Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). Purgatory, The Divine Comedy.
Dante fell madly in love with Beatrice at first sight; but it is doubted if he ever spoke to her in this world. He tells of his happy meeting with Beatrice in Paradise.
(Dante victim of political persecution in Florence, Jan. 27, 1302.)
ARGUMENT.—Beatrice descends from Heaven, and rebukes the Poet.
SOON as that polar light, (1) fair ornament
Of the first Heaven, which hath never known
Setting nor rising, nor the shadowy veil
Of other cloud than sin, to duty there
Each one convoying, as that lower doth
The steersman to his port, stood firmly fix’d;
Forthwith the saintly tribe, who in the van
Between the Gryphon and its radiance came,
Did turn them to the car, as to their rest:
And one, as if commission’d from above,
In holy chant thrice shouted forth aloud;
“Come, (2) spouse! from Libanus:” and all the rest
Took up the song.—At the last audit, so
The blest shall rise, from forth his cavern each
Uplifting lightly his new-vested flesh;
As, on the sacred litter, at the voice
Authoritative of that elder, sprang
A hundred ministers and messengers
Of life eternal. “Blessed (3) thou, who comest!”
And, “Oh!” they cried, “from full hands scatter ye
Unwithering lilies”: and, so saying, cast
Flowers overhead and round them on all sides.
I have beheld, ere now, at break of day,
The eastern clime all roseate; and the sky
Opposed, one deep and beautiful serene;
And the sun’s face so shaded, and with mists
Attemper’d, at his rising, that the eye
Long while endured the sight: thus, in a cloud
Of flowers, that from those hands angelic rose,
And down within and outside of the car
Fell showering, in white veil with olive wreathed,
A virgin in my view appear’d, beneath
Green mantle, robed in hue of living flame:
And o’er my spirit, that so long a time
Had from her presence felt no shuddering dread,
Albeit mine eyes discern’d her not, there moved
A hidden virtue from her, at whose touch
The power of ancient love was strong within me.
No sooner on my vision streaming, smote
The heavenly influence, which, years past, and e’en
In childhood, thrill’d me, than towards Virgil I
Turn’d me to leftward; panting, like a babe,
That flees for refuge to his mother’s breast,
If aught have terrified or work’d him woe:
And would have cried, “There is no dram of blood,
That doth not quiver in me. The old flame
Throws out clear tokens of reviving fire.”
But Virgil had bereaved us of himself;
Virgil, my best-loved father, Virgil, he
To whom I gave me up for safety: nor
All, our prime mother lost, avail’d to save
My undew’d cheeks from blur of soiling tears.
“Dante! weep not that Virgil leaves thee; nay,
Weep thou not yet: behoves thee feel the edge
Of other sword; and thou shalt weep for that.”
As to the prow or stern, some admiral
Paces the deck, inspiriting his crew,
When ’mid the sail-yards all hands ply aloof;
Thus, on the left side of the car, I saw
(Turning me at the sound of mine own name,
Which here I am compell’d to register)
The virgin station’d, who before appear’d
Veil’d in that festive shower angelical.
Towards me, across the stream, she bent her eyes;
Though from her brow the veil descending, bound
With foliage of Minerva, suffer’d not
That I beheld her clearly: then with act
Full royal, still insulting o’er her thrall,
Added, as one who, speaking, keepeth back
The bitterest saying, to conclude the speech:
“Observe me well. I am, in sooth, I am
Beatrice. What! and hast thou deign’d at last
Approach the mountain? Knewest not, O man!
Thy happiness is here?” Down fell mine eyes
On the clear fount; but there, myself espying,
Recoil’d, and sought the greensward; such a weight
Of shame was on my forehead. With a mien
Of that stern majesty, which doth surround
A mother’s presence to her awe-struck child,
She look’d; a flavor of such bitterness
Was mingled in her pity. There her words
Brake off; and suddenly the angels sang,
“In thee, O gracious Lord! my hope hath been”:
But (4) went no further than, “Thou, Lord! hast set
My feet in ample room” As snow, that lies,
Amidst the living rafters on the back
Of Italy, congeal’d, when drifted high
And closely piled by rough Sclavonian blasts;
Breathe but the land whereon no shadow falls,
And straightway melting it distills away,
Like a fire-wasted taper: thus was I,
Without a sigh or tear, or ever these
Did sing, that, with the chiming of Heaven’s sphere,
Still in their warbling chime: but when the strain
Of dulcet symphony express’d for me
Their soft compassion, more than could the words,
“Virgin! why so consumest him?” then, the ice
Congeal’d about my bosom, turn’d itself
To spirit and water; and with anguish forth
Gush’d, through the lips and eyelids, from the heart.
