The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXVIII

Through that celestial forest, whose thick shade

With lively greenness the new-springing day

Attemper’d, eager now to roam, and search

Its limits round, forthwith I left the bank,

Along the champain leisurely my way

Pursuing, o’er the ground, that on all sides

Delicious odour breath’d. A pleasant air,

That intermitted never, never veer’d,

Smote on my temples, gently, as a wind

Of softest influence: at which the sprays,

Obedient all, lean’d trembling to that part

Where first the holy mountain casts his shade,

Yet were not so disorder’d, but that still

Upon their top the feather’d quiristers

Applied their wonted art, and with full joy

Welcom’d those hours of prime, and warbled shrill

Amid the leaves, that to their jocund lays

inept tenor; even as from branch to branch,

Along the piney forests on the shore

Of Chiassi, rolls the gath’ring melody,

When Eolus hath from his cavern loos’d

The dripping south. Already had my steps,

Though slow, so far into that ancient wood

Transported me, I could not ken the place

Where I had enter’d, when behold! my path

Was bounded by a rill, which to the left

With little rippling waters bent the grass,

That issued from its brink. On earth no wave

How clean soe’er, that would not seem to have

Some mixture in itself, compar’d with this,

Transpicuous, clear; yet darkly on it roll’d,

Darkly beneath perpetual gloom, which ne’er

Admits or sun or moon light there to shine.

My feet advanc’d not; but my wond’ring eyes

Pass’d onward, o’er the streamlet, to survey

The tender May-bloom, flush’d through many a hue,

In prodigal variety: and there,

As object, rising suddenly to view,

That from our bosom every thought beside

With the rare marvel chases, I beheld

A lady all alone, who, singing, went,

And culling flower from flower, wherewith her way

Was all o’er painted. “Lady beautiful!

Thou, who (if looks, that use to speak the heart,

Are worthy of our trust), with love’s own beam

Dost warm thee,” thus to her my speech I fram’d:

“Ah! please thee hither towards the streamlet bend

Thy steps so near, that I may list thy song.

Beholding thee and this fair place, methinks,

I call to mind where wander’d and how look’d

Proserpine, in that season, when her child

The mother lost, and she the bloomy spring.”

As when a lady, turning in the dance,

Doth foot it featly, and advances scarce

One step before the other to the ground;

Over the yellow and vermilion flowers

Thus turn’d she at my suit, most maiden-like,

Valing her sober eyes, and came so near,

That I distinctly caught the dulcet sound.

Arriving where the limped waters now

Lav’d the green sward, her eyes she deign’d to raise,

That shot such splendour on me, as I ween

Ne’er glanced from Cytherea’s, when her son

Had sped his keenest weapon to her heart.

Upon the opposite bank she stood and smil’d

through her graceful fingers shifted still

The intermingling dyes, which without seed

That lofty land unbosoms. By the stream

Three paces only were we sunder’d: yet

The Hellespont, where Xerxes pass’d it o’er,

(A curb for ever to the pride of man)

Was by Leander not more hateful held

For floating, with inhospitable wave

’Twixt Sestus and Abydos, than by me

That flood, because it gave no passage thence.

“Strangers ye come, and haply in this place,

That cradled human nature in its birth,

Wond’ring, ye not without suspicion view

My smiles: but that sweet strain of psalmody,

’Thou, Lord! hast made me glad,’ will give ye light,

Which may uncloud your minds. And thou, who stand’st

The foremost, and didst make thy suit to me,

Say if aught else thou wish to hear: for I

Came prompt to answer every doubt of thine.”

She spake; and I replied: “l know not how

To reconcile this wave and rustling sound

Of forest leaves, with what I late have heard

Of opposite report.” She answering thus:

“I will unfold the cause, whence that proceeds,

Which makes thee wonder; and so purge the cloud

That hath enwraps thee. The First Good, whose joy

Is only in himself, created man

For happiness, and gave this goodly place,

His pledge and earnest of eternal peace.

Favour’d thus highly, through his own defect

He fell, and here made short sojourn; he fell,

And, for the bitterness of sorrow, chang’d

Laughter unblam’d and ever-new delight.

That vapours none, exhal’d from earth beneath,

Or from the waters (which, wherever heat

Attracts them, follow), might ascend thus far

To vex man’s peaceful state, this mountain rose

So high toward the heav’n, nor fears the rage

0f elements contending, from that part

Exempted, where the gate his limit bars.

Because the circumambient air throughout

With its first impulse circles still, unless

Aught interpose to cheek or thwart its course;

Upon the summit, which on every side

To visitation of th’ impassive air

Is open, doth that motion strike, and makes

Beneath its sway th’ umbrageous wood resound:

And in the shaken plant such power resides,

That it impregnates with its efficacy

The voyaging breeze, upon whose subtle plume

That wafted flies abroad; and th’ other land

Receiving (as ’t is worthy in itself,

Or in the clime, that warms it), doth conceive,

And from its womb produces many a tree

Of various virtue. This when thou hast heard,

The marvel ceases, if in yonder earth

Some plant without apparent seed be found

To fix its fibrous stem. And further learn,

That with prolific foison of all seeds,

This holy plain is fill’d, and in itself

Bears fruit that ne’er was pluck’d on other soil.

“The water, thou behold’st, springs not from vein,

As stream, that intermittently repairs

And spends his pulse of life, but issues forth

From fountain, solid, undecaying, sure;

And by the will omnific, full supply

Feeds whatsoe’er On either side it pours;

On this devolv’d with power to take away

Remembrance of offence, on that to bring

Remembrance back of every good deed done.

From whence its name of Lethe on this part;

On th’ other Eunoe: both of which must first

Be tasted ere it work; the last exceeding

All flavours else. Albeit thy thirst may now

Be well contented, if I here break off,

No more revealing: yet a corollary

I freely give beside: nor deem my words

Less grateful to thee, if they somewhat pass

The stretch of promise. They, whose verse of yore

The golden age recorded and its bliss,

On the Parnassian mountain, of this place

Perhaps had dream’d. Here was man guiltless, here

Perpetual spring and every fruit, and this

The far-fam’d nectar.” Turning to the bards,

When she had ceas’d, I noted in their looks

A smile at her conclusion; then my face

Again directed to the lovely dame.

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