more
In breadth than three men's length would reach. Before
The sheer rock rose: behind the sheer rock fell.
To right, to left, the cornice stretched, more bare
Even to the limit of sight, than roads that lie
Through desert lands, and in uncertainty
Which way to turn, and I being wearied, there
Sometime we stayed. Upon the fronting rock
I gazed. It seemed, our further course to block,
It rose uncleft by fissure, gate or stair.
But its own marvel filled mine eyes. Its white
Clear marble was with sculptured wealth so well,
So richly furnished, Polycletus' art
Not only, but the actuality
Of Nature, might accept the inferior's scorn.
I saw an angel who, I might have sworn,
Spoke Hail! to her to whom he came to tell
The gracious verdict that reversed our woe,
When the long-wept-for peace, by Heaven's decree,
To men was granted; held no more apart
By God's refusal of our guilt. For she
To whom he bent, who turned the holy key
Of Love's high gates, this speech imprinted showed:
Ecce ancilla Dei! Apt as seal
On the soft wax.
But spoke my kindly Guide,
Who, on the side where beats the human heart,
Stood closely to me: 'Cast thine eyes more wide.
Be not content a single sight to know.'
Whereat I looked, and on his further side
A separate sculpture showed. Straight view to gain,
I passed before him.
Here the marble live
Seemed motion, as their car the oxen drew,
Bearing the sacred ark, which taught the bane
Of those who more than seemly service do.
Before them moved seven choirs. My senses warred:
'They sing.' 'They sing not.' With no more accord
Sight knew the incense real that scent denied.
The humble Psalmist, more and less than king,
Danced on before, with garments girded high;
While Michal, from a palace window nigh,
Looked sombre scorn upon him.
I moved to bring
Before mine eyes the next bright history
That gleamed beyond that leaning queen's contempt.
Here rode the prince for whom Saint Gregory
By prayer won Heaven: the saint's high victory
According to the Emperor's worth. Was he,
Trajan, outriding seen. Beneath his rein
A woman wept. Around him horsemen rode
With stir of trampling hooves beneath. Above,
The golden eagles that his standards showed
Swayed in the wind, so live the scene. It seemed,
The woman holding to his bridle said:
'Lord, wilt thou venge me for my dearest dead,
My son, for whom I mourn uncomforted?'
And he to her: 'My soon return await.'
And she, as one by urgent grief possessed:
'But, Lord, if thou return not?' 'Then will he
True justice deal who takes my vacant state.'
'But will another's deed be praise for thee,
Who hast thyself ignored it?' He thereat:
'Take comfort, for thy prayers prevail. The plea
Of justice rules, and pity's call must be
As potent to delay me.'
So sculptured we beheld, beyond the reach
Of earthly art: nor can I clearly tell
A thing so different.
While I paused to see
These images of high humility,
Dear for themselves and their superior art,
My Leader urged me: 'Hold no more apart
Thy mind from our adventure. Those appear
Whose slow continuous movements bring them here,
And they will point us to the upward way.'
Mine eyes, which ever love new sights to see,
Transferred the intentness of their gaze thereat
From those high sculptures to the sight that he
Reader, I would not be
The cause of thy confusion, to dismay
Thy difficult efforts to the goal divine,
Through fear of how God's justice works. Forget
The form of the chastising. Think, the debt
Is cancelled at the last. It cannot go
Beyond the limited sentence. Still will shine
The eternal consummation.
'Master, what see I? Sure, it is not man
Who moveth thus my troubled sight to blur.'
He answered: 'Men they are. Their torment dire
So bows them. At the first, my sight was strained
Correctly to determine what they were.
But look, as one who pulls the vines apart
For clearer vision. Fixedly require
Thine eyes to answer what is he below
The nearer rock. Now canst thou well perceive
How each is pinched.'
Oh, Christians, self-content!
Way-weary, miserable, yet confident
In laggard paces! Do ye fail to know
That present worms are we, though formed to cleave
The chrysalis, that the angelic butterfly,
Unshamed and undisguised its course may soar,
To find the seat of judgment? Why so high
Your minds exalt, who are but grubs, before
You come to transformation?
As we see
A corbel quaintly carved, that breast and knee
Grotesquely meet, the while it bends to bear
The monstrous weight of floor or roof, that so
Our minds are shaken by the seeming show
Of such distorting burden, so to me
Those crouching forms appeared. I saw them there
So burdened, so distorted. More or less,
According to their weighted backs, distress
So bent them. He who crouched the lowliest head,
Weeping, 'I can no more,' it seemed he said.
'Our Father, who dost dwell in Heaven most high,
(Not as confined therein, nor limited,
But that in Heaven is Thy pavilion spread
Of Love transcendent which no sins defy,)
Thy name may all thy creatures sanctify.
Thy Kingdom's peace be ours; for all our wit
Will prove but nothing in default of it.
As of their will Thy chanting angels bend,
From lowlier men may equal praise ascend.
While this rough desert with slow toil we tread,
Give us the manna of our daily bread.
As we condone their faults with whom we live,
Do Thou, regardless of our worth, forgive
Our weakness, that too soon is foiled. Protect,
And lead not where, for thrall of Thine elect,
The serpent lurks. - But this last prayer we pray,
Not for ourselves, but those we left, for they
Are not from sin's assault released, as we
Who, while we bend, the sure, far glory see.'
So for themselves, and those who are not yet
Released from danger of the Pit, they prayed.
If they forget not, say, should we forget
To call on Heaven to grant their equal aid?
Now the first ledge their burdened crawlings wound.
As in some dreadful and fantastic dream,
Oppressed contortions moved. My Leader asked:
'I pray you - so may soon your wings out-gleam,
Uplifting to the swift ascent - declare
The shortest way toward some possible stair
For this my comrade, whose desire is bound
By earth's retarding flesh.'
From these, so tasked,
With crushing burdens that I could not see
Which one it was that spake, a voice arose:
'Come to the right the way we take, for we
Can show a passage where a living man
Could clamber upward. Did no burden span
My neck, that once was stiff with pride, and bear
My visage to the ground, I fain would scan
The face of him who comes from earth, to learn
If he be friend or stranger; and to claim
His pity for this weight that none may share.
'Italian was I, and my father's name,
William Aldobrandescho, Tuscany
Called not ignoble. If this stranger know
Our old repute I will not ask, but I
So dwelt upon their puissance that my pride
Despited all men. From that cause I died.
There is no child in Campagnatico
But talks the tale of how Umberto brought
His consorts to their equal fall. And now
This weight I bear till God be satisfied
That arrogant life hath learned humility,
Having come to death's apartment.'
Low to bow
My head to hear him was a natural thought,
And as I did so, one who came beside
(Not he who spake) a twisting motion made
By which a difficult glance he upward cast,
And recognised, and called me.
'Oh,' I cried,
'Art thou not Oderisi? - He who brought
Much honour to Agubbio, practising there
The Art which Paris calls enluminer?'
'My brother,' he replied, 'Bologna's praise
In Franco's parchments fairer smiles. My art
Was crescent to his fuller orb. Be sure
My talk was different in the emulous days
I spent on earth! For envy urged my heart,
Content with naught but excellence. You see
Of pride's high vaunt the heavy-bending fee.
'Even thus to take of pride the patient cure
I had not entered, save to God I turned
Before my sin's occasion ceased. Behold,
How vain are human words, and dextrous skill,
As cause for glory! How short time until
The outgrown green the coming years deny.
'Cimabue of his art was confident
That none could rout him from the field, yet now
Giotto's painting wins the louder cry.
A Guido from a Guido's brows hath rent
The wreath of his pre-eminence, whereby
The further truth discloses. These will die,
And one now born may both their fames prevent
By other excellence. The world's report
Is wind that hence and hither blows, and brings
New names from new directions. What outwings
A short millenium's space? Ere that be spent
The child who dies with speech half-learnt and thou
Have found an equal end. A thousand years -
What are they different from an eyelid's blink
Beside the eternal? As a blink is naught
Beside the slowest heaven's complete revolve
Their time is trivial.
'He who next appears
And crawls across our sight his difficult way
All Tuscany applauded. Scarcely now
Siena recollects his names, that link
Therewith the cries of ruin, when orgulous
As now made abject, Florence arms outfought
Went down at Montaperti. Such repute
As thine may promise shall not longer stay
Than grass His fervent summer dries away
Whose spring gave freshness to its growth.'
'Thy words make humble all my pride, for true
My reason owns them. . . Wilt thou tell me now
Of whom you last were speaking?'
'He you mean
Is Provencal Salvani, grovelling thus
Because he sought in mood presumptuous
Siena wholly to his feet to bow.
Who take on earth an overweening way -
Behold the crushing coin in which we pay!'
'But if the spirit who through life delays
Repentance to the last,' I asked, 'be held
For the same period that its acts rebelled
Chained down to earth, except that kindly prayer
Assist its passage, how, from hindrance clear,
Has so short time availed to bring him here?'
He answered: 'While he lived in glory there,
Shameless to tread Siena, once his stand
He took, though all his pulses shook with fear,
A friend from Charles's dungeon-chains to free;
And that good deed was potent to expand
The else-barred boundaries. - Though I may not tell
A clearer tale, yet short the time shall be
Before thy neighbours' talk confirm it well.'
As oxen in an equal yoke are paired,
So with that burdened soul awhile I shared
Motion and gait, until my patient Guide
Rebuked me gently: 'Each with oar and tide,
And as aloft the spreading sails allow,
His barque must urge.'
At this, I ceased to bow
Mine outward form, and rose erect to take
The steps of natural freedom, while within
My prostrate spirit cowered uncomforted.
But when some space behind my active Guide
My willing feet had hastened, 'Look,' he said,
'Look downward! For the sight of where you tread
Will prove your consolation.'
As we make
Graven memorials of our kinsmen dead,
Recording on their tombs of how they died,
And what their lives accomplished, so to win
The tears of recollection; even so,
But far in art superior, ranged below
A pictured record on the whole extent
Of that mount-circling road by which we went.
There saw I Lucifer as lightning fall,
Heaven's noblest cast from Heaven. The further side
Showed where Briareus, raised by equal pride,
Smitten by celestial lightning, sprawled supine,
By chill death weighted to the earth he spurned.
Thymbraeus I saw. Pallas and Mars I saw
Yet armed around their father, gazing down
Upon the giant's dismembered limbs. I saw
Nimrod beneath his toil bewildered stand,
The nations ranged around on either hand
Who shared his pride in Shinar. Tears were mine
Thy seven and seven children, Niobe,
Slain in their youth around thy feet to see.
And here was Saul, face-fallen, pierced and dead
By his own conquered weapon: rain nor dew
Gilboa from that fated moment knew.
And foolish here I saw Arachne too,
Half-spider now, and mournful to survey
The tatters of the work her hurt had wrought.
And Rehoboam, his high threats forgot,
Now terrored in his clanging chariot fled
The hard pursuit behind him.
Vision succeeding vision. Alcmaeon
Within the lucid pavement made appear
His mother's bright adorning bought too dear.
Further, Sennacherib on the temple stone
Stretched lifeless, while his murdering sons withdrew.
And next Tomyris, who to Cyrus said:
'With blood that was thy thirst I feed thee full.'
And all the pitiless ruin she caused was shown.
Headless beyond, the bold Assyrian bull.
Great Holofernes, sprawled, whom Judith slew,
While on its flying rear his army bled.
Troy saw I also there, how piteous low!
Blackened and hollowed by its eating fire,
And all its pride degraded.
Is there known
Among our mortal craftsmen one to show,
With pencil or with graver, art like this?
Shadow and line alike were absolute
In reproduction. Living men were seen
As live as in past time their deeds had been,
And those whose deaths recording stone declared
Were dead beyond denial. Those who shared
The events themselves no clearer saw than I
The while I bowed to watch them. Lift ye high,
Eve's children, all your haughty necks, nor bow
To see your condemnation!
While I bent,
Further upon that circling path we went,
And more the sun's diurnal course was spent
Than I, whose mind was thus preoccupied,
Was ware until I heard my Leader chide,
Who watchful all this time had walked ahead:
'Be ye no longer heedless! Lift thine eyes!
Behold the angel in the path! Regard
How the sixth handmaid of the day returns.
Dispose thyself to act in reverent wise
That he may deign to point the upward way.
Consider ever that the failing day
No second dawn delivers.'
I heard too often not to heed. Mine eyes
I raised to see the angel. Close he came,
White-clad, and in his face, no threatening flame,
There shone the light of morning's tremulous star.
His hands he reached. His wide white wings he spread.
'Come forward, for the steps are near,' he said,
'And easy is the upward path from now.'
Oh, race of men, for such ascent designed,
Why doth so little wind your course divert?
Why come so few that angel's voice to hear?
He led us where the rock was hewn. He beat
His wings about my forehead. 'Mount, and find
Thy feet secure,' he said.
As where the street
Mounts from the Rubaconte bridge to reach
That church that from its high precipitous hill
Surveys the well-ruled city, the slant is cut
With steps that piety had hewn when still
The measures of the market-place were sure;
The public records seemed to rest secure,
So here the steep, that else no man might climb
The second round to reach, an upward stair
Ascends, though right and left the closing wall
The climbers' elbows graze.
A song sublime,
Beyond resource of mortal words to tell,
Our ears encountered as we clomb. Recall
How different were the sounds we heard in hell
At each dread circle's entrance! Beati
Pauperes spiritu they chanted now.
'Master, how swift the holy stairs I tread!'
Astonished at the light ascent I said.
For weariness I felt not, and a weight
Was lifted from my heart.
And he replied:
'The letters on thy brow the porter traced
Are fainter now, and were they all erased,
As one already is, thy feet would feel
Such holy impulse that their swift ascent
Would give more ease than pausing.'
As one who by another's gesture knows
That something which he would not else suspect
Has marked him, and in sight's default he lifts
A hand, that unknown object to detect
With outspread fingers felt, and found indeed
That of those letters marked upon my brow
By him who held the keys, remaining now
There were but six, and fainter those: the while
Uplifted by my Guide's approving smile.
Again a summit to the climbing stair.
Again a cornice round the mount did go,
And sooner circled than the zone below.
No shade we saw, nor any pictures there,
But right and left the rising rock was bare.
Those livid walls we faced, and only those.
So bare appeared the wall, so bare the way,
That Virgil counselled: 'If our steps we stay
To wait some guiding voice, too long delay
May hinder here.' He rightward turned, and raised
His eyes to Heaven's sweet light. 'O Light,' he said,
'Sweet Light, by which mankind is comforted!
Warm overbrooding Light, if naught beside
Give different urge, thou art our natural guide,
And we will follow in thy confidence.'
So went we on with eager wills, that thence
A mile we traversed in short time, until
We heard the wings of those we could not see
Fly past us, and the ear's alerted sense
Could hear them call us in their courtesy
To join the Table of Love. The first one cried:
Vinum non habent as it came, and still
Repeated till the sound in distance died.
But ere it ceased another came, who said:
'I am Orestes.' Down the wind it fled
As did that other.
'Father,' of my Guide
I asked, 'what may these sightless voices be?'
And while I asked another passing cried:
'Love those who wrong thee.' Then my Master said:
'Within this round is envy scourged, and so
Love wields the whip. But of an opposite sound
The reins must be. I think thou shalt not go
So far that thou our next release wilt know
Before you hear it. . . But thy gaze around
More keenly cast, for there are folk who sit
Beside us as we walk.'
With wider eyes
I looked, and all beneath the cliff there sat
Cloaked shades, whose colour and the rock were one.
Audibly they sighed: 'Ob, Mary, Mary, pray,
Pray for us!' . . . Michael . . . Peter . . . all the saints
Their cries assailed. I do not think today,
For all its ill, a man so hard were found
On earth compassion had not stirred thereat
Even to the source of tears.
At nearer view,
Their sightless pleading and their plight I knew.
With heavy grief I wept. It seemed that they
Were coarsely covered, as with cloth of hair;
And as the sightless ones their movements were
Who, at the Place of Pardons indigent,
Expose themselves for pity. So they leant
Each against each, or on the bank: so yearned
With pleading misery, as the blind, to plant
Compassion in those who pass the holy door.