Upon the chariot’s same edge still she stood,
Immovable; and thus address’d her words
To those bright semblances with pity touch’d:
“Ye in the eternal day your vigils keep;
So that nor night nor slumber, with close stealth,
Conveys from you a single step, in all
The goings on of time: thence, with more heed
I shape mine answer, for his ear intended,
Who there stands weeping; that the sorrow now
May equal the transgression. Not alone
Through operation of the mighty orbs,
That mark each seed to some predestined aim,
As with aspect or fortunate or ill
The constellations meet; but through benign
Largess of heavenly graces, which rain down
From such a height as mocks our vision, this man
Was, in the freshness of his being, such,
So gifted virtually, that in him
All better habits wondrously had thrived
The more of kindly strength is in the soil,
So much doth evil seed and lack of culture
Mar it the more, and make it run to wildness.
These looks sometime upheld him; for I show’d
My youthful eyes, and led him by their light
In upright walking. Soon as I had reach’d
Tee threshold of my second age, and changed
My mortal for immortal; then he left me,
And gave himself to others. When from flesh
To spirit I had risen, and increase
Of beauty and of virtue circled me,
I was less dear to him, and valued less.
His steps were turn’d into deceitful ways,
Following false images of good, that make
No promise perfect. Nor avail’d me aught
To sue for inspirations, with the which,
I, both in dreams of night, and otherwise,
Did call him back; of them, so little reck’d him.
Such depth he fell, that all device was short
Of his preserving, save that he should view
The children of perdition. To this end
I visited the purlieus of the dead:
And one, who hath conducted him thus high,
Received my supplications urged with weeping.
It were a breaking of God’s high decree,
If Lethe should be pass’d, and such food (5) tasted,
Without the cost of some repentant tear.”
Note 1. The seven candlesticks of gold, which he calls the polar light of Heaven itself, because they perform the same office for Christians that the polar star does for mariners, in guiding them to their port.
Note 2. “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me, from Lebanon.”—Song of Solomon, iv. 8.
Note 3. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”—Matt. xxi. 9.
Note 4. “But.” They sang the thirty-first Psalm, to the end of the eighth verse. What follows would not have suited the place or the occasion.
Note 5. The oblivion of sins.
ARGUMENT.—Beatrice continues her reprehension of Dante, who confesses his error, and falls to the ground; coming to himself again, he is by Matilda drawn through the waters of Lethe, and presented first to the four virgins who figure the cardinal virtues; these in their turn lead him to the Gryphon, a symbol of our Saviour; and the three virgins, representing the evangelical virtues, intercede for him with Beatrice, that she would display to him her second beauty.
“O THOU!” her words she thus without delay
Resuming, turn’d their point on me, to whom
They, with but lateral edge, seem’d harsh before:
“Say thou, who stand’st beyond the holy stream,
If this be true. A charge, so grievous, needs
Thine own avowal.” On my faculty
Such strange amazement hung, the voice expired
Imperfect, ere its organs gave it birth.
A little space refraining, then she spake:
“What dost thou muse on? Answer me. The wave
On thy remembrances of evil yet
Hath done no injury.” A mingled sense
Of fear and of confusion, from my lips
Did such a “Yea” produce, as needed help
Of vision to interpret. As when breaks,
In act to be discharged, a cross-bow bent
Beyond its pitch, both nerve and bow o’erstretch’d;
The flagging weapon feebly hits the mark:
Thus, tears and sighs forth gushing, did I burst,
Beneath the heavy load: and thus my voice
Was slacken’d on its way. She straight began:
“When my desire invited thee to love
The good, which sets a bound to our aspirings;
What bar of thwarting foss or linked chain
Did meet thee, that thou so shouldst quit the hope
Of further progress? or what bait of ease,
Or promise of allurement, led thee on
Elsewhere, that thou elsewhere shouldst rather wait?”
A bitter sigh I drew, then scarce found voice
To answer; hardly to these sounds my lips
Gave utterance, wailing: “Thy fair looks withdrawn,
Things present, with deceitful pleasures, turn’d
My steps aside.” She answering spake: “Hadst thou
Been silent, or denied what thou avow’st,
Thou hadst not hid thy sin the more; such eye
Observes it. But whene’er the sinner’s cheek
Breaks forth into the precious-streaming tears
Of self-accusing, in our court the wheel
Of justice doth run counter to the edge. (1)
Howe’er, that thou mayst profit by thy shame
For errors past, and that henceforth more strength
May arm thee, when thou hear’st the Syren-voice;
Lay thou aside the motive to this grief,
And lend attentive ear, while I unfold
How opposite a way my buried flesh
Should have impell’d thee. Never didst thou spy,
In art or nature, aught so passing sweet,
As were the limbs that in their beauteous frame
Enclosed me, and are scatter’d now in dust.
