The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXV

It was an hour, when he who climbs, had need

To walk uncrippled: for the sun had now

To Taurus the meridian circle left,

And to the Scorpion left the night. As one

That makes no pause, but presses on his road,

Whate’er betide him, if some urgent need

Impel: so enter’d we upon our way,

One before other; for, but singly, none

That steep and narrow scale admits to climb.

E’en as the young stork lifteth up his wing

Through wish to fly, yet ventures not to quit

The nest, and drops it; so in me desire

Of questioning my guide arose, and fell,

Arriving even to the act, that marks

A man prepar’d for speech. Him all our haste

Restrain’d not, but thus spake the sire belov’d:

Fear not to speed the shaft, that on thy lip

Stands trembling for its flight.” Encourag’d thus

I straight began: “How there can leanness come,

Where is no want of nourishment to feed?”

“If thou,” he answer’d, “hadst remember’d thee,

How Meleager with the wasting brand

Wasted alike, by equal fires consm’d,

This would not trouble thee: and hadst thou thought,

How in the mirror your reflected form

With mimic motion vibrates, what now seems

Hard, had appear’d no harder than the pulp

Of summer fruit mature. But that thy will

In certainty may find its full repose,

Lo Statius here! on him I call, and pray

That he would now be healer of thy wound.”

“If in thy presence I unfold to him

The secrets of heaven’s vengeance, let me plead

Thine own injunction, to exculpate me.”

So Statius answer’d, and forthwith began:

“Attend my words, O son, and in thy mind

Receive them: so shall they be light to clear

The doubt thou offer’st. Blood, concocted well,

Which by the thirsty veins is ne’er imbib’d,

And rests as food superfluous, to be ta’en

From the replenish’d table, in the heart

Derives effectual virtue, that informs

The several human limbs, as being that,

Which passes through the veins itself to make them.

Yet more concocted it descends, where shame

Forbids to mention: and from thence distils

In natural vessel on another’s blood.

Then each unite together, one dispos’d

T’ endure, to act the other, through meet frame

Of its recipient mould: that being reach’d,

It ’gins to work, coagulating first;

Then vivifies what its own substance caus’d

To bear. With animation now indued,

The active virtue (differing from a plant

No further, than that this is on the way

And at its limit that) continues yet

To operate, that now it moves, and feels,

As sea sponge clinging to the rock: and there

Assumes th’ organic powers its seed convey’d.

‘This is the period, son! at which the virtue,

That from the generating heart proceeds,

Is pliant and expansive; for each limb

Is in the heart by forgeful nature plann’d.

How babe of animal becomes, remains

For thy consid’ring. At this point, more wise,

Than thou hast err’d, making the soul disjoin’d

From passive intellect, because he saw

No organ for the latter’s use assign’d.

“Open thy bosom to the truth that comes.

Know soon as in the embryo, to the brain,

Articulation is complete, then turns

The primal Mover with a smile of joy

On such great work of nature, and imbreathes

New spirit replete with virtue, that what here

Active it finds, to its own substance draws,

And forms an individual soul, that lives,

And feels, and bends reflective on itself.

And that thou less mayst marvel at the word,

Mark the sun’s heat, how that to wine doth change,

Mix’d with the moisture filter’d through the vine.

“When Lachesis hath spun the thread, the soul

Takes with her both the human and divine,

Memory, intelligence, and will, in act

Far keener than before, the other powers

Inactive all and mute. No pause allow’d,

In wond’rous sort self-moving, to one strand

Of those, where the departed roam, she falls,

Here learns her destin’d path. Soon as the place

Receives her, round the plastic virtue beams,

Distinct as in the living limbs before:

And as the air, when saturate with showers,

The casual beam refracting, decks itself

With many a hue; so here the ambient air

Weareth that form, which influence of the soul

Imprints on it; and like the flame, that where

The fire moves, thither follows, so henceforth

The new form on the spirit follows still:

Hence hath it semblance, and is shadow call’d,

With each sense even to the sight endued:

Hence speech is ours, hence laughter, tears, and sighs

Which thou mayst oft have witness’d on the mount

Th’ obedient shadow fails not to present

Whatever varying passion moves within us.

And this the cause of what thou marvel’st at.”

Now the last flexure of our way we reach’d,

And to the right hand turning, other care

Awaits us. Here the rocky precipice

Hurls forth redundant flames, and from the rim

A blast upblown, with forcible rebuff

Driveth them back, sequester’d from its bound.

Behoov’d us, one by one, along the side,

That border’d on the void, to pass; and I

Fear’d on one hand the fire, on th’ other fear’d

Headlong to fall: when thus th’ instructor warn’d:

“Strict rein must in this place direct the eyes.

A little swerving and the way is lost.”

Then from the bosom of the burning mass,

“O God of mercy!” heard I sung; and felt

No less desire to turn. And when I saw

Spirits along the flame proceeding, I

Between their footsteps and mine own was fain

To share by turns my view. At the hymn’s close

They shouted loud, “I do not know a man;”

Then in low voice again took up the strain,

Which once more ended, “To the wood,” they cried,

“Ran Dian, and drave forth Callisto, stung

With Cytherea’s poison:” then return’d

Unto their song; then marry a pair extoll’d,

Who liv’d in virtue chastely, and the bands

Of wedded love. Nor from that task, I ween,

Surcease they; whilesoe’er the scorching fire

Enclasps them. Of such skill appliance needs

To medicine the wound, that healeth last.

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