And as the sun to those blind faces turned
Is darkness, so to these the Heavenly Light
Withholds. For as the wild hawks vainly pant
For freedom, blinded that they may not soar
With iron threads that interrupt their sight,
So did the wires these downdrawn eyelids bore.
It seemed as outrage to my heart that I
Walked with clear sight, while these to light denied
Could not behold me, and I turned to speak
The vexing doubt. But read my wiser Guide
The unspoken thought.
'Expose thy mind,' he said,
'Be brief and clear.' Upon the outer verge
He walked, where mortal feet might fail to keep
The fenceless edge, and on my leftward side
There were the shades devout, whose heavenly urge
Against the horrible stitching strained, to weep
Continual longing tears.
'O Folk, secure
To see the light at last! With short delay
May grace the pure spring of the mind permit
To break the scum that chokes it,' so I said,
'If you will tell me - gracious words and dear
My heart should count them - is there one man here
Who of the Latin lands is citizen?'
'Brother,' a voice made answer, 'rather say
"Who was a pilgrim once in Italy",
For we who were of devious wanderings then
Are now of one true city.'
I looked ahead,
With eyes obedient to the sound, and saw
A face strain blindly with a lifted chin.
To which I answered: 'Spirit, so tormented
For thine at last uplifting, if from thee
That protest came, I plead thy courtesy
Thine earthly place to tell, or how therein
Thy name was voiced.'
It answered: 'Sienese
I was, who cleanse with these my life astray,
Weeping to Him who will at last delay
Himself no longer. Sapia was my name,
But wise I was not. More my heart would please
To watch disaster to my foes than find
My ventures win. Until the day there came,
When somewhat down my arch of years declined,
That those of mine own city against their foes
Went out to battle, and there I God besought
His will to work. But when the fight I saw
- The bitter routing of my foes - I thought
Not Heaven itself my final bliss could flaw.
I raised audacious face to God, and said:
"Now do I cease to fear Thee", as the merle
Mocked the wind-routed cloud, while the next shower
Came upward from the sea. Yet peace I sought
With Heaven, at life's extremity. My hour
Of ended penitence were not yet nigh
But that the holy prayers assault the sky
Of Peter Pettinagno. . . But I hear,
Surely, a breathing voice! Thine eyes appear,
By thy free steps, unclosed! Who art thou, thus
With power to pass unstitched, and question us
Made blind for envy here?'
'Mine eyes,' I said,
'Will yet be blinded, though my fear is less
For this, than for the heavy woes which press
The previous round. They have not been misled
So much by envy, as I think.'
'Then say by what strange guide thy feet are set
Herein, who have not passed the stage below?'
And I to her: 'In his sure charge I go
Who walks in silence at my side. I bear
As yet the burden of my flesh. And so,
If there be ways my feet in Tuscany,
O Spirit elect, may move to serve thee, speak!'
She answered: 'Since this wonder strange and new
Discloses God thy friend, I pray thee share
Sometime for me a moment of thy prayer;
And more, by that which here thou most dost seek,
I charge thee that mine earthly fame shall be
Renewed among my kindred, if thy feet
Indeed once more the Tuscan land shall tread -
Among those men you may my kindred meet
Whose hope is futile in Talamone,
Vainer than that which bored Diana's spring;
Such hope shall heaviest loss their seamen bring.'
'Who treads our circle ere his death permit
The winged ascent? To whom doth Heaven remit
The penance that our tortured eyelids know?'
'I know not whom he be. But this I know:
He comes companioned. Ask him, if thou wilt,
In words of winning softness, that he stay,
And grant us speech.'
I heard, beside our way,
On the right hand, two spirits in converse thus,
Who upward turned their blinded eyes to us,
While one petitioned: 'Thou, the fleshly bond
Who hast not burst, but yet, ignoring guilt,
Canst take the heavenward road, in charity
Console our curious minds; for marvellous
That which hath never been must always be.'
I answered: 'Down through midmost Tuscany
A stream from Falterona falls. Extends
Its course a hundred devious miles, and still
Unsated wanders. On its banks I wear
This mortal body, but the name I bear
Would nothing mean. Beyond immediate friends
It makes no sound as yet.'
The first replied:
'If to a hidden word my sense was wide,
You talk of Arno.'
'Why,' the second said,
'Makes he that river's name a mystery,
As careful lips avoid a word obscene?'
To which the first made answer: 'That to say
Is his, not mine. But well its name had been
Cast to forgetfulness. From where it springs
(Where the huge mountain-range exalts so high
That seldom loftier peaks assault the sky
Even to where, to end its length, the sea
Cuts off Pelorum) till it finds at last
Its issue of repayment, rendering back
That which the heavens dry upward, and the streams
Return in season to the waiting sea,
In all its length, men own no enemy
More hated than is virtue: it to see,
As from a poisonous snake, they shrink aside.
'Either because the vale is cursed, or through
Inherited evil, those who dwell there lack
The natural virtues of their kind. It seems
That Circe feeds them. Where its stream is new,
Foul hogs are those accursed who populate
Its miserable banks, that galls should be
Their food: not acorns. nor a human meal.
Lower, to those who snarl, from those who squeal,
Its course descends, that with a quick disgust
It turns, as from a stench, rejecting curs
That yap beyond their power for injury.
Yet, as it broadens, more its evil fate
Befouls it: wolves for dogs its curse prefers.
And after that, as on through deep ravines
It seeks the sea's far favour, what remains?
Foxes for wolves at last, who fear no chains
But cunning fraud may loose them!
'What I say
I will not silence, though a stranger gleans.
The power of truth impels me. Well may he
Regard it, and remember. More I see.
It is thy grandson now whose bestial mood
Chases those wolves and scares them. Ravening there,
Along the wretched vale, their flesh he sells
While life is in them; or their slaughtering
He orders ruthless, as a man will doom
A beast grown old in service; life from them
And honour from himself he shreds away.
Bloodsoaked, emerging from the trampled wood,
He leaves it so that no millenium
Will cleanse it and replant it.'
As the word
Of one who of a frustrate future tells
Changes the countenance of him who hears,
Although he guess not whence the danger nears,
So saw I that the spirit's face who heard
Fell to a troubled sadness, as his thought
Digested his companion's speech. The sight
And hearing moved me that I hard besought
That they would tell me who they were. Whereat
The first made answer: 'Do you plead for that
Yourself refused to grant me? Yet the grace
Which brings thee here outshines so large a light
That it constrains me. When on earth I went
Guido del Duca was I called. My blood
Was so enraged with envy when I saw
A man grow prosperous, that all my face
Turned livid. Thus I sowed; and now the straw
Is mine to garner. Oh, ye mortal race!
Why will ye so debase your hearts that sight
And fellowship of your more fortunate kind
Becomes intolerable? . . . My comrade here
Is Rinier, once Calboli's boast, where none
Has heired his worth, and not his life alone
Is barren of good harvesting between
Po and the mountains, Reno and the sea;
But all throughout Romagna's bounds is seen
A growth of foul degenerate stocks, so lean
Of noble purpose that to cultivate
That land would be to hoe them. Who shall find
A Lizio now? Manardi, where is he?
Or Traversaro? Do you find again
Guy of Carpigna? O degenerate!
Sunk bastards of Romagna! Seek in vain
Throughout all Faenza, is a Bernard there? -
A son of Fosco, that most noble growth
Of humble root. . .
'Tuscan, to see me weep
You shall not marvel, as my thoughts recall
Ugolin d'Azzo, Guy of Prata, they
Who were our house-companions. Throng they all
Back to remembrance, though my grief be loth.
Frederick Tignoso and his company:
The Traversaro, Anastagni - both
Great houses void and heirless now! I see
The cavaliers, the love, the courtesy,
The ladies, and the travails and repose,
High hearts and deeds, so sunk in infamy
That naught is left if Brettinoro goes,
Following his kinsmen, and a crowd who thence,
Self-exiled as the price of innocence,
Have left Romagna. Praise at least be thine,
Bagnacavallo, that no sons you bear!
And blamed be Castrocaro that an heir
It gives to its dishonour. Conio
Does worse in such begetting. More shall shine
Imola's fortune when its lord shall go
The Demon's natural way, but not so fair
That ever shall its record-scroll be bright
Beyond besmirching. One there is remains
- One name secure from blight of shaming stains -
Ugolin de Fantoli. For he left
No child who could degrade it . . . Tuscan, go!
The memories thou hast stirred give more delight
In tears than converse.'
So he spake, and we
Went onward, without guidance, confident
That though they saw not, hearing where we went,
They would have chided had we turned astray.
And then, like lightning through the air, our way
Was countered by a flying voice that cried:
'Whoever findeth me shall surely slay.'
And as it died upon our ears, there came,
Like thunder that pursues the lightning's flame,
Another voice that roared in deafening tone:
'I am Aglauros, who became a stone,'
And in the silence, as that thunder died,
I checked my steps, and to my patient Guide
Drew closer, while his chiding voice I heard:
'That was the bit which should be iron to keep
The man who feels it to the path; but you
Another bait have taken, and the hook
Of the old adversary so prevails
To draw you to him that no bridle now
Restrains, nor voice recalls you. In your view
The eternal heavens, at which you do not look,
Revolve with all their beauties, while your gaze,
Oblivious of their splendours, earthward turns,
Wherefore He scourges you, who all discerns.'
Of the sun's sphere, which sways in passing by
Like a child's hoop that's trundled through the sky,
So much before the fall of evening lay
As from the third hour to the break of day.
There was the low sun of the afternoon,
While here had been the midnight. Now we met
The sun full-face, with blinking eyes, for we
So far had circled round the mount. I set
My hand to shade mine eyes, that such degree
Of light confronted, but I found the boon
Of shade denied.
'Sweet Father, wilt thou tell
How is it that the light assails me so
That naught can shade it, and it strikes as though
Reflected upwards? As when waters throw,
Or dazzling glass, the backward beam? Meseems
Itself advances on us.'
He answered, 'are the heavenly lights as yet
Too unfamiliar vision. You fail to see
That not alone the sun's low radiance gleams;
But straightly on the path there comes to us
An angel sent to lead us. Soon will be
Confusion changed for comfort at the sight
Of Heaven's lucent hosts. Extreme delight
Will stir thee to thy nature's most extent
At such beholding.'
While he spake, we came
To that benignant angel. 'Enter here',
He called us with a joyful voice. We went
Upon a stair less steep than that below.
Beati misericordes chanted clear
Pursued us upward, and a song more near:
Rejoice that thou hast conquered.
We climbed, and I, with all my thoughts intent
On gaining wisdom from my Master's word,
Besought his exposition: 'Say what meant
That spirit of Romagna, when he spake,
Both of rejection and companionship?'
To which he answered: 'He the detriment
Of his own blemish so rebukes, that he
May have less cause for mourning. While desire
On finite and inferior food relies,
Where fewer feeders mean more bounteous fare,
Envy becomes a bellows to your sighs.
But if to Heavenly Love your hopes aspire
There lacks occasion for so base a fear.
The more there are, the wealthier each must be,
As more of that celestial charity
Burns in the crowded cloister.'
'That I hear,'
I answered, 'sounds so strangely in mine ear,
That being amply by thy wisdom fed,
I fast more keenly, and the doubt I knew
Is sharper than before. For how can good
Being to many hands distributed,
Endow them richlier than were it spread
Less thinly, totalled to a fortunate few?'
And he to me: 'Because your eyes you keep
Fixed downward to your earthly range, you reap
Darkness from light itself. The Eternal Good
Is both ineffable and infinite.
The more there are who in its rays unite,
The more its conflagration heats. The more
Of folk in Heaven whose souls have understood
Each other, in the light of Love Divine,
The more of love doth midst and round them shine,
As mirrors, each to each, reflected light
Cast to their own advantage.
'If from me
This truth you may not take, and sated see
Its prevalent wonder, Beatrice soon
Will be more potent with her words, and take
Not this alone, but all unsatisfied
Truth-hungers from thee. Only seek to bring
A diligent mind hereto, the final three
Of the five wounds to close, that sorrowing
Can heal, as twice already hath been.'
I did not answer, though my thought replied:
'My heart is rested by thy words', for now
Our stair had to the next high gallery gained,
So that my wandering eyes my speech denied.
And at that instant, as it seemed, I knew
Ecstatic visions. Here a temple showed,
With moving groups about its doors, and one
Who with a mother's gesture called: 'My son,
Why hast thou disregarded? While that we
Have sought thee grieving?'
As she ceased, there feigned
A different sight. A woman frantic cried,
With lifted arms, and tears less misery
Distilled than indignation: 'Lord, if thou
Art truly regnant in this town, which erst
Caused strife of gods to name it, and hath gained
A later style more noble, seeing that now
Its fount of various knowledge sparkles high,
Wilt thou not venge me for those arms that dared,
Oh, Pisistratus, in an hour accursed,
Embrace my daughter?'
And that Lord replied
With temperate kindness: 'If we so condemn
A man who loves us, what is meet for them
Who work us evil?'
Then a crowd I saw
Fired with fierce hate, and voices shouted: 'Slay!'
And in their midst a youth was bound, and they
Hurled stones on him from every side, that he
Sank deathward, but his eyes were gates of prayer
Raised to an opening heaven, and from his lips,
Unstilled by scourging pains or life's eclipse,
Petitions for their pardon came, that so
Stirred pity to see it.
When my mind recurred
To external things (and yet which had not erred
Even in that it saw which was not there),
My Leader, who beheld me move as though
I waked from dreaming, for my comfort said:
'What ails thee that thou canst not firmly tread?
For half a league thy wandering feet have wound
Such devious patterns on the uncertain ground
As wine compels, or sleep inclines.'
'Oh, Father, if thine ear attend, I tell
The visions that impelled my mind to leave
My legs' control.'
To which he answered: 'Nay,
I read thee to thy smallest thought so well,
That not a hundred masks could hide. Believe
The sights thus granted were thy gain, that they
Should move thy heart, full-opened, to receive
The streams of peace abroad distributed
Wide from the eternal fount.
I did not ask
"What ails thee?" as might one whose earthly eyes
See nothing while his body dreaming lies,
But to impel thee on thy forward task
With diligent feet. Meet is it thus to press
The slothful who delay their wakefulness
From active use.'
As thus he spake, we went
Straight on to meet the sunset. Far ahead,
Level and low, its gleaming rays were spread.
But gradually across the light there came
A drifting smoke. It hid the sunset's flame.
Densely it darkened that clear firmament
Till we, reliefless in its folds confined,
Reft of pure air, were compassed, lost and blind.
Not hell's interior gloom, nor starless night
By densest clouds augmented, foiled my sight
As that enveloping smoke, nor felt a veil
So harsh of texture. nor so irritant,
So that mine eyelids could not long prevail
To lift against it. But my faithful Guide
His ready shoulder for my use supplied.
He said: 'Hold firmly. Do not leave my side,
And naught will harm thee.'
On we went, as goes
A blind man and his leader; he behind
A shortened pace, that naught that meets their way
May snare his feet, and holding, lest he stray,
His leader's hand. And as we went there rose
A murmur round us. Through the fetid air
'Oh, Lamb of God, who takes all sins away'
Rose from all sides the universal prayer.
With Agnus Dei every voice began,
So that it seemed a concord of desire:
One word, one measure.
'Master, these I hear
Are spirits' voices?'
'Surely so. Of ire
The knot they loosen.'
'Who art thou so near
Who talkest of us in a separate style,
As still for thee the months their process ran?'
So from the darkness came a voice. At which
My Guide enjoined me: 'Answer. Ask the while
If from this point we upward turn.'
'O Creature who thyself dost purify
So that thou mayst be fit for fair return
To Him who made thee, keep beside, and learn
A marvel I will tell thee.'
He to me:
'So far from here as heavenly laws permit
I will continue with thee. Smoke may hide
Our movements, but our voices will provide
An equal guidance.'
Then I answer made
To his first question: 'With that burden weighed
Which death alone releases climb I now.
So came I scatheless through Hell's weariness;
And if God's grace, having shown those depths, will bless
Mine eyes with comfort of His courts above,
Conceal not from me whom thou wast, and show
I pray, the path by which we upward go,
And be thy words our escort.'
'I,' said he,
'Was Marcus, called on earth of Lombardy.
Virtue I loved, toward which all men today
The bowstring slacken in lax hands. . . Thy way
Is straightly upward.'