If sweetest thing thus fail’d thee with my death,
What, afterward, of moral, should thy wish
Have tempted? When thou first hadst felt the dart
Of perishable things, in my departing
For better realms, thy wing thou shouldst have pruned
To follow me; and never stoop’d again,
To ’bide a second blow, for a slight girl, (2)
Or other gaud as transient and as vain.
The new and inexperienced bird (3) awaits,
Twice it may be, or thrice, the fowler’s aim;
But in the sight of one whose plumes are full,
In vain the net is spread, the arrow wing’d.”
I stood, as children silent and ashamed
Stand, listening, with their eyes upon the earth,
Acknowledging their fault, and self-condemn’d.
And she resumed: “If, but to hear, thus pains thee,
Raise thou thy beard, and lo! what sight shall do.”
With less reluctance yields a sturdy holm,
Rent from its fibres by a blast, that blows
From off the pole, or from Iarbas’ land, (4)
Than I at her behest my visage raised:
And thus the face denoting by the beard,
I mark’d the secret sting her words convey’d.
No sooner lifted I mine aspect up,
Than I perceived those primal creatures cease
Their flowery sprinkling; and mine eyes beheld
(Yet unassured and wavering in their view)
Beatrice; she, who toward the mystic shape,
That joins two natures in one form, had turn’d:
And, even under shadow of her veil,
And parted by the verdant rill that flow’d
Between, in loveliness she seem’d as much
Her former self surpassing, as on earth
All others she surpass’d. Remorseful goads
Shot sudden through me. Each thing else, the more
Its love had late beguiled me, now the more
Was loathsome. On my heart so keenly smote
The bitter consciousness, that on the ground
O’erpower’d I fell: and what my state was then,
She knows, who was the cause. When now my strength
Flow’d back, returning outward from the heart,
The lady, (5) whom alone I first had seen,
I found above me. “Loose me not,” she cried:
“Loose not thy hold:” and lo! had dragg’d me high
As to my neck into the stream; while she,
Still as she drew me after, swept along,
Swift as a shuttle, bounding o’er the wave.
The blessed shore approaching, then was heard
So sweetly, “Tu asperges me,” that I
May not remember, much less tell the sound.
The beauteous dame, her arms expanding, clasp’d
My temples, and immerged me where ’twas fit
The wave should drench me: and, thence raising up,
Within the fourfold dance of lovely nymphs
Presented me so laved; and with their arm
They each did cover me. “Here are we nymphs,
And in the heaven are stars. Or ever earth
Was visited of Beatrice, we,
Appointed for her handmaids, tended on her.
We to her eyes will lead thee: but the light
Of gladness, that is in them, well to scan,
Those yonder three, of deeper ken than ours,
Thy sight shall quicken.” Thus began their song:
And then they led me to the Gryphon’s breast,
Where, turn’d toward us, Beatrice stood.
“Spare not thy vision. We have station’d thee
Before the emeralds, whence love, erewhile,
Hath drawn his weapons on thee.” As they spake,
A thousand fervent wishes riveted
Mine eyes upon her beaming eyes, that stood,
Still fix’d toward the Gryphon, motionless.
As the sun strikes a mirror, even thus
Within those orbs the twofold being shone;
Forever varying, in one figure now
Reflected, now in other. Reader! muse
How wondrous in my sight it seem’d, to mark
A thing, albeit steadfast in itself,
Yet in its imaged semblance mutable.
Full of amaze, and joyous, while my soul
Fed on the viand, whereof still desire
Grows with satiety; the other three,
With gesture that declared a loftier line,
Advanced: to their own carol, on they came
Dancing, in festive ring angelical.
“Turn, Beatrice!” was their song: “Oh! turn
Thy saintly sight on this thy faithful one,
Who, to behold thee, many a wearisome pace
Hath measured. Gracious at our prayer, vouchsafe
Unveiled to him thy cheeks; that he may mark
Thy second beauty, now conceal’d.” O splendour!
O sacred light eternal! who is he,
So pale with musing in Pierian shades,
Or with that fount so lavishly imbued,
Whose spirit should not fail him in the essay
To represent thee such as thou didst seem,
When under cope of the still-chiming Heaven
Thou gavest to open air thy charms reveal’d?
Note 1. “The weapons of divine justice are blunted by the confession and sorrow of the offender.”
