While we walked on this way along the edge
In single file, my gentle master often
Calling, "Watch out! Make good use of my warning,"
The sun, which by now with its beams of light
5 Was changing the whole face of the western sky
From blue to white, struck me on my right shoulder.
And with my shadow there I made the flames
Seem to glow more, and simply at that sign
I saw many souls in passing pay attention.
10 This was the reason to give them an opening
To talk about me, and they began by saying,
"He does not seem to have a spirit’s body."
Then some of them approached as near to me
As they were able to, always careful
15 Not to step out where they would not be burned.
"O you who move, not out of sluggishness
But deference perhaps, behind the others,
Answer me who burn in thirst and fire.
"Not I alone have need of your response:
20 All these thirst for it more than Indians
Or Ethiopians thirst for cold water.
"Tell us how it is that you can make
Yourself a wall before the sun, as if
You were not yet caught in the net of death."
25 So one of them said to me, and I should
Now have revealed myself, had I not been
Absorbed in something strange which then appeared,
For down the middle of the burning road
Came people with their faces opposite
30 To these, and they made me stare in suspense.
There I saw all the shades on either side
Hurrying and kissing one another
Without halting, content with this brief greeting:
As ants in black battalions rub their muzzles,
35 One with another, so as to seek out,
Perhaps, their prospects and their way ahead.
As soon as these break off their friendly welcome,
Before they take the first step to set off,
Each one attempts to outshout all the rest,
40 The newcomers crying "Sodom and Gomorrah!"
The others, "Pasiphae climbs in the cow
To let the bull come gallop to her lust!"
Then just like cranes that fly away, some
To the Riphean mountains, some toward the sands,
45 These to escape the frost and those the sun:
One group of people leaves and one comes on,
And they return in tears to their first chants
And to the shout most suitable for them.
And those same shades who’d first entreated me
50 Drew near to me as they had done before,
Their looks declaring their intent to listen.
I, having seen their wish a second time,
Began, "O souls secure in your inheriting,
Whenever it may be, a state of peace,
55 "My limbs have not been left mature or green
There in the world, but here they are with me,
With their blood and with their bones intact.
"From here I go up, to be blind no longer.
Above, a lady’s won this grace for me
60 That I may bear my body through your world.
"But — so may your best longing soon be filled
So that the heaven which is full of love
And spreads most spaciously may shelter you —
"Tell me, that I may yet put it on paper,
65 Who are you all and what that crowd is there
Which is retreating now behind your backs."
No less astonished than a mountain-dweller
Who, gawking in a stupor, is struck dumb
When, rough and rustic, he comes into town,
70 Was each shade there, with a blank expression;
But when they threw off their bewilderment —
Which in a noble heart is quickly banished —
He who’d asked me before, began, again,
"Blessed are you who for a better death
75 Store in your ship experience of our lands!
"The people who don’t come with us offended
By that same sin for which Caesar in triumph
Once heard a voice call out against him, ‘Queen!’
"And that is why they run off shouting ‘Sodom!’
80 Railing against themselves, as you have heard,
And so support the burning with their shame.
"In sinning we were heterosexual:
But since we did not yield to human law,
Following our appetites like beasts,
85 "To heap opprobrium upon ourselves,
Leaving those shades, we blare the name of her
Who bestialized herself in beast-like planks.
"Now you know our acts and what our guilt is.
If you should wish to know us each by name,
90 There is no time to tell, nor could I do it.
"In my regard I’ll set your heart at rest:
I am Guido Guinizelli, and purged here
Since I repented well before the end."
As, while Lycurgus raged with grief, two sons
95 Rejoiced to see their mother once again,
So I responded (but with more restraint)
When I heard that spirit name himself the father
Of me and of my betters, all who ever
Inscribed the sweet and gracious rhymes of love.
100 And without hearing or speaking, full of thought,
I walked along, a long while gazing on him,
Not drawing nearer to him, for the fire.
When I had fed my sight on him, in full
I offered myself ready for his service
105 With such an oath as will compel belief.
And he: "You leave, through what I hear from you,
A trace so deep within me, and so clear,
That Lethe cannot dim or cancel it.
"But if your words just now have sworn the truth,
110 Tell me why you show in speech and look
That you are so affectionate toward me?"
And I said to him, "Those sweet-sounding verses
It is, which as long as modern usage lasts
Will make the ink itself a thing to love."
115 "O brother, the one I point to with my finger,"
He spoke, and pointed to a soul in front,
"Was a better craftsman of the mother tongue.
"In poems of love and prose tales of romance
He overtook them all — and let fools talk
120 Who think Limoges produced a better poet!
"They turn an ear to rumor, not to truth,
And in this way they fashion an opinion
Before listening to reason or to art.
"So, many of our fathers praised Guittone,
125 With hue and cry giving him first prize,
But truth at last has won out with most men.
"Now if you have so large a privilege
That you’re permitted to go into the cloister
In which Christ is the abbot of the college,
130 "Say a paternoster there for me,
As much of it as we need in this world
Where we no longer have the power to sin."
