The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XVII

Call to remembrance, reader, if thou e’er

Hast, on a mountain top, been ta’en by cloud,

Through which thou saw’st no better, than the mole

Doth through opacous membrane; then, whene’er

The wat’ry vapours dense began to melt

Into thin air, how faintly the sun’s sphere

Seem’d wading through them; so thy nimble thought

May image, how at first I re-beheld

The sun, that bedward now his couch o’erhung.

Thus with my leader’s feet still equaling pace

From forth that cloud I came, when now expir’d

The parting beams from off the nether shores.

O quick and forgetive power! that sometimes dost

So rob us of ourselves, we take no mark

Though round about us thousand trumpets clang!

What moves thee, if the senses stir not? Light

Kindled in heav’n, spontaneous, self-inform’d,

Or likelier gliding down with swift illapse

By will divine. Portray’d before me came

The traces of her dire impiety,

Whose form was chang’d into the bird, that most

Delights itself in song: and here my mind

Was inwardly so wrapt, it gave no place

To aught that ask’d admittance from without.

Next shower’d into my fantasy a shape

As of one crucified, whose visage spake

Fell rancour, malice deep, wherein he died;

And round him Ahasuerus the great king,

Esther his bride, and Mordecai the just,

Blameless in word and deed. As of itself

That unsubstantial coinage of the brain

Burst, like a bubble, Which the water fails

That fed it; in my vision straight uprose

A damsel weeping loud, and cried, “O queen!

O mother! wherefore has intemperate ire

Driv’n thee to loath thy being? Not to lose

Lavinia, desp’rate thou hast slain thyself.

Now hast thou lost me. I am she, whose tears

Mourn, ere I fall, a mother’s timeless end.”

E’en as a sleep breaks off, if suddenly

New radiance strike upon the closed lids,

The broken slumber quivering ere it dies;

Thus from before me sunk that imagery

Vanishing, soon as on my face there struck

The light, outshining far our earthly beam.

As round I turn’d me to survey what place

I had arriv’d at, “Here ye mount,” exclaim’d

A voice, that other purpose left me none,

Save will so eager to behold who spake,

I could not choose but gaze. As ’fore the sun,

That weighs our vision down, and veils his form

In light transcendent, thus my virtue fail’d

Unequal. “This is Spirit from above,

Who marshals us our upward way, unsought;

And in his own light shrouds him;. As a man

Doth for himself, so now is done for us.

For whoso waits imploring, yet sees need

Of his prompt aidance, sets himself prepar’d

For blunt denial, ere the suit be made.

Refuse we not to lend a ready foot

At such inviting: haste we to ascend,

Before it darken: for we may not then,

Till morn again return.” So spake my guide;

And to one ladder both address’d our steps;

And the first stair approaching, I perceiv’d

Near me as ’twere the waving of a wing,

That fann’d my face and whisper’d: “Blessed they

The peacemakers: they know not evil wrath.”

Now to such height above our heads were rais’d

The last beams, follow’d close by hooded night,

That many a star on all sides through the gloom

Shone out. “Why partest from me, O my strength?”

So with myself I commun’d; for I felt

My o’ertoil’d sinews slacken. We had reach’d

The summit, and were fix’d like to a bark

Arriv’d at land. And waiting a short space,

If aught should meet mine ear in that new round,

Then to my guide I turn’d, and said: “Lov’d sire!

Declare what guilt is on this circle purg’d.

If our feet rest, no need thy speech should pause.”

He thus to me: “The love of good, whate’er

Wanted of just proportion, here fulfils.

Here plies afresh the oar, that loiter’d ill.

But that thou mayst yet clearlier understand,

Give ear unto my words, and thou shalt cull

Some fruit may please thee well, from this delay.

“Creator, nor created being, ne’er,

My son,” he thus began, “was without love,

Or natural, or the free spirit’s growth.

Thou hast not that to learn. The natural still

Is without error; but the other swerves,

If on ill object bent, or through excess

Of vigour, or defect. While e’er it seeks

The primal blessings, or with measure due

Th’ inferior, no delight, that flows from it,

Partakes of ill. But let it warp to evil,

Or with more ardour than behooves, or less.

Pursue the good, the thing created then

Works ’gainst its Maker. Hence thou must infer

That love is germin of each virtue in ye,

And of each act no less, that merits pain.

Now since it may not be, but love intend

The welfare mainly of the thing it loves,

All from self-hatred are secure; and since

No being can be thought t’ exist apart

And independent of the first, a bar

Of equal force restrains from hating that.

“Grant the distinction just; and it remains

The’ evil must be another’s, which is lov’d.

Three ways such love is gender’d in your clay.

There is who hopes (his neighbour’s worth deprest,)

Preeminence himself, and coverts hence

For his own greatness that another fall.

There is who so much fears the loss of power,

Fame, favour, glory (should his fellow mount

Above him), and so sickens at the thought,

He loves their opposite: and there is he,

Whom wrong or insult seems to gall and shame

That he doth thirst for vengeance, and such needs

Must doat on other’s evil. Here beneath

This threefold love is mourn’d. Of th’ other sort

Be now instructed, that which follows good

But with disorder’d and irregular course.

“All indistinctly apprehend a bliss

On which the soul may rest, the hearts of all

Yearn after it, and to that wished bourn

All therefore strive to tend. If ye behold

Or seek it with a love remiss and lax,

This cornice after just repenting lays

Its penal torment on ye. Other good

There is, where man finds not his happiness:

It is not true fruition, not that blest

Essence, of every good the branch and root.

The love too lavishly bestow’d on this,

Along three circles over us, is mourn’d.

Account of that division tripartite

Expect not, fitter for thine own research.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19pu/canto17.html

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