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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XXI
 
 
ARGUMENT.—The two Poets are overtaken by the spirit of Statius, who, being cleansed, is on his way to Paradise, and who explains the cause of the mountain shaking, and of the hymn; his joy at beholding Virgil.
 
 
THE NATURAL thirst, ne’er quench’d but from the well 1
Whereof the woman of Samaria craved,
Excited; haste, along the cumber’d path,
After my guide, impell’d; and pity moved
My bosom for the ’vengeful doom though just.        5
When lo! even as Luke 2 relates, that Christ
Appear’d unto the two upon their way,
New-risen from His vaulted grave; to us
A shade appear’d, and after us approach’d,
Contemplating the crowd beneath its feet.        10
We were not ware of it; so first it spake,
Saying, “God give you peace, my brethren!” then
Sudden we turn’d: and Virgil such salute,
As fitted that kind greeting, gave; and cried:
“Peace in the blessed council be thy lot,        15
Awarded by that righteous court which me
To everlasting banishment exiles.”
  “How!” he exclaim’d, nor from his speed meanwhile
Desisting; “If that ye be spirits whom God
Vouchsafes not room above; who up the height        20
Has been thus far your guide?” To whom the bard:
“If thou observe the tokens, 3 which this man,
Traced by the finger of the Angel, bears;
’Tis plain that in the kingdom of the just
He needs must share. But sithence she, 4 whose wheel        25
Spins day and night, for him not yet had drawn
That yarn, which on the fatal distaff piled,
Clotho apportions to each wight that breathes;
His soul, that sister is to mine and thine,
Not of herself could mount; for not like ours        30
Her ken: whence I, from forth the ample gulf
Of Hell, was ta’en, to lead him, and will lead
Far as my lore avails. But, if thou know,
Instruct us for what cause, the mount erewhile
Thus shook, and trembled: wherefore all at once        35
Seem’d shouting, even from his wave-wash’d foot.”
  That questioning so tallied with my wish,
The thirst did feel abatement of its edge
E’en from expectance. He forthwith replied:
“In its devotion, nought irregular        40
This mount can witness, or by punctual rule
Unsanction’d; here from every change exempt,
Other than that, which Heaven in itself
Doth of itself receive, no influence
Can reach us. Tempest none, shower, hail, or snow,        45
Hoar frost, or dewy moistness, higher falls
Than that brief scale of threefold steps: thick clouds,
Nor scudding rack, are ever seen: swift glance
Ne’er lightens; nor Thaumantian Iris gleams,
That yonder often shifts on each side Heaven.        50
Vapour adust doth never mount above
The highest of the trinal stairs, whereon
Peter’s vicegerent stands. Lower perchance,
With various motion rock’d, trembles the soil:
But here, through wind in earth’s deep hollow pent,        55
I know not how, yet never trembled: then
Trembles, when any spirit feels itself
So purified, that it may rise, or move
For rising; and such loud acclaim ensues.
Purification, by the will alone,        60
Is proved, that free to change society
Seizes the soul rejoicing in her will.
Desire of bliss is present from the first;
But strong propension hinders, to that wish
By the just ordinance of Heaven opposed;        65
Propension now as eager to fulfill
The allotted torment, as erewhile to sin.
And I, who in this punishment had lain
Five hundred years and more, but now have felt
Free wish for happier clime. Therefore thou felt’st        70
The mountain tremble; and the spirits devout
Heard’st, over all his limits, utter praise
To that liege Lord, whom I entreat their joy
To hasten.” Thus he spake: and, since the draught
Is grateful ever as the thirst is keen,        75
No words may speak my fullness of content.
  “Now,” said the instructor sage, “I see the net
That takes ye here; and how the toils are loosed;
Why rocks the mountain, and why ye rejoice.
Vouchsafe, that from thy lips I next may learn        80
Who on the earth thou wast; and wherefore here,
So many an age, wert prostrate.”—“In that time,
When the good Titus, 5 with Heaven’s King to help,
Avenged those piteous gashes, whence the blood
By Judas sold did issue; with the name 6        85
Most lasting and most honor’d, there, was I
Abundantly renown’d,” the shade replied,
“Nor yet with faith endued. So passing sweet
My vocal spirit; from Tolosa, Rome
To herself drew me, where I merited        90
A myrtle garland to inwreathe my brow.
Statius they name me still. Of Thebes I sang,
And next of great Achilles; but i’ the way
Fell with the second burden. Of my flame
Those sparkles were the seeds, which I derived        95
From the bright fountain of celestial fire
That feeds unnumber’d lamps; the song I mean
Which sounds Æneas’ wanderings: that the breast
I hung at; that the nurse, from whom my veins
Drank inspiration: whose authority        100
Was ever sacred with me. To have lived
Coeval with the Mantuan, I would bide
The revolution of another sun
Beyond my stated years in banishment.”
  The Mantuan, when he heard him, turn’d to me;        105
And holding silence, by his countenance
Enjoin’d me silence: but the power, which wills,
Bears not supreme control: laughter and tears
Follow so closely on the passion prompts them,
They wait not for the motions of the will        110
In natures most sincere. I did but smile,
As one who winks; and thereupon the shade
Broke off, and peer’d into mine eyes, where best
Our looks interpret. “So to good event
Mayst thou conduct such great emprise,” he cried,        115
“Say, why across thy visage beam’d, but now,
The lightning of a smile.” On either part
Now am I straiten’d; one conjures me speak,
The other to silence binds me: whence a sigh
I utter, and the sigh is heard. “Speak on,”        120
The teacher cried: “and do not fear to speak;
But tell him what so earnestly he asks.”
Whereon I thus: “Perchance, O ancient spirit!
Thou marvel’st at my smiling. There is room
For yet more wonder. He, who guides my ken        125
On high, he is that Mantuan, led by whom
Thou didst presume of men and gods to sing.
If other cause thou deem’dst for which I smiled,
Leave it as not the true one: and believe
Those words, thou spakest of him, indeed the cause.”        130
  Now down he bent to embrace my teacher’s feet;
But he forbade him: “Brother! do it not:
Thou art a shadow, and behold’st a shade.”
He, rising, answer’d thus: “Now hast thou proved
The force and ardour of the love I bear thee,        135
When I forget we are but things of air,
And, as a substance, treat an empty shade.”
 
Note 1. “The well.” “The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not.”—John, iv. 15. [back]
Note 2. “Luke.” Chapter xxiv. 13. [back]
Note 3. “The tokens.” The letter P for Peccata, sins, inscribed upon his forehead by the Angel, in order to his being cleared of them in his passage through Purgatory to Paradise. [back]
Note 4. “She.” Lachesis, one of the three fates. [back]
Note 5. “When the good Titus.” When it was so ordered by the divine Providence that Titus, by the destruction of Jerusalem, should avenge the death of our Saviour on the Jews. [back]
Note 6. “The name.” The name of Poet. [back]
 

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