Thus he spake, and then:
'I plead thy favour when thou mountest high
That I be mentioned in thy prayers.'
'I pledge thee that most surely; but my mind
Is pregnant with a bursting doubt. Before
I held it, and thy word confirms anew
Its subject. Surely is the world of men
A desert bare of virtue, overspread
With fecund evil. What I seek to find
Is sin's occasion to such depth. The more
My mind perceives, the better equipped am I
To point its source to others.'
I heard a sigh
Weighty with grief. 'Brother, the world is blind,
And surely art thou of it. You think to find
Occasions distant in the stars, as though
They rule the doings of men. If that were so,
Virtue should bring no joy, nor evil woe,
Having no freedom in their choice. You see
Events commenced from Heaven. But destiny
Is yours to shape thereafter. Good or ill
You have the light to choose, and human will
Shall overget encountered circumstance
If at the first it fail not. Power more high
And better nature will their strengths ally,
Creating in you that which destiny
Is futile to confound: the will to shape,
Or else endure. So if the world astray
Stumble to its destruction, do not try
To search excuses in the stars. More nigh
The occasion lies. In you the fault: in you
The diligent search should be. And therefore I
Gladly for thy instruction testify.
'Out from the Hand that loves it ere it be,
Comes forth the soul in bare simplicity,
A laughing, weeping child incontinent;
Ignorant of all except the keen desires
That its glad Maker gave. It turns intent
To that which pleases first. If guide nor bit
Withhold it from pursuit before it tires,
It spends itself for gains inadequate.
Hence is the need of laws restraining it;
And of a king who can at least discern
Of the true City the distant towers. Today
The laws exist. But who on earth are they
Who those firm rules enforce? Respect? Obey?
No man. The Shepherd, if he chew the cud,
His hooves are not divided. Those who learn
From partial lips some positive good, pursue
That only. On a single herb they feed,
Choking themselves with their unequal greed,
And seek no further; good to evil thus
Transforming by their own excess. The wrong
Is no inordinate defect of blood,
But evil guidance. Rome, one time who showed
Two suns which led the world by either road,
The temporal and eternal, now confounds
Those who perceive one only. In one hand
Are sword and crook, and by that unity
Are both enfeebled, having lost the fear,
Each for the other, that they ought to know.
'What seed will scatter from the fertile ear
But that which first was planted? Once the land
Watered by Po and Adige courtesy
Contained, and virtue thrived therein. But came
The wars of Frederick, and it sank so low
That those are most secure who think it shame
To neighbour men of clear integrity.
Three are there - three old men who yet remain,
In whom the ancient use rebukes the new.
Guy of Castel, and Gerard called the Good,
And Conrad of Palazzo. You may say,
In all men's hearing, that the Papal See
Through joining in herself two governments,
Falls in the mire, and in that fall befouls
Her burden and herself.'
'Your words explain,'
I answered, 'all I seek. I understand
Why Levi's sons received no heritage.
But tell, I pray, that Gerard, who is he
Whose life enduring from a nobler age
Reproves the baser?'
'Either,' he replied,
'Thy accent snares, or else thy heart hath planned
To try me, who in speech of Tuscany
Canst question thus, as being ignorant
Of whom I knew by that sole name, except
His daughter Gaia's.
'God be now your guide,
For I must go no further. Through the scant
Retiring fog, the first pale light you see;
And there the angel, not as yet for me,
Will meet you.'
Then he ceased to speak, and I
Called vainly through the mist without reply.
O reader, if on heights of Alpine snow
A mist hath wrapped thee of such density
That more than any mole thou couldst not see,
Recall how feeble and how white would show
The sun's pale entrance as the vapour thinned.
So will thy mind conceive how came to me
The sun which nightward now descended low.
Following my Master with close steps, I drew
Out to clear light at last. The sunset lay
Yet visible here, though sunk from sight to those
On the low shores beneath us.
Which can so part us from external things
That not a thousand trumpets sounding shrill
Could rouse us - if not of ourselves it be,
Whence is it? Born of Light, by Heavenly Will,
Its power descends upon us.
She who sings,
Impious, in likeness of the bird which most
For sorrow in its song finds ecstasy,
First my imagination held: so still
My mind was mirrored on itself that naught
Intruded inward to divert its thought.
Next after Philomela came a sight
Of one who hung in torment crucified,
Yet haughty and dispiteous while he died,
While round him grouped Ahasuerus stood,
Esther, and Mordicai called the Good,
Who was of speech unbending.
As will burst
A bubble, failing of its watery frame,
So passed this vision. In its place there came
A maiden, weeping anguished tears, who said:
'O Queen, why hast thou made this choice accurst,
Wrath-blinded? Not to lose Lavinia,
Thy own life hast thou lost; so losing me.
Mine is the grief, the bitter grief for thee.
Oh, Mother, for thy ruin must I weep
Much more than for another's.'
As when first
Strikes on a sleeper's eyes the light of day,
Scattering divisions of his broken sleep,
So these imaginations failed away
As on my face a greater glory fell
Than is the light of any earthly name.
And as I turned to seek its source, there came
A voice that cried: 'The ascent is here', Whereat,
Hearing its tone, desire within me rose
To gaze on him by whom those words were said,
As when insatiate hunger puts to flight
All other impulse till its need be fed.
But as the sun repels our feeble sight,
Hiding itself in its own excellence,
So fell my blinded eyes.
My Leader said:
'This spirit of God, who unsolicited
Directs us upward, his own light conceals
Beyond thine eyes' endurance. So he deals,
As for himself a man will choose. For he
Who knows the need and waits the spoken plea,
Unkindly on refusal's side is set.
But be you instant now to mount, for yet
Some little light remains, and only so,
While it continue, may we upward go.'
At that, and side by side, we took the stair,
And at the first step I became aware
Of a wing's motion past me, that the air
Stirred on my face. A voice said: 'Beati
Pacifici who from evil wrath are free.'
But soon, too soon, the last faint rays so high
Rose from beneath that half the abandoned sky
Revealed its stars; and to myself I said:
'Oh, vigour, wherefore hast thou failed?' For lo!
My feet were useless to proceed. The stair
Had ended. Like two ships that drift ashore
We gained the circle's edge, but might no more
Till day released us.
'If we may not go,
Sweet Father, let me of thy wisdom share,
For all is silence round us. I would know
What sin doth this fourth circle purge away.'
To which he answered: 'Here the negligent
Who loved the good beyond their deeds, repent
The occasion lost: the loitering oar resumes
Its regular stroke. But, that thy mind receive
A clearer picture, turn its face to me
Wide-opened. Heed with care the things I say;
And reap rich profit from this night's delay.'
'Nor creature nor Creator,' he began,
'Was ever yet of all love destitute
Of instinct or of reason. That which springs
From instinct will not err; but rational man
May yearn to evil or degrading things,
Or fail by love's defect, or love's excess.
But if its object lack no worthiness,
And it be wisely moderate, its delight
Cannot be sin's occasion. Differently,
If on an object vile its heart be set,
Or seek some good with lust inordinate,
Or else too slackly, then in mutiny
Against his Maker, whom He made proceeds.
'Consider next that all things excellent
Spring from this seed of love; and baser deeds,
Deserving condemnation, rise alike
From the same root. And as it may not be
That one can feel self-hate, or wish the ill
Of that from which itself derives, even so
If rightly I these matters estimate,
Against its neighbour moves an evil will,
And operates in three modes.
'For there is he
Who sees advancement in his neighbour's fall,
And from this cause alone would cast him low;
And there is he who reaps so large a fee
Of power, or fame, or grace, or dignity,
That fear is his lest other's rise should vie
With that loved eminence, and fearing thus
Less than his neighbour's praise, his overthrow
Provides his pleasure. Last, is he whose shame
Makes him of reputations emulous,
Avid for retribution on the name
Beyond its worth exalted. Here below,
In fitting torments, these three sins lament.
Further it will be yours to contemplate
The faults that by wrong paces, fast or slow,
Pursue the good they lack not wits to know.
Dimly, confusedly, they apprehend
The Heaven that calls them, and they strive to win;
But with a love too weak. If by this sin,
This slackness of desire, your sloth offend,
Here, in the torments of this gallery,
After true penitence, your lot must be.
'Another good there is which brings no bliss.
It is not essence of the Good Divine,
The root and fruit of God's high mystery.
The love that doth too much for that resign
Bewails in those three circles after this.
But how tripartite is its form may be
Seen by thyself; and that I leave to thee.'
My Teacher paused from the profundity
Of the close reasoning that he gave. Intent
He gazed upon me, searching deep to see
How far I understood, and how content
My mind became.
But I, who outwardly
Was silent, felt new thirst, yet said within:
'I may offend by importunity.'
But he, my Father, saw the timorous will.
He understood the wish it dared not tell,
And, speaking, gave me heart to speak, until
I answered fully: 'Master, clear and well
Thy exposition taught me, and my sight
Discerned thy reasons, livened by thy light;
And for that cause I pray thee, Father dear,
That thou interpret to me what may be
This love from which do all good works appear,
As also springs from it their contrary.'
'Direct the acuteness of thine intellect,'
He answered, 'on my words, and thou shalt see
Why the blind leaders that the blind select
Fall to the ditch. The soul, for love designed,
Impulsed by pleasure, will be swift to find
That which will please it to possess. Its power
Of apprehension will its object dower
With attributes alluring. If it move,
Bending in this compulsion, that is love:
Love, motioned upward like a rising fire,
That, till it gain the goal of its desire,
Will neither be subdued nor turned aside
Reposing only when the object sought
Its passion hath rejoiced and satisfied.
Behold how blind are these by whom is taught
That love, merely of itself, is laudable!
As though they were to say: "The wax is good:
Good therefore is the seal".'
'You feed me full,'
I answered, 'and my wit digests. I see
The nature and the manner of love. But yet
Before my mind a further doubt is set.
For if some outward object first inspire
Love's motion to its side, the feet that tire
Or hasten, on the straight or devious way,
Are rather by its object drawn than sent
Forth by the soul. And if this thing be so,
What is there in straight path, or steps astray,
Deserving of reward or punishment?'
And he: 'What reason tells, my words can show,
But further of these marvels wouldst thou know,
Then for Beatrice wait. For only she
With faith's far vision can enlighten thee.
But every spirit which itself unites
With tyrannous matter, one yet separate,
Virtue specific from God its core conceals,
Which it alone by use may demonstrate,
Solving itself, as every plant reveals
The separate virtue it from God receives
In the assertion of its own green leaves.
'The first cognitions, and the first desires,
Risen from a source that no man knows, imply
No guilt, and earn no merit. As the bee
Moves to the flower, so man instinctively
Moves to each succour that his life requires.
But in each heart God sets a sentinel,
A faculty of counsel, that should dwell
Upon the threshold of assent. Desert
Begins as this is active to deny
Or grant the clamours of desire, as they
Be innocent or guilty.
'Those who search
The deep foundations of all truth have found
This natal liberty of choice, whereby
They leave morality to the world. Allow
That every impulse that you feel is born
Of uncontrollable necessity,
Beyond your own prevention; yet remains
That in you is the power that either chains
Or else releases. This high faculty
Will thy Beatrice call free-will. Beware
That you forget not this, lest she declare
Some following wisdom which you might not see.'
The moon's slow course, at night's meridian
Made scant the stars, as she pursued her way
Along the track her consort takes when he
Shows to the Roman his retiring ray
Between Sardinia and Corsica,
While now we stood beneath her gibbous glow
Where he, that Shade by whose reflected fame
Pietola has gained a greater name
Than Mantua's larger town, had cast away
The load that overbore me. Wherefore I,
Replete with so much wisdom, seemed as one
Who drowses where he stands. But soon was done
That dreaming when behind our backs there rose
A clamorous outcry's swift advance. As when
Ismenus and Asopus heard by night
The furious trampling of a horde of men
Along their banks, and knew, by that wild rite,
That Thebans needed Bacchus, so there ran
Along the circle's curve a hurrying crew
Ridden hard by goodwill and virtuous love.
Swiftly they came, and voices cried aloud
Amid their weeping. Two in front proclaimed:
'How quickly Mary to the mountain ran!'
And: 'Caesar once, Ilerda to subdue,
Struck at Marseilles, and ere his foemen knew
Had entered Spain.' And other of the crowd,
Jostling behind, cried: 'Hasten! Hasten all!
From insufficient love let love's pursuit
Not slacken, and the power of grace recruit
From strain to reach it.'
'Ye in whom desire
Is fervent to repair past negligence,
Regard this man, on whom - I do not lie -
The burden of flesh remains. For we require
The upward path, which, with the sun's return,
He has permission to take.'
My Leader said
These words, and one replied: 'If thou wouldst learn
The passage, follow. We may not pause. The will
For motion drives us. Pardon that, to thee
Which is not, but may seem, discourtesy.
Saint Zeno's abbot was I once, and knew
Verona under Redbeard's rule, whom still
Milan bewails. One is there now who stands
With one foot in the death-pit, who shall soon
Bewail that monastery, and lament
That he possessed its rule, because his son,
Baseborn, corrupt of body and more of mind,
He gave its truer pastor's place: ill done,
And evil in its issue.'
If more he said
I know not, for already far behind
Were we, and lost the whirling words, but this
I pleasured to hear. And he, at every need
My nurse, again addressed me 'Turn thee: heed
These two, who give to sloth the ruling bit';
Whereat I heard them. In the rear they ran,
And shouted: 'Those who saw the seas divide
To give them passage, in their sloth they died
Before the chosen heirs to Canaan came.'
And: 'They who would not, with Anchises' son,
Toil to the end, they bought a life of shame
With that reluctance.'
Died the hurrying feet
In distance lost. The quiet dark again
Resumed around us. But my mind's retreat
Was on itself, and till the night was done
I musing stood, as one who dreams complete,
Thought on the heel of thought so closely came.
When came the hour at which the moon's domain
Is coldest, all the last day's genial heat
By Saturn vanquished, or by Earth; and when
The geomants watch their Greater Fortune gain
The eastern sky, which not the night's retreat
Will long expose, a dream approached me then,
A woman crooked in deformity,
Squint-eyed, and stammering in her speech, with hands
Ill-shaped to make caresses, and her hair
It seemed disease had whitened. Such to see
Was little bliss, but as the light expands
With morn, and the chilled limbs their strength renew
Which night hath stiffened, so my gaze on her
Had power for her transforming. Straight and tall
She rose, and soft swift speech, and eyes of love,
She gave, and in her face the warm blood beat,
Even as desire would have it. I could not stir
Mine eyes from that regard. Her speech was sweet
As song, and song became. 'I am,' she sang,
'I am that siren who the seaman charms
In distant ocean. Not to heed would wrong
The fountains of delight. To find my arms
I turned Ulysses once. Who once belong
To what I gave them will but seldom go.
Such peace I give.'
She had not ceased her song
When came another of a different hue,
Alert to foil her, holy and austere,
'Virgil,' who cried, 'behold, what meet we here?'
And he came forward in my dream, as though
He saw this last one only, on the first,
Rude hands who laid, and tore her garments through,
Opening her before, and showed her belly bare.
Whereat there issued from that womb accursed
Such stench as waked me.
'Three full times,' he said,
'Already have I called thee. Rise and come,
To find the gateway to the next ascent.'
I rose at that, of heaven's high light aware
That flooded the sacred mount as on we went,
The new sun shining on our reins; but yet,
As one the burden of his thought has bent,
I moved in shape a bridge's half. I heard
A voice: Come hither. Never mortal word
Contained such sweetness or benignity,
And he who spake, with swanlike wings outspread,
A pathway through the flinty ramparts led.
And while between the walls we climbed, his wings
Fanned and sustained us. 'Those who mourn,' said he,
'Are blessed, for the sense of guilt shall be
The road to consolation.'
Then to me
My guide spake sharply: 'Why with eyes downset
So long dost thou continue?'
The vision of sleep, and will not let me be.'
'Hast thou,' he asked, 'that ancient siren seen
Who only upward from this point hath been
The source of lamentations? Hast thou seen
The rescue that relieves? Suffice it thee.
Spurn from thy waking thought the earthly clay,
And turn thine eyes to where the Eternal King
Casts the great circles of his lure.'