Then, to give a place perhaps to someone close
Behind him, he disappeared in the fire,
135 As a fish dives through water to the depths.
I moved a bit ahead to him who had been
Pointed out to me, and said that my desire
Made ready for his name a grateful place.
He willingly began to speak to me:
140 "Your courteous request so pleases me,
I neither can nor would hide myself from you.
"I am Arnault, who weep and, strolling, sing.
With sorrow I see now my bygone folly
And see ahead with joy my hoped-for bliss.
145 "Now I petition you, by that kind Power
Escorting you to the summit of the staircase,
At the appropriate time, recall my pain."
Then he hid himself in the refining fire
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.
Not talk our pace, nor pace our talk slowed down,
But we by rapid conversation picked up speed,
Just like a ship propelled by a fair wind.
And shades, who looked as if they died again,
5 Through sockets of their eyes gaped out at me,
Seeing in me a man who was alive.
And I, continuing my speaking, said,
"He climbs perhaps more slowly than he would
Since he’s preoccupied with someone else.
10 "But tell me, if you know, where is Piccarda?
Tell me too if I see persons of note
Among this group that stares at me so hard."
"My sister — whether more beautiful than good
I do not know — already is in triumph,
15 Rejoicing in her crown on high Olympus."
This he said first, and then: "It’s not forbidden
Here for us to name each other, since
Our features are so shrunk by abstinence.
"There," and he pointed, "is Bonagiunta,
20 Bonagiunta of Lucca; and behind him,
His face more shriveled up than all the rest,
"Is he who in his arms held Holy Church —
He came from Tours — and he by fasting purges
The eels of Bolsena and Vernaccia’s wine."
25 He named me many others, one by one,
And at their naming all appeared content,
So that at this I saw not one black look.
I saw — hungrily biting their teeth on air —
Ubaldin da la Pila and Boniface
30 Who shepherded many people with his staff.
I saw Messer Marchese, who once enjoyed
Leisure to drink at Forlì with less thirst,
And yet he never could feel satisfied.
But as a man who looks and prizes one
35 More than another, so I marked him from Lucca
Who seemed to want to know the most about me.
He murmured, and I heard something like "Gentucca"
Come from his lips where he could feel the pang
Of justice which so strips them of their flesh.
40 "O soul," I answered, "you seem so desirous
To speak with me, do so that I may hear you,
For by your speech you satisfy us both."
"A woman is born and wears no veil as yet,"
He then began, "who’ll make my city please you,
45 No matter how men may find fault with it.
"You shall stride forward with this prophecy:
Should you have misconstrued my murmuring,
Events to come will make things clear to you.
"But tell me if I see before me here
50 The one who framed the new rhymes which begin:
‘Ladies who have intelligence of love.’ "
And I told him, "I am one who, when Love
Inspires me, takes note, and in the manner
That he dictates to me, I set it down."
55 "O brother, now I see," he said, "the knot
That held the Notary, Guittone, and me
Short of the sweet new style which I am hearing.
"I clearly note how your pens follow closely
After the one who dictates to your hearts,
60 Which surely did not happen with our pens;
"And anyone who thinks to probe more deeply
Will find no further difference between styles."
And, seemingly contented, he grew still.
Just as the birds that winter by the Nile
65 Sometimes form a dense flock in the air,
Then fly on faster and line up in a file,
So all the people who were there, turning
Away their faces, sped up their pace once more,
Made lighter by their leanness and desire.
70 And as a man who is worn out with running
Lets his companions pull ahead, and walks
Until the panting in his chest has eased,
So Forese then let that holy flock
Pass by and fell behind with me, to ask,
75 "When shall it be that I’ll see you again?"
"I do not know how long I’ll live," I answered,
"But my return here cannot be so swift
But that my heart shall come to this shore sooner,
"Because the place where I was put to live
80 Is stripped of goodness more from day to day
And seems to doom itself to dismal ruin."
"Be calm," he said, "for I can see the man
Who’s most to blame dragged off by a beast’s tail
Down toward the valley of the unforgiven.
85 "The beast with every stride runs on faster,
Always picking up speed until it strikes him
And leaves his body hideously disfigured.
"Those wheels," (he turned his eyes up to the skies)
"Have not long to revolve before you see
90 Clearly what my speech cannot tell plainly.
"Now you stay back, for time is precious here
In this kingdom, and I lose too much time
By walking with you this way at your pace."
Just as a horseman sometimes bolts ahead
95 At a gallop from a troop that’s riding
And runs to win the honor of first combat,
So he left us behind with longer strides,
And I remained on my road with those two
Who were such mighty marshals in the world.
100 And when he’d sped so far in front of us
That my eyes followed in pursuit of him,
Even as my mind pursued what he had said,
The branches of another tree appeared
To me not far away, fruitful and green,
105 For I had only then turned round the corner.
Beneath the tree I saw people lift their hands
And cry I know not what up toward the leaves
Like foolish and obstreperous small children
Who beg, while he they beg from answers nothing,
110 But, to make their hankering the keener,
Holds what they crave aloft and will not hide it.
