Purgatorio, Canto X

Dante Alighieri - 1265-1321
When we had crossed the threshold of the door
  Which the perverted love of souls disuses,
  Because it makes the crooked way seem straight,

Re-echoing I heard it closed again;
  And if I had turned back mine eyes upon it,
  What for my failing had been fit excuse?

We mounted upward through a rifted rock,
  Which undulated to this side and that,
  Even as a wave receding and advancing.

"Here it behoves us use a little art,"
  Began my Leader, "to adapt ourselves
  Now here, now there, to the receding side."

And this our footsteps so infrequent made,
  That sooner had the moon's decreasing disk
  Regained its bed to sink again to rest,

Than we were forth from out that needle's eye;
  But when we free and in the open were,
  There where the mountain backward piles itself,

I wearied out, and both of us uncertain
  About our way, we stopped upon a plain
  More desolate than roads across the deserts.

From where its margin borders on the void,
  To foot of the high bank that ever rises,
  A human body three times told would measure;

And far as eye of mine could wing its flight,
  Now on the left, and on the right flank now,
  The same this cornice did appear to me.

Thereon our feet had not been moved as yet,
  When I perceived the embankment round about,
  Which all right of ascent had interdicted,

To be of marble white, and so adorned
  With sculptures, that not only Polycletus,
  But Nature's self, had there been put to shame.

The Angel, who came down to earth with tidings
  Of peace, that had been wept for many a year,
  And opened Heaven from its long interdict,

In front of us appeared so truthfully
  There sculptured in a gracious attitude,
  He did not seem an image that is silent.

One would have sworn that he was saying, "Ave;"
  For she was there in effigy portrayed
  Who turned the key to ope the exalted love,

And in her mien this language had impressed,
  "Ecce ancilla Dei," as distinctly
  As any figure stamps itself in wax.

"Keep not thy mind upon one place alone,"
  The gentle Master said, who had me standing
  Upon that side where people have their hearts;

Whereat I moved mine eyes, and I beheld
  In rear of Mary, and upon that side
  Where he was standing who conducted me,

Another story on the rock imposed;
  Wherefore I passed Virgilius and drew near,
  So that before mine eyes it might be set.

There sculptured in the self-same marble were
  The cart and oxen, drawing the holy ark,
  Wherefore one dreads an office not appointed.

People appeared in front, and all of them
  In seven choirs divided, of two senses
  Made one say "No," the other, "Yes, they sing."

Likewise unto the smoke of the frankincense,
  Which there was imaged forth, the eyes and nose
  Were in the yes and no discordant made.

Preceded there the vessel benedight,
  Dancing with girded loins, the humble Psalmist,
  And more and less than King was he in this.

Opposite, represented at the window
  Of a great palace, Michal looked upon him,
  Even as a woman scornful and afflicted.

I moved my feet from where I had been standing,
  To examine near at hand another story,
  Which after Michal glimmered white upon me.

There the high glory of the Roman Prince
  Was chronicled, whose great beneficence
  Moved Gregory to his great victory;

'Tis of the Emperor Trajan I am speaking;
  And a poor widow at his bridle stood,
  In attitude of weeping and of grief.

Around about him seemed it thronged and full
  Of cavaliers, and the eagles in the gold
  Above them visibly in the wind were moving.

The wretched woman in the midst of these
  Seemed to be saying: "Give me vengeance, Lord,
  For my dead son, for whom my heart is breaking."

And he to answer her: "Now wait until
  I shall return."  And she: "My Lord," like one
  In whom grief is impatient, "shouldst thou not

Return?"  And he: "Who shall be where I am
  Will give it thee."  And she: "Good deed of others
  What boots it thee, if thou neglect thine own?"

Whence he: "Now comfort thee, for it behoves me
  That I discharge my duty ere I move;
  Justice so wills, and pity doth retain me."

He who on no new thing has ever looked
  Was the creator of this visible language,
  Novel to us, for here it is not found.

While I delighted me in contemplating
  The images of such humility,
  And dear to look on for their Maker's sake,

"Behold, upon this side, but rare they make
  Their steps," the Poet murmured, "many people;
  These will direct us to the lofty stairs."

Mine eyes, that in beholding were intent
  To see new things, of which they curious are,
  In turning round towards him were not slow.

But still I wish not, Reader, thou shouldst swerve
  From thy good purposes, because thou hearest
  How God ordaineth that the debt be paid;

Attend not to the fashion of the torment,
  Think of what follows; think that at the worst
  It cannot reach beyond the mighty sentence.

"Master," began I, "that which I behold
  Moving towards us seems to me not persons,
  And what I know not, so in sight I waver."

And he to me: "The grievous quality
  Of this their torment bows them so to earth,
  That my own eyes at first contended with it;

But look there fixedly, and disentangle
  By sight what cometh underneath those stones;
  Already canst thou see how each is stricken."

O ye proud Christians! wretched, weary ones!
  Who, in the vision of the mind infirm
  Confidence have in your backsliding steps,

Do ye not comprehend that we are worms,
  Born to bring forth the angelic butterfly
  That flieth unto judgment without screen?

Why floats aloft your spirit high in air?
  Like are ye unto insects undeveloped,
  Even as the worm in whom formation fails!

As to sustain a ceiling or a roof,
  In place of corbel, oftentimes a figure
  Is seen to join its knees unto its breast,

Which makes of the unreal real anguish
  Arise in him who sees it, fashioned thus
  Beheld I those, when I had ta'en good heed.