As the perched falcon, who the while before
Looked down unmotioned, stretches throat and wing,
By hunger wakened from his dreams, so I
The fetters of that vision cast, and bore
A different aspect as I climbed, until
The fissure ended, and again the flat
Exposed another circle gained. I saw
A folk with faces to the ground that lay,
In tears and lamentations. Sobs would stay
The course of speech, and when their words had way,
'Adhaesit pavimento' - so I heard -
'Anima mea.' With the spoken word
Sighs strove for previous exit. 'O Elect,
Whose sufferings hope and justice join to make
Less hard, I pray thee hence our steps direct
Toward the ascent.' So Virgil asked, and one
Some paces forward answered: 'If ye move
Exempt from this reclining, and would find
The speediest passage, ye should turn to prove
The way by which your right hands outward are.'
The hidden speaker drew my glance, from whom
I turned it to my Guide, whose gesture gave
Full freedom to the prayer that left my mind,
With but mine eyes to speak it.
'Spirit,' I said,
Bending above the prostrate form, 'suspend
A moment's space those urgent tears to shed,
By which alone man cometh to God, and tell
Of whom on earth thou wast, and why thy face
So fronts the dust, and I will serve thee well,
If aught thou wouldst on earth, from whence I came,
Whose human life continues.'
'The cause that thus our prostrate forms extends
I do not hide, but first is meet to show
To whom thou speakest. Peter's robe was mine.
My race's name the waters gave that flow
Between Siestri and Chiavari.
Short weeks I learned how hard that mantle weighs
To whom its fringes from the mire would raise,
That all beside is weightless. Near its end
My life advanced, before the light divine
Shone on me to conversion. Pontiff crowned,
I stood where I could mount no more. I found
The falsehood of the life I lived: I learned
No heart to peace its own disquiet can bring.
I stood so high that I could mount no more;
And then I first looked upward. Till that day,
To earth my avaricious eyes were turned,
Separate from God by mine own sundering,
Most miserable and most accursed. And here
The bitter price with these around I pay.
There is no worse in all the mount. Before,
We did not lift our earthward eyes, and now
Our faces and our outstretched limbs must lie
Pressed to the earth which once we priced so high.
Our avarice held us from the high pursuit
Of noble and desirable things, to bend
In futile labour for no worth, whereby
We earned our own prostration. Here extend
Our limbs held firmly to the earth until
The eternal Justice grants release.'
And I, who knelt beside him now, began
To answer, but he heard my voice, and knew
The meaning of its nearness. 'Say what ill
So bends thee from thy natural height?'
I answered, 'reverence sinks my knees.'
From folly, brother, let them rise.' he said,
'For earthly difference count not with the dead.
God's values are not of the mind of man.
What image and inscription have we here?
Thou hadst not doubted that we here unite
In equal reverence to one Power. . . But go,
I pray thee, quickly, for the longer stay
Disturbs my weeping. Every hour's delay
Prolongs my penance; I would bring to fruit
The thoughts that from thy words are born. . . I know
None left of all my house whose prayers could be
Potent to reach the eternal heavens for me,
Unless Alagia's natural virtues rise
Superior to her kindred's perfidies.'
Against strong will, doth feebler will contend?
Back from the stream I drew a sponge unfilled.
To please my Guide I let my pleasure end,
And followed as his firmer purpose willed,
A narrow way along the imminent edge.
For they who through their blinded eyes distilled
The evil which is this world's master, lay
So numerous that across the path they spread,
Hindering our steps and little space was ours
Between them and the depth.
Accursed be thou,
Old shewolf, ravening with insatiate maw!
Who more than all hell's hunting beasts may claim
The number of thy victims. Still unfed
Thou howlest while thy fathomless hunger feeds.
O stars, in whose control of mortal needs
Men half believe, by your transmuting powers,
When comes he who shall end her?
Now we went
On the rough ledge with hindered steps and slow,
My mind the while on those sad shades intent
Who wept beside us. One I chanced to hear
Who wailed as doth a woman when most intense
The pangs of travail.
'Sweet Mary, all may see
How poor thou wast, by that mean hostelry
In which thou didst thy sacred load bestow.'
Followed a voice: 'O good Fabricius,
Virtue thou didst prefer with poverty
Rather than wealth with crime.'
So fair to me
These accents sounded that, the last to know,
I sideward moved. That dower which Nicholas
Gave the three maidens lest their dearth should be
Their shame's occasion was he speaking now.
'O Spirit,' I said, 'whose speech so fragrant sounds,
Disclose, I pray thee, who thou wast, and why
Thou dost of these old virtues testify,
While others silent take their doleful rounds.
Thou shalt not this to me rewardless show
If Heaven again my earthly life allow.'
And he: 'I answer, not in hope that thou
Wilt recompense my words, but that I see
The heavenly favour that hath guided thee.
Root was I of that plant malevolent
That now makes shadow of the Christian lands.
Seldom it gives good fruit to reaching hands;
But if with Ghent the power of vengeance lay,
Or Lille its hate could batten, or Douai
Or Bruges, there were not long to wait its fall.
Capet my name. A butcher's son was I.
From me are France's kings in long descent,
Even to now.
'When the ancient line decayed,
Save only one the sombre cowl who wore,
Within my hands the reins of government
Were fixed so firmly, with such power to make
Accretions further, and such strength of friends,
That for my son the vacant crown to take
Was natural sequence. Hence from me descends
The unbroken line of consecrated bones.
'Until the bridal dowry of Provence
My race exalted, little worth or ill
Was theirs. But, raised by that aggrandisement,
Began its rapine and chicanery.
In turn it raped Ponthieu and Normandy,
And Gascony thereafter. Turning thence,
Charles of Anjou invaded Italy,
Lured by Apulia's bait, and for amends
Destroyed Conradin. In the same pretence
He forced Saint Thomas take his heavenly crown.
'I see another Charles, another day
Not distant, come from France to win renown
Without war's weapons. In his hands, the lance
That Judas used for jousting, now to burst
The paunch of Florence. Therefore shame will he
Gain, and not land. The less he counts the sin,
More grievously will be his name accursed
By those who speak it.
'He whom next I see
Of the same name, hath known captivity
Already, haled from his surrendered ship.
I see him bargain for his daughter's price,
As do the corsairs for the slaves they sell.
What further degradation, Avarice,
Canst thou inflict upon our race? For we
Trade our own flesh for gold the merchants tell.
'But, that past evil may seem less, and less
The evil of the future, hear ye this:
I see Alagna, and the fleur-de-lys
Enter, and under its gay sign is led
Christ, in His vicar's person. Him I see
Twice mocked. The vinegar and the gall are there.
And between living thieves the victim dead.
'I see the second Pilate's cruelty,
By this high crime unsated, urge him on
Yet further. Now his greedful sails are spread
Against the Temple. Lord, how long shall be
The time of waiting for Thy wrath? How soon
Rejoice I in Thy vengeance, loosed from out
Its place beneath Thy throne?
'The words I said
Which first you queried were the ordered prayer
Which in the daylight all must use; but when
The darkness deepens other cries recur.
Our voices will recall Pygmalion then,
Betrayed by gluttony of gold to be
Traitor and thief and parricide. We tell
The avaricious Midas' misery,
Whose granted boon became the jest of men;
Of Achan's folly is our speech, who stole
The spoils, ginned by the wrath of Joshua;
We scorn Sapphira, and her husband too;
We praise the kicks that Heliodorus knew;
And circles all the mount that infamy
When Polymnester Polydorus slew.
Lastly, united in one voice we cry:
"O Crassus, tell us, was it sweet to try
The savour of gold? For surely thou shouldst know."
'Thus varied is our talk, now loud now low,
As fervour spurs us.
'If one voice you heard,
Chance was it. Others with an equal word
At other moments might as loudly cry.'
Our steps had left him, and the difficult way
Resumed, when all the mount I felt to sway
So mightily, that chilled with fear was I,
As one may be to execution led.
For surely less was Delos shaken, ere
Her nest did Leda make therein to bear
The twins of heaven; and rose so loud a cry
That my kind Master to me turned, and said:
'Doubt naught. I guide thee.'
Then around me rose,
Clear heard, and far in further volume lost,
From such unnumbered voices joined: 'To God
Be glory in excelsis.'
When that cry
First sounded in the shepherds' ears, they lay
Silenced and awed thereby, and stilled as they
Now stood we till it ceased, and after that
Our way resumed. But never yet was I,
If memory serve me, in such thirst to learn
That which I knew not, nor so diffident
To ask it; for my Guide, who would not turn,
As though oblivious of my longing, went
Swiftly ahead, and I must toil behind,
Beset with problems in a timorous mind.
That thirst of man which is not satisfied,
Save by the living water Christ supplied
To her who asked Him at Samaria's well,
Was working in me while the hindered way
I followed, hasting as my Master led,
And sorrowing for the dreadful punishment
That justice dealt around me.
Where we went
There came a Shade behind us. As the two
(So Luke relates it) journeying on the way,
By Christ were overtaken, after He
Had burst the bondage of the tomb, he drew
Beside us, gazing on the misery
Of those upon the path who prostrate lay.
And as we did not speak, he spoke to us:
'Brethren, God's peace be yours', and Virgil then,
Making the sign such greeting calls, replied:
'May the Just Court which doth for me provide
An everlasting exile, give to thee
Peace in the concord of the blest.'
The Shade exclaimed, 'if of such sort are ye
As God esteems unworthy, come ye now,
And in what escort, to ascend His stairs?'
To whom my Teacher (and the while he spake
We struggled stoutly not to fall behind):
'If thou regard this man, and how he bears
Those marks upon him which the Angel drew,
Thou wilt perceive it meet that he should take
His place at last amidst the elect. As yet
He is not of our sort, for she who spins
Without remission, hath not drawn his skein.
And therefore as his soul (which kindred is
To thine and mine) could not attain alone
This passage, seeing not as we can see,
Through Hell's wide throat I was released to be
His escort upward. Higher must I set
His feet before I leave. But canst thou say
Why did this mount to its foundations sway,
With general outcry as the day began?'
So sought he reading of that mystery,
Piercing the needle's eye of my desire
Which yet I had not spoken, wherefore hope
Reduced the craving of my thirst.
That blessed one replied: 'This mountain stands
Inviolate to all passions felt below;
Nor rain, nor wind, nor hail, nor frost, nor snow
Can move it. Not the assault of ice or fire
Can pass the short flight of three steps whereby
The porter sits. No cloud, or dense or dim,
No lightning's dreadful splendour, nor the glow
Of beauty seen in Iris' wandering bow,
This mount can scale. Although it shake below
When Earth's loosed winds (how loosed we do not know)
Rage round it, here it rests, serene, unware,
Unmoved by that which makes commotion there.
'Only when, conscious of its purity,
Some soul makes motion to ascend, the mount
Quakes in response; and that exultant cry
Applauds its passage. Its prevailing will
For such ascensions proves its fitness. Free
It had been from the first its company
To choose, but with a will too weak, as when
Against reluctance had it sinned before.
So sought it, as the sin, the pain until
Self-conscious of its cleansing. From that woe
Where I had lain five hundred years and more
I felt release, and my free will required
A better threshold. Therefore did ye feel
The earthquake; and the acclaiming cries which choired
My freedom sounded in your ears. They praise
Delivering mercy. May He shortly raise
Thus he spake. The more that thirst
Is bitter, drinking gives the more delight.
How much my profit from the things I heard
I will not scheme to tell. I lack the word
The occasion needs.
But my wise Leader said:
'I thank thee. Clearly how the snare is set
Your words disclose, and how you break the net,
And why the mount quakes, and the voices hail
The fact of thy releasing. I would know
If more it please thee to disclose, with whom
I talk, and why did so long time prevail
To hinder thy ascension.'
'At the hour
When Titus, aided by the Heavenly Power,
Avenged the blood by Judas sold, my name,
Which sought our highest and most lasting fame,
Was earliest heard. A Neapolitan
I was; but Rome my voice required, and drew
Me to her, and my brows with myrtle bound.
Of great Achilles and of Thebes I sang.
Statius I was. The over-rising flame
That waked and warmed my ardour was the same
A thousand others have felt. I need not say,
I mean the Aeneid, which was nurse to me
In all the art I loved: my certain stay,
Or else I had but stumbled. Could I see
My Master, or have lived on earth when he
Walked visible there, I would this hour agree
Another year of torture yet to bear.'
At this my Leader turned a face to me
Which said 'Be silent'; but can virtue wear
An absolute mask? For tears and laughter spring
So swiftly from the passions each portrays
That he who most his natural moods would bring
To firm subjection, yet at times obeys
A feeling's impulse. Though my lips were still,
I smiled as one who signals, and the Shade
Gazed in mine eyes, where most the soul betrays
The thought unspoken.
'As you hope to bring
Labour to consummation, tell me now
Why, for an instant, did thy thoughts allow
A sign of laughter on thy lips?'
Stood silent, but discovered. On one side
Was one would have me speak what one would hide
At equal nearness.
But my Master saw
My snare, and gave permission: 'Speak, and show
That which he urges. Have no fear of me.'
Whereat I spake: 'O Spirit of ancient days,
You wondered that I smiled, but you shall know
A greater marvel for a greater praise.
For This who guides me through these wards is he
From whom thine inspiration came to sing
Of gods and heroes. If thou didst conclude
I heard thy worship with a thought more rude,
Reject it wholly, as a thing untrue.
I smiled that he should stand so close to you
The while that you protested.'
Scarce heard to my conclusion. Falling flat,
His hands embraced my Leader's feet, but he
Rebuked him: 'Brother, if thou wilt, forbear.
Recall it to thy mind that shades are we.'
At which that other rose: 'Then canst thou see
How great my love, that caused me to forget
The emptiness that now for flesh we wear,
Possessed by but one thought, to reverence thee.'
Already distant had we left below
The Angel who our upward course had set
To the sixth circle, clearing from my brow
One stroke the more; and we had heard him bless
Those whose desire is justice. Sitiunt
His voices had proclaimed, and I, who less
Sin's burden hindered than before, could now
Keep easy pace with the swift spirits' ascent,
And heed their converse.
First my Master said:
'Love, fired by virtue that it emulates,
Will ever find its ardour likely met,
So only that itself appear; wherefore,
When Juvenal entered Hell's exterior gates,
To join us where our quiet place is set,
And told me thine affection, not till then
Had I experienced so warm regard
For one who, living in the world of men,
Or in the place beneath, I had not met.
Short will it make these steps for me. But say,
(And grant the pardon that a friend will give,
Encountering friendship, if I ask too far),
How could the sin of avarice in thee live
Beside the wisdom that thy studious day
Had stored so richly?'
Passed from the lips that answered: 'Every word
I hear thee speak is love's dear evidence.
But often aspects hide the things that are,
And from presumptions false, false doubts are bred.
Your question shows belief that mine offence
Was avarice, as the circle indicates
In which I stayed to suffer. But too far
I put it from me: opposite was my guilt
From that which you supposed it.
'When I read
That passage in thy works where thou dost cry,
As though in passionate reproach against
Our weak-reined nature: "Sane parsimony!
Why canst thou not to frugal use restrain
The wasting hand?" then vision came, to see
The impious folly of the course I led.
Else had I ended on a harder bed,
Joined ever in the woeful jousts below.
'How many will arise with shortened hair
Because they will not own this sin, nor tear
It from them, even in their latest hour!
Behold, the danger of extremes I show.
For who sin's opposite shall for virtue dress
Will find it baneful in its own excess
As that which it resisteth. Therefore I
Six thousand moons did in that circle lie
Where those for avarice doomed repent, although
I sinned by reason of its contrary.'
My singer of bucolic strains replied:
'Yet, though I may not doubt that this be so,
A further question enters. When thy song
Was of the bitter war Jocasta knew
With two-fold sorrow, then thy loyalty
Was Clio's. Faithless to a faith more true,
Works only could not save thee. How and when
Thereafter did what light in darkness shine
To guide thy sails toward the Fisher of Men?'
And he to him: 'Thou wast it, first and next.
First to Parnassus, in its caves to drink,
Thy light had led me. After, up to God,
The same light lengthened on the heavenly road.