Then they drew off as if they now knew better,
And straightway we arrived at the huge tree
Which turns aside so many prayers and tears.
115 "Pass on ahead: do not come any nearer.
The tree from which Eve ate is higher up,
And from its stock this tree was cultivated."
I know not who spoke this among the branches;
And so, Virgil, Statius, and I, drawn close,
120 Journeyed along the side where the cliff rises.
"Remember," the voice said, "those wretched creatures,
Born of a cloud, who, when they drank their fill,
Fought Theseus with their horse-and-human chests;
"And those Hebrews who showed their haste in drinking
125 So that Gideon refused them as his comrades
When he came d
While fastening my gaze through the green leaves,
I peered up as a hunter usually does
Who wastes his life in prowling after birds.
At that my more-than-father told me, "Son,
5 Come on now, for the time allotted us
Ought to be portioned out more purposefully."
I turned my eyes and — just as fast — my steps
Straight after those two sages who talked so,
That it made walking with them cost me nothing.
10 And suddenly in tears and song we heard
"Open my lips, O Lord," sung in such tones
That it gave birth to gladness and to grief.
"O gentle father, what is this I hear?"
I wondered; and he: "Shades who journey on,
15 Perhaps loosening the knot of their bad debt."
Like pilgrims who go wrapped in pious thought
And, overtaking strangers on the road,
Turn toward them but do not stop to talk,
So from behind us, moving faster, com
By now the angel had been left behind us,
The angel who’d turned us to the sixth circle,
Having erased a letter from my face,
And he’d told us that those who crave for justice
5 Are blessed, and his words had accomplished this
With "they that thirst" and no more of the text.
And, lighter than through other passes, I
Walked on, so that without the least fatigue
I followed the swift spirits toward the heights,
10 When Virgil began, "Love, enkindled by
Virtue, has always kindled love in others,
As long as its own flame showed outwardly;
"So from the hour when Juvenal came down
Among us in the limbo of that hell
15 And made your own affection known to me,
"My goodwill toward you has been truer than
That ever paid a person one’s not seen,
And so these stairs shall now seem short to me.
"But tell me — and forgive me as a friend
20 If overconfidence relax my reins,
And now as with a friend you talk with me —
"How was it possible that avarice
Lodged in your breast which by your diligence
You filled with such abundant store of wisdom?"
25 These words at first made Statius start to smile
A little, and then he replied, "Each word
Of yours is for me a dear sign of love.
"But truly things do often so appear
That they give us false grounds for some suspicion
30 Because the real reasons remain concealed.
"Your question makes it clear to me you think —
Perhaps based on the circle I was in —
That I was greedy in the other life.
"Know now that avarice was far removed
35 From me, but for my want of moderation
Thousands of months have meted punishment.
"And had I not set my endeavors straight
When I perused the lines where you call out,
As if in anger against human nature:
40 " ‘Why, O religious hunger after gold,
Do you not rule the appetite of mortals?’
I would be rolling weights at the grim jousts.
"Then I perceived our hands could spread their wings
Too wide in spending, and I grew repentant
45 Of that as well as of my other sins.
"How many shall rise up again with hair
Cropped short, in ignorance which keeps them from
Repenting this sin in life and at the end!
"And know that the offence which counters vice
50 With the directly opposite offence
Loses here its greenness, and both wither.
"So then, if I have been among those people
Who mourn their avarice, for my purgation,
It is its opposite that brings me here."
55 "Now, when you sang of the cruel clash of arms
Between the twins that gave Jocasta sorrow,"
Replied the singer of the Bucolic poems,
"From what Clio inspired in you there,
It does not seem that you were yet turned faithful
60 To the true faith without which good works falter.
"If this is so, then what sun or what candles
So drove your darkness out that you set sail
Straight in the wake behind the Fisherman?"
And he told him, "You were the first to send me
65 Toward Parnassus to drink within its caves,
And you the first to light my way to God.
"You were like one who, traveling by night,
Carries the torch behind — no help to him —
But he makes those who follow him the wiser,
70 "When you announced, ‘The ages are made new:
Justice returns and the first world of man,
And a new progeny comes down from heaven.’
"Through you I was a poet, through you a Christian.
But that you may more clearly see my sketch,
75 I will stretch out my hand to color it.
"By then the whole world was in labor with
The one true faith which had been sown abroad
By the messengers of the eternal kingdom,
"And those words of yours which I just mentioned
80 Were so in harmony with the new preachers
That I would often go to meet with them.
"They then became so saintly to my sight
That when Domitian persecuted them
My teardrops mingled with their lamentations.
85 "And as long as I lived there in the world
I gave them aid, and their straightforward ways
Made me feel scorn for every other sect.
