The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXXIII

“The heathen, Lord! are come!” responsive thus,

The trinal now, and now the virgin band

Quaternion, their sweet psalmody began,

Weeping; and Beatrice listen’d, sad

And sighing, to the song’, in such a mood,

That Mary, as she stood beside the cross,

Was scarce more chang’d. But when they gave her place

To speak, then, risen upright on her feet,

She, with a colour glowing bright as fire,

Did answer: “Yet a little while, and ye

Shall see me not; and, my beloved sisters,

Again a little while, and ye shall see me.”

Before her then she marshall’d all the seven,

And, beck’ning only motion’d me, the dame,

And that remaining sage, to follow her.

So on she pass’d; and had not set, I ween,

Her tenth step to the ground, when with mine eyes

Her eyes encounter’d; and, with visage mild,

“So mend thy pace,” she cried, “that if my words

Address thee, thou mayst still be aptly plac’d

To hear them.” Soon as duly to her side

I now had hasten’d: “Brother!” she began,

“Why mak’st thou no attempt at questioning,

As thus we walk together?” Like to those

Who, speaking with too reverent an awe

Before their betters, draw not forth the voice

Alive unto their lips, befell me shell

That I in sounds imperfect thus began:

“Lady! what I have need of, that thou know’st,

And what will suit my need.” She answering thus:

“Of fearfulness and shame, I will, that thou

Henceforth do rid thee: that thou speak no more,

As one who dreams. Thus far be taught of me:

The vessel, which thou saw’st the serpent break,

Was and is not: let him, who hath the blame,

Hope not to scare God’s vengeance with a sop.

Without an heir for ever shall not be

That eagle, he, who left the chariot plum’d,

Which monster made it first and next a prey.

Plainly I view, and therefore speak, the stars

E’en now approaching, whose conjunction, free

From all impediment and bar, brings on

A season, in the which, one sent from God,

(Five hundred, five, and ten, do mark him out)

That foul one, and th’ accomplice of her guilt,

The giant, both shall slay. And if perchance

My saying, dark as Themis or as Sphinx,

Fail to persuade thee, (since like them it foils

The intellect with blindness) yet ere long

Events shall be the Naiads, that will solve

This knotty riddle, and no damage light

On flock or field. Take heed; and as these words

By me are utter’d, teach them even so

To those who live that life, which is a race

To death: and when thou writ’st them, keep in mind

Not to conceal how thou hast seen the plant,

That twice hath now been spoil’d. This whoso robs,

This whoso plucks, with blasphemy of deed

Sins against God, who for his use alone

Creating hallow’d it. For taste of this,

In pain and in desire, five thousand years

And upward, the first soul did yearn for him,

Who punish’d in himself the fatal gust.

“Thy reason slumbers, if it deem this height

And summit thus inverted of the plant,

Without due cause: and were not vainer thoughts,

As Elsa’s numbing waters, to thy soul,

And their fond pleasures had not dyed it dark

As Pyramus the mulberry, thou hadst seen,

In such momentous circumstance alone,

God’s equal justice morally implied

In the forbidden tree. But since I mark thee

In understanding harden’d into stone,

And, to that hardness, spotted too and stain’d,

So that thine eye is dazzled at my word,

I will, that, if not written, yet at least

Painted thou take it in thee, for the cause,

That one brings home his staff inwreath’d with palm.

“I thus: “As wax by seal, that changeth not

Its impress, now is stamp’d my brain by thee.

But wherefore soars thy wish’d-for speech so high

Beyond my sight, that loses it the more,

The more it strains to reach it?” — “To the end

That thou mayst know,” she answer’d straight, “the school,

That thou hast follow’d; and how far behind,

When following my discourse, its learning halts:

And mayst behold your art, from the divine

As distant, as the disagreement is

’Twixt earth and heaven’s most high and rapturous orb.”

“I not remember,” I replied, “that e’er

I was estrang’d from thee, nor for such fault

Doth conscience chide me.” Smiling she return’d:

“If thou canst, not remember, call to mind

How lately thou hast drunk of Lethe’s wave;

And, sure as smoke doth indicate a flame,

In that forgetfulness itself conclude

Blame from thy alienated will incurr’d.

From henceforth verily my words shall be

As naked as will suit them to appear

In thy unpractis’d view.” More sparkling now,

And with retarded course the sun possess’d

The circle of mid-day, that varies still

As th’ aspect varies of each several clime,

When, as one, sent in vaward of a troop

For escort, pauses, if perchance he spy

Vestige of somewhat strange and rare: so paus’d

The sev’nfold band, arriving at the verge

Of a dun umbrage hoar, such as is seen,

Beneath green leaves and gloomy branches, oft

To overbrow a bleak and alpine cliff.

And, where they stood, before them, as it seem’d,

Tigris and Euphrates both beheld,

Forth from one fountain issue; and, like friends,

Linger at parting. “O enlight’ning beam!

O glory of our kind! beseech thee say

What water this, which from one source deriv’d

Itself removes to distance from itself?”

To such entreaty answer thus was made:

“Entreat Matilda, that she teach thee this.”

And here, as one, who clears himself of blame

Imputed, the fair dame return’d: “Of me

He this and more hath learnt; and I am safe

That Lethe’s water hath not hid it from him.”

And Beatrice: “Some more pressing care

That oft the memory ’reeves, perchance hath made

His mind’s eye dark. But lo! where Eunoe cows!

Lead thither; and, as thou art wont, revive

His fainting virtue.” As a courteous spirit,

That proffers no excuses, but as soon

As he hath token of another’s will,

Makes it his own; when she had ta’en me, thus

The lovely maiden mov’d her on, and call’d

To Statius with an air most lady-like:

“Come thou with him.” Were further space allow’d,

Then, Reader, might I sing, though but in part,

That beverage, with whose sweetness I had ne’er

Been sated. But, since all the leaves are full,

Appointed for this second strain, mine art

With warning bridle checks me. I return’d

From the most holy wave, regenerate,

If ’en as new plants renew’d with foliage new,

Pure and made apt for mounting to the stars.

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