The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO II

Now had the sun to that horizon reach’d,

That covers, with the most exalted point

Of its meridian circle, Salem’s walls,

And night, that opposite to him her orb

Sounds, from the stream of Ganges issued forth,

Holding the scales, that from her hands are dropp’d

When she reigns highest: so that where I was,

Aurora’s white and vermeil-tinctur’d cheek

To orange turn’d as she in age increas’d.

Meanwhile we linger’d by the water’s brink,

Like men, who, musing on their road, in thought

Journey, while motionless the body rests.

When lo! as near upon the hour of dawn,

Through the thick vapours Mars with fiery beam

Glares down in west, over the ocean floor;

So seem’d, what once again I hope to view,

A light so swiftly coming through the sea,

No winged course might equal its career.

From which when for a space I had withdrawn

Thine eyes, to make inquiry of my guide,

Again I look’d and saw it grown in size

And brightness: thou on either side appear’d

Something, but what I knew not of bright hue,

And by degrees from underneath it came

Another. My preceptor silent yet

Stood, while the brightness, that we first discern’d,

Open’d the form of wings: then when he knew

The pilot, cried aloud, “Down, down; bend low

Thy knees; behold God’s angel: fold thy hands:

Now shalt thou see true Ministers indeed.

Lo how all human means he sets at naught!

So that nor oar he needs, nor other sail

Except his wings, between such distant shores.

Lo how straight up to heaven he holds them rear’d,

Winnowing the air with those eternal plumes,

That not like mortal hairs fall off or change!”

As more and more toward us came, more bright

Appear’d the bird of God, nor could the eye

Endure his splendor near: I mine bent down.

He drove ashore in a small bark so swift

And light, that in its course no wave it drank.

The heav’nly steersman at the prow was seen,

Visibly written blessed in his looks.

Within a hundred spirits and more there sat.

“In Exitu Israel de Aegypto;”

All with one voice together sang, with what

In the remainder of that hymn is writ.

Then soon as with the sign of holy cross

He bless’d them, they at once leap’d out on land,

The swiftly as he came return’d. The crew,

There left, appear’d astounded with the place,

Gazing around as one who sees new sights.

From every side the sun darted his beams,

And with his arrowy radiance from mid heav’n

Had chas’d the Capricorn, when that strange tribe

Lifting their eyes towards us: If ye know,

Declare what path will Lead us to the mount.”

Them Virgil answer’d. “Ye suppose perchance

Us well acquainted with this place: but here,

We, as yourselves, are strangers. Not long erst

We came, before you but a little space,

By other road so rough and hard, that now

The’ ascent will seem to us as play.” The spirits,

Who from my breathing had perceiv’d I liv’d,

Grew pale with wonder. As the multitude

Flock round a herald, sent with olive branch,

To hear what news he brings, and in their haste

Tread one another down, e’en so at sight

Of me those happy spirits were fix’d, each one

Forgetful of its errand, to depart,

Where cleans’d from sin, it might be made all fair.

Then one I saw darting before the rest

With such fond ardour to embrace me, I

To do the like was mov’d. O shadows vain

Except in outward semblance! thrice my hands

I clasp’d behind it, they as oft return’d

Empty into my breast again. Surprise

I needs must think was painted in my looks,

For that the shadow smil’d and backward drew.

To follow it I hasten’d, but with voice

Of sweetness it enjoin’d me to desist.

Then who it was I knew, and pray’d of it,

To talk with me, it would a little pause.

It answered: “Thee as in my mortal frame

I lov’d, so loos’d forth it I love thee still,

And therefore pause; but why walkest thou here?”

“Not without purpose once more to return,

Thou find’st me, my Casella, where I am

Journeying this way;” I said, “but how of thee

Hath so much time been lost?” He answer’d straight:

“No outrage hath been done to me, if he

Who when and whom he chooses takes, me oft

This passage hath denied, since of just will

His will he makes. These three months past indeed,

He, whose chose to enter, with free leave

Hath taken; whence I wand’ring by the shore

Where Tyber’s wave grows salt, of him gain’d kind

Admittance, at that river’s mouth, tow’rd which

His wings are pointed, for there always throng

All such as not to Archeron descend.”

Then I: “If new laws have not quite destroy’d

Memory and use of that sweet song of love,

That while all my cares had power to ’swage;

Please thee with it a little to console

My spirit, that incumber’d with its frame,

Travelling so far, of pain is overcome.”

“Love that discourses in my thoughts.” He then

Began in such soft accents, that within

The sweetness thrills me yet. My gentle guide

And all who came with him, so well were pleas’d,

That seem’d naught else might in their thoughts have room.

Fast fix’d in mute attention to his notes

We stood, when lo! that old man venerable

Exclaiming, “How is this, ye tardy spirits?

What negligence detains you loit’ring here?

Run to the mountain to cast off those scales,

That from your eyes the sight of God conceal.”

As a wild flock of pigeons, to their food

Collected, blade or tares, without their pride

Accustom’d, and in still and quiet sort,

If aught alarm them, suddenly desert

Their meal, assail’d by more important care;

So I that new-come troop beheld, the song

Deserting, hasten to the mountain’s side,

As one who goes yet where he tends knows not.

Nor with less hurried step did we depart.

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