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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XXXI
 
 
ARGUMENT.—Beatrice continues her reprehension of Dante, who confesses his error, and falls to the ground; coming to himself again, he is by Matilda drawn through the waters of Lethe, and presented first to the four virgins who figure the cardinal virtues; these in their turn lead him to the Gryphon, a symbol of our Saviour; and the three virgins, representing the evangelical virtues, intercede for him with Beatrice, that she would display to him her second beauty.
 
 
“O THOU!” her words she thus without delay
Resuming, turn’d their point on me, to whom
They, with but lateral edge, seem’d harsh before:
“Say thou, who stand’st beyond the holy stream,
If this be true. A charge, so grievous, needs        5
Thine own avowal.” On my faculty
Such strange amazement hung, the voice expired
Imperfect, ere its organs gave it birth.
  A little space refraining, then she spake:
“What dost thou muse on? Answer me. The wave        10
On thy remembrances of evil yet
Hath done no injury.” A mingled sense
Of fear and of confusion, from my lips
Did such a “Yea” produce, as needed help
Of vision to interpret. As when breaks,        15
In act to be discharged, a cross-bow bent
Beyond its pitch, both nerve and bow o’erstretch’d;
The flagging weapon feebly hits the mark:
Thus, tears and sighs forth gushing, did I burst,
Beneath the heavy load: and thus my voice        20
Was slacken’d on its way. She straight began:
“When my desire invited thee to love
The good, which sets a bound to our aspirings;
What bar of thwarting foss or linked chain
Did meet thee, that thou so shouldst quit the hope        25
Of further progress? or what bait of ease,
Or promise of allurement, led thee on
Elsewhere, that thou elsewhere shouldst rather wait?”
  A bitter sigh I drew, then scarce found voice
To answer; hardly to these sounds my lips        30
Gave utterance, wailing: “Thy fair looks withdrawn,
Things present, with deceitful pleasures, turn’d
My steps aside.” She answering spake: “Hadst thou
Been silent, or denied what thou avow’st,
Thou hadst not hid thy sin the more; such eye        35
Observes it. But whene’er the sinner’s cheek
Breaks forth into the precious-streaming tears
Of self-accusing, in our court the wheel
Of justice doth run counter to the edge. 1
Howe’er, that thou mayst profit by thy shame        40
For errors past, and that henceforth more strength
May arm thee, when thou hear’st the Syren-voice;
Lay thou aside the motive to this grief,
And lend attentive ear, while I unfold
How opposite a way my buried flesh        45
Should have impell’d thee. Never didst thou spy,
In art or nature, aught so passing sweet,
As were the limbs that in their beauteous frame
Enclosed me, and are scatter’d now in dust.
If sweetest thing thus fail’d thee with my death,        50
What, afterward, of moral, should thy wish
Have tempted? When thou first hadst felt the dart
Of perishable things, in my departing
For better realms, thy wing thou shouldst have pruned
To follow me; and never stoop’d again,        55
To ’bide a second blow, for a slight girl, 2
Or other gaud as transient and as vain.
The new and inexperienced bird 3 awaits,
Twice it may be, or thrice, the fowler’s aim;
But in the sight of one whose plumes are full,        60
In vain the net is spread, the arrow wing’d.”
  I stood, as children silent and ashamed
Stand, listening, with their eyes upon the earth,
Acknowledging their fault, and self-condemn’d.
And she resumed: “If, but to hear, thus pains thee,        65
Raise thou thy beard, and lo! what sight shall do.”
  With less reluctance yields a sturdy holm,
Rent from its fibres by a blast, that blows
From off the pole, or from Iarbas’ land, 4
Than I at her behest my visage raised:        70
And thus the face denoting by the beard,
I mark’d the secret sting her words convey’d.
  No sooner lifted I mine aspect up,
Than I perceived those primal creatures cease
Their flowery sprinkling; and mine eyes beheld        75
(Yet unassured and wavering in their view)
Beatrice; she, who toward the mystic shape,
That joins two natures in one form, had turn’d:
And, even under shadow of her veil,
And parted by the verdant rill that flow’d        80
Between, in loveliness she seem’d as much
Her former self surpassing, as on earth
All others she surpass’d. Remorseful goads
Shot sudden through me. Each thing else, the more
Its love had late beguiled me, now the more        85
Was loathsome. On my heart so keenly smote
The bitter consciousness, that on the ground
O’erpower’d I fell: and what my state was then,
She knows, who was the cause. When now my strength
Flow’d back, returning outward from the heart,        90
The lady, 5 whom alone I first had seen,
I found above me. “Loose me not,” she cried:
“Loose not thy hold:” and lo! had dragg’d me high
As to my neck into the stream; while she,
Still as she drew me after, swept along,        95
Swift as a shuttle, bounding o’er the wave.
  The blessed shore approaching, then was heard
So sweetly, “Tu asperges me,” that I
May not remember, much less tell the sound.
  The beauteous dame, her arms expanding, clasp’d        100
My temples, and immerged me where ’twas fit
The wave should drench me: and, thence raising up,
Within the fourfold dance of lovely nymphs
Presented me so laved; and with their arm
They each did cover me. “Here are we nymphs,        105
  And in the heaven are stars. Or ever earth
Was visited of Beatrice, we,
Appointed for her handmaids, tended on her.
We to her eyes will lead thee: but the light
Of gladness, that is in them, well to scan,        110
Those yonder three, of deeper ken than ours,
Thy sight shall quicken.” Thus began their song:
And then they led me to the Gryphon’s breast,
Where, turn’d toward us, Beatrice stood.
“Spare not thy vision. We have station’d thee        115
Before the emeralds, whence love, erewhile,
Hath drawn his weapons on thee.” As they spake,
A thousand fervent wishes riveted
Mine eyes upon her beaming eyes, that stood,
Still fix’d toward the Gryphon, motionless.        120
As the sun strikes a mirror, even thus
Within those orbs the twofold being shone;
Forever varying, in one figure now
Reflected, now in other. Reader! muse
How wondrous in my sight it seem’d, to mark        125
A thing, albeit steadfast in itself,
Yet in its imaged semblance mutable.
  Full of amaze, and joyous, while my soul
Fed on the viand, whereof still desire
Grows with satiety; the other three,        130
With gesture that declared a loftier line,
Advanced: to their own carol, on they came
Dancing, in festive ring angelical.
  “Turn, Beatrice!” was their song: “Oh! turn
Thy saintly sight on this thy faithful one,        135
Who, to behold thee, many a wearisome pace
Hath measured. Gracious at our prayer, vouchsafe
Unveiled to him thy cheeks; that he may mark
Thy second beauty, now conceal’d.” O splendour!
O sacred light eternal! who is he,        140
So pale with musing in Pierian shades,
Or with that fount so lavishly imbued,
Whose spirit should not fail him in the essay
To represent thee such as thou didst seem,
When under cope of the still-chiming Heaven        145
Thou gavest to open air thy charms reveal’d?
 
Note 1. “The weapons of divine justice are blunted by the confession and sorrow of the offender.” [back]
Note 2. “For a slight girl.” Daniello and Venturi say that this alludes to Gentucca of Lucca, mentioned in the twenty-fourth Canto. [back]
Note 3. “Bird.” “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.”—Prov. i. 17. [back]
Note 4. “From Iarbas’ land.” The south. [back]
Note 5. “The lady.” Matilda. [back]
 

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