The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXVI

While singly thus along the rim we walk’d,

Oft the good master warn’d me: “Look thou well.

Avail it that I caution thee.” The sun

Now all the western clime irradiate chang’d

From azure tinct to white; and, as I pass’d,

My passing shadow made the umber’d flame

Burn ruddier. At so strange a sight I mark’d

That many a spirit marvel’d on his way.

This bred occasion first to speak of me,

“He seems,” said they, “no insubstantial frame:”

Then to obtain what certainty they might,

Stretch’d towards me, careful not to overpass

The burning pale. “O thou, who followest

The others, haply not more slow than they,

But mov’d by rev’rence, answer me, who burn

In thirst and fire: nor I alone, but these

All for thine answer do more thirst, than doth

Indian or Aethiop for the cooling stream.

Tell us, how is it that thou mak’st thyself

A wall against the sun, as thou not yet

Into th’ inextricable toils of death

Hadst enter’d?” Thus spake one, and I had straight

Declar’d me, if attention had not turn’d

To new appearance. Meeting these, there came,

Midway the burning path, a crowd, on whom

Earnestly gazing, from each part I view

The shadows all press forward, sev’rally

Each snatch a hasty kiss, and then away.

E’en so the emmets, ’mid their dusky troops,

Peer closely one at other, to spy out

Their mutual road perchance, and how they thrive.

That friendly greeting parted, ere dispatch

Of the first onward step, from either tribe

Loud clamour rises: those, who newly come,

Shout Sodom and Gomorrah!” these, “The cow

Pasiphae enter’d, that the beast she woo’d

Might rush unto her luxury.” Then as cranes,

That part towards the Riphaean mountains fly,

Part towards the Lybic sands, these to avoid

The ice, and those the sun; so hasteth off

One crowd, advances th’ other; and resume

Their first song weeping, and their several shout.

Again drew near my side the very same,

Who had erewhile besought me, and their looks

Mark’d eagerness to listen. I, who twice

Their will had noted, spake: “O spirits secure,

Whene’er the time may be, of peaceful end!

My limbs, nor crude, nor in mature old age,

Have I left yonder: here they bear me, fed

With blood, and sinew-strung. That I no more

May live in blindness, hence I tend aloft.

There is a dame on high, who wind for us

This grace, by which my mortal through your realm

I bear. But may your utmost wish soon meet

Such full fruition, that the orb of heaven,

Fullest of love, and of most ample space,

Receive you, as ye tell (upon my page

Henceforth to stand recorded) who ye are,

And what this multitude, that at your backs

Have past behind us.” As one, mountain-bred,

Rugged and clownish, if some city’s walls

He chance to enter, round him stares agape,

Confounded and struck dumb; e’en such appear’d

Each spirit. But when rid of that amaze,

(Not long the inmate of a noble heart)

He, who before had question’d, thus resum’d:

“O blessed, who, for death preparing, tak’st

Experience of our limits, in thy bark!

Their crime, who not with us proceed, was that,

For which, as he did triumph, Caesar heard

The snout of ’queen,’ to taunt him. Hence their cry

Of ’Sodom,’ as they parted, to rebuke

Themselves, and aid the burning by their shame.

Our sinning was Hermaphrodite: but we,

Because the law of human kind we broke,

Following like beasts our vile concupiscence,

Hence parting from them, to our own disgrace

Record the name of her, by whom the beast

In bestial tire was acted. Now our deeds

Thou know’st, and how we sinn’d. If thou by name

Wouldst haply know us, time permits not now

To tell so much, nor can I. Of myself

Learn what thou wishest. Guinicelli I,

Who having truly sorrow’d ere my last,

Already cleanse me.” With such pious joy,

As the two sons upon their mother gaz’d

From sad Lycurgus rescu’d, such my joy

(Save that I more represt it) when I heard

From his own lips the name of him pronounc’d,

Who was a father to me, and to those

My betters, who have ever us’d the sweet

And pleasant rhymes of love. So nought I heard

Nor spake, but long time thoughtfully I went,

Gazing on him; and, only for the fire,

Approach’d not nearer. When my eyes were fed

By looking on him, with such solemn pledge,

As forces credence, I devoted me

Unto his service wholly. In reply

He thus bespake me: “What from thee I hear

Is grav’d so deeply on my mind, the waves

Of Lethe shall not wash it off, nor make

A whit less lively. But as now thy oath

Has seal’d the truth, declare what cause impels

That love, which both thy looks and speech bewray.”

“Those dulcet lays,” I answer’d, “which, as long

As of our tongue the beauty does not fade,

Shall make us love the very ink that trac’d them.”

“Brother!” he cried, and pointed at a shade

Before him, “there is one, whose mother speech

Doth owe to him a fairer ornament.

He in love ditties and the tales of prose

Without a rival stands, and lets the fools

Talk on, who think the songster of Limoges

O’ertops him. Rumour and the popular voice

They look to more than truth, and so confirm

Opinion, ere by art or reason taught.

Thus many of the elder time cried up

Guittone, giving him the prize, till truth

By strength of numbers vanquish’d. If thou own

So ample privilege, as to have gain’d

Free entrance to the cloister, whereof Christ

Is Abbot of the college, say to him

One paternoster for me, far as needs

For dwellers in this world, where power to sin

No longer tempts us.” Haply to make way

For one, that follow’d next, when that was said,

He vanish’d through the fire, as through the wave

A fish, that glances diving to the deep.

I, to the spirit he had shown me, drew

A little onward, and besought his name,

For which my heart, I said, kept gracious room.

He frankly thus began: “Thy courtesy

So wins on me, I have nor power nor will

To hide me. I am Arnault; and with songs,

Sorely lamenting for my folly past,

Thorough this ford of fire I wade, and see

The day, I hope for, smiling in my view.

I pray ye by the worth that guides ye up

Unto the summit of the scale, in time

Remember ye my suff’rings.” With such words

He disappear’d in the refining flame.

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