"And before I had led the Greeks in my poem
To the stream of Thebes, I was baptized;
90 But out of fear I was a secret Christian,
"Long putting on a show of paganism,
And for this lukewarmness I had to circle
The fourth circle more than four centuries.
"You, then, who lifted up the covering
95 That hid from me the great good I described,
While we have time remaining yet to climb,
"Tell me where our ancient Terence is,
Caecilius, Plautus, Varro, if you know;
Tell me if they are damned, and in what region?"
100 "They, and Persius and I, and many others,"
My guide replied, "are with that Greek to whom
The Muses gave more milk than to the rest,
"In the first circling of the darkened prison.
Often we converse about the mountain
105 On which our nurses always have their dwelling.
"Euripides is with us, Antiphon,
Simonides, Agathon, and many more
Greeks who once wore laurel on their brows.
"We see there of the people whom you noted
110 Antigone, Deiphyle, and Argia,
And Ismene, as sad as she once was.
"Hypsipyle, who showed men Langia’s spring,
We see there; Thetis and Tiresias’ daughter,
And there Deidamia with her sisters."
115 Both the poets had by now grown silent,
Intent once more on looking all around,
Free of the climbing stairs and of the walls;
And by now the four handmaids of the day
Were left behind, and at the chariot-pole
120 The fifth still steered its fiery tip upward,
When my guide said, "I think that we three should
Turn our right shoulders to the outer edge,
Circling the mountain in the usual way."
In this way, custom was our standard there,
125 And we took to the road with less mistrust
Because that worthy soul showed his assent.
They strode in front and I walked on behind,
By myself, listening to their dialogue
Which much enlightened me on poetry.
130 But soon that pleasant talk was broken off
When we came on a tree right in our path,
With fruit unspoiled and fragrant to the smell.
And as a fir-tree tapers toward the top
From branch to branch, this tree tapered downward,
135 To let no one climb it, I imagine.
On the side where our way was walled off,
Clear sparkling water fell from the high rock
And spread itself among the leaves above.
As the two poets drew near to the tree,
140 From deep within the foliage a voice
Cried out, "This food shall be beyond your reach!"
Then it said, "Mary thought more how to make
The wedding-feast complete and honorable
Than on her own mouth, which now pleads for you!
145 "And in Rome of old the women were content
With water for their drink! And Daniel too,
By his disdaining food, gained understanding.
"The first age was as beautiful as gold:
Then hunger made the taste of acorns sweet,
150 And thirst turned every streamlet into nectar.
"Honey and locusts were the sustenance
That fed the Baptist in the wilderness:
For this he is in glory and made great,
"As in the Gospel you shall find revealed."
That natural thirst which is never quenched
Except with the water which the woman
Of Samaria sought as a source of grace
Tormented me, and our haste spurred me on
5 Along the straitened path behind my guide,
As I grieved at the payment of just penance.
And look! just as Saint Luke records for us
That Christ appeared to two along the way
Already risen from his burial cave,
10 A shade appeared to us, and came behind us
While we stared at the crowd stretched at our feet;
Nor did we notice him till he first spoke,
Saying, "My brothers, may God give you peace!"
We quickly turned, and Virgil answered him
15 With the sign appropriate for greeting,
And then began, "Within the blessed assembly
May the inerrant court that banishes me
To eternal exile settle you in peace."
"How then?" he asked as we walked on in haste,
20 "If you are shades God's not found fit for heaven,
Who guided you so far along his stairway?"
And my teacher: "If you look at the marks
Which this man bears and which the angel traced,
You’ll plainly see he must reign with the just.
25 "Since she, however, who spins day and night
Had not yet drawn the fiber off for him
Which Clotho loads and packs on each one’s distaff,
"His soul, which is your sister and my own,
Ascending here, could not have come alone,
30 Because she does not see the way we do.
"So I was snatched out of the gaping jaws
Of hell to guide him, and guide him so I will
Onward as far as my schooling can conduct him.
"But tell me, if you know, why just this moment
35 The mountain shook so, and all seemed to shout
With one voice downward to the shore-lined base."
With this request he threaded the needle’s eye
Of my desire so that with just the hope
He made my thirst seem less insatiable.
40 The soul began then, "Nothing without order
Or the support of custom is permitted
By the holy rule of the mountain.
"This place is free from every earthly change.
What heaven receives into and from itself
45 May function here as cause, and nothing else:
"So neither rain, nor hail, nor snow, nor dew,
Nor hoarfrost falls here any higher than
The stairway of the three short steps below;
"No thick, no thin clouds ever can appear,
50 Nor lightning flash, nor Thaumas’s daughter
Who often changes regions in your sky;
"Nor does dry vapor rise up any higher
Than to the top of the three steps I mentioned,
On which Saint Peter’s vicar rests his feet.
55 "Tremors, small or large, may chance down lower,
But here above, I don’t know why, it never
Trembles from wind concealed within the earth.
