The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXIII

On the green leaf mine eyes were fix’d, like his

Who throws away his days in idle chase

Of the diminutive, when thus I heard

The more than father warn me: “Son! our time

Asks thriftier using. Linger not: away.”

Thereat my face and steps at once I turn’d

Toward the sages, by whose converse cheer’d

I journey’d on, and felt no toil: and lo!

A sound of weeping and a song: “My lips,

O Lord!” and these so mingled, it gave birth

To pleasure and to pain. “O Sire, belov’d!

Say what is this I hear?” Thus I inquir’d.

“Spirits,” said he, “who as they go, perchance,

Their debt of duty pay.” As on their road

The thoughtful pilgrims, overtaking some

Not known unto them, turn to them, and look,

But stay not; thus, approaching from behind

With speedier motion, eyed us, as they pass’d,

A crowd of spirits, silent and devout.

The eyes of each were dark and hollow: pale

Their visage, and so lean withal, the bones

Stood staring thro’ the skin. I do not think

Thus dry and meagre Erisicthon show’d,

When pinc’ed by sharp-set famine to the quick.

“Lo!” to myself I mus’d, “the race, who lost

Jerusalem, when Mary with dire beak

Prey’d on her child.” The sockets seem’d as rings,

From which the gems were drops. Who reads the name

Of man upon his forehead, there the M

Had trac’d most plainly. Who would deem, that scent

Of water and an apple, could have prov’d

Powerful to generate such pining want,

Not knowing how it wrought? While now I stood

Wond’ring what thus could waste them (for the cause

Of their gaunt hollowness and scaly rind

Appear’d not) lo! a spirit turn’d his eyes

In their deep-sunken cell, and fasten’d then

On me, then cried with vehemence aloud:

“What grace is this vouchsaf’d me?” By his looks

I ne’er had recogniz’d him: but the voice

Brought to my knowledge what his cheer conceal’d.

Remembrance of his alter’d lineaments

Was kindled from that spark; and I agniz’d

The visage of Forese. “Ah! respect

This wan and leprous wither’d skin,” thus he

Suppliant implor’d, “this macerated flesh.

Speak to me truly of thyself. And who

Are those twain spirits, that escort thee there?

Be it not said thou Scorn’st to talk with me.”

“That face of thine,” I answer’d him, “which dead

I once bewail’d, disposes me not less

For weeping, when I see It thus transform’d.

Say then, by Heav’n, what blasts ye thus? The whilst

I wonder, ask not Speech from me: unapt

Is he to speak, whom other will employs.

He thus: “The water and tee plant we pass’d,

Virtue possesses, by th’ eternal will

Infus’d, the which so pines me. Every spirit,

Whose song bewails his gluttony indulg’d

Too grossly, here in hunger and in thirst

Is purified. The odour, which the fruit,

And spray, that showers upon the verdure, breathe,

Inflames us with desire to feed and drink.

Nor once alone encompassing our route

We come to add fresh fuel to the pain:

Pain, said I? solace rather: for that will

To the tree leads us, by which Christ was led

To call Elias, joyful when he paid

Our ransom from his vein.” I answering thus:

“Forese! from that day, in which the world

For better life thou changedst, not five years

Have circled. If the power of sinning more

Were first concluded in thee, ere thou knew’st

That kindly grief, which re-espouses us

To God, how hither art thou come so soon?

I thought to find thee lower, there, where time

Is recompense for time.” He straight replied:

“To drink up the sweet wormwood of affliction

I have been brought thus early by the tears

Stream’d down my Nella’s cheeks. Her prayers devout,

Her sighs have drawn me from the coast, where oft

Expectance lingers, and have set me free

From th’ other circles. In the sight of God

So much the dearer is my widow priz’d,

She whom I lov’d so fondly, as she ranks

More singly eminent for virtuous deeds.

The tract most barb’rous of Sardinia’s isle,

Hath dames more chaste and modester by far

Than that wherein I left her. O sweet brother!

What wouldst thou have me say? A time to come

Stands full within my view, to which this hour

Shall not be counted of an ancient date,

When from the pulpit shall be loudly warn’d

Th’ unblushing dames of Florence, lest they bare

Unkerchief’d bosoms to the common gaze.

What savage women hath the world e’er seen,

What Saracens, for whom there needed scourge

Of spiritual or other discipline,

To force them walk with cov’ring on their limbs!

But did they see, the shameless ones, that Heav’n

Wafts on swift wing toward them, while I speak,

Their mouths were op’d for howling: they shall taste

Of Borrow (unless foresight cheat me here)

Or ere the cheek of him be cloth’d with down

Who is now rock’d with lullaby asleep.

Ah! now, my brother, hide thyself no more,

Thou seest how not I alone but all

Gaze, where thou veil’st the intercepted sun.”

Whence I replied: “If thou recall to mind

What we were once together, even yet

Remembrance of those days may grieve thee sore.

That I forsook that life, was due to him

Who there precedes me, some few evenings past,

When she was round, who shines with sister lamp

To his, that glisters yonder,” and I show’d

The sun. “Tis he, who through profoundest night

Of he true dead has brought me, with this flesh

As true, that follows. From that gloom the aid

Of his sure comfort drew me on to climb,

And climbing wind along this mountain-steep,

Which rectifies in you whate’er the world

Made crooked and deprav’d I have his word,

That he will bear me company as far

As till I come where Beatrice dwells:

But there must leave me. Virgil is that spirit,

Who thus hath promis’d,” and I pointed to him;

“The other is that shade, for whom so late

Your realm, as he arose, exulting shook

Through every pendent cliff and rocky bound.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19pu/canto23.html

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