Thou wast as one who walks a lightless way,
But bears a torch behind him, so that they
Who follow by that wisdom learn which he
Found unavailing. When I read thy text:
"The world renews itself: again to man
Justice returns, and a new progeny
Descends from Heaven", then the light began
To shine which made me Christian. First through thee
I learnt the art of verse, and after that
The art of holiness. That thou mayst see
The truth herein, I will not outline this,
But add convincing colour.
Sown by the eternal purpose, teemed around.
I read thy word, and saw its harmony
With that new faith the preachers taught; whereat
I went the more to hear them. When their grief
I witnessed, by Domitian scourged, my tears
Were theirs, so much I prized their holiness.
The station in the world I held I found
Not impotent to aid them. Less and less
Contending faiths I valued, as I saw
The upright precepts of the sacred law.
And in my poem, ere the Greeks arrived
Upon the river of Thebes, my choice was cast.
Christian I was baptised; but till the last
I kept it secret with a pagan show;
And for this cowardice the fourth ring below
I traversed longer than a century.
'I pray thee now, to whom these debts I owe,
While still the ascent is ours, that thou wilt show
In what more hopeful place, or cleft of Hell,
Terence, Caecilius, Plautus, Varro, dwell.'
My Leader answered: 'These, and more beside
Thy thoughts would query, in that place abide
With Persius and myself, that Greek around
Whom more than all the Muses nursed. We dwell
In the first circle of the gateless Hell.
And oft we talk of that far mount which yet
Those Muses will not leave. Euripides
Is comrade there, and there is Antiphon,
And others whom the laurel circlets crowned
In Greece's loftier noon. There Agathon,
And there Simonides. Antigone
Argia, Deiphyle, and Ismene,
Sad as she lived, are there. Hypsipyle,
Who led Adrastus' host to Langia's spring:
Tiresias' daughter, Deidamia
Is there, and Thetis.'
More they did not say,
For now we issued from the steep ascent,
And they in looking round were more intent
Than on the thoughts that cheered the upward way.
Already the four hand-maids of the day
Were left behind, and at the chariot's pole
Upward the fifth its blazing point advanced,
The while my careful Leader round him glanced,
And counselled: 'Now I think behoves that we
Turn our right shoulders to the edge, and so
Circle the mountain as we did below.'
So usage proved our guide, and more content
Were we therewith that still beside us went
The spirit released. And as their talk resumed
I went behind and silently, my mind
So solaced by their words the mood to sing
Was in me stirred.
But soon our journeying
Met that which broke their converse. In mid road
A tree with apples ripe and sweet to smell
Opposed us. As a firtree's girth we find
Diminished upward, so, reversed, did this
Broaden as it ascended. Thus designed,
I judged, that none might climb it. From the side
On which the mountain rose, a liquid stream
Fell on it, drenching all its leaves. The two
Whose voices I had harkened nearer drew,
On which a voice from out the branches cried:
'Dearth, if ye eat this fruit, your food shall be.'
And then the voice continued from the tree:
'More did it in her thoughts to Mary seem
That all the wedding should be fitly set
And furnished forth than that rich wines should wet
The lips which answer now for you. And they,
The Roman matrons of old time, would stay
Their thirst with water. Daniel counted naught
The price of food, if wisdom might be bought
With the same coin. The earliest age of men
Had golden beauty of simplicity:
Acorns were sweet, and brooks were nectar then.
And so John Baptist in the wilderness
Ate honey and locusts only - wherefore he,
The greatness of abstention to express,
Is glorious in the gospel's imagery.
While with fixed eyes I stood, by what I heard
Arrested there, and searched the leaves as he
Who wastes his days to watch the building bird,
My more than Father spake such words to me
As turned attention quickly: 'Son,' he said,
'Let not the time be ill distributed
That Heaven allows us. Come.' My pace thereat
Hastened behind them, not reluctantly,
Having their talk to draw me.
As we went
I heard one weep and chant, that his lament
Was joy and sorrow at once. 'Sweet Father, say,
Labia mea Domine, what is that?'
'Shades,' he replied, 'perchance are these, who go
Loosening the knots they tightly bound below.'
As do the pilgrims when they overtake
Some strangers moving slowlier on the way
Turning their eyes, although they will not stay
One forward step, so did these shades to us,
Turning their glances, mild, inquisitous,
On the strange sight we were. The eyes of all
Showed dark in chalkwhite faces cavernous,
And from the bones the skin took shape. I thought
Not Erisichthon, being left with naught
But bare starvation in his empty hide,
Was equally by thirst and hunger dried.
Within myself I said: Lo, these are they
Who lost Jerusalem, when Mary's teeth
Tore at her son. Projecting brows beneath
The sockets of their eyes as rings appeared
From which the gems had fallen. Who should say,
Lacking the key, how any fruit so fair,
Or stream so limpid, thus should leave them bare?
So thought I, and the cause had sought, but then
A shade who passed us turned its bony head,
And from its hollow caverns stared, and said:
'What grace do I behold?'
The face alone
Had never taught me, from the world of men
Too greatly changed, but the familiar tone
Recalled it. Then Forese's altered mouth
I saw; and then again the face I knew.
'Ah, look not on my scabby skin,' he pled,
'Or on protruding bones. Forget my drouth
To tell me truly of thyself, and who
But mine own impatience said:
'Not greatlier when I wept to see thee dead
My sorrow shook me, than I weep to see
Thy face so altered. In God's name, to me
Reveal thy torture. My much marvelling
Forbids that speech to other use I bring
Until thou showest me this.'
And he to me:
'The eternal counsel wills it. Its decree
Gives virtue to the water and the tree
To emaciate thus. All this lean folk you see,
Who weep at once and sing, so expiate
Their gluttonous days. A scent so odorous
Comes from the apples, and the stream that falls
Through the green shadows, as, our thirst to sate
And hunger, maddens us to devour; and thus
It leaves us empty. More than once, the while
We make the circle, doth this sight beguile
To futile feeding. So our pain renews.
Pain said I? Solace were a word more fit.
For there the Holy Purpose leads, as It
Led Christ beforetime to a bitterer tree
To cry at last with gladness: Eli. He
Having our ransom thus accomplished.'
I answered him: 'Forese, since you died
Five years are barely ended. If the power
For thy particular sin had in thee dried
Before the sorrow of the kindly hour
Which leads us Godward, how, in time so brief,
Art thou advanced so highly? I had thought
To find thee lower, where what time hath wrought
Of evil, finds in time its slow relief.'
He answered: 'Nella, with her weeping grief,
My Nella, in short space hath brought me here,
With the sweet wormwood to be plagued. Her prayers
Assailing Heaven, have brought me from the shore
Of waiting souls, and up succeeding stairs
To this high circle. She, to me so dear,
Is loved of God; and that, methinks, the more
Because she keeps her widow's chastity,
Solacing with good works her days. For where
I left her in Barbagia, surely there
Are lewder women than Sardinia knows
In its more wild Barbagia, convict-bred.
I see a time, and that few years ahead,
When from the pulpit shall stern words be said
In sharp refusal of its rites to those
Who overboldly to the church repair
With pert protruding breasts, and nipples bare.
'What women of the coast of Barbary,
What eastern pagans have there been, or be,
Who must be by their church, or man, coerced,
To keep them covered? But if well they knew,
These dames of Florence, what the heavens prepare,
The sheaf which now is bound to scourge them, there
Wide would they open mouths to howl their woe.
For be my foresight, as I deem it, true,
He will not grow to clothe his cheeks with hair
Who now is comforted with lullaby
Before they meet their grief.
'But, brother, now
Delay not my desire to gratify.
Thou seest that it is not only I,
But all these people round us gaze as one
To marvel at thy form, which screens the sun.'
Wherefore I answered: 'If thou wilt recall
What thou wast once with me, and I with thee,
Grave will be still the present memory
Of that from which my Leader here returned
My recent steps. On that near yesterday,
When the sun's sister showed her face in full,
He brought me through the dreadful night where they,
The truly dead, continue. This true flesh
Still wearing, his support hath led me here,
Circling this mount where ye are beaten straight
Whom earthly life made crooked. Still will be
His upward guidance mine, until I see
The high place where Beatrice waits me. He
Who leads me there is Virgil; and the shade
Is he at whose release the mountain swayed.'
Words not for pace nor pace for words delayed,
But while we talked a steady course we made,
As moves a good ship with the wind behind.
And those pale shades who seemed for death designed
Twice over, from their hollow eyepits gazed
In wonder at me as they moved, aware
That in the flesh a mortal man was there,
While I continued what I said before:
'He might advance his upward progress more,
I doubt not, but that his reluctant will
Declines to leave my Leader. But, I pray,
If any of these passing folk who still
Devour me with their eyes deserve remark,
Disclose them to me. . . If thou knowest, say
Where is Piccarda?'
First he answered that
Which last I asked: 'My sister, fair and good,
- I know not which was more, or which was less,
Her righteous living or her loveliness -
Already triumphs, glorying in her crown. . .
It is allowed to name us, since our fare
Obliterates every line of what we were.
That one' - his finger pointed - 'that one there
Is Bonagiunta, he of Lucca. He
Beyond, with face more seamed than all beside,
Is he who had the Holy Church for bride,
Who came from Tours, and now who expiates
The eels that once in wine he drowned.'
Of others round, one after one, and all
Content that I should know them. None thereat
Returned a surly gesture. Two I saw
So drained by hunger that the craving maw
Caused them to clash their teeth on emptiness.
La Pila's Ubaldino one, and one
Boniface, who with pastoral staff controlled
So many lands before. I saw Marchese,
Who once at Forli, when his thirst was less,
Was discontent that ever thirst was done.
But I, as he who doubts and then decides,
To Bonagiunta turned, as seemed that he
Was most of these inclined to speak to me.
And from those lips that justice parched I heard
A muttered sound: 'Gentucca.' To the word
I answered: 'Spirit, who seemest of the mood
Inviting converse, wilt thou speak, that I
May understand, and each may satisfy
The other with their thoughts.'
And he thereto
Replied: 'My city other mouths may blame,
But thou shalt come to praise it, pleased by one,
A woman born therein, too young as yet
To wear the wimple. Take this presage true;
And if my muttered word thy ear misled,
A later day shall clear it. . . But thy name,
For sure I know thee, is on earth renowned
As who that different style of rhyming set:
"Ladies who have of love discovery made".'
And I to him: 'I seek to write unbound
By aught but Love's inspiring. Unafraid
Of broken precedent, as He dictates
The rhymes I fashion.'
'Brother, now I see
The rope that tripped Lentino's notary,
Guittone, and myself. We strove to teach
Too straight a rule, whereby we did not reach
Love's ultimate sweetness, by our quaint pretence
Trammelled, nor yielding full obedience
To His dictation. He who intricate wile
Prefers to matter, will not reach the style
That most excels.'
He ceased, as one content
With mind disburdened.
Gathering for the Nile,
Birds that from winter flee assemble first
In hesitant groups, and then, in lengthened file,
Fly swiftly on their chosen course. So went
The folk around us now. Their faces turned;
Their speed increased to double nimbleness
By earnest purpose, and by fleshless frames.
But as a breathless racer slacks his pace,
Letting his comrades more advance until
The weary panting of his chest is still,
So did Forese with the holy train,
Continuing beside me. 'When again,'
He asked, 'shall I behold thee?'
'Naught,' I said,
'Is shown me of the time I take to die,
But soon or late, my wish would see me dead
Much sooner; in such evil place am I,
Where good from day to day declines, and ill
'With a better will,'
He answered, 'go thy way, for I can see
The end of whom has heaviest blame, and him
A beast with ignominy, at its tail,
Drags ever faster to the fatal vale,
Where there is no forgiveness. Hard its feet
Strike backward: vilely is his body spread.
Those wheels' (and here to Heaven he raised his head)
'Have little further space to turn before
All this, more clearly than my speech can say,
Yourself will witness. . . Now I charge thee stay;
For time is precious, and too much delay
Is mine already, level pace to keep
With those from whom I should not lag.'
Who on the front of war will urge his steed
Out from the moving ranks, that he may reap
The honour of the first assault, so he
Rushed forward. Only were the two with me
Who were on earth my Masters. So mine eyes
Pursued him as my mind his words, and so
I saw, before we reached, another tree,
An apple, like the first, and bending low
Its branches, laden. Very near were we
When first it came in sight; the mountain's curve
Till then concealing. Many folk I saw
Around it raise appealing hands, although
Their words escaped me. Clamorous children so
With eager vain petitions will surround
One who declines to grant, but from the ground
Holds up the bauble they desire, too high
For reaching hands, and yet doth not deny,
Nor by concealment stint them. But at last
Those folk departed disillusionéd.
Then, as they left, to that broad-branching tree
We came, which has so many prayers and tears
Rejected. There we heard a voice that said
(Speaking from out the boughs): 'Pass warily,
Nor come too nigh; A tree there is beyond
From which Eve plucked the knowledge of sad years,
And this one from that fatal seed is bred.'
So, hearing this, we three went cautiously
Close to the rise, to pass it; while the voice
Resumed its warnings: 'Think ye of the beasts,
The cloud-bred Centaurs, who, when proudly fed,
'Gainst Theseus fought with twofold breasts. Or they
Who as to drinking made the weaker choice,
That Gideon cast them from his company,
Ere from the mountains upon Midian
He rushed, as when the eagle takes a prey.'
So passed we singly on to edge the way,
Hearing the while the faults of gluttony,
With misery always guerdoned at the end;
And, having passed the tree, again began
To walk abreast. But now most silently
Upon a solitary road we went
A thousand paces and beyond, until
A sudden voice assailed us: 'Wherefore so
Do ye lone three in thoughtful silence go?'
That like a startled beast I swerved, but turned
In the same motion, him who spake to see.
Never so bright was furnace-glass, nor burned
Red-molten metal with so clear a glow
As he who now addressed us: 'If ye will
To mount above,' he said, 'the place is here.
He who pursues his peace will come with me.'
Blinded by that fierce light, I made retreat
Toward my teachers. As, when dawn is near,
The May-wind moves, with scent of grasses sweet,
And by a million flowers impregnated,
So to my forehead came a wind. I heard
The passing plumage that around me shed
Ambrosial fragrance; and a spoken word:
'Blessed are they by too much grace illumed
For greed of appetite more to possess
Their hearts than doth the thirst for righteousness.'
It was no hour for crippled limbs to make
The steep ascent, for the meridian
The Sun to Taurus had resigned: the night
To Scorpio. Wherefore, as a man will take
Occasion when his business calls, and haste
To seize his profit, so alike did we
Press upward. Not abreast our climb began,
But singly, as the narrow stair constrained.
And as the young stork lifts its wings for flight,
And dares not leave the nest, and lets them drop,
So did desire to ask arise and stop
Within me while I hastened. As I gained
Control of diffidence, and speech was near,
My kindly Father, whom no haste could bring
To disregard me, spake: 'Put by thy fear.
From speech's bow, already backward drawn,
Loosen the shaft.' And with that comforting,
I asked securely: 'How can spirits be worn
To leaner shadows than they were before,
Having no longer need of nourishment?'
'If,' he replied, 'how Meleager went
The way of death thy mind had weighed, his flesh
Wasting the while the brand consumed, the mesh
Less finely woven of thine argument
Had seemed; or hadst thou thought how wondrously
Thy mirrored image with thyself will move,
The hard enigma had more easily
Thy mind accepted. But thy doubt to prove
Beyond its more endurance, Statius
Is here, and is sufficient. Him I pray
To expound it fully.'
'If I answer thus,'
Statius replied, 'the eternal verity
Expounding to him, while thou standest by
To hear me, solely my excuse must be
That what thou askest I may not deny.'
Then turning to me: 'If thy mind, my son,
Will open to my words, a light thereby
Will enter, and thy question find reply.
'Within the heart of man a perfect blood
Is found, which doth not reach the thirsty veins,
Though all the virtue in itself contains
Of that which runs the human members through.
'But as from table an uneaten food
May be removed, so is this blood withdrawn,
And after more digestion downward led,
Taking that transit which to leave unsaid
Is seemlier than to say. Another's blood
It now encounters. Its activity,
Born of the heart from where its virtue grew,
Works on the passive stream it meets, wherethrough
It strikes, coagulating. After that
It quickens that which it solidifies,
Making it soil in which its life may grow
A plantlike soul, but with this difference -
The plant is perfect: it has far to go.