"It trembles here when some soul feels herself
Cleansed, so that she rises or sets out
60 To leap upward, and that shout follows then.
"Of this cleansing the will alone gives proof,
Surprising the soul, now fully free to change
Company, and powering her to will.
"The soul had will before, but the desire,
65 Which divine justice turns around toward penance
And which once bent toward sin, would not consent.
"And I, who for a hundred years and more
Have lain in this tormenting, only now
Felt freely willing for a better threshold.
70 "That is the cause you felt the quake and heard
The pious spirits up along the mountain
Praise the Lord — may he soon send them higher!"
He spoke to us this way; and since enjoyment
Is deeper when our thirst to drink is stronger,
75 I could not tell how deep the good he did me.
And my wise guide: "Now I espy the net
That snares you here and how you slip from it,
Why it quakes here and what makes you all glad:
"Now, if it pleases you, tell me who you were,
80 And let me learn from your own lips the reason
You have lain here so many centuries."
"In the time when the good Titus, with help
Of the highest King, avenged the wounds
From which the blood that Judas sold poured forth,
85 "I bore the most enduring and most honored
Name there in the world," replied that spirit;
"Fame I had, but not as yet the faith.
"So dulcet was the music of my verses
That from Toulouse, Rome drew me to herself,
90 Deservedly, to crown my brows with myrtle.
"Statius is my name, still heard on earth.
I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles,
But, with the second labor, fell by the way.
"The seeds of my ardor were the sparks
95 That warmed me from the sacred flame from which
More than a thousand poets have been kindled:
"I speak of the Aeneid, which was for me
A mother and a nurse of poetry;
Without it I would not be worth a farthing.
100 "And to have lived on earth when Virgil lived
I would consent to add another year
More than I owe for my release from exile."
These words made Virgil turn to me and give
A look that, by its silence, said, "Be silent!"
105 Yet power of will cannot do everything,
For smiles and tears are such close followers
On the emotions from which each proceeds,
They least obey the will in those most truthful.
I smiled — barely — as one might hint at something;
110 At that the shade grew still and looked me fully
In the eyes which express the soul most clearly,
And said, "So may your trying task end well,
Tell me why, just now while I was speaking,
Your face betrayed that flashing smile to me."
115 Now I am caught on one side and the other:
One keeps me still, the other bids me speak,
So that I sigh and I am understood
By my master — and: "Do not be afraid
To talk," he told me; "but speak up and tell him
120 What he now asks of you with deep concern."
So I replied, "Perhaps you are amazed,
Ancient spirit, at the smile I gave you,
But I would have you wonder even more.
"This soul here who directs my eyes on high
125 Is that same Virgil from whom you have drawn
The power to sing about the gods and men.
"If you think something else caused me to smile,
Forget it as a falsehood, and believe
It was those words which you then spoke about him."
130 Already he was bowing to embrace
My teacher’s feet, but he said, "Brother, don’t!
You are a shade and here you see a shade."
And rising, he: "Now you can comprehend
The depth of love that burns in me for you,
135 When I forget the emptiness we are
"And treat the shades as being solid things."
Against a firmer will the will fights poorly;
Against my pleasure, therefore, to please him,
I drew my unfilled sponge out of the water.
I moved on, and my guide moved on through
5 Unpeopled spaces all along the rock-face,
As one walks a wall close to the battlements;
For those who, drop by drop, melt through their eyes
The evil that possesses the whole world
Lie too close to the
At the hour when the heat of day,
Beaten by earth’s cold or, sometimes, Saturn’s,
No longer can warm up the moonlit chill,
When geomancers view Fortuna Major
5 Rising in the east before the dawn
Along a path just briefly dark for it,
There came to me in dream a stuttering woman
With eyes crossed-up and crooked on her feet,
With crippled hands and sickly pale complexion.
10 I gazed at her. And as the sun gives comfort
To the cold limbs which night had left benumbed,
So did my look make her tongue loosen up
And in a short time set her fully straight
And, as love wishes, brought the color back
15 Into her pallid features while I looked.
When in this way she had her speech set free,
She then began to sing so that it would
Be hard for me to turn my eyes from her.
"I am," she sang, "I am the charming Siren,
20 She who allures the sailors in midsea.
So fully pleasing am I to hear sing!
"I turned Ulysses from his longed-for journey
To my songs, and he who dwells with me
Seldom departs, I satisfy so well."
25 Her mouth had not yet shut when at my side
A lady, saintly and alert, appeared,
To thrust the Siren into sheer confusion.
"O Virgil, Virgil, who is this?" she asked
Resentfully, and he came forward then
30 With his eyes fixed on the high-minded one.
She seized the other, stripped her bare in front,
Ripping her clothing, and showed me her belly;
The stench that sprang from it awakened me.
I turned my eyes, and my good master said,
35 "Three times at least I’ve called you. Rise and come!
Let’s find the opening where you may enter."
I rose up. And already all the circles
Around the holy mountain filled with daylight,
And we walked with the new sun at our backs.