Note 2. “For a slight girl.” Daniello and Venturi say that this alludes to Gentucca of Lucca, mentioned in the twenty-fourth Canto.
Note 3. “Bird.” “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.”—Prov. i. 17.
Note 4. “From Iarbas’ land.” The south.
Note 5. “The lady.” Matilda.
ARGUMENT.—Dante is warned not to gaze too fixedly on Beatrice. The procession moves on, accompanied by Matilda, Statius, and Dante, till they reach an exceeding lofty tree, where divers strange chances befall.
MINE eyes with such an eager coveting
Were bent to rid them of their ten years’ thirst, (1)
Not other sense was waking: and e’en they
Were fenced on either side from heed of aught;
So tangled, in its custom’d toils, that smile
Of saintly brightness drew me to itself:
When forcibly, toward the left, my sight
The sacred virgins turn’d; for from their lips
I heard the warning sounds: “Too fix’d a gaze!”
A while my vision labour’d; as when late
Upon the o’erstrained eyes the sun hath smote:
But soon, to lesser object, as the view
Was now recover’d, (lesser in respect
To that excess of sensible, whence late
I had perforce been sunder’d), on their right
I mark’d that glorious army wheel, and turn,
Against the sun and sevenfold lights, their front.
As when, their bucklers for protection raised,
A well-ranged troop, with portly banners curl’d,
Wheel circling, ere the whole can change their ground;
E’en thus the goodly regiment of Heaven
Proceeding, all did pass us, ere the car
Had sloped his beam. Attendant at the wheels
The damsels turn’d; and on the Gryphon moved
The sacred burden, with a pace so smooth,
No feather on him trembled. The fair dame,
Who through the wave had drawn me, companied
By Statius and myself, pursued the wheel,
Whose orbit, rolling, mark’d a lesser arch.
Through the high wood, now void, (the more her blame,
Who by the serpent was beguiled), I pass’d,
With step in cadence to the harmony
Angelic. Onward had we moved, as far,
Perchance, as arrow at three several flights
Full wing’d had sped, when from her station down
Descended Beatrice. With one voice
All murmur’d “Adam”; circling next a plant
Despoil’d of flowers and leaf, on every bough,
Its tresses, spreading more as more they rose,
Were such, as ’midst their forest wilds, for height,
The Indians might have gazed at. “Blessed thou,
Gryphon! (2)whose beak hath never pluck’d that tree
Pleasant to taste: for hence the appetite
Was warp’d to evil.” Round the stately trunk
Thus shouted forth the rest, to whom return’d
The animal twice-gender’d: “Yea! for so
The generation of the just are saved.”
And turning to the chariot-pole, to foot
He drew it of the widow’d branch, and bound
There, left unto the stock whereon it grew.
As when large floods of radiance from above
Stream, with that radiance mingled, which ascends
Next after setting of the scaly sign,
Our plants then burgeon, and each wears anew
His wonted colours, ere the sun have yoked
Beneath another star his flamy steeds;
Thus putting forth a hue more faint than rose,
And deeper than the violet, was renew’d
The plant, erewhile in all its branches bare.
Unearthly was the hymn, which then arose.
I understood it not, nor to the end
Endured the harmony. Had I the skill
To pencil forth how closed the unpitying eyes
Slumbering, when Syrinx warbled, (eyes that paid
So dearly for their watching), then, like painter,
That with a model paints, I might design
The manner of my falling into sleep.
But feign who will the slumber cunningly,
I pass it by to when I waked; and tell,
How suddenly a flash of splendour rent
The curtain of my sleep, and one cries out,
“Arise; what dost thou?” As the chosen three,
On Tabor’s mount, admitted to behold
The blossoming of that fair tree, (3) whose fruit
Is coveted of Angels, and doth make
Perpetual feast in Heaven; to themselves
Returning, at the word whence deeper sleeps (4)
Were broken, they their tribe diminish’d saw;
Both Moses and Elias gone, and changed
The stole their Master wore; thus to myself
Returning, over me beheld I stand
The piteous one, (5) who, cross the stream, had brought
My steps. “And where,” all doubting, I exclaim’d,
“Is Beatrice?”—“See her,” she replied,
“Beneath the fresh leaf, seated on its root.
Behold the associate choir that circles her.
The others, with a melody more sweet
And more profound, journeying to higher realms,
Upon the Gryphon tend.” If there her words
Were closed, I know not; but mine eyes had now
Ta’en view of her, by whom all other thoughts
Were barr’d admittance. On the very ground
Alone she sat, as she had there been left
A guard upon the wain, which I beheld
Bound to the twyform beast. The seven nymphs
Did make themselves a cloister round about her;
And, in their hands, upheld those lights (6) secure
From blast septentrion and the gusty south.
