It was the hour, when of diurnal heat
No reliques chafe the cold beams of the moon,
O’erpower’d by earth, or planetary sway
Of Saturn; and the geomancer sees
His Greater Fortune up the east ascend,
Where gray dawn checkers first the shadowy cone;
When ’fore me in my dream a woman’s shape
There came, with lips that stammer’d, eyes aslant,
Distorted feet, hands maim’d, and colour pale.
I look’d upon her; and as sunshine cheers
Limbs numb’d by nightly cold, e’en thus my look
Unloos’d her tongue, next in brief space her form
Decrepit rais’d erect, and faded face
With love’s own hue illum’d. Recov’ring speech
She forthwith warbling such a strain began,
That I, how loth soe’er, could scarce have held
Attention from the song. “I,” thus she sang,
“I am the Siren, she, whom mariners
On the wide sea are wilder’d when they hear:
Such fulness of delight the list’ner feels.
I from his course Ulysses by my lay
Enchanted drew. Whoe’er frequents me once
Parts seldom; so I charm him, and his heart
Contented knows no void.” Or ere her mouth
Was clos’d, to shame her at her side appear’d
A dame of semblance holy. With stern voice
She utter’d; “Say, O Virgil, who is this?”
Which hearing, he approach’d, with eyes still bent
Toward that goodly presence: th’ other seiz’d her,
And, her robes tearing, open’d her before,
And show’d the belly to me, whence a smell,
Exhaling loathsome, wak’d me. Round I turn’d
Mine eyes, and thus the teacher: “At the least
Three times my voice hath call’d thee. Rise, begone.
Let us the opening find where thou mayst pass.”
I straightway rose. Now day, pour’d down from high,
Fill’d all the circuits of the sacred mount;
And, as we journey’d, on our shoulder smote
The early ray. I follow’d, stooping low
My forehead, as a man, o’ercharg’d with thought,
Who bends him to the likeness of an arch,
That midway spans the flood; when thus I heard,
“Come, enter here,” in tone so soft and mild,
As never met the ear on mortal strand.
With swan-like wings dispread and pointing up,
Who thus had spoken marshal’d us along,
Where each side of the solid masonry
The sloping, walls retir’d; then mov’d his plumes,
And fanning us, affirm’d that those, who mourn,
Are blessed, for that comfort shall be theirs.
“What aileth thee, that still thou look’st to earth?”
Began my leader; while th’ angelic shape
A little over us his station took.
“New vision,” I replied, “hath rais’d in me
8urmisings strange and anxious doubts, whereon
My soul intent allows no other thought
Or room or entrance. — “Hast thou seen,” said he,
“That old enchantress, her, whose wiles alone
The spirits o’er us weep for? Hast thou seen
How man may free him of her bonds? Enough.
Let thy heels spurn the earth, and thy rais’d ken
Fix on the lure, which heav’n’s eternal King
Whirls in the rolling spheres.” As on his feet
The falcon first looks down, then to the sky
Turns, and forth stretches eager for the food,
That woos him thither; so the call I heard,
So onward, far as the dividing rock
Gave way, I journey’d, till the plain was reach’d.
On the fifth circle when I stood at large,
A race appear’d before me, on the ground
All downward lying prone and weeping sore.
“My soul hath cleaved to the dust,” I heard
With sighs so deep, they well nigh choak’d the words.
“O ye elect of God, whose penal woes
Both hope and justice mitigate, direct
Tow’rds the steep rising our uncertain way.”
“If ye approach secure from this our doom,
Prostration — and would urge your course with speed,
See that ye still to rightward keep the brink.”
So them the bard besought; and such the words,
Beyond us some short space, in answer came.
I noted what remain’d yet hidden from them:
Thence to my liege’s eyes mine eyes I bent,
And he, forthwith interpreting their suit,
Beckon’d his glad assent. Free then to act,
As pleas’d me, I drew near, and took my stand
O‘er that shade, whose words I late had mark’d.
And, “Spirit!” I said, “in whom repentant tears
Mature that blessed hour, when thou with God
Shalt find acceptance, for a while suspend
For me that mightier care. Say who thou wast,
Why thus ye grovel on your bellies prone,
And if in aught ye wish my service there,
Whence living I am come.” He answering spake
“The cause why Heav’n our back toward his cope
Reverses, shalt thou know: but me know first
The successor of Peter, and the name
And title of my lineage from that stream,
That’ twixt Chiaveri and Siestri draws
His limpid waters through the lowly glen.
A month and little more by proof I learnt,
With what a weight that robe of sov’reignty
Upon his shoulder rests, who from the mire
Would guard it: that each other fardel seems
But feathers in the balance. Late, alas!
Was my conversion: but when I became
Rome’s pastor, I discern’d at once the dream
And cozenage of life, saw that the heart
Rested not there, and yet no prouder height
Lur’d on the climber: wherefore, of that life
No more enamour’d, in my bosom love
Of purer being kindled. For till then
I was a soul in misery, alienate
From God, and covetous of all earthly things;
Now, as thou seest, here punish’d for my doting.
Such cleansing from the taint of avarice
Do spirits converted need. This mount inflicts
No direr penalty. E’en as our eyes
Fasten’d below, nor e’er to loftier clime
Were lifted, thus hath justice level’d us
Here on the earth. As avarice quench’d our love
Of good, without which is no working, thus
Here justice holds us prison’d, hand and foot
Chain’d down and bound, while heaven’s just Lord shall please.
So long to tarry motionless outstretch’d.”
My knees I stoop’d, and would have spoke; but he,
Ere my beginning, by his ear perceiv’d
I did him reverence; and “What cause,” said he,
“Hath bow’d thee thus!” — “ Compunction,” I rejoin’d.
“And inward awe of your high dignity.”
“Up,” he exclaim’d, “brother! upon thy feet
Arise: err not: thy fellow servant I,
(Thine and all others’) of one Sovran Power.
If thou hast ever mark’d those holy sounds
Of gospel truth, ’nor shall be given ill marriage,’
Thou mayst discern the reasons of my speech.
Go thy ways now; and linger here no more.
Thy tarrying is a let unto the tears,
With which I hasten that whereof thou spak’st.
I have on earth a kinswoman; her name
Alagia, worthy in herself, so ill
Example of our house corrupt her not:
And she is all remaineth of me there.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07