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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XXXIII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—After a hymn sung, Beatrice leaves the tree, and takes with her the seven virgins, Matilda, Statius, and Dante. She then darkly predicts to our Poet some future events. Lastly, the whole band arrive at the fountain, from whence the two streams, Lethe and Eunoe, separating, flow different ways; and Matilda, at the desire of Beatrice, causes our Poet to drink of the latter stream.
 
 
“THE HEATHEN, 1 Lord! are come:” responsive thus,
The trinal now, and now the virgin band
Quaternion, their sweet psalmody began,
Weeping; and Beatrice listen’d, sad
And sighing, to the song, in such a mood,        5
That Mary, as she stood beside the Cross,
Was scarce more changed. But when they gave her place
To speak, then, risen upright on her feet,
She, with a colour glowing bright as fire,
Did answer: “Yet a little while, 2 and ye        10
Shall see me not; and, my beloved sisters!
Again a little while, and ye shall see me.”
  Before her then she marshal’d all the seven;
And, beckoning only, motion’d me, the dame,
And that remaining sage, 3 to follow her.        15
  So on she pass’d; and had not set, I ween,
Her tenth step to the ground, when, with mine eyes
Her eyes encountered; and, with visage mild,
“So mend thy pace,” she cried, “that if my words
Address thee, thou mayst still be aptly placed        20
To hear them.” Soon as duly to her side
I now had hasten’d: “Brother!” she began,
“Why makest thou no attempt at questioning,
As thus we walk together?” Like to those
Who, speaking with too reverent an awe        25
Before their betters, draw not forth the voice
Alive unto their lips, befell me then
That I in sounds imperfect thus began:
“Lady! what I have need of, that thou know’st;
And what will suit my need.” She answering thus:        30
“Of fearfulness and shame, I will that thou
Henceforth do rid thee; that thou speak no more,
As one who dreams. Thus far be taught of me:
The vessel which thou saw’st the serpent break,
Was, and is not: 4 let him, who hath the blame,        35
Hope not to scare God’s vengeance with a sop. 5
Without an heir forever shall not be
That eagle, 6 he, who left the chariot plumed,
Which monster made it first and next a prey.
Plainly I view, and therefore speak, the stars        40
E’en now approaching, whose conjunction, free
From all impediment and bar, brings on
A season, in the which, one sent from God,
(Five hundred, five, and ten, do mark him out,)
That foul one, and the accomplice of her guilt,        45
The giant, both, shall slay. And if perchance
My saying, dark as Themis or as Sphinx,
Fail to persuade thee, (since like them it foils
The intellect with blindness), yet ere long
Events shall be the Naiads, that will solve        50
This knotty riddle; and no damage light
On flock or field. Take heed; and as these words
By me are utter’d, teach them even so
To those who live that life, which is a race
To death: and when thou writest them, keep in mind        55
Not to conceal how thou hast seen the plant,
That twice 7 hath now been spoil’d. This whoso robs,
This whoso plucks, with blasphemy of deed
Sins against God, who for His use alone
Creating hallow’d it. For taste of this,        60
In pain and in desire, five thousand years
And upward, the first soul did yearn for him
Who punish’d in himself the fatal gust.
  “Thy reason slumbers, if it deem this height,
And summit thus inverted, of the plant,        65
Without due cause: and were not vainer thoughts,
As Elsa’s numbing waters, 8 to thy soul,
And their fond pleasures had not dyed it dark
As Pyramus the mulberry; thou hadst seen,
In such momentous circumstance alone,        70
God’s equal justice morally implied
In the forbidden tree. But since I mark thee,
In understanding, harden’d into stone,
And, to that hardness, spotted too and stain’d,
So that thine eye is dazzled at my word;        75
I will, that, if not written, yet at least
Painted thou take it in thee, for the cause,
That one brings home his staff inwreathed with palm.”
  I thus: “As wax by seal, that changeth not
Its impress, now is stamp’d my brain by thee.        80
But wherefore soars thy wish’d-for speech so high
Beyond my sight, that loses it the more,
The more it strains to reach it?”—“To the end
That thou mayst know,” she answer’d straight, “the school,
That thou hast follow’d; and how far behind,        85
When following my discourse, its learning halts:
And mayst behold your art, from the divine
As distant, as the disagreement is
’Twixt earth and Heaven’s most high and rapturous orb.”
  “I not remember,” I replied, “that e’er        90
I was estranged from thee; nor for such fault
Doth conscience chide me.” Smiling she return’d:
“If thou canst not remember, call to mind
How lately thou hast drunk of Lethe’s wave;
And, sure as smoke doth indicate a flame,        95
In that forgetfulness itself conclude
Blame from thy alienated will incurr’d.
From henceforth, verily, my words shall be
As naked, as will suit them to appear
In thy unpractised view.” More sparkling now,        100
And with retarded course, the sun possess’d
The circle of mid-day, that varies still
As the aspect varies of each several clime;
When, as one, sent in vaward of a troop
For escort, pauses, if perchance he spy        105
Vestige of somewhat strange and rare; so paused
The sevenfold band, arriving at the verge
Of a dun umbrage hoar, such as is seen,
Beneath green leaves and gloomy branches, oft
To overbrow a bleak and alpine cliff.        110
And, where they stood, before them, as it seem’d,
I, Tigris and Euphrates both, beheld
Forth from one fountain issue; and, like friends,
Linger at parting. “O enlightening beam!
O glory of our kind! beseech thee say        115
What water this, which, from one source derived,
Itself removes to distance from itself?”
  To such entreaty answer thus was made:
“Entreat Matilda, that she teach thee this.”
  And here, as one who clears himself of blame        120
Imputed, the fair dame return’d: “Of me
He this and more hath learnt; and I am safe
That Lethe’s water hath not hid it from him.”
  And Beatrice: “Some more pressing care,
That oft the memory ’reaves, perchance hath made        125
His mind’s eye dark. But lo, where Eunoe flows!
Lead thither; and, as thou art wont, revive
His fainting virtue.” As a courteous spirit,
That proffers no excuses, but as soon
As he hath token of another’s will,        130
Makes it his own; when she had ta’en me, thus
The lovely maiden moved her on, and call’d
To Statius, with an air most lady-like:
“Come thou with him.” Were further space allow’d,
Then, Reader! might I sing, though but in part,        135
That beverage, with whose sweetness I had ne’er
Been sated. But, since all the leaves are full,
Appointed for this second strain, mine art
With warning bridle checks me. I return’d
From the most holy wave, regenerate,        140
E’en as new plants renew’d with foliage new,
Pure and made apt for mounting to the stars.
 
