The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XX

Ill strives the will, ’gainst will more wise that strives

His pleasure therefore to mine own preferr’d,

I drew the sponge yet thirsty from the wave.

Onward I mov’d: he also onward mov’d,

Who led me, coasting still, wherever place

Along the rock was vacant, as a man

Walks near the battlements on narrow wall.

For those on th’ other part, who drop by drop

Wring out their all-infecting malady,

Too closely press the verge. Accurst be thou!

Inveterate wolf! whose gorge ingluts more prey,

Than every beast beside, yet is not fill’d!

So bottomless thy maw! — Ye spheres of heaven!

To whom there are, as seems, who attribute

All change in mortal state, when is the day

Of his appearing, for whom fate reserves

To chase her hence? — With wary steps and slow

We pass’d; and I attentive to the shades,

Whom piteously I heard lament and wail;

And, ’midst the wailing, one before us heard

Cry out “O blessed Virgin!” as a dame

In the sharp pangs of childbed; and “How poor

Thou wast,” it added, “witness that low roof

Where thou didst lay thy sacred burden down.

O good Fabricius! thou didst virtue choose

With poverty, before great wealth with vice.”

The words so pleas’d me, that desire to know

The spirit, from whose lip they seem’d to come,

Did draw me onward. Yet it spake the gift

Of Nicholas, which on the maidens he

Bounteous bestow’d, to save their youthful prime

Unblemish’d. “Spirit! who dost speak of deeds

So worthy, tell me who thou was,” I said,

“And why thou dost with single voice renew

Memorial of such praise. That boon vouchsaf’d

Haply shall meet reward; if I return

To finish the Short pilgrimage of life,

Still speeding to its close on restless wing.”

“I,” answer’d he, “will tell thee, not for hell,

Which thence I look for; but that in thyself

Grace so exceeding shines, before thy time

Of mortal dissolution. I was root

Of that ill plant, whose shade such poison sheds

O’er all the Christian land, that seldom thence

Good fruit is gather’d. Vengeance soon should come,

Had Ghent and Douay, Lille and Bruges power;

And vengeance I of heav’n’s great Judge implore.

Hugh Capet was I high: from me descend

The Philips and the Louis, of whom France

Newly is govern’d; born of one, who ply’d

The slaughterer’s trade at Paris. When the race

Of ancient kings had vanish’d (all save one

Wrapt up in sable weeds) within my gripe

I found the reins of empire, and such powers

Of new acquirement, with full store of friends,

That soon the widow’d circlet of the crown

Was girt upon the temples of my son,

He, from whose bones th’ anointed race begins.

Till the great dower of Provence had remov’d

The stains, that yet obscur’d our lowly blood,

Its sway indeed was narrow, but howe’er

It wrought no evil: there, with force and lies,

Began its rapine; after, for amends,

Poitou it seiz’d, Navarre and Gascony.

To Italy came Charles, and for amends

Young Conradine an innocent victim slew,

And sent th’ angelic teacher back to heav’n,

Still for amends. I see the time at hand,

That forth from France invites another Charles

To make himself and kindred better known.

Unarm’d he issues, saving with that lance,

Which the arch-traitor tilted with; and that

He carries with so home a thrust, as rives

The bowels of poor Florence. No increase

Of territory hence, but sin and shame

Shall be his guerdon, and so much the more

As he more lightly deems of such foul wrong.

I see the other, who a prisoner late

Had steps on shore, exposing to the mart

His daughter, whom he bargains for, as do

The Corsairs for their slaves. O avarice!

What canst thou more, who hast subdued our blood

So wholly to thyself, they feel no care

Of their own flesh? To hide with direr guilt

Past ill and future, lo! the flower-de-luce

Enters Alagna! in his Vicar Christ

Himself a captive, and his mockery

Acted again! Lo! to his holy lip

The vinegar and gall once more applied!

And he ’twixt living robbers doom’d to bleed!

Lo! the new Pilate, of whose cruelty

Such violence cannot fill the measure up,

With no degree to sanction, pushes on

Into the temple his yet eager sails!

“O sovran Master! when shall I rejoice

To see the vengeance, which thy wrath well-pleas’d

In secret silence broods? — While daylight lasts,

So long what thou didst hear of her, sole spouse

Of the Great Spirit, and on which thou turn’dst

To me for comment, is the general theme

Of all our prayers: but when it darkens, then

A different strain we utter, then record

Pygmalion, whom his gluttonous thirst of gold

Made traitor, robber, parricide: the woes

Of Midas, which his greedy wish ensued,

Mark’d for derision to all future times:

And the fond Achan, how he stole the prey,

That yet he seems by Joshua’s ire pursued.

Sapphira with her husband next, we blame;

And praise the forefeet, that with furious ramp

Spurn’d Heliodorus. All the mountain round

Rings with the infamy of Thracia’s king,

Who slew his Phrygian charge: and last a shout

Ascends: “Declare, O Crassus! for thou know’st,

The flavour of thy gold.” The voice of each

Now high now low, as each his impulse prompts,

Is led through many a pitch, acute or grave.

Therefore, not singly, I erewhile rehears’d

That blessedness we tell of in the day:

But near me none beside his accent rais’d.”

From him we now had parted, and essay’d

With utmost efforts to surmount the way,

When I did feel, as nodding to its fall,

The mountain tremble; whence an icy chill

Seiz’d on me, as on one to death convey’d.

So shook not Delos, when Latona there

Couch’d to bring forth the twin-born eyes of heaven.

Forthwith from every side a shout arose

So vehement, that suddenly my guide

Drew near, and cried: “Doubt not, while I conduct thee.”

“Glory!” all shouted (such the sounds mine ear

Gather’d from those, who near me swell’d the sounds)

“Glory in the highest be to God.” We stood

Immovably suspended, like to those,

The shepherds, who first heard in Bethlehem’s field

That song: till ceas’d the trembling, and the song

Was ended: then our hallow’d path resum’d,

Eying the prostrate shadows, who renew’d

Their custom’d mourning. Never in my breast

Did ignorance so struggle with desire

Of knowledge, if my memory do not err,

As in that moment; nor through haste dar’d I

To question, nor myself could aught discern,

So on I far’d in thoughtfulness and dread.

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