The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXIV

Our journey was not slacken’d by our talk,

Nor yet our talk by journeying. Still we spake,

And urg’d our travel stoutly, like a ship

When the wind sits astern. The shadowy forms,

That seem’d things dead and dead again, drew in

At their deep-delved orbs rare wonder of me,

Perceiving I had life; and I my words

Continued, and thus spake; “He journeys up

Perhaps more tardily then else he would,

For others’ sake. But tell me, if thou know’st,

Where is Piccarda? Tell me, if I see

Any of mark, among this multitude,

Who eye me thus.” — “My sister (she for whom,

’Twixt beautiful and good I cannot say

Which name was fitter ) wears e’en now her crown,

And triumphs in Olympus.” Saying this,

He added: “Since spare diet hath so worn

Our semblance out, ’t is lawful here to name

Each one . This,” and his finger then he rais’d,

“Is Buonaggiuna, — Buonaggiuna, he

Of Lucca: and that face beyond him, pierc’d

Unto a leaner fineness than the rest,

Had keeping of the church: he was of Tours,

And purges by wan abstinence away

Bolsena’s eels and cups of muscadel.”

He show’d me many others, one by one,

And all, as they were nam’d, seem’d well content;

For no dark gesture I discern’d in any.

I saw through hunger Ubaldino grind

His teeth on emptiness; and Boniface,

That wav’d the crozier o’er a num’rous flock.

I saw the Marquis, who tad time erewhile

To swill at Forli with less drought, yet so

Was one ne’er sated. I howe’er, like him,

That gazing ’midst a crowd, singles out one,

So singled him of Lucca; for methought

Was none amongst them took such note of me.

Somewhat I heard him whisper of Gentucca:

The sound was indistinct, and murmur’d there,

Where justice, that so strips them, fix’d her sting.

“Spirit!” said I, “it seems as thou wouldst fain

Speak with me. Let me hear thee. Mutual wish

To converse prompts, which let us both indulge.”

He, answ’ring, straight began: “Woman is born,

Whose brow no wimple shades yet, that shall make

My city please thee, blame it as they may.

Go then with this forewarning. If aught false

My whisper too implied, th’ event shall tell

But say, if of a truth I see the man

Of that new lay th’ inventor, which begins

With ’Ladies, ye that con the lore of love’.”

To whom I thus: “Count of me but as one

Who am the scribe of love; that, when he breathes,

Take up my pen, and, as he dictates, write.”

“Brother!” said he, “the hind’rance which once held

The notary with Guittone and myself,

Short of that new and sweeter style I hear,

Is now disclos’d. I see how ye your plumes

Stretch, as th’ inditer guides them; which, no question,

Ours did not. He that seeks a grace beyond,

Sees not the distance parts one style from other.”

And, as contented, here he held his peace.

Like as the bird, that winter near the Nile,

In squared regiment direct their course,

Then stretch themselves in file for speedier flight;

Thus all the tribe of spirits, as they turn’d

Their visage, faster deaf, nimble alike

Through leanness and desire. And as a man,

Tir’d With the motion of a trotting steed,

Slacks pace, and stays behind his company,

Till his o’erbreathed lungs keep temperate time;

E’en so Forese let that holy crew

Proceed, behind them lingering at my side,

And saying: “When shall I again behold thee?”

“How long my life may last,” said I, “I know not;

This know, how soon soever I return,

My wishes will before me have arriv’d.

Sithence the place, where I am set to live,

Is, day by day, more scoop’d of all its good,

And dismal ruin seems to threaten it.”

“Go now,” he cried: “lo! he, whose guilt is most,

Passes before my vision, dragg’d at heels

Of an infuriate beast. Toward the vale,

Where guilt hath no redemption, on it speeds,

Each step increasing swiftness on the last;

Until a blow it strikes, that leaveth him

A corse most vilely shatter’d. No long space

Those wheels have yet to roll” (therewith his eyes

Look’d up to heav’n) “ere thou shalt plainly see

That which my words may not more plainly tell.

I quit thee: time is precious here: I lose

Too much, thus measuring my pace with shine.”

As from a troop of well-rank’d chivalry

One knight, more enterprising than the rest,

Pricks forth at gallop, eager to display

His prowess in the first encounter prov’d

So parted he from us with lengthen’d strides,

And left me on the way with those twain spirits,

Who were such mighty marshals of the world.

When he beyond us had so fled mine eyes

No nearer reach’d him, than my thought his words,

The branches of another fruit, thick hung,

And blooming fresh, appear’d. E’en as our steps

Turn’d thither, not far off it rose to view.

Beneath it were a multitude, that rais’d

Their hands, and shouted forth I know not What

Unto the boughs; like greedy and fond brats,

That beg, and answer none obtain from him,

Of whom they beg; but more to draw them on,

He at arm’s length the object of their wish

Above them holds aloft, and hides it not.

At length, as undeceiv’d they went their way:

And we approach the tree, who vows and tears

Sue to in vain, the mighty tree. “Pass on,

And come not near. Stands higher up the wood,

Whereof Eve tasted, and from it was ta’en

this plant.” Such sounds from midst the thickets came.

Whence I, with either bard, close to the side

That rose, pass’d forth beyond. “Remember,” next

We heard, “those noblest creatures of the clouds,

How they their twofold bosoms overgorg’d

Oppos’d in fight to Theseus: call to mind

The Hebrews, how effeminate they stoop’d

To ease their thirst; whence Gideon’s ranks were thinn’d,

As he to Midian march’d adown the hills.”

Thus near one border coasting, still we heard

The sins of gluttony, with woe erewhile

Reguerdon’d. Then along the lonely path,

Once more at large, full thousand paces on

We travel’d, each contemplative and mute.

“Why pensive journey thus ye three alone?”

Thus suddenly a voice exclaim’d: whereat

I shook, as doth a scar’d and paltry beast;

Then rais’d my head to look from whence it came.

Was ne’er, in furnace, glass, or metal seen

So bright and glowing red, as was the shape

I now beheld. “If ye desire to mount,”

He cried, “here must ye turn. This way he goes,

Who goes in quest of peace.” His countenance

Had dazzled me; and to my guides I fac’d

Backward, like one who walks, as sound directs.

As when, to harbinger the dawn, springs up

On freshen’d wing the air of May, and breathes

Of fragrance, all impregn’d with herb and flowers,

E’en such a wind I felt upon my front

Blow gently, and the moving of a wing

Perceiv’d, that moving shed ambrosial smell;

And then a voice: “Blessed are they, whom grace

Doth so illume, that appetite in them

Exhaleth no inordinate desire,

Still hung’ring as the rule of temperance wills.”

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