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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XXVI
 
 
ARGUMENT.—The spirits wonder at seeing the shadow cast by the body of Dante on the flame as he passes it. This moves one of them to address him. It proves to be Guido Guinicelli, the Italian poet, who points out to him the spirit of Arnault Daniel, the Provençal, with whom he also speaks.
 
 
WHILE singly thus along the rim we walk’d,
Oft the good master warn’d me: “Look thou
Avail it that I caution thee.” The sun [well.
Now all the western clime irradiate changed
From azure tinct to white; and, as I pass’d,        5
My passing shadow made the umber’d flame
Burn ruddier. At so strange a sight I mark’d
That many a spirit marvel’d on his way.
  This bred occasion first to speak of me.
“He seems,” said they, “no insubstantial frame:”        10
Then, to obtain what certainty they might,
Stretch’d tow’rd me, careful not to overpass
The burning pale. “O thou, who followest
The others, haply not more slow than they,
But moved by reverence; answer me, who burn        15
In thirst and fire: nor I alone, but these
All for thine answer do more thirst, than doth
Indian or Æthiop for the cooling stream.
Tell us, how is it that thou makest thyself
A wall against the sun, as thou not yet        20
Into the inextricable toils of death
Hadst enter’d?” Thus spake one; and I had straight
Declared me, if attention had not turn’d
To new appearance. Meeting these, there came,
Midway the burning path, a crowd, on whom        25
Earnestly gazing, from each part I view
The shadows all press forward, severally
Each snatch a hasty kiss, and then away.
E’en so the emmets, ’mid their dusky troops,
Peer closely one at other, to spy out        30
Their mutual road perchance, and how they thrive.
  That friendly greeting parted, ere despatch
Of the first onward step, from either tribe
Loud clamour rises: those, who newly come,
Shout “Sodom and Gomorrah!” these, “The cow        35
Pasiphaë enter’d, that the beast she woo’d
Might rush unto her luxury.” Then as cranes,
That part toward the Riphæan mountains fly,
Part toward the Lybic sands, these to avoid
The ice, and those the sun; so hasteth off        40
One crowd, advances the other; and resume
Their first song, weeping, and their several shout.
  Again drew near my side the very same,
Who had erewhile besought me; and their looks
Mark’d eagerness to listen. I, who twice        45
Their will had noted, spake: “O spirits! secure,
Whene’er the time may be, of peaceful end;
My limbs, nor crude, nor in mature old age,
Have I left yonder: here they bear me, fed
With blood, and sinew-strung. That I no more        50
May live in blindness, hence I tend aloft.
There is a Dame on high, who wins for us
This grace, by which my mortal through your realm
I bear. But may your utmost wish soon meet
Such full fruition, that the orb of heaven,        55
Fullest of love, and of most ample space,
Receive you; as ye tell (upon my page
Henceforth to stand recorded) who ye are;
And what this multitude, that at your backs
Have pass’d behind us.” As one, mountain-bred,        60
Rugged and clownish, if some city’s walls
He chance to enter, round him stares agape,
Confounded and struck dumb; e’en such appear’d
Each spirit. But when rid of that amaze,
(Not long the inmate of a noble heart,)        65
He, who before had question’d thus resumed:
“O blessed! who, for death preparing, takest
Experience of our limits, in thy bark;
Their crime, who not with us proceed, was that
For which, as he did triumph, Cæsar heard        70
The shout of ‘queen,’ to taunt him. Hence their cry
Of ‘Sodom,’ as they parted; to rebuke
Themselves, and aid the burning by their shame.
Our sinning was hermaphrodite: but we,
Because the law of human kind we broke,        75
Following like beasts our vile concupiscence,
Hence parting from them, to our own disgrace
Record the name of her, by whom the beast
In bestial tire was acted. Now our deeds
Thou know’st, and how we sinn’d. If thou by name        80
Wouldst haply know us, time permits not now
To tell so much, nor can I. Of myself
Learn what thou wishest. Guinicelli I;
Who having truly sorrow’d ere my last,
Already cleanse me.” With such pious joy,        85
As the two sons upon their mother gazed
From sad Lycurgus 1 rescued; such my joy
(Save that I more repress’d it) when I heard
From his own lips the name of him pronounced,
Who was a father to me, and to those        90
My betters, who have ever used the sweet
And pleasant rhymes of love. So naught I heard,
Nor spake; but long time thoughtfully I went,
Gazing on him; and, only for the fire,
Approached not nearer. When my eyes were fed        95
By looking on him; with such solemn pledge,
As forces credence, I devoted me
Unto his service wholly. In reply
He thus bespake me: “What from thee I hear
Is graved so deeply on my mind, the waves        100
Of Lethe shall not wash it off, nor make
A whit less lively. But as now thy oath
Has seal’d the truth, declare what cause impels
That love, which both thy looks and speech bewray.”
  “Those dulcet lays,” I answer’d; “which, as long        105
As of our tongue the beauty does not fade,
Shall make us love the very ink that traced them.”
  “Brother!” he cried, and pointed at the shade
Before him, “there is one, whose mother speech
Doth owe to him a fairer ornament.        110
He 2 in love ditties, and the tales of prose,
Without a rival stands; and lets the fools
Talk on, who think the songster of Limoges 3
O’ertops him. Rumour and the popular voice
They look to, more than truth; and so confirm        115
Opinion, ere by art or reason taught.
Thus many of the elder time cried up
Guittone, giving him the prize, till truth
By strength of numbers vanquish’d. If thou own
So ample privilege, as to have gain’d        120
Free entrance to the cloister, whereof Christ
Is Abbot of the college; say to him
One paternoster for me, far as needs
For dwellers in this world, where power to sin
No longer tempts us.” Haply to make way        125
For one that follow’d next, when that was said,
He vanish’d through the fire, as through the wave
A fish, that glances diving to the deep.
  I, to the spirit he had shown me, drew
A little onward, and besought his name,        130
For which my heart, I said, kept gracious room.
He frankly thus began: “Thy courtesy 4
So wins on me, I have nor power nor will
To hide me. I am Arnault; and with songs,
Sorely waymenting for my folly past,        135
Thorough this ford of fire I wade, and see
The day, I hope for, smiling in my view.
I pray ye by the worth that guides ye up
Unto the summit of the scale, in time
Remember ye my sufferings.” With such words        140
He disappear’d in the refining flame.
 
Note 1. Hypsipile had left her infant charge, the son of Lycurgus, on a bank, where it was destroyed by a serpent, when she went to show the Argive army the river of Langia; and on her escaping the effects of Lycurgus’ resentment, the joy her own children felt at the sight of her was such as our Poet felt on beholding his predecessor Guinicelli. [back]
Note 2. Dante and Petrarch place Arnault Daniel first among Provençal poets. [back]
Note 3. Giraud de Borneil, of Sideuil, a castle in Limoges. He was a Troubadour, much admired and caressed in his day, and appears to have been in favor with the monarchs of Castile, Leon, Navarre, and Arragon. [back]
Note 4. Arnault is here made to speak in his own tongue, the Provençal. [back]
 

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