Like ocean fungus now, in quickening sense
And limited motion, its development
Is next those organs to design whereby
It will express the higher faculties
Which dormant in its generation lie.
'Here is the marvel of all birth displayed,
Whereby the intricate members are remade
That were in the begetter. Yet remains
The problem how the animal soul attains
To speech and reason. Do not vex thy heart
That impotent for its resolve thou art.
Here did than thine a greater wisdom stray,
Dividing reason from the soul away,
Because no organ for its growth he saw.
'Open thy mind to the celestial law
That when the embryo brain is perfected,
He who on Chaos brooded first observes
With joy the work of Nature thus revealed
With art consummate, and a spirit breathes
Impregnated with virtue to absorb
The inferior soul, and make a single orb,
Revolving on itself, to live, to feel.
And that my speech may seem less wonderful
Consider how the moisture mounts within
The vine's green fruit, and how the sun's fierce heat
Transforms it to the genial wine.
Lachesis' thread, in earthly life's defeat,
From failing flesh the spirit withdraws, but yet
Alike the human and divine retains,
Inseparable substance grown, and so
The attributes of intellect and will
And memory, muted there, continue still,
More live in their release. It pauseless turns
To find the appointed shore, where first it learns
Its destined road. As its surroundings grow
To consciousness around it, even so
Itself interprets through its attributes
Its previous members. As the rainwet air
Is bright with colours which it would not wear
Except by alien rays transformed, so here
The air around itself the soul transmutes
Alike to that which did before appear
In fleshly demonstration. As a flame
Follows the originating fire, if that
Be shifted, so this airy semblance moves
As moves the spirit whence itself derives.
'Therefore as moving Shades ourselves we name,
And as we moulded in our earthly lives
Our features by desires of spirit and sense,
So do we still in gradual change. Hereby
We see, we speak, we laugh, we weep, we sigh,
As round the mountain slopes thyself hast heard
And thus is answered all thy wondering word.'
His speech he ceased, and now we came to where
The path no longer climbs, and nearer care
Was ours than such discoursing. Lucent flame
Flashed from the bank, and from the outer edge
A wind uprising held the flame aloft,
Making a possible passage. This to dare
My heart was doubtful. One by one we went
Skirting the void. I heard my Leader say:
'Here must the eyes be straitly reined: astray
A short step taketh.' Much I feared to see
That wind-supported flame's descent. There came
A sound of voices from its heart: 'Summae',
Sang the hid choir, 'Deus clementiae',
And hearing this, and seeing through the flame
Spirits who moved within it, will to turn
Was not less eager in me. Variously
Now at my steps I gazed, and now at them,
As caution more or curiosity
Constrained me. In midfire I saw them burn
The while they chanted. At the hymn's decline,
'Virum', they cried aloud, 'non cognosco',
And then repeated, in a voice more low,
The previous anthem. As it ceased, they cried:
'Diana in the wood remained, and drove
Helice from it, who had felt the bane
Of Venus' poison.' Then the chant again
Their voices raised; and then unchastity
Of husbands or of dames their cries denied;
The obligation of the virtuous vow
Asserting. So I think their wont will be
Until the fire release them. With such song
And with such diet shall their years be spent
Till the last wound be closed of sensual wrong.
As thus we traversed that strait path between
The mount's sheer falling and the windheld flame,
My Master's voice in frequent chiding came
To eyes turned sideways as I moved: 'Beware!
Lest profit come not from my frequent care.'
Meanwhile the sun had turned the natural blue
Of all the western skies a whiter hue,
On my right shoulder shining, so that now
The clear flame altered to a darker red,
As my obstructing shadow passed. At this,
More than at us, the Shades in wonder gazed,
Talking among themselves in speech amazed.
'His form is of material earth', they said;
And some approached us, making this pretext
To question whence I was. 'Oh, tell me, thou,'
A Shade began, 'who out of reverence
For those before thee, rather, as I guess,
Than from defect of strength or listlessness,
Dost keep the rearward place, by what defence
Thy substance thwarts the sun, appearing now
As one uncaught by Death's all severing net,
Who yet hast access to this mount. Betray
The truth, not I alone, but all these pray
Who burn with me in this unfailing fire,
And with me thirst; for more is our desire
This thing to learn than comes to mortal man,
Or Indian or Ethiopian,
Desire of water cold and pure.'
And instant answer had I made; but now
Mine eyes another wonder held. There came
A second column through the midmost flame
Of folk whose faces turned the backward way,
So meeting those with whom I spake. As they
Encountered thus, I saw them, one by one,
Kiss shortly, waiting for no words, and so
Pass onward without pausing. So we see
The ants' brown troops, when each its antennae
Extends to touch another's, thus to learn
It may be to go on, or where to turn,
Or tale of some occurrence fortunate.
As thus they greeted, though they did not stay,
Against each other as they turned away
They cried aloud: 'Sodom and Gomorrah!'
And 'Pasiphae in a cow incarnate lay
That she might draw the bull her lust to sate!'
Thus like two flocks of passing cranes that fly,
One to the Rhipaean mountains bound, and one
Seeking the sands; either the frost to shun,
Or flying northward from too fierce a sun,
The Shades resumed their opposite ways; and high
Between their weeping chants the earlier cry
Again I heard; and those who came before
Again approached me.
I, their need who knew
Already, answered ere they spake: 'Oh, ye
Secure in having, whensoe'er it be,
Eternal peace at last, the limbs ye see
Are those of earth I have. I did not leave
My mortal members. Here they move with me,
Bend fleshly joints, and beat with carnal blood.
But here I come, who was on earth too blind,
Graced by a dame of Heaven, my sight to find
With yet my mortal life unfinishéd.
'But so that, to your most desire, above
The widest heaven ye reach, and most of love,
I charge ye tell me who yourselves ye be,
And who are those behind, who contrary
To your own motions in reverse are led,
That I may write it on my soon return.'
Confused and dumbed by wonder might appear
In city streets uncouth the mountaineer
As did these Shades with wildered looks to learn
My mortal habit. But astonishment
In those of loftier thought is quickly spent.
'Happy art thou,' the one who spoke before
Made answer, 'so to find experience
To guide thee while thine earthly life endure. . .
Those folk who passed us, for that sin's offence
Now suffer which once caused the jibing cry
Of "Queen!" to sound in Caesar's ears, as he
Rode at the height of triumph. Therefore they
Cry "Sodom!" to augment their shame, and be
The urgers of the flame they feel. But we,
Who sinned no less, though less discordantly
To natural use, because like beasts we went
Beyond restraint of human laws, repent
In mentioning her who took a brute's disguise
Her lust to further. Now our sins you know;
But who we are there lacks the time to show,
And of the most myself am ignorant.
But mine own name I will not hide, for I
Am Guido Guinicelli: I the more
Am aided that repentance came before
My death-day neared.'
As in that misery
When for his son Lycurgus mourned, wherethrough
Two other sons with joy their mother knew,
So was I moved (though less mine ecstasy
With less occasion) hearing him declare
Himself the father of the art that I
And others practised, by his precepts led,
Master of many love-songs tender-sweet;
So that for some time after silently
I moved and gazed upon him, while the heat
Refused me a more near approach.
At last with gazing such sure words I said
As win belief, protesting my desire
To serve him. And he answered through the fire:
'Thy words in me revive such memories
As Lethe may not drown, nor make them dim.
Yet, if thine oath be soothly sworn, I pray,
Disclose why thou shouldst love me.'
I to him:
'It is the sweetness of thy songs for they
So long as modern use or language stay,
Shall render their mere ink most precious.'
'Brother,' he answered, 'he I point thee thus'
(His finger lifted to a spirit ahead),
'Was better craftsman in our tongue than I.
In amorous singing ever first of us,
And first alike in prose romance. More high
Let folly rate Limoge's troubadour.
Fools more by chatter than by truth are led,
And fix opinion ere the word be said
That art or reasoned judgment speaks. For so
The ancients did before with Guittone,
Passing the word from voice to voice that he
Alone was prize-deserving. Yet, more slow,
More certain, truth with the majority
Prevailed thereafter. . . If the privilege
Be in that cloister thine again to pray
Where Christ is abbot, wilt thou for me say
One paternoster, in so far as still
We need it here, in whom no more the will
Drives to transgression?'
With these words he went,
It may be to give place to one who neared,
Intending evident speech. He disappeared
In the thick flame as when a visible fish
Dives in the flood. To him his place who took
I spake at once. 'O Spirit,' I said, 'my wish
To know thee hath its thanks prepared.'
With kindred frankness he replied: 'Nor power
Nor inclination to reject thy plea
My heart possesses. I who weep and sing,
Lamenting follies past, but bliss to be
Rejoicing, as to the triumphant hour
I move through this fierce furnace tormenting,
Am Arnaut. By that grace through which you gain
The summit of this mount, recall my pain
In apposite season.'
As the words were said,
His form was hidden in that wall of fire.
Now stretched the rising sun its earliest ray
To reach that city where its Maker died,
While dark beneath the midnight Ebro lay,
And noon's fierce heat blazed on the Ganges' tide.
Therefore with us the twilight failed, as high
Poised on the bank, but from the flame aside,
God's angel we beheld with joy. He sang
Beati mundo corde. Naught could vie,
No human song, with that intensity
Of life which in the chanted accents rang.
Then said he: 'O ye spirits purified,
You may not enter by this stair except
The fire hath licked you. Through its flames ascend,
Heeding the chant beyond.'
As one who died
I heard this doom. With lifted hands I wept
Against the angelic verdict, which to me
Brought visions such as eyes on earth may see
Of human victims to the flames supplied.
Kindly mine escorts turned, and spake my Guide:
'Here may be pain; but death there may not be.
My son, recall! Remind thy heart how well
I led thee through the utter depths of hell.
If safe was your descent on Gerion's back,
Think you that power for your defence I lack,
Being so much nearer God?
'This thing is sure,
That should'st thou for a thousand years endure
The flame's white heart, it could not make thee bare
By one thread shrivelled, or one fallen hair.
But if you hold my words deceitful, try,
Approach, and tempt it with thy garment's hem. . .
Cast out, cast from thee, this ignoble fear!
Secure continue at my side.'
Stood still, although my conscience chid. At this
Virgil, a little troubled in his mien,
Said sharply: 'Thy Beatrice waits above.
Behold the wall that parts you!'
As the name
Of Thisbe to the dying Pyramus came,
And raised his eyelids at the call of love
To gaze upon her, while the mulberry burned
Vermilion overhead, so now to me
The name that ever to my mind recurred
Was potent to control my fear. I turned
Prepared and pliant to my Leader's word,
At which he signed approval. 'Wish we here
To wait?' he smiled upon me, as we smile
Upon the child the apple tempts. He stood
Before me in the fire, and Statius,
Who hitherto had walked between us, now
Followed me. After them I went, but when
I felt that cleansing heat's intensity,
I would have flung myself in boiling glass
To quench the burning. Forward to beguile
My tortured steps, my kindly Guide the while
Talked of Beatrice. 'Past the fire I see
Her waiting eyes.' To lead us straightly through,
We heard a singing voice beyond, and bent
To reach it, issuing at the steep ascent.
Venite, benedicti Patris, so
We heard the chant from out so white a glow
As overcame my sight. With blinded eyes,
I heard the voice give warning: 'Now the sun
Retires, but fail not while the west supplies
Sufficient light to urge thine upward feet.'
The stair was straight between the rocks. It lay
So that its length the sun's retreating ray
Illumined upward to the last, but yet
Few steps were ours before my shadow (none
Was theirs ascending by me) failed, as set
The sun below; and while the west, alive
With failing colour, still was light, before
The canopy of night from sea to sea
Was equalled through its wide immensity
With darkness in all parts distributed,
Each in our place had made a stair a bed;
For, rather than desire to climb outwore,
The power departed with departing day,
And choiceless where we were perforce we lay.
As goats that wantoned on the peaks in play
Before the sun's full heat, when noon is high,
Now being fully fed and ruminant,
Stand silent in the shadows, motionless,
The while the herdsman, leaning on his crook,
As silently regards them; or as lies
The shepherd, roofless to the midnight skies,
Amidst his flock in quiet watchfulness,
Lest ravening beasts should scare and scatter - so we
Lay on the stairs; I as the goat, and those
The shepherds. On each side the sheer rocks rose.
Little they left for sight, but clear and far
A narrow heaven I watched, where star by star
The luminous night's procession passed above.
So ruminating, gradual sleep I knew;
Such sleep as brings its own preconsciousness.
And in that hour when, as I likely guess,
The East upon the Cytherean Mount
First beamed, which with the constant fire of love
Perpetual glows, I dreamed a dame I saw
Youthful and fair. Amid a field of flowers
She pluckt, and wandered singing. This she sang:
'Tell him who asks my name that Leah am I.
With my fair hands a garland wreath I weave,
My mirror and myself to satisfy.
But Rachel at her glass from morn to eve
Sits ever. Fain her own sweet eyes is she
To worship: better with my hands to me
It seems to twist my crown; for diversely
My pleasure is to do, and hers to see.'
But now the lights that actual dawn precede,
And which with pleasure more the pilgrims heed
As nearer to them by ascent they dwell,
Was round us. Fast the sun-slain shadows fled.
So fled my sleep, and in some haste I rose,
Seeing my Masters were alert before.
'That apple, sweet to taste, that men pursue
With so great care so many branches through,
Today will give thy hunger peace.' So said
My Leader. Never gift such ecstasy
Could bring to man as did those words to me.
Passionate desire so urged to such delight
That seemed I felt the lifted wings of flight
Impel swift feet alternate steps to clear.
When the whole stair was passed, and high we stood
With all its length beneath us, fixed regard
My Leader gave me while he spake: 'My son,
Alike the temporal and eternal fires
Now hast thou witnessed. I have led thee here,
To lead no longer; for my sight is barred
To aught beyond us now. With art and wit
I drew thee here, but here my work is done:
Henceforth be guided by thine own desires.
The steep ways and the strait ways lie below:
Here the sun shines, and here the grasses grow.
Here bloom the flowers, and here the shrubs are green
Which fadeless only in this land are seen.
Here mayst thou wander at thy choice, or sit
To wait her coming, whose fair joyful eyes
Wept once, and by their weeping bade me rise
To be thy rescue. Wait my word no more.
Self-conquered, crowned and mitred dost thou stand
As master of thyself. Sound, righteous, free,
Thy judgment only now thy guide should be.'
I rose, and left the bank. Intent was I
To learn this living land luxuriant,
Forested with such fair trees as tamed the day.
Gently we paced the odorous soil. Too scant
The breeze strength to vex us. Soft it blew
With steady breath and fragrant branches through
Turning the leaves alike the selfsame way
The earliest shadows of the morning lay.
But not so much it turned those leaves aside
That the birds' singing, to its song allied,
Was checked of its full joyance, or delayed
Their glad occasions in the fluctuant shade.
Beneath their chant its constant burden sang,
As through the pines of Chiassi's ancient shore
From branch to branch the long wind evermore
Murmurs; as when, by Aeolus set free,
My slow wandering
Already backward hid the path I made,
When to a stream I came whose course forebade
A further truance. Its soft current ran
To leftward, as the trailing grasses showed
That from the bank in its clear waters swayed.
Earth hath not in its breast so pure a spring
As this, though dusked beneath perpetual shade,
Where never sun nor moon since time began
Reflected ever; nor its purity
Though still my feet,
Mine eyes the breadth of Lethe passed to view
A meadow, where the numerous flowers of May
Made prodigal colour in their fresh delight;
And then as all beside some wondrous sight
Will banish from the mind, alone I knew
A dame who sang along the painted way
Of blossoms which she plucked selectively,
Comparing flower to flower.
'Oh, beauteous One,'
I called her, 'who at Love's life-passioning ray
Hast warmed thee, if thy radiant countenance
Be evidence of the heart, as most will be,
May impulse like to mine arise in thee,
To draw thee to the bank, that I may hear
The wind-borne words of thy continual song.
To Proserpine as I gaze my thoughts belong,
Remembering where she was, and what was she,
When her her mother lost, and she the spring.'
