The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XII

With equal pace as oxen in the yoke,

I with that laden spirit journey’d on

Long as the mild instructor suffer’d me;

But when he bade me quit him, and proceed

(For “here,” said he, “behooves with sail and oars

Each man, as best he may, push on his bark”),

Upright, as one dispos’d for speed, I rais’d

My body, still in thought submissive bow’d.

I now my leader’s track not loth pursued;

And each had shown how light we far’d along

When thus he warn’d me: “Bend thine eyesight down:

For thou to ease the way shall find it good

To ruminate the bed beneath thy feet.”

As in memorial of the buried, drawn

Upon earth-level tombs, the sculptur’d form

Of what was once, appears (at sight whereof

Tears often stream forth by remembrance wak’d,

Whose sacred stings the piteous only feel),

So saw I there, but with more curious skill

Of portraiture o’erwrought, whate’er of space

From forth the mountain stretches. On one part

Him I beheld, above all creatures erst

Created noblest, light’ning fall from heaven:

On th’ other side with bolt celestial pierc’d

Briareus: cumb’ring earth he lay through dint

Of mortal ice-stroke. The Thymbraean god

With Mars, I saw, and Pallas, round their sire,

Arm’d still, and gazing on the giant’s limbs

Strewn o’er th’ ethereal field. Nimrod I saw:

At foot of the stupendous work he stood,

As if bewilder’d, looking on the crowd

Leagued in his proud attempt on Sennaar’s plain.

O Niobe! in what a trance of woe

Thee I beheld, upon that highway drawn,

Sev’n sons on either side thee slain! O Saul!

How ghastly didst thou look! on thine own sword

Expiring in Gilboa, from that hour

Ne’er visited with rain from heav’n or dew!

O fond Arachne! thee I also saw

Half spider now in anguish crawling up

Th’ unfinish’d web thou weaved’st to thy bane!

O Rehoboam! here thy shape doth seem

Louring no more defiance! but fear-smote

With none to chase him in his chariot whirl’d.

Was shown beside upon the solid floor

How dear Alcmaeon forc’d his mother rate

That ornament in evil hour receiv’d:

How in the temple on Sennacherib fell

His sons, and how a corpse they left him there.

Was shown the scath and cruel mangling made

By Tomyris on Cyrus, when she cried:

“Blood thou didst thirst for, take thy fill of blood!”

Was shown how routed in the battle fled

Th’ Assyrians, Holofernes slain, and e’en

The relics of the carnage. Troy I mark’d

In ashes and in caverns. Oh! how fall’n,

How abject, Ilion, was thy semblance there!

What master of the pencil or the style

Had trac’d the shades and lines, that might have made

The subtlest workman wonder? Dead the dead,

The living seem’d alive; with clearer view

His eye beheld not who beheld the truth,

Than mine what I did tread on, while I went

Low bending. Now swell out; and with stiff necks

Pass on, ye sons of Eve! veil not your looks,

Lest they descry the evil of your path!

I noted not (so busied was my thought)

How much we now had circled of the mount,

And of his course yet more the sun had spent,

When he, who with still wakeful caution went,

Admonish’d: “Raise thou up thy head: for know

Time is not now for slow suspense. Behold

That way an angel hasting towards us! Lo

Where duly the sixth handmaid doth return

From service on the day. Wear thou in look

And gesture seemly grace of reverent awe,

That gladly he may forward us aloft.

Consider that this day ne’er dawns again.”

Time’s loss he had so often warn’d me ’gainst,

I could not miss the scope at which he aim’d.

The goodly shape approach’d us, snowy white

In vesture, and with visage casting streams

Of tremulous lustre like the matin star.

His arms he open’d, then his wings; and spake:

“Onward: the steps, behold! are near; and now

Th’ ascent is without difficulty gain’d.”

A scanty few are they, who when they hear

Such tidings, hasten. O ye race of men

Though born to soar, why suffer ye a wind

So slight to baffle ye? He led us on

Where the rock parted; here against my front

Did beat his wings, then promis’d I should fare

In safety on my way. As to ascend

That steep, upon whose brow the chapel stands

(O’er Rubaconte, looking lordly down

On the well-guided city,) up the right

Th’ impetuous rise is broken by the steps

Carv’d in that old and simple age, when still

The registry and label rested safe;

Thus is th’ acclivity reliev’d, which here

Precipitous from the other circuit falls:

But on each hand the tall cliff presses close.

As ent’ring there we turn’d, voices, in strain

Ineffable, sang: “Blessed are the poor

In spirit.” Ah how far unlike to these

The straits of hell; here songs to usher us,

There shrieks of woe! We climb the holy stairs:

And lighter to myself by far I seem’d

Than on the plain before, whence thus I spake:

“Say, master, of what heavy thing have I

Been lighten’d, that scarce aught the sense of toil

Affects me journeying?” He in few replied:

“When sin’s broad characters, that yet remain

Upon thy temples, though well nigh effac’d,

Shall be, as one is, all clean razed out,

Then shall thy feet by heartiness of will

Be so o’ercome, they not alone shall feel

No sense of labour, but delight much more

Shall wait them urg’d along their upward way.”

Then like to one, upon whose head is plac’d

Somewhat he deems not of but from the becks

Of others as they pass him by; his hand

Lends therefore help to’ assure him, searches, finds,

And well performs such office as the eye

Wants power to execute: so stretching forth

The fingers of my right hand, did I find

Six only of the letters, which his sword

Who bare the keys had trac’d upon my brow.

The leader, as he mark’d mine action, smil’d.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53