The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XVIII

The teacher ended, and his high discourse

Concluding, earnest in my looks inquir’d

If I appear’d content; and I, whom still

Unsated thirst to hear him urg’d, was mute,

Mute outwardly, yet inwardly I said:

“Perchance my too much questioning offends

But he, true father, mark’d the secret wish

By diffidence restrain’d, and speaking, gave

Me boldness thus to speak: “Master, my Sight

Gathers so lively virtue from thy beams,

That all, thy words convey, distinct is seen.

Wherefore I pray thee, father, whom this heart

Holds dearest! thou wouldst deign by proof t’ unfold

That love, from which as from their source thou bring’st

All good deeds and their opposite.” He then:

“To what I now disclose be thy clear ken

Directed, and thou plainly shalt behold

How much those blind have err’d, who make themselves

The guides of men. The soul, created apt

To love, moves versatile which way soe’er

Aught pleasing prompts her, soon as she is wak’d

By pleasure into act. Of substance true

Your apprehension forms its counterfeit,

And in you the ideal shape presenting

Attracts the soul’s regard. If she, thus drawn,

incline toward it, love is that inclining,

And a new nature knit by pleasure in ye.

Then as the fire points up, and mounting seeks

His birth-place and his lasting seat, e’en thus

Enters the captive soul into desire,

Which is a spiritual motion, that ne’er rests

Before enjoyment of the thing it loves.

Enough to show thee, how the truth from those

Is hidden, who aver all love a thing

Praise-worthy in itself: although perhaps

Its substance seem still good. Yet if the wax

Be good, it follows not th’ impression must.”

“What love is,” I return’d, “thy words, O guide!

And my own docile mind, reveal. Yet thence

New doubts have sprung. For from without if love

Be offer’d to us, and the spirit knows

No other footing, tend she right or wrong,

Is no desert of hers.” He answering thus:

“What reason here discovers I have power

To show thee: that which lies beyond, expect

From Beatrice, faith not reason’s task.

Spirit, substantial form, with matter join’d

Not in confusion mix’d, hath in itself

Specific virtue of that union born,

Which is not felt except it work, nor prov’d

But through effect, as vegetable life

By the green leaf. From whence his intellect

Deduced its primal notices of things,

Man therefore knows not, or his appetites

Their first affections; such in you, as zeal

In bees to gather honey; at the first,

Volition, meriting nor blame nor praise.

But o’er each lower faculty supreme,

That as she list are summon’d to her bar,

Ye have that virtue in you, whose just voice

Uttereth counsel, and whose word should keep

The threshold of assent. Here is the source,

Whence cause of merit in you is deriv’d,

E’en as the affections good or ill she takes,

Or severs, winnow’d as the chaff. Those men

Who reas’ning went to depth profoundest, mark’d

That innate freedom, and were thence induc’d

To leave their moral teaching to the world.

Grant then, that from necessity arise

All love that glows within you; to dismiss

Or harbour it, the pow’r is in yourselves.

Remember, Beatrice, in her style,

Denominates free choice by eminence

The noble virtue, if in talk with thee

She touch upon that theme.” The moon, well nigh

To midnight hour belated, made the stars

Appear to wink and fade; and her broad disk

Seem’d like a crag on fire, as up the vault

That course she journey’d, which the sun then warms,

When they of Rome behold him at his set.

Betwixt Sardinia and the Corsic isle.

And now the weight, that hung upon my thought,

Was lighten’d by the aid of that clear spirit,

Who raiseth Andes above Mantua’s name.

I therefore, when my questions had obtain’d

Solution plain and ample, stood as one

Musing in dreary slumber; but not long

Slumber’d; for suddenly a multitude,

The steep already turning, from behind,

Rush’d on. With fury and like random rout,

As echoing on their shores at midnight heard

Ismenus and Asopus, for his Thebes

If Bacchus’ help were needed; so came these

Tumultuous, curving each his rapid step,

By eagerness impell’d of holy love.

Soon they o’ertook us; with such swiftness mov’d

The mighty crowd. Two spirits at their head

Cried weeping; “Blessed Mary sought with haste

The hilly region. Caesar to subdue

Ilerda, darted in Marseilles his sting,

And flew to Spain.” — “Oh tarry not: away;”

The others shouted; “let not time be lost

Through slackness of affection. Hearty zeal

To serve reanimates celestial grace.”

“O ye, in whom intenser fervency

Haply supplies, where lukewarm erst ye fail’d,

Slow or neglectful, to absolve your part

Of good and virtuous, this man, who yet lives,

(Credit my tale, though strange) desires t’ ascend,

So morning rise to light us. Therefore say

Which hand leads nearest to the rifted rock?”

So spake my guide, to whom a shade return’d:

“Come after us, and thou shalt find the cleft.

We may not linger: such resistless will

Speeds our unwearied course. Vouchsafe us then

Thy pardon, if our duty seem to thee

Discourteous rudeness. In Verona I

Was abbot of San Zeno, when the hand

Of Barbarossa grasp’d Imperial sway,

That name, ne’er utter’d without tears in Milan.

And there is he, hath one foot in his grave,

Who for that monastery ere long shall weep,

Ruing his power misus’d: for that his son,

Of body ill compact, and worse in mind,

And born in evil, he hath set in place

Of its true pastor.” Whether more he spake,

Or here was mute, I know not: he had sped

E’en now so far beyond us. Yet thus much

I heard, and in rememb’rance treasur’d it.

He then, who never fail’d me at my need,

Cried, “Hither turn. Lo! two with sharp remorse

Chiding their sin!” In rear of all the troop

These shouted: “First they died, to whom the sea

Open’d, or ever Jordan saw his heirs:

And they, who with Aeneas to the end

Endur’d not suffering, for their portion chose

Life without glory.” Soon as they had fled

Past reach of sight, new thought within me rose

By others follow’d fast, and each unlike

Its fellow: till led on from thought to thought,

And pleasur’d with the fleeting train, mine eye

Was clos’d, and meditation chang’d to dream.

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