As when a damsel dancing stands erect,
And turns on feet which in their place remain,
Level and close, and as a maid abates
Her honest glance, which lust repudiates,
So did she when she heard my call. Content
She gave me for my prayers. So close she drew
That not alone I caught the singing strain,
But all the meaning of the song I knew.
And when so closely on the bank she stood
That to the trailing grass her foot was set
Which ever by those lucent waves was wet,
Her eyes she lifted, gracious, diffident.
I do not think that Aphrodite's eyes
So beamed when Eros unintendingly
Had roused their charms, as now that glance on me
The while her hands arranged those flowers which rise
Unseeded from the heavenly soil Three strides,
No more, from bliss that narrow stream divides;
But not Leander felt a fiercer hate
For Hellespont, with separating surge
That Sestos from Abydos sundereth,
A bridle human pride still to abate,
Where Xerxes passed of old, than felt I now
Against that stream for its refusing verge.
'I smile,' she said, 'perhaps, because so new
You seem, so strange, so doubtful, marvelling
Of where you be in this fair sanctuary
Designed by Heaven for human kind. Maybe
A light will rise, if Delectasti me
Thy mind recall. But if more questioning
Disturb thy reason, ask. The most I may
The part is mine to lift thy doubts away.'
'I marvel,' I replied, 'the wind to hear,
And at the flowing of the water clear,
Where neither wind, I thought, nor rain should be.'
'These things at which you marvel,' answered she,
'Are simple when their cause is known. To me
Give heed, and from thy mind will pass away
The mist which blinds it. When the Ultimate Good,
Which pleasures only in Itself, designed
Creation, It bestowed upon mankind
Goodness both in and for themselves. This wood,
This flowering mead, of their eternal peace
Were earnest. By their own default they fell.
Therefore did kindly mirth and laughter cease;
So learnt they toil too much, and tears too well.
And that, while here they dwelt, they might not feel
Discomfort from the elemental strife
Of winds' and waters' tides, which heat pursue,
This mount was lifted. Here is cool release
Above the barrier. Tumults felt below
Can pass it never. But the loftier air,
In this clear space of any barrier bare,
Still to the moving earth flows contrary
With regular motion, and the close-set wood
To its unvarying pressure sings response.
'This wind, by every plant impregnated,
Their seedless virtue bears, and earth and sky
Unite for their conceptions; various trees
And plants uprising from the seedless ground.
Yet in this holy land all fruits are found
Unpluckt, and of their seeds unravishéd.
And this fair stream no melting snows have fed,
That fluctuate with the cold, or as their source
Of vapour differs. The Eternal Will
Provides a fountain full and sure that still
Sustains its double streams, which backward bring
The unchanging equal of their outward flow.
'By this one, memory of all cancelled sin
Is emptied from the mind: the further stream
Gives recollection of accomplished good
Indelibly fixed for ever. Lethe this,
Eunoe that is styled. Their gain to win,
This must be tasted first: and after, that.
Sovereign of every taste their savour is.
And thus thy doubt is stilled.
'If more I tell,
Beyond thy question, I esteem thee well
That thou wilt value at its worth the word
That so exceeds the measure. Those who told
In ancient legend of an age of gold,
Perchance this Eden, which they had not heard,
They dreamed, and called Parnassus.
Here was the root whence human life began.
Here is the flowering of perpetual spring;
And all the fruits which earthly autumns bring
Are here to reach. The nectar that they sing
Is only here.'
As, thus interpreted,
High dream and heavenly truth combined, I turned
To those who stood behind. With smiles they learned
The unison that she showed; and I once more
Gave her mine eyes from that dividing shore.
Singing as one love-tranced in ecstasy,
She poured the outburst of her final song:
'Beati quorum tecta - '. As of old
Some solitary nymph beneath the shade,
Seeking the light to fly, or else to find,
So held she straight her path the bank along.
Shortening my steps to hers, an equal way
I held abreast. But ere our paces summed
A hundred, hers and mine, the banks inclined
An equal turn, until once more I faced
The sunrise. Short again the course we paced
Before that lady, turning wholly now
Toward me, spake: 'My brother, gaze alert
To that which cometh!' With her word there shone
A light which through the woods from every side
Rushed on us, that at first it caused me think
Of lightning. So doth sudden lightning blink,
And in one instant fail. But this went on,
Dazzling the breadth of heaven from brink to brink,
And brightening ever till my wonder grew
Of what its nature or its cause might be.
And through the luminous air sweet melody
Came with the light.
At this a natural zeal
Stirred my reproach that Eve's audacity,
Even here, where Earth and Heaven obedient bent,
- And she so lately formed their joys to feel! -
Could not endure devout restraint, but rent
The veil of knowledge to our loss. For I
Had else, and for long time, experienced
Delights ineffable that met me now.
While through these firstfruits of eternal bliss
I moved, my mind all hungered and suspensed
For further rapture, under the green bough,
Like to a core of unconsuming flame,
The fierce light glowed, and that sweet sound became
Articulate chanting. O ye Virgins Pure!
If ever cold, if ever sleepless hours,
If ever fasting did my frame endure
To do you worship, now occasion drives
That I should plead support of all your powers.
Urania aid me with her choir! And pour
The streams of Helicon freely forth to bring
Conception to a birth of adequate words,
The exaltation of the theme to show.
Dividing distance, that our short advance
Had little altered, served to falsify
The verdict of the eyes. I thought to know
Seven golden masts erect. But as they neared,
Eyes more beheld, and apprehension cleared
The doubt of what they were; and clear I heard
The voices of the single chanted word:
The fair equipment flamed on high
Far brighter than the moon in midmost sky,
At midnight, in mid-month. I turned to see
My gentle following Guide, and found that he
Was like myself astonished.
I watched the candles. Not a bride new-wed
Advances slowlier to the bridal bed
Than they toward us. From the further side
Of Lethe's sundering width, the dame, to chide
Mine eyes' oblivion, spake: 'Why gazest thou
So fixedly on the living lights, that those
Who come behind thou hast no care to see?'
Then saw I folk who moved behind, as though
The high lights led them. Clad in white were they:
Such white as shines not in our earthly day.
For all was brilliance in the lucent air;
River, and woods, and sky, beyond compare
Of worldly vision. On my left the flow
Of the smooth stream returned so clear a glow
That, if I sideward bent, myself I knew,
As in a mirror.
When the candles came
So close that naught but the dividing stream
Between us lay, my steps I stayed to view
The bright procession. Separate every flame
Pencilled the air it passed, that seven long trails
Like the sun's bow or Delia's girdle shone.
I could not see the whole. The flames most nigh
Ten paces parted, as I judge. Behind,
And canopied by the rainbow-painted air,
Came four-and-twenty elders, two by two,
With lilies garland. In unison
They sang: 'Of Adam's daughters blest be thou,
And ever blest thy beauties.'
They went on;
Leaving the opposite flowery herbage clear.
But afterward, as star succeedeth star,
Four living creatures followed. Crowned were they
With garlands of green leaves. Six feathered wings.
Crowded with eyes, they spread. If Argus' eyes
Were living, such were they. But words too far
I will not waste these wondrous beasts to say.
Too freighted am I with rich furnishings
To spend with lavish rhymes on that which lies
Clear in Ezekiel's pages. Read ye how
From the cold north, in whirlwind, cloud and fire,
They came, and tempest in their wings that vies
With noise of mightiest waters. Like as he
I saw them, only that the wings were six,
As John bears witness also.
In the space
That these four creatures cornered, came a car
Two-wheeled, triumphal. Harnessed by the neck,
A Grifon drew it. Raised too high to see,
His wings went through the coloured bands of light,
But did not break them. Three, and equal three,
Were outward, and within, the central bar.
His birdlike limbs were golden: dazzling white
Was all besides, or else vermilion.
Not merely Rome's Augustus car so fair,
Not Africanus such rejoiced, but bare
Of splendour that which owned Hyperion -
The car that blundered in its course, and burnt,
When prayed for life the suppliant Earth, and learnt
That Jove was in his secret counsels just -
Had shown to this.
Upon the right wheel's side
Three damsels came in whirling dance. The first
So redly glowed that in a heart of fire
She might have found invisibility:
The second shone with such intensity
That seemed throughout her very bones and flesh
Were emerald: and the third was purest snow
New-drifted. On the car's left side appeared
Four others, purple-draped. Three eyes had she,
The first, who led them through the dance's mesh.
Following there came two elders reverend,
Differently apparelled, but of like regard,
Sober and grave of mien. The one was he,
Familiar of the great Hippocrates
By Nature for her dearest creatures made.
The other held a bright and naked blade,
Of opposite purpose from the healer's art.
So keen it shone that not so far apart
I stood, despite the separating stream,
But fear was mine to view it.
Came four of humbler guise; and last, and lone,
An old man blinded by his inward dream,
But yet with eyes undimmed.
The seven wore
Like garb to those of the preceding band,
But not with lilies whitely garlanded.
Wreathed were they with such roses fiery-red,
And other flowers of scarlet flame, that they,
To sight of those a little space away,
Seemed crowned with glorious fire.
To where I stood the car had drawn, there came
A burst of thunder. At the signal sound,
The whole procession with its masts of light
Halted, as though the place it sought were found,
Or else forbidden from the forward ground.
When halted was the wain of Heaven, which knows
No other veil than sin's obscuring cloud,
Which never on horizon set nor rose
Like that which wheels around our earthly sky,
Yet to all reverend eyes their duty shows,
As doth our own the helmsman certify
Of where unseen the distant port will lie,
Then did those folk sincere, whose steps had been
Before it and behind, around it draw,
As to their natural peace, and one aloud
Singing as though by Heaven deputed, cried:
'Come, Spouse, to Lebanon', and all beside
Joined in the cry.
As, at the final hour,
From every sepulchre the separate dead
Shall rise, and with recovered voices cry
A Hallelujah in one chant, so now
Salvation's prophets and evangelists,
A hundred voices, by that elder led.
They all were saying Benedictus qui
Venis, and flowers were scattering. Manibus
O date lilia plenis. I have seen
About the coming of dawn, the eastern sky
Rosed, and the rest of heaven all clearly fair,
While the sun's disc behind the misty air
Was tempered of its glory, so that I
Sustained to face it for a long time. And so,
Behind the cloud of flowers their hands did throw,
A dame appeared, with olive crowned, above
A veil of white. A mantle green she wore,
And under that a gown of ruddiest flame.
At which veiled form such flooding memories came,
Such recollections of that ancient love,
By hidden virtue stirred, which reached me through
The eyes' default, that my crushed spirit, so long
Sundered from her dear presence, now trembling knew
Its previous power.
As that high virtue smote
Mine eyes, as yet unseeing, which pierced me first
In boyhood's days, I leftward turned, to where
My Guide had been, as to his mother will run
An infant in its fear, or grief to tell.
I would have said: 'My pulses all resign
Their constant use. I feel the ancient spell
Of that dear presence', but alone we stood,
Statius and I. For that loved Guide of mine,
Virgil, my sweetest Father, at whose sign
My feet had followed through the depths of Hell
In search of my salvation, he was gone.
Not all that region's high serenities,
By Eve so poorly bartered, not the dew,
Holier than tears, by which my cheeks had been
So lately cleansed, could now prevail; as do
Our mortal race, I wept.
From out thy sight for ever doth Virgil go,
Thou shouldst not weep therefor. Let prudence keep
Thy tears against a heavier cause, to weep
A deeper wound.'
Again I turned, the way
The voice constrained me. As an admiral
Looks outward from his deck on poop or prow,
Observing and directing where and how
The vessels round him and the crews array,
And urging emulous deeds, so stood there now
Upon the left rim of the sacred car
- As I faced round upon my own name's call,
Which I have written of necessity -
That dame whom I at my last glance had seen
In the car's midst, half hid beneath the showers
Flung from the angelic hands of falling flowers,
Gazing upon me, with the stream between.
Although the veil which from Minerva's wreath
Fell round her head denied the face beneath,
Haughtily she continued, as he may
Who yet withholds his strongest word to say:
'Regard me well. I am Beatrice. Yes!
I am Beatrice. What contemptuousness
Led thee to view this mount? Didst thou not know
That men are happy here?'
Mine eyes so low
Sank down before her that myself I saw
In the clear stream, and that so nakedly
That to the grass I dropped them further, shame
Being so hard a weight upon my brow.
Thus the rebuking mother to the son,
Savouring with bitterness her pity stern,
May haply seem. But I made answer none,
And she returned to silence, while around
The angelic concourse suddenly sang: 'In te,
Domine, speravi', letting fall the sound
At pedes meos. As in Italy,
When on its backbone the Dalmatian gale
Drives through the living rafters, snow congeals,
Which afterwards will melt and filter though,
As candles feel the fire, even so to me
That chanting, from the lips of those who quire
In the high circles, froze my tears entire,
Until I heard in their sweet harmony
A sympathy more plain than had they said:
'Lady, why dost thou so chastise?' Whereat
The hard frost melted round my heart, and fell
In anguished weeping.
She, unmoving still
Upon the bulwark of the car, replied,
Not to myself, but them: 'Your watch you keep
In everlasting day, nor night nor sleep
Severing one scene of earthly life, and so,
My care in answering is more great that he
Who weeps upon the further bank may hear,
And fault and sorrow hold an equal scale.
'Not only as the mighty wheels prevail,
Which, as their woven stars assemble, lead
To some sure end each tiniest falling seed,
But by the largesse rained from clouds so high
That our far-reaching sight is raised not nigh,
Largesse of graces so divine that he
In his young life was blessed potentially
With power, in each right habit he pursued,
To set most high example. Equally,
The richer is the ground, more rankly viewed
Will be its cropping if, unhusbanded,
The strong weeds choke it. For a certain time
I stayed beside him. With mine eyes I led
His feet to follow righteousness, but when
My days were centred in their third decade,
And youth from youth was changing, falsely then
He left me for another. When I rose
From flesh to spirit, in more grave arrayed
And added beauty from my earthly guise,
I was less dear and less acceptable.
'From all I meant he turned, hard to pursue
Imaginations on a path untrue
Which will not their false hopes in any wise
Redeem unbroken; and it helped me naught
That in the night-time for his soul I fought
With dream and inspirations. Heed too slight
The busy day-time gave the watchful night.
'Below salvation at the last he fell
So far that nothing save the sight of Hell
And its lost souls could aid him.
'At this need,
Myself descended through the gates of doom,
And prayed with weeping One I sought to lead
Him hither. God's high destiny would fail
If Lethe he should pass, and taste and see
Diviner things, without one pause to wail
Repentance for his soul's unchastity.'
Then turned she - if the edge too sharp had been
Of her sharp censure, judge the point how keen! -
Her words direct upon me. 'Answer, you.
Answer! And if the charge be straitly true
Own or deny. Such accusation needs
Confession from thy lips attached thereto.'
But I in such confusion stood that naught
Articulate issued from my lips, the thought
Failing to move the organs to reply.
This silence she endured awhile, and then
Again adjured me: 'Answer; for as yet
The waters have not caused thee to forget
The unholy memories.'
As forced of fear, my lips so bare a Yes
Contrived that rather than the ears could guess
The eyes must see it. As a crossbow breaks,
Being too hardly stretched, both cord and bow
Snapping, that with less force the bolt will go
To find its mark, so with that burden I
Broke down, and speechless, only tear and sigh
Had spirit to utter. Wherefore she to me:
'To ultimate virtue - and what goal may be,
What aspiration rise, more high than that? -
What chains across thy path, what pits were spread,
To turn thee, hopeless to advance more high?
What relaxation or what furthering
Was in those other faces, that with them
You were constrained to wanton indolent?'
I answered first with but a breaking sigh,
And then my lips with labour framed reply:
'After the present things I weakly went,
Finding false pleasures when your face withdrew.'
She answered: 'Had you argued or denied,
Or countered me with silence, not the less
Thy fault had been, but when the lips confess
The judgment may be gentlier satisfied.
And now, that shame be more endurable,
And that the siren voices, heard anew,
May be rejected, lay the seed aside
Of thine appropriate sorrow. Hear and heed.
Learn how my buried body might have moved
Thy heart to nobler motions.
