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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XV
 
 
ARGUMENT.—An Angel invites them to ascend the next steep. On their way Dante suggests certain doubts, which are resolved by Virgil; and, when they reach the third cornice, where the sin of anger is purged, our Poet, in a kind of waking dream, beholds remarkable instances of patience; and soon after they are enveloped in a dense fog.
 
 
AS much as ’twixt the third hour’s close and dawn,
Appeareth of Heaven’s sphere, that ever whirls
As restless as an infant in his play;
So much appear’d remaining to the sun
Of his slope journey towards the western goal.        5
  Evening was there, and here the noon of night;
And full upon our forehead smote the beams.
For round the mountain, circling, so our path
Had led us, that toward the sunset now
Direct we journey’d; when I felt a weight        10
Of more exceeding splendour, than before,
Press on my front. The cause unknown, amaze
Possess’d me! and both hands against my brows
Lifting, I interposed them, as a screen,
That of its gorgeous superflux of light        15
Clips the diminish’d orb. As when the ray,
Striking on water or the surface clear
Of mirror, leaps unto the opposite part,
Ascending at a glance, e’en as it fell,
And as much differs from the stone, that falls        20
Through equal space, (so practic skill hath shown);
Thus, with refracted light, before me seem’d
The ground there smitten; whence, in sudden haste,
My sight recoil’d. “What is this, sire beloved!
’Gainst which I strive to shield the sight in vain?”        25
Cried I, “and which toward us moving seems?”
  “Marvel not, if the family of Heaven,”
He answer’d, “yet with dazzling radiance dim
Thy sense. It is a messenger who comes,
Inviting man’s ascent. Such sights ere long,        30
Not grievous, shall impart to thee delight,
As thy perception is by nature wrought
Up to their pitch.” The blessed Angel, soon
As we had reach’d him, hail’d us with glad voice:
“Here enter on a ladder far less steep        35
Than ye have yet encounter’d.” We forthwith
Ascending, heard behind us chanted sweet,
“Blessed the merciful,” 1 and “Happy thou,
That conquer’st.” Lonely each, my guide and I,
Pursued our upward way; and as we went,        40
Some profit from his words I hoped to win,
And thus of him inquiring, framed my speech:
“What meant Romagna’s spirit, 2 when he spake
Of bliss exclusive, with no partner shared?”
  He straight replied: “No wonder, since he knows        45
What sorrow waits on his own worst defect,
If he chide others, that they less may mourn.
Because ye point your wishes at a mark,
Where, by communion of possessors, part
Is lessen’d, envy bloweth up men’s sighs.        50
No fear of that might touch ye, if the love
Of higher sphere exalted your desire.
For there, by how much more they call it ours,
So much propriety of each in good
Increases more, and heighten’d charity        55
Wraps that fair cloister in a brighter flame.”
  “Now lack I satisfaction more,” said I,
“Than if thou hadst been silent at the first;
And doubt more gathers on my labouring thought.
How can it chance, that good distributed,        60
The many, that possess it, makes more rich,
Than if ’t were shared by few?” He answering thus:
“Thy mind, reverting still to things of earth,
Strikes darkness from true light. The highest Good
Unlimited, ineffable, doth so speed        65
To love, as beam to lucid body darts,
Giving as much of ardour as it finds.
The sempiternal effluence streams abroad,
Spreading, wherever charity extends;
So that the more aspirants to that bliss        70
Are multiplied, more good is there to love,
And more is loved; as mirrors, that reflect,
Each unto other, propagated light.
If these my words avail not to allay
Thy thirsting, Beatrice thou shalt see,        75
Who of this want, and of all else thou hast,
Shall rid thee to the full. Provide but thou,
That from thy temples may be soon erased,
E’en as the two already, those five scars,
That, when they pain thee worst, then kindliest heal.”        80
  “Thou,” I had said, “content’st me”; when I saw
The other round was gain’d, and wondering eyes
Did keep me mute. There suddenly I seem’d
By an ecstatic vision wrapt away;
And in a temple saw, methought, a crowd        85
Of many persons; and at the entrance stood
A dame, whose sweet demeanour did express
A mother’s love, who said, “Child! why hast thou
Dealt with us thus? Behold thy sire and I
Sorrowing have sought thee”; and so held her peace;        90
And straight the vision fled. A female next
Appear’d before me, down whose visage coursed
Those waters, that grief forces out from one
By deep resentment stung, who seem’d to say:
‘If thou, Pisistratus, be lord indeed        95
Over this city, 3 named with such debate
Of adverse gods, and whence each science sparkles,
Avenge thee of those arms, whose bold embrace
Hath clasp’d our daughter”; and to her, meseem’d,
Benign and meek, with visage undisturb’d,        100
Her sovran spake: “How shall we those requite 4
Who wish us evil, if we thus condemn
The man that loves us?” After that I saw
A multitude, in fury burning, slay
With stones a stripling youth, 5 and shout amain        105
“Destroy, destroy”; and him I saw, who bow’d
Heavy with death unto the ground, yet made
His eyes, unfolded upward, gates to Heaven,
Praying forgiveness of the Almighty Sire,
Amidst that cruel conflict, on his foes,        110
With looks that win compassion to their aim.
  Soon as my spirit, from her airy flight
Returning, sought again the things whose truth
Depends not on her shaping, I observed
She had not roved to falsehood in her dreams.        115
  Meanwhile the leader, who might see I moved
As one who struggles to shake off his sleep,
Exclaim’d: “What ails thee, that thou canst not hold
Thy footing firm; but more than half a league
Hast travel’d with closed eyes and tottering gait,        120
Like to a man by wine or sleep o’ercharged?”
  “Beloved father! so thou deign,” said I,
“To listen, I will tell thee what appear’d
Before me, when so fail’d my sinking steps.”
  He thus: “Not if thy countenance were mask’d        125
With hundred vizards, could a thought of thine,
How small soe’er, elude me. What thou saw’st
Was shown, that freely thou mightst ope thy heart
To the waters of peace, that flow diffused
From their eternal fountain. I not ask’d,        130
What ails thee? for such cause as he doth, who
Looks only with that eye, which sees no more,
When spiritless the body lies; but ask’d,
To give fresh vigour to thy foot. Such goads,
The slow and loitering need; that they be found        135
Not wanting, when their hour of watch returns.”
  So on we journey’d, through the evening sky
Gazing intent, far onward as our eyes,
With level view, could stretch against the bright
Vespertine ray: and lo! by slow degrees        140
Gathering, a fog made towards us, dark as night.
There was no room for ’scaping; and that mist
Bereft us, both of sight and the pure air.
 
Note 1. “Blessed the merciful.” Matt. v. 7. [back]
Note 2. Guido del Duca, of Brettinoro. [back]
Note 3. “Over this city.” Athens, named after Minerva ([Greek]), in consequence of her having produced a more valuable gift for it in the olive than Neptune had done in the horse. [back]
Note 4. “How shall we those requite?” The answer of Pisistratus the tyrant to his wife, when she urged him to inflict the punishment of death on a young man, who, inflamed with love for his daughter, had snatched a kiss from her in public. [back]
Note 5. “A stripling youth.” The Protomartyr Stephen. [back]
 

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