The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXXI

“O Thou!” her words she thus without delay

Resuming, turn’d their point on me, to whom

They but with lateral edge seem’d harsh before,

“Say thou, who stand’st beyond the holy stream,

If this be true. A charge so grievous needs

Thine own avowal.” On my faculty

Such strange amazement hung, the voice expir’d

Imperfect, ere its organs gave it birth.

A little space refraining, then she spake:

“What dost thou muse on? Answer me. The wave

On thy remembrances of evil yet

Hath done no injury.” A mingled sense

Of fear and of confusion, from my lips

Did such a “Yea “ produce, as needed help

Of vision to interpret. As when breaks

In act to be discharg’d, a cross-bow bent

Beyond its pitch, both nerve and bow o’erstretch’d,

The flagging weapon feebly hits the mark;

Thus, tears and sighs forth gushing, did I burst

Beneath the heavy load, and thus my voice

Was slacken’d on its way. She straight began:

“When my desire invited thee to love

The good, which sets a bound to our aspirings,

What bar of thwarting foss or linked chain

Did meet thee, that thou so should’st quit the hope

Of further progress, or what bait of ease

Or promise of allurement led thee on

Elsewhere, that thou elsewhere should’st rather wait?”

A bitter sigh I drew, then scarce found voice

To answer, hardly to these sounds my lips

Gave utterance, wailing: “Thy fair looks withdrawn,

Things present, with deceitful pleasures, turn’d

My steps aside.” She answering spake: “Hadst thou

Been silent, or denied what thou avow’st,

Thou hadst not hid thy sin the more: such eye

Observes it. But whene’er the sinner’s cheek

Breaks forth into the precious-streaming tears

Of self-accusing, in our court the wheel

Of justice doth run counter to the edge.

Howe’er that thou may’st profit by thy shame

For errors past, and that henceforth more strength

May arm thee, when thou hear’st the Siren-voice,

Lay thou aside the motive to this grief,

And lend attentive ear, while I unfold

How opposite a way my buried flesh

Should have impell’d thee. Never didst thou spy

In art or nature aught so passing sweet,

As were the limbs, that in their beauteous frame

Enclos’d me, and are scatter’d now in dust.

If sweetest thing thus fail’d thee with my death,

What, afterward, of mortal should thy wish

Have tempted? When thou first hadst felt the dart

Of perishable things, in my departing

For better realms, thy wing thou should’st have prun’d

To follow me, and never stoop’d again

To ’bide a second blow for a slight girl,

Or other gaud as transient and as vain.

The new and inexperienc’d bird awaits,

Twice it may be, or thrice, the fowler’s aim;

But in the sight of one, whose plumes are full,

In vain the net is spread, the arrow wing’d.”

I stood, as children silent and asham’d

Stand, list’ning, with their eyes upon the earth,

Acknowledging their fault and self-condemn’d.

And she resum’d: “If, but to hear thus pains thee,

Raise thou thy beard, and lo! what sight shall do!”

With less reluctance yields a sturdy holm,

Rent from its fibers by a blast, that blows

From off the pole, or from Iarbas’ land,

Than I at her behest my visage rais’d:

And thus the face denoting by the beard,

I mark’d the secret sting her words convey’d.

No sooner lifted I mine aspect up,

Than downward sunk that vision I beheld

Of goodly creatures vanish; and mine eyes

Yet unassur’d and wavering, bent their light

On Beatrice. Towards the animal,

Who joins two natures in one form, she turn’d,

And, even under shadow of her veil,

And parted by the verdant rill, that flow’d

Between, in loveliness appear’d as much

Her former self surpassing, as on earth

All others she surpass’d. Remorseful goads

Shot sudden through me. Each thing else, the more

Its love had late beguil’d me, now the more

I Was loathsome. On my heart so keenly smote

The bitter consciousness, that on the ground

O’erpower’d I fell: and what my state was then,

She knows who was the cause. When now my strength

Flow’d back, returning outward from the heart,

The lady, whom alone I first had seen,

I found above me. “Loose me not,” she cried:

“Loose not thy hold;” and lo! had dragg’d me high

As to my neck into the stream, while she,

Still as she drew me after, swept along,

Swift as a shuttle, bounding o’er the wave.

The blessed shore approaching then was heard

So sweetly, “Tu asperges me,” that I

May not remember, much less tell the sound.

The beauteous dame, her arms expanding, clasp’d

My temples, and immerg’d me, where ’t was fit

The wave should drench me: and thence raising up,

Within the fourfold dance of lovely nymphs

Presented me so lav’d, and with their arm

They each did cover me. “Here are we nymphs,

And in the heav’n are stars. Or ever earth

Was visited of Beatrice, we

Appointed for her handmaids, tended on her.

We to her eyes will lead thee; but the light

Of gladness that is in them, well to scan,

Those yonder three, of deeper ken than ours,

Thy sight shall quicken.” Thus began their song;

And then they led me to the Gryphon’s breast,

While, turn’d toward us, Beatrice stood.

“Spare not thy vision. We have stationed thee

Before the emeralds, whence love erewhile

Hath drawn his weapons on thee. “As they spake,

A thousand fervent wishes riveted

Mine eyes upon her beaming eyes, that stood

Still fix’d toward the Gryphon motionless.

As the sun strikes a mirror, even thus

Within those orbs the twofold being, shone,

For ever varying, in one figure now

Reflected, now in other. Reader! muse

How wond’rous in my sight it seem’d to mark

A thing, albeit steadfast in itself,

Yet in its imag’d semblance mutable.

Full of amaze, and joyous, while my soul

Fed on the viand, whereof still desire

Grows with satiety, the other three

With gesture, that declar’d a loftier line,

Advanc’d: to their own carol on they came

Dancing in festive ring angelical.

“Turn, Beatrice!” was their song: “O turn

Thy saintly sight on this thy faithful one,

Who to behold thee many a wearisome pace

Hath measur’d. Gracious at our pray’r vouchsafe

Unveil to him thy cheeks: that he may mark

Thy second beauty, now conceal’d.” O splendour!

O sacred light eternal! who is he

So pale with musing in Pierian shades,

Or with that fount so lavishly imbued,

Whose spirit should not fail him in th’ essay

To represent thee such as thou didst seem,

When under cope of the still-chiming heaven

Thou gav’st to open air thy charms reveal’d.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19pu/canto31.html

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