Did art or living beauty round thee set
A lure more lovely than you found to be
Mine own fair members, now in earth's decay
Degraded, crumbled. If thy heart approved
Past all competing toys my loveliness,
And through my death high pleasures passed away,
What mortal thing of meaner worth should then
Have drawn thee downward? Bartering for the less
The best thou hadst already. Surely when
The arrows of such falsehood round thee fell,
Thou shouldst have raised thy soul to mine, which stood
Secure above the tumult, soaring where
Thy wings sufficed. No girl's light eyes, no nude
Exposure of inferior pulchritude,
Transient and vain, had held thee. Fledglings weak
May wait the arrows, but the eagle grown
Sees the spread snare, avoids, and soars alone.'
As beardless boys rebuked with shame may stand,
Penitent and silent stood I. Seeing this,
She spake again: 'If hearing breed thy woe,
Then raise thy beard, a greater grief to know,
Which sight shall bring thee.'
Never stubbornest oak
With more resistance to the tempest-stroke
Of Iarbas, or our own north-western gale,
Uprooted rose, than my reluctant head
I raised at her commanding. Well I read
That word, the poison of her argument,
That I no boyhood's sins must there repent,
But that my bearded years had seen me fail.
Hardly mine eyes I raised. Again I saw
Those primal beings. They had ceased to strew
The heavenly flowers, and rested round the car.
Further I looked, and still uncertainly,
And there Beatrice, turned aside, could see
Beside the Grifon, whose one entity
Includes two natures. Though beyond the stream
And veiled so closely, did her beauty seem
Less than anticipation told? Not so;
But more than she surpassed all else below
When mortal, now she passed her mortal part.
So felt I then the prick of penitence
That those delights which once had turned me thence
Now became hateful to the same degree
That they before had power to snare my heart;
And recollection gave such wounds that she,
She only who had caused those wounds in me,
Could answer of what next I failed or did.
But when my natural functions waked anew
The stream was round me to the neck. I knew
The face above me of the dame who first
Had met me in this land. Her arms forbid
My sinking, and her voice was in mine ear:
'Hold - hold.' Herself moved shuttle-light, immersed
Not wholly. And I heard, so sweet, so clear,
That not my words alone but memories fail
To equal its recall: Asperges me
They sang. But when the blessed bank was near
The fair dame laid her arms about my head,
And plunged it under, that my thirst should be
With that cold draught contented. Then she led
My glad feet upward, and presented me,
So cleansed, to those fair damsels, purple-clad,
Who each embraced me with an arm in turn,
The while they danced around me. 'Here,' they said,
'We are but nymphs, for us Beatrice had
For handmaids ere to middle earth she went.
Nymphs are we here, but in the heavens we burn
Eternal stars. We to her eyes will lead
Thy willing feet, but by the further three,
Who search more deeply through the soul than we,
Will be their joyous light interpreted,
To make thine own eyes keener.'
So they sang,
The while they led me to the Grifon's breast,
Where still Beatrice stood. 'See now,' they said,
'That thine eyes spare not to behold. For thee,
Love once her weapons from the emerald three
Obtained for thy salvation.'
A thousand, fiercer than material fires,
Burned in me, as my stedfast gaze I set
Upon the shining of her eyes, which yet
Did not regard me. On the Grifon she
Gazed only, and its image I could see
Within her eyes reflected. Wondrously
I saw it, as the sun's high splendour shows
Reflected in a mirror. Wondrously
Its twofold nature would itself disclose
In diverse aspects, while itself remained
Single and quiet. Judge how marvellous
That sight and those reflections looked to me.
While joyful I, and thus astounded, stood
My soul consuming the celestial food
Which makes more thirst the more it satisfies,
The emerald three came round me, in their eyes
And in their mien their high nobility,
Dancing to the angelic choir.
They sang, 'Beatrice, oh return! to him,
Thy faithful one, thy holy eyes, so far
His feet have journeyed of thy face to learn.
Why doth thy veil thy mouth's sweet beauty bar?
Deign of thy grace this grace to us to deal.
Why should he longer seek, and thou conceal?'
O splendour of that live and lasting light!
Who is there who so vigil-pale hath grown
Beneath Parnassus' shadow, or so long
Has drunk its cistern, the uncumbered song
Could equal to describe that heavenly sight,
When thy discovered face, serene, alone,
God overbowed with all His harmonies?
So fixed became mine eyes, so diligent
Their ten years' thirst to quench, that wholly spent
My senses were to sight reduced. They knew
Nothing to right nor left. The old net drew
Once more its ancient prey. The sainted smile
Lacked not its previous power. But they the while,
Those emerald-shining nymphs, at my left side,
Constrained me heed. 'Too fixed thy gaze', they cried.
Whereat I turned about my blinded eyes
Which, being as those which gaze upon the sun,
From meaner sights by that high light fordone,
I could not for a time in any wise
Behold the lesser objects (as they were,
Though loftiest, to that sight beyond compare
Of sensuous excellence), and now I saw
The glorious army change its forwardness,
As doth a regiment on the front of war,
Wheeling on its right flank, and turning so
That the sun faced, and the seven flames did go
Before it, as at first.
As troops regress,
Wheeling beneath their standard, closing still
Their left-arm shields to face the hostile field
Before they turn completely, likewise wheeled
These soldiers of the Heavenly Kingdom: thus
Filed past the car before it turned. Once more
The dancers at the wheels resumed. Once more
The Grifon drew the blessed weight, but so
That not a feather stirred its tail to show.
That dame who bore me through the stream, and I,
With Statius, at the car's right rear, pursued
The wheel that tracked the smaller arc. We went
Through the high wood, reduced to solitude
By her who trusted to a serpent's tale,
Our footsteps timing to an angels' strain,
Perhaps three bowshots' space, when once again
We halted, and Beatrice from the car
Again descended. 'Adam' was the word
That voices round me murmured. Here a tree
We circled, bare of foliage or of flower.
So huge it rose, and shadowing overhead
With at the greater height the huger spread,
That Indians, of their mighty woods aware,
Might marvel at those branches, gaunt and bare.
'Blessed art thou' - so cried the voices round -
'Blessed art thou, O Grifon, that thy beak
Rends not the rind of this accursed tree.
For sweet although the tasted wood may be,
Bitter its tortures in the belly's bound.'
'So is preserved all seed of righteousness',
The twofold-natured Creature made reply,
Drawing the car's pole close against the tree,
And binding it thereto.
As when the sun
Looks down from Aries, earthly plants will swell
Their turgid stems, and ere its shining car
Reach the dominion of a further star
Will flower in their own colours variously,
So, at the contact of the pole, did now
That tree's stark form; and every leafless bough
Blossomed, more red than roses are, and yet
Less darkly purple than the violet,
Beyond my power to speak. Nor can I tell
The heavenly tune I heard, or did not hear.
For while it sounded in my tranced ear
Sleep came. Could I interpret in what wise
Sleep closed, at Syrinx' tale the ruthless eyes
- The eyes which too much heeding cost so dear -
Then as a painter would I represent,
Who limns his model, how through sleep I went,
And how awakened. But I say no more
Than this: sleep came. And then a brightness tore
Its veil apart. A call I heard: 'Arise!
What dost thou thus?'
As Peter, James and John
When led the heavenly apple-bloom to see
Which forms such fruit upon the sacred tree
That even the angels take it greedfully
(Because the tasting of this fruit doth give
The constant wedlock in which angels live)
Returned from that far wandering when the word
Which once had broken deeper sleep they heard
And found Elias from their Masters gone,
And Moses, and His earthly raiment shone
No longer, so to me my sense returned
To find that kind conductress, who before
Had taught my ignorant steps on Lethe's shore,
Bending above me. All in doubt I cried:
'Where is Beatrice?'
'Here she resteth. See!
Beneath the tree's new green, upon its root
She sits, amidst her own high company.
The others, with the Grifon, from the ground
Have risen with sweeter song and more profound
Than reached to charm thy mortal ears before.'
I know not if she ceased, or told me more,
For in my captive sight again was she
Who all beside excluded. There she sat
Central, alone upon the sacred ground,
Close to the holy car which there-beside
The Creature of the twofold nature tied,
The while the seven nymphs were circled round,
Making themselves her cincture. In their hands
Were now the stars which gave their virtues name
From Auster to Aquilo.
'Thou shalt be
For some time now a woodman to this tree,
And then together everlastingly
Thou shalt dwell with me in that Rome whereof
Christ is Himself a Roman; wherefore fill
Thy mind with all thou seest. Regard the car.
The profit of the world which liveth ill
So canst thou serve. Revealed for thee to write
On thy return to earth these wonders are.'
So spake Beatrice. I, whose utmost will
Was at the feet of her commands to sit,
Turned eyes and ears the way she would.
When thunder in the storm's black heart is born,
Descends it shining through the rain than now,
Ignited from the clouds' high boundary,
The bird of Zeus swooped down upon the tree,
So fiercely that its very bark was torn.
Much more the flowers and foliage fell forlorn
From these all-rending talons. Strong wings smote
The holy car, and as, with reeling prow,
A vessel takes the tempest, now to port,
And now to starboard by its fury flung,
So rocked it.
Next I watched a vixen crawl
- A lean starved vixen - to the chariot's well,
Whereat my lady with such scourging speech
Assailed her for her foul iniquities
That with the speed her fleshless legs could reach
She fled therefrom. Then, from its previous height,
The eagle came again. This time its fall
Was to the body of the car, and all
The floor thereof with feathers loose was strewn.
Then, as a heart from bitter feeling cries,
A voice of Heaven I heard: 'O ship of mine!
What evil cargo weights thy hold!'
The car's two wheels I saw a scorpion rise,
Which the ground gaped to render. Through the floor
His upturned tail malign I watched him bore,
And then, as though a wasp its sting withdrew,
He wrenched it back, a fragment of the floor
Adhering to it, with which pilfered prize
He wandered round about.
The car, as swiftly as we breathe a sigh,
Covered itself, to wheels and pole, anew,
As though on fertile land fresh herbage grew,
With those descended feathers, haply shed
From pure benignant purpose overhead.
So fledged, the sacred chariot wondrously
Seven heads projected, three along the pole,
Four at the corners. Hornéd like a bull
The foremost showed. The four a single horn
Alike displayed. Was no such prodigy
In our time known. Now came a different sight.
Secure as fortress on a mountain height,
In the car's midst, with raiment loosed and torn,
And ever-turning brows, a harlot sat;
While at her side a giant rose upright
As though to keep her for himself. Awhile
Thereafter they embraced in harlot's wise;
But then she cast on me her roving eyes,
Which her fierce paramour perceived. Thereat
He whipped her in his wrath from heels to head,
And in his lustful rage and jealousy
He loosed the monster from the sacred tree
- The monster that had been the holy car -
And drew it from me through the woods so far
That I no more might beast or harlot see.
Alternate, now the three and now the four,
The virgins, weeping, made sweet psalmody
Around Beatrice. Deus, was the song,
Venerunt gentes. Sighing, pitiful,
She heard them in such sort that little more
Was Mary's at the Cross of woeful guise.
But after, as they ceased, she rose upright,
And glowing now with love like fire was she.
'Modicum et non videbitis me,
Et iterum, my sisters dear,' she said,
'Modicum et vos videbitis me.'
Then with a hand's slight motion silently
She placed the seven before her, and behind
Myself and Statius, and the dame who led
My footsteps to her. Thus she moved away;
But not ten steps had taken when she turned
Her eyes full on me. 'Come more close,' she said,
'The better to perceive the things I say.'
Then, as obedience and desire inclined,
I shortened distance.
As I gained her side,
'Brother,' she said, 'now that you come with me,
Why have thy lips grown silent? Canst thou find
No question in thy mind?'
I answered her
As one through reverence grown too diffident
For speech clearly to pass the lips: 'You know,
Madonna, what for me is meet and good,
Perceiving all I need, and all I would.'
To which she answered: 'Then receive my will.
Reject the shame and fear which thrall thee still.
Speak not as one from dreams not wholly free.
Thou knowest the chariot which the scorpion tore
Was once God's vessel, but endures no more;
But let him well believe whose guilt is this:
God's vengeance will not spare that deed amiss
For eaten sops above the victim's grave.
The eagle who with plumage strewed the car,
Making it monstrous first, and then to prey,
Will not be heirless always. This I say,
Who see its certain coming. Stars too high
For human hindrance or assault decree
That very near from now the time shall see
Five hundred, ten, and five, God's ministry,
The two who sinned, both giant and harlot, slay.
'It may be that my words persuade thee less
That they express, like Themis and the Sphinx,
Their meaning darkly; but the time is near
When facts will be the Naiades who cleave
The hard rind of the riddle, losing naught
Either of flocks or corn. These words believe;
And as you hear them from my lips, receive
And bear them to the ears of those who live
The life which journeys deathward. Do not fail
To write on earth thy record of the tree
Which thou hast seen twice plundered. He who strips
That tree of leaf or fruit acts blasphemy
Against High God who for His only use
Had formed it holy. He whose impious lips
First tasted, through five thousand years of pain
Longed for Him, who, man's first bliss to regain,
Became his Saviour. Wisdom finds eclipse
Within thee, if, without more words from me,
The reason for its height thou canst not see,
Nor why its topmost branches spread so wide.
And had thy thoughts of earthly vanity
Had less of hardening power than Elsa's stream
To petrify thy mind - or had not been
Thy worldly pleasures to thine intellect
As Pyramus' blood that soiled the mulberry tree -
Thou hadst not needed such high circumstance
To render clear to thy morality
God's justice when he first forbade the tree.
But as I see thine understanding through,
Hard as is stone, and all of stony hue,
So that my words against it sideward glance,
And thou art dazzled and confused thereby,
I will a further explanation try,
That on thy mind the picture may remain
Though the words fail thee; giving thee such gain
As that for which the palm-crowned staff may be
By pilgrims taken.'
'As soft wax the seal
Presses,' I answered, 'and indelibly
The figure moulds upon it, so my brain
Receives the impress of thy words. But why
Does thy kind speech, which I had yearned to hear,
So high beyond my sight's perception soar
That still the more I strive I lose the more?'
'So shalt thou understand,' she said, 'the school
Which thou hast followed, and how far its rule
Is able to approach my speech, and see
That your way walked from God's way distantly
As earth from Heaven is far.'
And I to her:
'I cannot in my conscience now recall
One thought's estrangement from thee once in all
My earthly life apart, nor memories stir
To prick reproach.'
'If recollection keeps
So blank a tale, you may bethink you how
You drank from Lethe's drowning wave but now;
And as from smoke a fire we postulate,
You may perceive that where your memory sleeps
Was either faith's default or active wrong.
But truly from this time my words shall be
Made clear for your unpractictised sight to see.'
The sun its high meridian circle held
(Which variously from different points appears)
With slowest shadows, and with light most strong,
When the seven virgins came to pause, as may
The scout who goes before a troop, if he
Some doubtful sign perceive across the way.
In a pale shade they stood - such twilight shade
As may by black boughs and green leaves be made
Above the Alps' cool brooks. Beyond I saw,
As though Euphrates from one spring arose
With Tigris, separate course reluctantly,
Like slowly-parting friends, thence to pursue;
Two streams that left one fount. 'O Light,' I said,
'O Glory of our human kind, disclose,
I pray thee, what this wondrous stream I view,
Which not to join its force, but parting flows.'
And answer to this prayer there came to me:
'Entreat Matilda that she tell.' Whereat
The fair one who had guided me so well,
As one who self-defends from blame: 'To tell
This thing I failed not; nor in verity
Could Lethe drown it.'
Then Beatrice said:
'Perchance a moment of exceeding bliss
Blinded the vision of his mind to this
He earlier heard. But here Eunoe's source
He sees. There lead him. In thy wonted way
Revive again his virtue partly dead.'
As one who knows the full nobility
Of service which declines excuse, but makes
Another's will its own, all to obey
When the first sign is given, Matilda turned
As instant as my lady's will she learned,
And ordered Statius, as a lady may:
'Come with him.'
Had my pen a longer course,
Something I might relate, though failing all,
Of that sweet draught which mine insatiate lips
Could not have tired of tasting. But too small
The sheets which by mine art are limited
Would prove to bear them. Filled at last they lie.
I have no space to tell, beyond that I
Drank that most holy wave, as plants new-fed
With the pure rain, to break in foliage new;
And rose up cleansed, and equal to pursue
Ascension to the stars.