True is it, they were more or less bent down,
  According as they more or less were laden;
  And he who had most patience in his looks

Weeping did seem to say, "I can no more!"

More by Dante Alighieri

Inferno, Canto XXXIV

"'Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni'
  Towards us; therefore look in front of thee,"
  My Master said, "if thou discernest him."

As, when there breathes a heavy fog, or when
  Our hemisphere is darkening into night,
  Appears far off a mill the wind is turning,

Methought that such a building then I saw;
  And, for the wind, I drew myself behind
  My Guide, because there was no other shelter.

Now was I, and with fear in verse I put it,
  There where the shades were wholly covered up,
  And glimmered through like unto straws in glass.

Some prone are lying, others stand erect,
  This with the head, and that one with the soles;
  Another, bow-like, face to feet inverts.

When in advance so far we had proceeded,
  That it my Master pleased to show to me
  The creature who once had the beauteous semblance,

He from before me moved and made me stop,
  Saying: "Behold Dis, and behold the place
  Where thou with fortitude must arm thyself."

How frozen I became and powerless then,
  Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not,
  Because all language would be insufficient.

I did not die, and I alive remained not;
  Think for thyself now, hast thou aught of wit,
  What I became, being of both deprived.

The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous
  From his mid-breast forth issued from the ice;
  And better with a giant I compare

Than do the giants with those arms of his;
  Consider now how great must be that whole,
  Which unto such a part conforms itself.

Were he as fair once, as he now is foul,
  And lifted up his brow against his Maker,
  Well may proceed from him all tribulation.

O, what a marvel it appeared to me,
  When I beheld three faces on his head!
  The one in front, and that vermilion was;

Two were the others, that were joined with this
  Above the middle part of either shoulder,
  And they were joined together at the crest;

And the right-hand one seemed 'twixt white and yellow;
  The left was such to look upon as those
  Who come from where the Nile falls valley-ward.

Underneath each came forth two mighty wings,
  Such as befitting were so great a bird;
  Sails of the sea I never saw so large.

 No feathers had they, but as of a bat
  Their fashion was; and he was waving them,
  So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom.

Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.
  With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins
  Trickled the tear-drops and the bloody drivel.

At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching
  A sinner, in the manner of a brake,
  So that he three of them tormented thus.

To him in front the biting was as naught
  Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine
  Utterly stripped of all the skin remained.

"That soul up there which has the greatest pain,"
  The Master said, "is Judas Iscariot;
  With head inside, he plies his legs without.

Of the two others, who head downward are,
  The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus;
  See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word.

And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius.
  But night is reascending, and 'tis time
  That we depart, for we have seen the whole."

As seemed him good, I clasped him round the neck,
  And he the vantage seized of time and place,
  And when the wings were opened wide apart,

He laid fast hold upon the shaggy sides;
  From fell to fell descended downward then
  Between the thick hair and the frozen crust.

When we were come to where the thigh revolves
  Exactly on the thickness of the haunch,
  The Guide, with labour and with hard-drawn breath,

Turned round his head where he had had his legs,
  And grappled to the hair, as one who mounts,
  So that to Hell I thought we were returning.

"Keep fast thy hold, for by such stairs as these,"
  The Master said, panting as one fatigued,
  "Must we perforce depart from so much evil."

Then through the opening of a rock he issued,
  And down upon the margin seated me;
  Then tow'rds me he outstretched his wary step.

I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see
  Lucifer in the same way I had left him;
  And I beheld him upward hold his legs.

And if I then became disquieted,
  Let stolid people think who do not see
  What the point is beyond which I had passed.

"Rise up," the Master said, "upon thy feet;
  The way is long, and difficult the road,
  And now the sun to middle-tierce returns."

It was not any palace corridor
  There where we were, but dungeon natural,
  With floor uneven and unease of light.

"Ere from the abyss I tear myself away,
  My Master," said I when I had arisen,
  "To draw me from an error speak a little;

Where is the ice? and how is this one fixed
  Thus upside down? and how in such short time
  From eve to morn has the sun made his transit?"

And he to me: "Thou still imaginest
  Thou art beyond the centre, where I grasped
  The hair of the fell worm, who mines the world.

That side thou wast, so long as I descended;
  When round I turned me, thou didst pass the point
  To which things heavy draw from every side,

And now beneath the hemisphere art come
  Opposite that which overhangs the vast
  Dry-land, and 'neath whose cope was put to death

The Man who without sin was born and lived.
  Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere
  Which makes the other face of the Judecca.

Here it is morn when it is evening there;
  And he who with his hair a stairway made us
  Still fixed remaineth as he was before.

Upon this side he fell down out of heaven;
  And all the land, that whilom here emerged,
  For fear of him made of the sea a veil,

And came to our hemisphere; and peradventure
  To flee from him, what on this side appears
  Left the place vacant here, and back recoiled."

A place there is below, from Beelzebub
  As far receding as the tomb extends,
  Which not by sight is known, but by the sound

Of a small rivulet, that there descendeth
  Through chasm within the stone, which it has gnawed
  With course that winds about and slightly falls.

The Guide and I into that hidden road
  Now entered, to return to the bright world;
  And without care of having any rest

We mounted up, he first and I the second,
  Till I beheld through a round aperture
  Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear;

Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.

Inferno, Canto I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.