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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XVIII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—Virgil discourses further concerning the nature of love. Then a multitude of spirits rush by; two of whom, in van of the rest, record instances of zeal and fervent affection, and another, who was Abbot of San Zeno in Verona, declares himself to Virgil and Dante; and lastly follow other spirits, shouting forth memorable examples of the sin for which they suffer. The Poet, pursuing his meditations, falls into a dreamy slumber.
 
 
THE TEACHER ended, and his high discourse
Concluding, earnest in my looks inquired
If I appear’d content; and I, whom still
Unsated thirst to hear him urged, was mute,
Mute outwardly, yet inwardly I said:        5
“Perchance my too much questioning offends.”
But he, true father, mark’d the secret wish
By diffidence restrain’d; and, speaking, gave
Me boldness thus to speak: “Master! my sight
Gathers so lively virtue from thy beams,        10
That all, thy words convey, distinct is seen.
Wherefore I pray thee, father, whom this heart
Holds dearest, thou wouldst deign by proof t’ unfold
That love, from which, as from their source, thou bring’st
All good deeds and their opposite.” He then:        15
“To what I now disclose be thy clear ken
Directed; and thou plainly shalt behold
How much those blind have err’d, who make themselves
The guides of men. The soul, created apt
To love, moves versatile which way soe’er        20
Aught pleasing prompts her, soon as she is waked
By pleasure into act. Of substance true
Your apprehension forms its counterfeit;
And, in you the ideal shape presenting,
Attracts the soul’s regard. If she, thus drawn,        25
Incline toward it; love is that inclining,
And a new nature knit by pleasure in ye.
Then, as the fire points up, and mounting seeks
His birth-place and his lasting seat, e’en thus
Enters the captive soul into desire,        30
Which is a spiritual motion, that ne’er rests
Before enjoyment of the thing it loves.
Enough to show thee, how the truth from those
Is hidden, who aver all love a thing
Praiseworthy in itself; although perhaps        35
Its matter seem still good. Yet if the wax
Be good, it follows not the impression must.”
  “What love is,” I return’d, “thy words, O guide!
And my own docile mind, reveal. Yet thence
New doubts have sprung. For, from without, if love        40
Be offered to us, and the spirit knows
No other footing; tend she right or wrong,
Is no desert of hers.” He answering thus:
“What reason here discovers, I have power
To show thee: that which lies beyond, expect        45
From Beatrice, faith not reason’s task.
Spirit, substantial form, with matter join’d,
Not in confusion mix’d, hath in itself
Specific virtue of that union born,
Which is not felt except it work, nor proved        50
But through effect, as vegetable life
By the green leaf. From whence his intellect
Deduced its primal notices of things,
Man therefore knows not, or his appetites
Their first affections; such in you, as zeal        55
In bees to gather honey; at the first,
Volition, meriting nor blame nor praise.
But o’er each lower faculty supreme,
That, as she list, are summon’d to her bar,
Ye have that virtue 1 in you, whose just voice        60
Uttereth counsel, and whose word should keep
The threshold of assent. Here is the source,
Whence cause of merit in you is derived;
E’en as the affections, good or ill, she takes,
Or severs, winnow’d as the chaff. Those men, 2        65
Who, reasoning, went to depth profoundest, mark’d
That innate freedom; and were thence induced
To leave their moral teaching to the world.
Grant then, that from necessity arise
All love that glows within you; to dismiss        70
Or harbour it, the power is in yourselves.
Remember, Beatrice, in her style,
Denominates free choice by eminence
The noble virtue; if in talk with thee
She touch upon that theme.” The moon, well nigh        75
To midnight hour belated, made the stars
Appear to wink and fade; and her broad disk
Seem’d like a crag on fire, as up the vault 3
That course she journey’d, which the sun then warms
When they of Rome behold him at his set        80
Betwixt Sardinia and the Corsic isle.
And now the weight, that hung upon my thought,
Was lighten’d by the aid of that clear spirit,
Who raiseth Andes 4 above Mantua’s name.
I therefore, when my questions had obtain’d        85
Solution plain and ample, stood as one
Musing in dreamy slumber; but not long
Slumber’d; for suddenly a multitude,
The steep already turning from behind,
Rush’d on. With fury and like random rout,        90
As echoing on their shores at midnight heard
Ismenus and Asopus, 5 for his Thebes
If Bacchus’ help were needed; so came these
Tumultuous, curving each his rapid step,
By eagerness impell’d of holy love.        95
  Soon they o’ertook us; with such swiftness moved
The mighty crowd. Two spirits at their head
Cried, weeping, “Blessed Mary 6 sought with haste
The hilly region. Cæsar, 7 to subdue
Ilerda, darted in Marseilles his sting,        100
And flew to Spain.”—“Oh, tarry not: away!”
The others shouted; “let not time be lost
Through slackness of affection. Hearty zeal
To serve reanimates celestial grace.”
  “O ye! in whom intenser fervency        105
Haply supplies, where lukewarm erst ye fail’d,
Slow or neglectful, to absolve your part
Of good and virtuous; this man, who yet lives,
(Credit my tale, though strange,) desires to ascend,
So morning rise to light us. Therefore say        110
Which hand leads nearest to the rifted rock.”
  So spake my guide; to whom a shade return’d:
“Come after us, and thou shalt find the cleft.
We may not linger: such resistless will
Speeds our unwearied course. Vouchsafe us then        115
Thy pardon, if our duty seem to thee
Discourteous rudeness. In Verona I
Was Abbot 8 of San Zeno, when the hand
Of Barbarossa grasp’d imperial sway,
That name ne’er utter’d without tears in Milan.        120
And there is he, 9 hath one foot in his grave,
Who for that monastery ere long shall weep,
Ruing his power misused: for that his son,
Of body ill compact, and worse in mind,
And born in evil, he hath set in place        125
Of its true pastor.” Whether more he spake,
Or here was mute, I know not: he had sped
E’en now so far beyond us. Yet thus much
I heard, and in remembrance treasured it.
  He then, who never fail’d me at my need,        130
Cried, “Hither turn. Lo! two with sharp remorse
Chiding their sin.” In rear of all the troop
These shouted: “First they died, 10 to whom the sea
Open’d, or ever Jordan saw his heirs:
And they, 11 who with Æneas to the end        135
Endured not suffering, for their portion chose
Life without glory.” Soon as they had fled
Past reach of sight, new thought within me rose
By others follow’d fast, and each unlike
Its fellow: till led on from thought to thought,        140
And pleasured with the fleeting train, mine eye
Was closed, and meditation changed to dream.
 