40 Following him, I held my brow bowed down
Like one who feels it burdened with his thoughts,
Who bends himself like the archway of a bridge,
When I heard then: "Come, here’s the passageway,"
Spoken in a tone so kind and gentle
45 As one does not hear in this mortal region.
With outspread wings that seemed to be a swan’s,
He who had so addressed us pointed us
Upward between the two walls of hard rock.
Then he moved his feathers and he fanned us
50 As he affirmed that "they who mourn" are blessed
For they shall have their souls richly consoled.
"What’s wrong, that you keep gazing on the ground?"
My guide began to say to me, just when
We had both climbed a bit above the angel.
55 And I: "A strange new vision makes me trudge on
With such mistrust: it bends me inwardly
So that I cannot stop from thinking of it."
"You have beheld," he said, "that ancient witch
For whom alone those now above us weep:
60 You saw how man sets himself free from her.
"That is enough! now beat your heels on earth
And turn your eyes up to the lure spun from
The mighty spheres by the eternal King."
Like a falcon that first stares at his feet,
65 Then turns up at the call and spreads his wings,
Out of desire for food that draws him there,
So I became, and so I went, as far
As the cleft rock allowed one to climb through
Up to the ledge where further circling starts.
70 When I stepped out into the fifth circle,
I witnessed people on it who were weeping,
Lying on the ground with faces downward.
"My soul cleaves to the dust," this psalm I heard
Them murmuring with sighs so deep and gasping
75 That scarcely could the words be understood.
"O chosen souls of God, whose sufferings
Justice and hope render less difficult,
Direct us toward the stairs for mounting higher."
"If you come here exempt from lying prostrate
80 And want to find the way most rapidly,
Then keep your right side toward the outer edge."
This did the poet ask, and this response
Came from a short way on, so by the words
I could make out which hidden face had spoken.
85 I turned my eyes then to my master’s eyes;
At this, with gladdening sign he gave assent
To what my look of longing sought from him.
Then I was free to do just as I wished.
I drew ahead to be above that person
90 Whose voice before had made me notice him,
And said, "Spirit whose weeping ripens penance
Without which there is no return to God,
Put off a while your greater care, for my sake.
"Tell me who you were, and why your backs
95 Are so turned up, and if you’d have me gain
Something for you where I — alive — come from."
And he told me, "Why heaven has turned our backs
To heaven, shortly you shall know, but first
Know that I was a successor of Saint Peter.
100 "Between Sestri and Chiavari tumbles
A pleasant stream, and from its name derives
The title that adorns our family crest.
"In little more than one month’s time I learned
How the great mantle weighs on him who guards it
105 From mire — all other burdens seem like feathers!
"My conversion was — ah wretched! — tardy,
But when I was appointed Roman shepherd,
Then I found out the falsity of life.
"I saw that there the heart would not have rest,
110 Nor could one mount up higher in that life,
And so the love of this life kindled in me.
"Up to that time I was a careworn soul,
Cut off from God and full of avarice;
Now, as you see, in this place I am punished.
115 "What avarice does is here made plain to see
In purging turned-around — ‘converted’ — souls:
The mountain has no harsher punishment.
"As our eyes, riveted to earthly things,
Never lifted themselves to look on high,
120 So justice here has sunk them to the ground.
"As avarice quenched all our love for good
And, in the end, left all our labor lost,
So on this level justice holds us fast,
"With feet and hands bound up and pinioned,
125 And for as long as our just Lord is pleased
We shall lie here outstretched and motionless."
I had kneeled down and wished to speak to him,
But when I started and — just through my tone
Of voice — he sensed that I would do him reverence,
130 He said, "What cause has bent you down like this?"
And I told him, "Because of your high rank
My conscience troubled me for standing straight."
"Straighten your legs, my brother, on your feet!"
He answered, "Make no mistake: with you and others
135 I am a fellow-servant of one Power.
"If ever you have understood the word
The Holy Gospel sounds in ‘They neither marry,’
You can see clearly why I speak this way.
"Now move along: I would not have you stay
140 Since your remaining here keeps me from weeping
The tears to ripen penance which you spoke of.
"On earth I have a niece who’s named Alagia;
In herself she is good, so long as our house
Does not, by bad example, make her bad,
145 "For she alone is left to me back there."
The lofty teacher came to the conclusion
Of his discourse and looked intently into
My eyes to see if I appeared content,
And I, who was by now parched with fresh thirst,
5 Kept outward silence, but within I said,
"Perhaps I irk him with too many questions."
But that true father, who intuited
The timid wish that would not be let out,
By speaking gave me confidence to speak.
10 With that I said, "Master, my sight is so
Enlivened by your light that I grasp clearly
All that your words explain or analyze.
"Therefore I beg you, gentle father dear,
Teach me this love to which you have reduced
15 Every good action and its opposite."
"Direct toward me," he answered, "the sharp beams
Of your mind’s eye, and you shall plainly see
The error of the blind passed off as guides.
"The intellect, created quick to love,
20 Responds to everything that pleases it
As soon as pleasure wakens it to act.
