Side by side, as oxen go in yoke,
         I trod along with that weight-burdened soul,
         As long as my kind teacher would permit it.
         But when he spoke up, "Leave him and push on,
5         For each one here does well with sail and oars
         To urge his boat ahead with all his might,"
         I raised myself up straight as one should walk
         With body erect, although my thoughts remained
         Bowed down low and shrunken in themselves.
10       I did move on, and willingly I followed
         The footsteps of my master, and both of us
         Now showed how light we could be on our feet
         When he told me, "Lower your eyes: you will
         Do well, in making your way easier,
15       To see the bed of rock beneath your feet."
         Just as the tombs in the church floor above
         The buried dead, to keep their memory fresh,
         Bear carvings figuring what they were in real life,
         And at the sight men often weep for them
20       Because of the sharp spur of memory
         Which pierces only those faithful to the dead:
         So I saw there, but in a truer likeness
         By grace of the artist’s skill, sculptured stone
         On the whole path that juts out round the mountain.
25       I saw on one side him who was created
         Nobler than any other creature, falling
         Like a streak of lightning out of heaven.
         I saw Briareus on the other side
         Transfixed by the celestial thunderbolt,
30       Heavy on the ground in his last death-chills.
         I saw Thymbraeus, I saw Mars and Pallas,
         Still in armor, standing around their father,
         Staring at the giants’ scattered limbs.
         I saw Nimrod at the foot of his tower,
35       Looking bewildered, and people gaping there
         Who were so proud to join with him in Shinar.
         O Niobe, with what tear-laden eyes
         I saw you represented on the road
         Between seven sons and seven daughters slain!
40       O Saul, how you appeared there fallen dead
         Upon your own sword on Mount Gilboa
         Which never afterward felt rain or dew!
         O mad Arachne, so I saw you turned
         Half-spider already, in sadness on the shreds
45       Of the work you wove to your own undoing!
         O Rehoboam, your image there seems now
         Menacing no more, but a chariot wafts it
         Away in panic with no one in pursuit!
         Shown as well upon that pavement stone
50       Was Alcmaeon making his mother pay
         The full dear price for her ill-fated necklace.
         Shown were the sons of King Sennacherib
         Felling him at prayers in the temple
         And then leaving him there slain on the floor.
55       Shown was the downfall and the cruel killing
         Tomyris enacted when she said to Cyrus,
         "For blood you thirsted and with blood I sate you!"
         Shown were the Assyrians in full rout,
         After Holofernes had been murdered,
60       And also his remains amid the slaughter.
         I saw Troy in ashes, caved-in ruins:
         O Ilion, how cast down low were you
         Shown by the carving there exposed to view!
         What master artist of brush or pen was he
65       Who so sketched out the shapes and shadings there
         That they would strike the subtlest minds with awe?
         The dead looked dead, the living looked alive!
         Those who had seen the real scenes saw no better
         Than I did all I trod on while bent down!
70       Now be proud, and go with haughty looks,
         Children of Eve, and do not bend your faces
         To see the trail of sin you leave behind!
         By now we’d rounded far more of the mountain
         And much more of the sun’s course had run up
75       Than my restricted mind had reckoned on,
         When he who always looked ahead as he went
         On walking called anew, "Lift up your head!
         You’ve no more time to go on lost in thought!
         "Look! an angel over there makes ready
80       To come toward us. Look at the sixth handmaid
         Return from her noon service to the day.
         "Let reverence beam in your face and bearing
         That he may now be glad to send us upward.
         Remember, this day will not dawn again."
85       I was well used to his admonitions
         Not to waste time, so nothing that he said
         In that regard could be unclear to me.
         The beautiful creature now came closer to us,
         All clothed in white and looking radiant
90       Like a trembling star in the morning sky.
         Opening his arms wide, he spread his wings,
         Saying, "Come! the steps are here at hand
         And from now on the climbing will be easy."
         To this same invitation few come forward.
95       O human race, born to fly aloft,
         Why do you fall at a mere puff of wind?
         He led us where the rock had split wide open:
         There he struck my forehead with his wings,
         And then he promised me a safe, sure journey.
100      As on the right hand, on climbing on the hill
         Where rises the church, above the Rubaconte,
         Which dominates my so-well-governed city,
         The bold rise of the escarpment is broken
         By the stone stairway hewed out in time
105      When ledgers and staves were still trustworthy,
         Just so, steps make easier the embankment
         That falls steeply from the upper circle,
         But on both sides the high rock squeezes close.
         When we turned ourselves to that direction,
110      "Blessed are the poor in spirit" voices sang
         More sweetly than words ever could describe.
         Ah, how different these inroads are from those
         Of hell! For here the entrance is with hymns
         And there below with savage clamorings.
115      Now as we mounted up the sacred stairs,
          I seemed to be ever so much lighter
          Than I had been before on level ground:
          So I asked, "Master, tell me, what great weight
          Has just been lifted from me that I feel
120      Almost no fatigue as I walk on?"
         He answered, "When the P’s that still remain
         Upon your brow, although now nearly faded,
         Are totally erased, as this one is,
         "Your feet shall be so guided by goodwill
125      That not only will they never feel exhausted,
          They even will rejoice to be urged uphill."
          Then I did what persons do when strolling
          Unaware of something on their head,
          Until the signs of others make them guess it,
130       Their hand goes up to help find out for certain,
          And gropes and discovers and performs
          The duty that the eyes can’t carry through:
         So with the outstretched fingers of my right hand
135      I found only six of the letter P’s
         The angel of the keys traced on my temples,
         And, watching this reaction, my guide smiled.

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