The hour came when climbing could not wait:
         The sun had left the mid-point of its circle
         To Taurus, and the night to Scorpio.
         So, like a man who does not stop to pause,
5        But goes his way no matter what occurs,
         If he be spurred on by necessity,
         We three each entered, one before the other,
         Through the gap and took the stairway up,
         So cramped that climbers squeeze up single file.
10       And as the fledgling stork that lifts its wings
         In willingness to fly, but does not dare
         To leave the nest, and lets them drop back down,
         Just so was I, with eagerness to ask
         Inflamed and dampened, going through the motions
15       Up to the point where one’s prepared to speak.
         Nor did our swift pace keep my gentle father
         From telling me, "Release your bow of speech
         Which you have drawn tight to the arrow-tip."
         I opened my mouth confidently then,
20       And I began, "How can they grow so thin
         Where no one has a need for nourishment?"
         "If you will call to mind how Meleager
         Burned while the firebrand burned out," he said,
         "This problem won’t prove difficult for you;
25       "And if you’ll think how, any move you make,
         Your image in the mirror moves as quickly,
         Then what seems hard should not be tough to chew on.
         "But now to let you rest in what you long for,
         Look, here is Statius: I call on him
30       And pray he be the healer of your wounds."
         "If I unveil to him eternal views,"
         Statius replied, "while you are here,
         Let my excuse be that I can’t refuse you."
         Then he began, "If, son, your mind takes in
35       And heeds my words, then they shall be a light
         Upon the how of what you have inquired.
         "The perfect blood — blood which the thirsty veins
         Never drink up, but which they leave behind,
         Like leftovers one clears off from a table —
40       "Takes, in the heart, the power to inform
         All of a body’s members, like that blood
         Flowing through the veins to fill the limbs.
         "Digested further, it descends to what
         Is best unmentioned, and from there it drips
45       Upon another’s blood in nature’s vessel.
         "There one blood mingles with its opposite,
         One tending to be passive and one active
         Because of the perfect place from which they flow;
         "And, joined to the other, it begins to work,
50       First coagulating, then quickening
         What it has rendered solid as its matter.
         "The active power, now become a soul
         (Like that of a plant, but with this difference:
         The plant’s fulfilled while this is on its way),
55       "So works then, that now it moves and feels,
         Like a sea sponge; and then it starts to form
         Organs for the faculties it seeded.
         "Now, son, this power that comes from the heart
         Of the begetter swells and now spreads out
60       Where nature plans a place for every member.
         "But how the animal becomes a human
         You do not see yet: this is a point
         That led astray a wiser man than you,
         "So that he taught the possible intellect
65       To be a separate substance from the soul
         Since he could see no organ suited to it.
         "Open your breast to truth about to come,
         And know that, as soon as the articulation
         Of the brain is perfect in the foetus,
70       "Then the First Mover turns to it with joy
         To find in nature such fine art, and breathes
         A newborn spirit in it, filled with power,
         "Which draws what it discovers active there
         Into its substance and becomes one soul
75       That lives and feels and thinks about itself.
         "And that you may be less dazed at my words,
         Look at the sun’s heat that is turned to wine
         When it joins with the juice that flows from vines.
         "When Lachesis has run out of her thread,
80       This soul is freed from flesh, and virtually
         Takes with it both the human and divine;
         "But with the faculties of sense now mute,
         The memory, intelligence, and will
         Are more acute in action than before.
85       "Without a pause, the soul falls on its own
         Wondrously to one shore or the other:
         And there it first finds out the road to take.
         "As soon as space surrounds it in that place,
         The informing power radiates around
90       In shape and size as in its living limbs.
         "And as the air when it is wet with showers,
         Through the sun’s outer rays reflected in it,
         Adorns itself with alternating colors,
         "So there the neighboring air assumes the shape
95       Impressed on it by power of the soul
         Which has come to a stop at that one spot;
         "And then, in the same way a flame will follow
         After the fire whichever way it moves,
         So the new form is following the spirit.
100     "Since it has its visibility from air,
         It’s called a shade, and out of air it forms
         Organs for all the senses, even sight.
         "This is how we speak and how we laugh,
         How we produce the teardrops and the sighs
105     Which possibly you heard around the mountain.
         "Just as our longings and our other feelings
         Affect us here, so the shade takes its shape:
         And that’s the cause of what amazes you."
         And we had come by now to the last turning
110     And wheeled round to the right-hand side again,
         When we were faced with still a further care.
         There fire flashes straight from out the wall,
         But from the terrace edge a wind blows upward
         To push it back and make a pathway through.
115     So we three had to go on the free side,
         One by one, and there I feared the fire,
         And over here I feared that I’d fall off.
         My guide said, "Throughout a place like this
         One must keep a tight rein upon the eyes,
120     For one false step would be an easy matter."
         "Summae Deus Clementiae" I heard then,
         Sung in the heart of the huge burning blaze,
         And this made me more ardent to turn to it:
         And I saw spirits walking through the flames,
125     So that I looked at them and at my steps,
         Dividing my gaze between one and the other.
         After that hymn had gone on to the end,
         They cried in a loud voice, "I know not man!"
         Then quietly began the hymn again.
130     When it was once more done, they cried, "Diana
         Kept to the woods and chased out Helice
         For having felt the poison lust of Venus."
         Then they returned to singing; then they cried
         In praise of wives and husbands who were chaste,
135     As virtue and the marriage vows require.
         And this way, I believe, they stir themselves
         During all the time the fire burns them:
         With such a searing cure and songful diet
         Must the last wound of all be finally healed.

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