"Your apprehension draws an image from
A real object and displays it in you
So that it makes the mind attend to it;
25 "And if, attentive, the mind tends toward it,
That tendency is love: it is its nature
Which is by pleasure bound anew in you.
"Then, just as fire by its innate form
Flies ever higher to reach that element
30 Where in its matter it may longest last,
"So the enamored mind falls into longing,
Which is a spiritual motion and never rests
Until the thing it loves has made it happy.
"Now you may plainly see how far the truth
35 Is hidden from those people who maintain
That every love is in itself praiseworthy,
"Because perhaps its subject-matter seems
Always to be good, but every imprint
Is not flawless although the wax is fine."
40 "Your discourse and my thoughts that followed it,"
I answered him, "have opened love to me,
But that has made me still more full of doubt;
"For if love is offered to us from without
And if the soul treads on no other foot,
45 It gains no merit, walking straight or crooked."
And he told me, "As much as reason sees here
I can inform you; beyond that, just wait
For Beatrice, since it is a point of faith.
"Every substantial form that is distinct
50 From matter and is yet united with it
Holds a specific power in itself
"Which is not seen except in operation
And only in its effects is it shown,
As the life of a plant in its green leaves.
55 "And so man does not know where understanding
Of his first ideas derives, nor where
Affection for first objects of desire,
"Which both are in you as instinct in the bee
For making honey; and this primal will
60 Has no merit for either praise or blame.
"Now that all other wills conform to this one,
You have the innate power which gives counsel
And which should guard the threshold of consent.
"This is the principle from which derives
65 The reason for your merits, so far as it
Garners and winnows good and evil loves.
"Those whose reasoning went to the root of things
Perceived this innate freedom; as a result,
They left the gift of ethics to the world.
70 "So, even supposing every love enkindled
Within you rises from necessity,
The power to restrain it still lies in you.
"This noble power Beatrice calls free will;
And for this reason, keep it in your mind
75 In case she wants to speak of it to you."
The moon arising late, almost at midnight,
Made the stars look scantier to us,
For it was glowing like a burnished bucket,
And it ran counter to the sky on paths
80 The sun inflames when men in Rome observe it
Setting between Sardinia and Corsica.
That noble shade, for whom Pietola
Shines with more fame than any Mantuan town,
Released me from the load I placed on him,
85 So that I, who had harvested his clear
And open-handed answers to my questions,
Remained like someone rambling drowsily.
But I was snapped out of this drowsiness
Suddenly by people who had come
90 Already round to us behind our backs.
And as, of old, Ismenus and Asopus
Saw on their banks at night fanatic crowds
So often as the Thebans called for Bacchus,
Such was the crowd, from what I saw, curving
95 Its way around that circle, of those who came
With good will and just love holding the reins.
How soon they were upon us — since that whole
Huge company was moving at a run,
And two of them up front cried out in tears:
100 "Mary ran with haste to the hill country!
And Caesar to subdue Lerida thrust
First at Marseilles and then sped on to Spain!"
"Faster! faster! let no time be lost
Through little love," the rest who followed cried,
105 "So zeal for good may make grace green again."
"O people whose sharp fervor now perhaps
Redeems the negligence and dallying
You showed in lukewarmness for doing good,
"This man, alive — and surely I’d not lie —
110 Would climb as soon as daylight shines on us:
So tell us where an opening is at hand."
These were the words spoken by my guide,
And one of those swift spirits called, "Come,
Follow us and you will find the gap.
115 "We are so full of passion to keep moving,
We cannot stop, we beg your pardon, then,
If you should take our penance for bad manners.
"I was abbot of San Zeno in Verona
Under the rule of worthy Barbarossa
120 Of whom Milan still talks with bitter tears.
"And I know one with one foot in the grave
Who soon will sorrow for that monastery
And will regret he once had power there,
"Because he’s put, in place of its true shepherd,
125 His son, who is deformed in his whole body
And even more in mind, and born a bastard."
I do not know if he said more or ceased,
Since he by now had raced so far beyond us,
But I heard this much and was glad to note it.
130 And he who was my help in every need
Spoke up, "Turn round this way: observe those two
Coming who sink their teeth deep into sloth."
Behind them all these two declaimed, "The people
For whom the sea had parted were all dead
135 Before the Jordan saw its promised heirs;
"And those who to the end did not endure
Ordeals in company with Anchises’ son
Gave themselves up to an inglorious life."
Then when those shades had sped so far from us
140 That they could not be sighted any more,
A new thought worked itself up from within me,
And from it many different thoughts were born,
And I so drifted from one to the other
That in my wandering off I closed my eyes,
145 And I transmuted thinking into dreaming.
Remember, reader, if ever you have been
Up in the mountains when the clouds close in
So that you saw as blindly as a mole,
How, when at last the dense and humid vapors
5 Begin to blow away, the circle of the sun
Pierces through the mists with feebleness,
Then your imagination will be quick
To come to see how I first saw the sun
Once more, right at the moment of its setting.