“A little while thou shalt be forester here;
And citizen shalt be, forever with me,
Of that true Rome, (7) wherein Christ dwells a Roman,
To profit the misguided world, keep now
Thine eyes upon the car; and what thou seest,
Take heed thou write, returning to that place.” (8)
Thus Beatrice: at whose feet inclined
Devout, at her behest, my thought and eyes
I, as she bade, directed. Never fire,
With so swift motion, forth a stormy cloud
Leap’d downward from the welkin’s farthest bound,
As I beheld the bird of Jove, (9) descend
Down through the tree; and, as he rush’d, the rind
Disparting crush beneath him; buds much more,
And leaflets. On the car, with all his might
He struck; whence, staggering, like a ship it reel’d,
At random driven, to starboard now, o’ercome,
And now to larboard, by the vaulting waves.
Next, springing up into the chariot’s womb,
A fox (10) I saw, with hunger seeming pined
Of all good food. But, for his ugly sins
The saintly maid rebuking him, away
Scampering he turn’d, fast as his hide-bound corpse
Would bear him. Next, from whence before he came,
I saw the eagle dart into the hull
O’ the car, and leave it with his feathers lined: (11)
And then a voice, like that which issues forth
From heart with sorrow rived, did issue forth
From Heaven, and “O poor bark of mine!” it cried,
“How badly art thou freighted.” Then it seem’d
That the earth open’d, between either wheel;
And I beheld a dragon (12) issue thence,
That through the chariot fix’d his forked train;
And like a wasp, that draggeth back the sting,
So drawing forth his baleful train, he dragg’d
Part of the bottom forth; and went his way,
Exulting. What remain’d, as lively turf
With green herb, so did clothe itself with plumes, (13)
Which haply had, with purpose chaste and kind,
Been offer’d; and therewith were clothed the wheels,
Both one and other, and the beam, so quickly,
A sigh were not breathed sooner. Thus transform’d,
The holy structure, through its several parts,
Did put forth heads; (14) three on the beam, and one
On every side: the first like oxen horn’d;
But with a single horn upon their front,
The four. Like monster, sight hath never seen.
O’er it (15) methought there sat, secure as rock
On mountain’s lofty top, a shameless whore,
Whose ken roved loosely round her. At her side,
As ’t were that none might bear her off, I saw
A giant stand; and ever and anon
They mingled kisses. But, her lustful eyes
Chancing on me to wander, that fell minion
Scourged her from head to foot all o’er; then full
Of jealousy, and fierce with rage, unloosed
The monster, and dragg’d on, (16) so far across
The forest, that from me its shades alone
Shielded the harlot and the new-form’d brute.
Note 1. “Their ten years’ thirst.” Beatrice had been dead ten years.
Note 2. “Gryphon.” Our Saviour’s submission to the Roman Empire appears to be intended, and particularly his injunction to “render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s.”
Note 3. “The blossoming of that fair tree.” Our Saviour’s transfiguration. “As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.”—Solomon’s Song, ii. 3.
Note 4. “Deeper sleeps.” The sleep of death, in the instance of the ruler of the synagogue’s daughter and of Lazarus.”
Note 5. “The piteous one.” Matilda.
Note 6. “Those lights.” The tapers of gold.
Note 7. “Of that true Rome.” Of Heaven.
Note 8. “To that place.” To the earth.
Note 9. “The bird of Jove.” This, which is imitated from Ezekiel, xvii. 3, 4, is typical of the persecutions which the Church sustained from the Roman emperors.
Note 10. “A fox.” By the fox probably is represented the treachery of the heretics.
Note 11. “With his feathers lined.” In allusion to the donations made by Constantine to the Church.
Note 12. “A dragon.” Probably Mohammed; for what Lombardi offers to the contrary is far from satisfactory.
Note 13. “With plumes.” The increase of wealth and temporal dominion, which followed the supposed gift of Constantine.
Note 14. “Heads.” By the seven heads, it is supposed with sufficient probability, are meant the seven capital sins: by the three with two horns, pride, anger, and avarice, injurious both to man himself and to his neighbor: by the four with one horn, gluttony, gloominess, concupiscence, and envy, hurtful, at least in their primary effects, chiefly to him who is guilty of them.
Note 15. “O’er it.” The harlot is thought to represent the state of the Church under Boniface VIII, and the giant to figure Philip IV of France.
Note 16. “Dragg’d on.” The removal of the Pope’s residence from Rome to Avignon is pointed at.