The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXI

The natural thirst, ne’er quench’d but from the well,

Whereof the woman of Samaria crav’d,

Excited: haste along the cumber’d path,

After my guide, impell’d; and pity mov’d

My bosom for the ’vengeful deed, though just.

When lo! even as Luke relates, that Christ

Appear’d unto the two upon their way,

New-risen from his vaulted grave; to us

A shade appear’d, and after us approach’d,

Contemplating the crowd beneath its feet.

We were not ware of it; so first it spake,

Saying, “God give you peace, my brethren!” then

Sudden we turn’d: and Virgil such salute,

As fitted that kind greeting, gave, and cried:

“Peace in the blessed council be thy lot

Awarded by that righteous court, which me

To everlasting banishment exiles!”

“How!” he exclaim’d, nor from his speed meanwhile

Desisting, “If that ye be spirits, whom God

Vouchsafes not room above, who up the height

Has been thus far your guide?” To whom the bard:

“If thou observe the tokens, which this man

Trac’d by the finger of the angel bears,

’Tis plain that in the kingdom of the just

He needs must share. But sithence she, whose wheel

Spins day and night, for him not yet had drawn

That yarn, which, on the fatal distaff pil’d,

Clotho apportions to each wight that breathes,

His soul, that sister is to mine and thine,

Not of herself could mount, for not like ours

Her ken: whence I, from forth the ample gulf

Of hell was ta’en, to lead him, and will lead

Far as my lore avails. But, if thou know,

Instruct us for what cause, the mount erewhile

Thus shook and trembled: wherefore all at once

Seem’d shouting, even from his wave-wash’d foot.”

That questioning so tallied with my wish,

The thirst did feel abatement of its edge

E’en from expectance. He forthwith replied,

“In its devotion nought irregular

This mount can witness, or by punctual rule

Unsanction’d; here from every change exempt.

Other than that, which heaven in itself

Doth of itself receive, no influence

Can reach us. Tempest none, shower, hail or snow,

Hoar frost or dewy moistness, higher falls

Than that brief scale of threefold steps: thick clouds

Nor scudding rack are ever seen: swift glance

Ne’er lightens, nor Thaumantian Iris gleams,

That yonder often shift on each side heav’n.

Vapour adust doth never mount above

The highest of the trinal stairs, whereon

Peter’s vicegerent stands. Lower perchance,

With various motion rock’d, trembles the soil:

But here, through wind in earth’s deep hollow pent,

I know not how, yet never trembled: then

Trembles, when any spirit feels itself

So purified, that it may rise, or move

For rising, and such loud acclaim ensues.

Purification by the will alone

Is prov’d, that free to change society

Seizes the soul rejoicing in her will.

Desire of bliss is present from the first;

But strong propension hinders, to that wish

By the just ordinance of heav’n oppos’d;

Propension now as eager to fulfil

Th’ allotted torment, as erewhile to sin.

And I who in this punishment had lain

Five hundred years and more, but now have felt

Free wish for happier clime. Therefore thou felt’st

The mountain tremble, and the spirits devout

Heard’st, over all his limits, utter praise

To that liege Lord, whom I entreat their joy

To hasten.” Thus he spake: and since the draught

Is grateful ever as the thirst is keen,

No words may speak my fullness of content.

“Now,” said the instructor sage, “I see the net

That takes ye here, and how the toils are loos’d,

Why rocks the mountain and why ye rejoice.

Vouchsafe, that from thy lips I next may learn,

Who on the earth thou wast, and wherefore here

So many an age wert prostrate.” — “In that time,

When the good Titus, with Heav’n’s King to help,

Aveng’d those piteous gashes, whence the blood

By Judas sold did issue, with the name

Most lasting and most honour’d there was I

Abundantly renown’d,” the shade reply’d,

“Not yet with faith endued. So passing sweet

My vocal Spirit, from Tolosa, Rome

To herself drew me, where I merited

A myrtle garland to inwreathe my brow.

Statius they name me still. Of Thebes I sang,

And next of great Achilles: but i’ th’ way

Fell with the second burthen. Of my flame

Those sparkles were the seeds, which I deriv’d

From the bright fountain of celestial fire

That feeds unnumber’d lamps, the song I mean

Which sounds Aeneas’ wand’rings: that the breast

I hung at, that the nurse, from whom my veins

Drank inspiration: whose authority

Was ever sacred with me. To have liv’d

Coeval with the Mantuan, I would bide

The revolution of another sun

Beyond my stated years in banishment.”

The Mantuan, when he heard him, turn’d to me,

And holding silence: by his countenance

Enjoin’d me silence but the power which wills,

Bears not supreme control: laughter and tears

Follow so closely on the passion prompts them,

They wait not for the motions of the will

In natures most sincere. I did but smile,

As one who winks; and thereupon the shade

Broke off, and peer’d into mine eyes, where best

Our looks interpret. “So to good event

Mayst thou conduct such great emprize,” he cried,

“Say, why across thy visage beam’d, but now,

The lightning of a smile!” On either part

Now am I straiten’d; one conjures me speak,

Th’ other to silence binds me: whence a sigh

I utter, and the sigh is heard. “Speak on; ”

The teacher cried; “and do not fear to speak,

But tell him what so earnestly he asks.”

Whereon I thus: “Perchance, O ancient spirit!

Thou marvel’st at my smiling. There is room

For yet more wonder. He who guides my ken

On high, he is that Mantuan, led by whom

Thou didst presume of men arid gods to sing.

If other cause thou deem’dst for which I smil’d,

Leave it as not the true one; and believe

Those words, thou spak’st of him, indeed the cause.”

Now down he bent t’ embrace my teacher’s feet;

But he forbade him: “Brother! do it not:

Thou art a shadow, and behold’st a shade.”

He rising answer’d thus: “Now hast thou prov’d

The force and ardour of the love I bear thee,

When I forget we are but things of air,

And as a substance treat an empty shade.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19pu/canto21.html

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