Note 1. “That virtue.” Reason. [back]
Note 2. “Those men.” The great moral philosophers among the heathen. [back]
Note 3. “Up the vault.” The moon passed with a motion opposite to that of the heavens, through the constellation of the Scorpion, in which the sun is, when to those who are in Rome he appears to set between the isles of Corsica and Sardinia. [back]
Note 4. “Andes.” Andes, now Pietola, made more famous than Mantua, near which it is situated, by having been the birthplace of Virgil. [back]
Note 5. “Ismenus and Asopus.” Rivers near Thebes. [back]
Note 6. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth.”—Luke i. 39. [back]
Note 7. Cæsar left Brutus to complete the siege of Marseilles, and hastened on to the attack of Afranius and Petreius, the generals of Pompey, at Ilerda (Lerida) in Spain. [back]
Note 8. Alberto, Abbot of San Zeno in Verona, when Frederick I was Emperor, by whom Milan was besieged and reduced to ashes, in 1162. [back]
Note 9. “There is he.” Alberto della Scala, Lord of Verona, who had made his natural son Abbot of San Zeno. [back]
Note 10. “First they died.” The Israelites, who on account of their disobedience died before reaching the promised land. [back]
Note 11. “And they.” Those Trojans, who wearied with their voyage, chose rather to remain in Sicily with Acestes than accompany Æneas to Italy. [back]
 

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