Note 1. “The heathen.” “O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance.”—Psalm lxxix. 1. [back]
Note 2. “Yet a little while.” “A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again a little while, and ye shall see me.”—John xvi. 16. [back]
Note 3. “That remaining sage.” Statius. [back]
Note 4. “Was, and is not.” “The beast that was, and is not.”—Rev. xvii. 11. [back]
Note 5. “Hope not to scare God’s vengeance with a sop.” “Let not him who hath occasioned the destruction of the Church, that vessel which the serpent brake, hope to appease the anger of the Deity by any outward acts of religious, or rather superstitious, ceremony; such as was that, in our Poet’s time, performed by a murderer at Florence, who imagined himself secure from vengeance, if he ate a sop of bread in wine upon the grave of the person murdered, within the space of nine days.” [back]
Note 6. “That eagle.” He prognosticates that the Emperor of Germany will not always continue to submit to the usurpations of the Pope, and foretells the coming of Henry VII, Duke of Luxemburg, signified by the numerical figures DVX; or, as Lombardi supposes, of Can Grande della Scala, appointed the leader of the Ghibelline forces. [back]
Note 7. “Twice.” First by the eagle and next by the giant. [back]
Note 8. “Elsa’s numbing waters.” The Elsa, a little stream, which flows into the Arno about twenty miles below Florence, is said to possess a petrifying quality. [back]
 

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