The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XIII

We reach’d the summit of the scale, and stood

Upon the second buttress of that mount

Which healeth him who climbs. A cornice there,

Like to the former, girdles round the hill;

Save that its arch with sweep less ample bends.

Shadow nor image there is seen; all smooth

The rampart and the path, reflecting nought

But the rock’s sullen hue. “If here we wait

For some to question,” said the bard, “I fear

Our choice may haply meet too long delay.”

Then fixedly upon the sun his eyes

He fastn’d, made his right the central point

From whence to move, and turn’d the left aside.

“O pleasant light, my confidence and hope,

Conduct us thou,” he cried, “on this new way,

Where now I venture, leading to the bourn

We seek. The universal world to thee

Owes warmth and lustre. If no other cause

Forbid, thy beams should ever be our guide.”

Far, as is measur’d for a mile on earth,

In brief space had we journey’d; such prompt will

Impell’d; and towards us flying, now were heard

Spirits invisible, who courteously

Unto love’s table bade the welcome guest.

The voice, that first? flew by, call’d forth aloud,

“They have no wine; “ so on behind us past,

Those sounds reiterating, nor yet lost

In the faint distance, when another came

Crying, “I am Orestes,” and alike

Wing’d its fleet way. “Oh father!” I exclaim’d,

“What tongues are these?” and as I question’d, lo!

A third exclaiming, “Love ye those have wrong’d you.”

“This circuit,” said my teacher, “knots the scourge

For envy, and the cords are therefore drawn

By charity’s correcting hand. The curb

Is of a harsher sound, as thou shalt hear

(If I deem rightly), ere thou reach the pass,

Where pardon sets them free. But fix thine eyes

Intently through the air, and thou shalt see

A multitude before thee seated, each

Along the shelving grot.” Then more than erst

I op’d my eyes, before me view’d, and saw

Shadows with garments dark as was the rock;

And when we pass’d a little forth, I heard

A crying, “Blessed Mary! pray for us,

Michael and Peter! all ye saintly host!”

I do not think there walks on earth this day

Man so remorseless, that he hath not yearn’d

With pity at the sight that next I saw.

Mine eyes a load of sorrow teemed, when now

I stood so near them, that their semblances

Came clearly to my view. Of sackcloth vile

Their cov’ring seem’d; and on his shoulder one

Did stay another, leaning, and all lean’d

Against the cliff. E’en thus the blind and poor,

Near the confessionals, to crave an alms,

Stand, each his head upon his fellow’s sunk,

So most to stir compassion, not by sound

Of words alone, but that, which moves not less,

The sight of mis’ry. And as never beam

Of noonday visiteth the eyeless man,

E’en so was heav’n a niggard unto these

Of his fair light; for, through the orbs of all,

A thread of wire, impiercing, knits them up,

As for the taming of a haggard hawk.

It were a wrong, methought, to pass and look

On others, yet myself the while unseen.

To my sage counsel therefore did I turn.

He knew the meaning of the mute appeal,

Nor waited for my questioning, but said:

“Speak; and be brief, be subtle in thy words.”

On that part of the cornice, whence no rim

Engarlands its steep fall, did Virgil come;

On the’ other side me were the spirits, their cheeks

Bathing devout with penitential tears,

That through the dread impalement forc’d a way.

I turn’d me to them, and “O shades!” said I,

“Assur’d that to your eyes unveil’d shall shine

The lofty light, sole object of your wish,

So may heaven’s grace clear whatsoe’er of foam

Floats turbid on the conscience, that thenceforth

The stream of mind roll limpid from its source,

As ye declare (for so shall ye impart

A boon I dearly prize) if any soul

Of Latium dwell among ye; and perchance

That soul may profit, if I learn so much.”

“My brother, we are each one citizens

Of one true city. Any thou wouldst say,

Who lived a stranger in Italia’s land.”

So heard I answering, as appeal’d, a voice

That onward came some space from whence I stood.

A spirit I noted, in whose look was mark’d

Expectance. Ask ye how? The chin was rais’d

As in one reft of sight. “Spirit,” said I,

“Who for thy rise are tutoring (if thou be

That which didst answer to me,) or by place

Or name, disclose thyself, that I may know thee.”

“I was,” it answer’d, “of Sienna: here

I cleanse away with these the evil life,

Soliciting with tears that He, who is,

Vouchsafe him to us. Though Sapia nam’d

In sapience I excell’d not, gladder far

Of others’ hurt, than of the good befell me.

That thou mayst own I now deceive thee not,

Hear, if my folly were not as I speak it.

When now my years slop’d waning down the arch,

It so bechanc’d, my fellow citizens

Near Colle met their enemies in the field,

And I pray’d God to grant what He had will’d.

There were they vanquish’d, and betook themselves

Unto the bitter passages of flight.

I mark’d the hunt, and waxing out of bounds

In gladness, lifted up my shameless brow,

And like the merlin cheated by a gleam,

Cried, “It is over. Heav’n! I fear thee not.”

Upon my verge of life I wish’d for peace

With God; nor repentance had supplied

What I did lack of duty, were it not

The hermit Piero, touch’d with charity,

In his devout orisons thought on me.

But who art thou that question’st of our state,

Who go’st to my belief, with lids unclos’d,

And breathest in thy talk?” — “Mine eyes,” said I,

“May yet be here ta’en from me; but not long;

For they have not offended grievously

With envious glances. But the woe beneath

Urges my soul with more exceeding dread.

That nether load already weighs me down.”

She thus: “Who then amongst us here aloft

Hath brought thee, if thou weenest to return?”

“He,” answer’d I, “who standeth mute beside me.

I live: of me ask therefore, chosen spirit,

If thou desire I yonder yet should move

For thee my mortal feet.” — “Oh!” she replied,

“This is so strange a thing, it is great sign

That God doth love thee. Therefore with thy prayer

Sometime assist me: and by that I crave,

Which most thou covetest, that if thy feet

E’er tread on Tuscan soil, thou save my fame

Amongst my kindred. Them shalt thou behold

With that vain multitude, who set their hope

On Telamone’s haven, there to fail

Confounded, more shall when the fancied stream

They sought of Dian call’d: but they who lead

Their navies, more than ruin’d hopes shall mourn.”

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