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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XXVII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—An Angel sends them forward through the fire to the last ascent, which leads to the terrestrial Paradise, situated on the summit of the mountain. They have not proceeded many steps on their way upward, when the fall of night hinders them from going further; and our Poet, who has lain down with Virgil and Statius to rest, beholds in a dream two females, figuring the active and contemplative life. With the return of morning, they reach the height; and here Virgil gives Dante full liberty to use his own pleasure and judgment in the choice of his way, till he shall meet with Beatrice.
 
 
NOW was the sun 1 so station’d as when first
His early radiance quivers on the heights,
Where stream’d his Maker’s blood; while Libra hangs
Above Hesperian Ebro; and new fires,
Meridian, flash on Ganges’ yellow tide.        5
  So day was sinking, when the Angel of God
Appear’d before us. Joy was in his mien.
Forth of the flame he stood upon the brink;
And with a voice, whose lively clearness far
Surpass’d our human, “Blessed 2 are the pure        10
In heart,” he sang: then near him as we came,
“Go ye not further, holy spirits!” he cried,
“Ere the fire pierce you: enter in; and list
Attentive to the song ye hear from thence.”
  I, when I heard his saying, was as one        15
Laid in the grave. My hands together clasp’d,
And upward stretching, on the fire I look’d;
And busy fancy conjured up the forms
Erewhile beheld alive consumed in flames.
  The escorting spirits turn’d with gentle looks        20
Toward me; and the Mantuan spake: “My son,
Here torment thou mayst feel, but canst not death.
Remember thee, remember thee, if I
Safe e’en on Geryon brought thee; now I come
More near to God, wilt thou not trust me now?        25
Of this be sure; though in its womb that flame
A thousand years contain’d thee, from thy head
No hair should perish. If thou doubt my truth,
Approach; and with thy hand thy vesture’s hem
Stretch forth, and for thyself confirm belief.        30
Lay now all fear, oh! lay all fear aside.
Turn hither, and come onward undismay’d.”
  I still, though conscience urged, no step advanced.
  When still he saw me fix’d and obstinate.
Somewhat disturb’d he cried: “Mark now, my son,        35
From Beatrice thou art by this wall
Divided.” As at Thisbe’s name the eye
Of Pyramus was open’d, (when life ebb’d
Fast from his veins), and took one parting glance,
While vermeil dyed the mulberry; thus I turn’d        40
To my sage guide, relenting, when I heard
The name that springs forever in my breast.
  He shook his forehead; and, “How long,” he said,
“Linger we now?” then smiled, as one would smile
Upon a child that eyes the fruit and yields.        45
Into the fire before me then he walk’d;
And Statius, who erewhile no little space
Had parted us, he pray’d to come behind.
  I would have cast me into molten glass
To cool me, when I enter’d; so intense        50
Raged the conflagrant mass. The sire beloved,
To comfort me, as he proceeded, still
Of Beatrice talk’d. “Her eyes,” saith he,
“E’en now I seem to view.” From the other side
A voice, that sang, did guide us; and the voice        55
Following, with heedful ear, we issued forth,
There where the path led upward. “Come,” 3 we heard,
“Come, blessed of my Father.” Such the sounds,
That hail’d us from within a light, which shone
So radiant, I could not endure the view.        60
“The sun,” it added, “hastes: and evening comes.
Delay not: ere the western sky is hung
With blackness, strive ye for the pass.” Our way
Upright within the rock arose, and faced
Such part of heaven, that from before my steps        65
The beams were shrouded of the sinking sun.
  Nor many stairs were overpast, when now
By fading of the shadow we perceived
The sun behind us couch’d; and ere one face
Of darkness o’er its measureless expanse        70
Involved the horizon, and the night her lot
Held individual, each of us had made
A stair his pallet; not that will, but power,
Had fail’d us, by the nature of that mount
Forbidden further travel. As the goats,        75
That late have skipt and wanton’d rapidly
Upon the craggy cliffs, ere they had ta’en
Their supper on the herb, now silent lie
And ruminate beneath the umbrage brown,
While noon-day rages; and the goatherd leans        80
Upon his staff, and leaning watches them:
And as the swain, that lodges out all night
In quiet by his flock, lest beast of prey
Disperse them: even so all three abode,
I as a goat, and as the shepherds they,        85
Close pent on either side by shelving rock.
  A little glimpse of sky was seen above;
Yet by that little I beheld the stars,
In magnitude and lustre shining forth
With more than wonted glory. As I lay,        90
Gazing on them, and in that fit of musing
Sleep overcame me, sleep, that bringeth oft
Tidings of future hap. About the hour,
As I believe, when Venus from the east
First lighten’d on the mountain, she whose orb        95
Seems always glowing with the fire of love,
A lady young and beautiful, I dream’d,
Was passing o’er a lea; and, as she came,
Methought I saw her ever and anon
Bending to cull the flowers, and thus she sang:        100
“Know ye, whoever of my name would ask,
That I am Leah: 4 for my brow to weave
A garland, these fair hands unwearied ply.
To please me at the crystal mirror, here
I deck me. But my sister Rachel, she        105
Before her glass abides the livelong day,
Her radiant eyes beholding, charm’d no less,
Than I with this delightful task. Her joy
In contemplation, as in labour mine.”
  And now as glimmering dawn appear’d, that breaks        110
More welcome to the pilgrim still, as he
Sojourns less distant on his homeward way,
Darkness from all sides fled, and with it fled
My slumber; whence I rose, and saw my guide
Already risen. “That delicious fruit,        115
Which through so many a branch the zealous care
Of mortals roams in quest of, shall this day
Appease thy hunger.” Such the words I heard
From Virgil’s lip; and never greeting heard,
So pleasant as the sounds. Within me straight        120
Desire so grew upon desire to mount,
Thenceforward at each step I felt the wings
Increasing for my flight. When we had run
O’er all the ladder to its topmost round,
As there we stood, on me the Mantuan fix’d        125
His eyes, and thus he spake: “Both fires, my son,
The temporal and eternal, thou hast seen;
And art arrived, where of itself my ken
No further reaches. I, with skill and art,
Thus far have drawn thee. Now thy pleasure take        130
For guide. Thou hast o’ercome the steeper way,
O’ercome the straiter. Lo! the sun, that darts
His beam upon my forehead: lo! the herb,
The arboreta and flowers, which of itself
This land pours forth profuse. Till those bright eyes 5        135
With gladness come, which, weeping, made me haste
To succour thee, thou mayst or seat thee down,
Or wander where thou wilt. Expect no more
Sanction of warning voice or sign from me,
Free of thy own arbitrament to chose,        140
Discreet, judicious. To distrust thy sense
Were henceforth error. I invest thee then
With crown and mitre, sovereign o’er thyself.”
 
Note 1. “The sun,” At Jerusalem it was dawn, in Spain midnight, and in India noonday, in Purgatory sunset. [back]
Note 2. “Blessed.”—Matt. v. 8. [back]
Note 3. “Come.”—Matt. xxv. 34. [back]
Note 4. Leah, the active life; Rachel, the contemplative; Michael Angelo has used these allegorical personages on his monument of Julius II in the church of S. Pietro in Vincolo. [back]
Note 5. The eyes of Beatrice. [back]
 

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