10 So, matching my steps with the trusted steps
Of my master, I broke out of the cloud
Into the rays now dead down on the shore.
O imagination, which sometimes steals us
So far from outward things we pay no heed
15 Although a thousand trumpets blast about us,
Who moves you if the senses yield you nothing?
Light formed in heaven moves you by itself
Or by the will of Him who guides it downward.
The impious act of her who changed her form
20 Into the bird that most delights in singing
Appeared to shape in my imagining.
And here my mind was so withdrawn within
Upon itself that nothing from the outside
Could have come then to be admitted in it.
25 Then there rained down within my heightened fancy
A figure crucified, scornful and fierce
In his look, exactly as he died.
Around him stood the great Ahasuerus,
Esther his wife, and the just Mordecai
30 Who showed integrity in word and deed.
And as this image burst all by itself,
Just like a bubble when the water runs
Out from under where the film has formed,
There rose into my vision a young girl
Bitterly weeping, and she said, "O Queen,
35 Why in your anger did you slay yourself?
"You took your life to keep Lavinia:
Now you have lost me! I am one who mourns,
Mother, more for your ruin than another’s."
As sleep is broken when all of a sudden
40 New light strikes upon unopened eyes
And, broken, flickers before it fully dies,
So my imagining fell straight away
As soon as light, more intense by far
45 Than what we are inured to, struck my eyes.
I turned about to survey where I was,
When a voice called out: "Here you can climb up,"
And this drew me from every other thought,
And it piqued my desire with such impatience
50 To gaze directly on the one who’d spoken
As never rests till it stands face to face.
But as before the sun which thwarts our sight
And, being overbright, blurs its own shape
So there my power of perception failed.
55 "This is a heavenly spirit who directs us,
Without our asking, on the upward way,
And with his own light he conceals himself.
"He deals with us as men do with themselves.
For he who sees the need but waits for asking
60 Already sets himself to turn it down.
"Now let our steps follow his invitation.
Let us press on to climb before night comes,
For then we cannot go till day returns."
So spoke my guide, and he and I together
65 Had turned our feet toward a stairway there
When, just as I arrived at the first step,
Near me I felt the brush as of a wing
Fanning my face, and I heard said, "Blessed are
The peacemakers, those free of wicked wrath."
70 By now the final sunbeams which night follows
Rose so high above us that the stars
Started to show themselves on every side.
"O strength of mine, why do you melt away?"
Within myself I said, since I perceived
75 The power of my legs had ceased to function.
We had arrived now where the stairs ascended
No higher, and we’d come to a full stop
Just like a ship that pulls up to the shore.
I listened for a while in hope of hearing
80 Any sound within this newest circle,
Then I turned to my master, and I said,
"My gentle father, tell me, what offense
Is purged here in the circle we are come to?
Although our steps halt, do not stop your speech."
85 And he told me, "The love of good which falls
Short of its duty is in this place restored.
Here the idle oar is dipped once more.
"But that you may understand more clearly,
Turn your mind to me and you will gather
90 Some goodly fruit from our delaying here.
"My son, neither Creator nor his creature,"
He then began, "was ever without love,
Natural or rational, as you know.
"The natural is always without error,
95 But the other love may err by evil ends,
Or by too much or by too little ardor.
"While it’s directed toward the primal good
And toward the secondary goods keeps measure,
It cannot be the cause of sinful pleasure,
100 "But when it’s bent on evil or runs after
The good with more or less zeal than it should,
Those whom he made then work against their Maker.
"From this you can conceive how love must be
The seed in you of every other virtue
105 And every deed deserving punishment.
"Now, in so far as love can never shift
Its sight from the well-being of its subject,
All things are free from hatred for themselves.
"And since no being can be thought as sundered
110 From primal Being and standing by itself,
Each creature is cut off from hating him.
"It follows, if I judge well by my critique,
This evil that is loved is for one’s neighbor,
And in three ways this love sprouts in your clay:
115 "There is the man who through his neighbor’s fall
Hopes to advance, and only for this reason
He longs to see him cast down from his greatness,
"There is the man who dreads the loss of power,
Favor, fame, and honor at another’s rise,
120 And pines so at it that he wants him ruined;
"And there is the man who grows so resentful
For injury, he’s greedy for revenge,
And such a man must seek another’s harm.
"This threefold love is purged down there below us.
125 Now I wish you to grasp the other kind:
The love that runs for good in wrongful measure.
"Each has a nebulous notion of the good
On which his mind may rest, and longs for it;
And so each struggles to achieve that end.
130 "If the love drawing you to view or gain
This goal is lukewarm, then this terrace here,
After true repentance, punishes for that.
"There is another good which gladdens no one:
It is not happiness, nor the true essence
135 Which is the fruit and root of every good.
"The love which yields itself too much to this
Is mourned in the three circles up above us;
But how it is divided in three parts,
"I will not say, that you may search it out."