The little vessel of my genius now hoists
Sail to course o’er gentler waters,
Leaving behind a sea so cruel;
And of that second kingdom now I sing
Wherein the human soul doth purge itself,
And become worthy to ascend to heaven.
The sweet colour of the oriental sapphire,
That gathered on the cloudless aspect
Of the sky, pure as far as the first sphere,
Restored delight unto mine eyes as soon
As I had issued forth from the dead air,
Which so afflicted sight and heart.
The beauteous planet, that to love incites,
Was making all the orient to smile,
Veiling the Fishes that escorted her.
When I withdrew my gaze from them,
And turned a little to the other pole,
Where the Wain had disappeared already,
I saw beside me an old man, alone,
Worthy of so much reverence in his look,
That no son owes his father more.
A long beard flecked with white he wore
In semblance like the tresses of his hair,
Of which a double strand fell on his breast.
And the rays of the four sacred stars did so adorn
His countenance with brightness, that it looked
To me as though the sun were shining on him.
“Who are you?” he said, parting those noble
Plumes, “O ye who, counter to the blind river,
Have fled away from the eternal prison?”
“Who led you? Or was a light to you,
Guiding you out of the night profound,
That ever darkens the infernal valley?
Have the laws of the abyss been broken?
Or has some new council changed in heaven
That being damned ye come unto my crags?”
Then did my Leader lay hold upon me,
And with his words, and with his hands and signs,
Made me do reverence on my knees and brow;
Then answered, saying: “I come not of myself;
A Lady did from Heaven descend, and at her prayers
Have I aided and accompanied this man.
But since it is thy will that more of our state
Be unfolded and told for what it truly is,
My wish cannot be to deny thee.
This man has never yet his last hour seen,
But by his folly was so near to it
That very little time had he to turn.
So unto him was I sent, as I said,
For rescue, and no other way was there
To go than this which I have taken.
I have shown him all the people of perdition,
And now those spirits I intend to show him
Who have purged themselves beneath thy care.
How I conducted him would be too long to tell.
Virtue descending from on high did aid me here
To lead him, to behold thee and to listen.
Now may it please thee to vouchsafe his coming;
He seeketh Liberty, which dearest is to him
Who knowingly didst cast aside his life for her.
Thou know’st it; since death did not taste bitter to thee
For her sake in Utica, where thou didst leave the
Vesture that will shine so brightly, the great day.
By us the eternal edicts thus have not been broken;
Since this one lives, and Minos binds me not;
But of that circle am I, where the chaste eyes
Of thy Marcia gaze, who raising them still prays
To thy oh! holy heart, to hold her as thine own;
For her love, then, incline thyself to us.
Permit us through thy sevenfold realm to go;
I will take back this grace from thee to her,
If thou deignest to be mentioned there below.”
Then “Marcia was so pleasing to mine eyes,”
Said he, “while I was on the other side,
That every grace she wished of me I granted;
Now that she dwells beyond the evil river,
She can no longer move me, by that law
Made when I issued forth from there.
But no flattery is needed; if, as thou sayest,
A Lady of Heaven doth move and direct thee;
Let it suffice that for her sake thou ask me.
Go, then, and see thou gird a smooth rush
Round this man; bathe thou his face,
That all foul stain be cleansed away therefrom,
For ’twere not befitting, with an eye o’ercast
By darkling mist, to go before the first
Angelic ministers of those in Paradise.
This little island nurtures rushes, down there,
Yonder, below the place where billows beat
Upon the soft mud round its base;
No other plant that puts forth leaf there,
Or that stiffens stem, can sustain life,
Because these yield not to the blows.
Thereafter your return be not this way;
The sun, which now is rising, will direct you
Where to take the mount by easier ascent.”
With this he vanished; and I rose to my feet
Without a word, and drawing closer
To my Guide, turned my gaze on him.
And he began: “Son, follow thou my steps;
Let us turn back, for the plain slopes down
On this side towards its lower shore.”
Dawn was extinguishing the matin hour
Which fled before it, so that from afar
I recognised the tremour of the sea.
Along the solitary plain we went, like such
As seek to find a lost road and return,
And till they find it, seem to go in vain.
As soon as we were come to the place where
Dew contends with sun, and being partly
In the shade, evaporates but little,
In gentle manner did my Master place
Both hands upon the grass outspread
Whence I, perceiving his intent,
Did lift my tear-stained face to him;
And there did he make wholly visible
The true hue Hell in me had hidden.
We came then down to the deserted shore, which
Never yet saw one to navigate its waters
Who afterwards experienced his return.
There he begirt me as the other pleased;
O marvellous! for even as he plucked
The humble plant, it suddenly sprang up
Again, replaced where he uprooted it.
Already had the sun reached the horizon
Whose meridian circle covers up
Jerusalem, at its high zenith,
And night that revolves opposite was issuing
Forth from Ganges with the Scales that fall
From her hand when the days shorten;
From where I was, I could already see the white
And rosy cheeks of beautiful Aurora,
Growing orange from her too great age.
We still were on the border of the sea,
Like people who are thinking of their road,
Who go in heart and with the body stay;
When lo! just as upon approach of morning,
Through the heavy mists Mars grows a fiery red
Down in the West, upon the ocean floor,
There appeared to me — again may I behold it! —
A light so swiftly drawing near along the sea,
That no winged flight could equal such a motion;
For when I had withdrawn my eyes from it a space
That I might question my Conductor, I saw
It had grown even greater, even brighter.
Then on each side of it appeared to me
I know not what of white, and little by little
Underneath emerged another whiteness.
My Master had uttered no word yet, even when
The first whiteness unfolded into wings;
But when he clearly recognised the pilot,
He cried: “Make haste, make haste! Bow low and bend the knee!
Behold the Angel of God! Clasp close thy hands!
Thou shalt see ministers like this from now!
See how he distains all human means,
Needing no oar, nor any sail but his own
Wings, between such distant shores.
See how he points them up to heaven,
Fanning the air with those eternal plumes,
That do not moult like mortal ones!”
Then as the Bird Divine drew near, and ever nearer
To us, ever more bright did he appear so that
Mine eyes could not sustain him close,
So down I lowered them, even as he came to shore
In a small vessel, very swift and light,
That barely skimmed the surface of the water.
Upon the stern of it stood the Celestial Steersman,
With beatitude inscribed upon his features,
And more than a hundred spirits sat within.
“In exitu Israel de Aegypto!”
They chanted all in unison, and after
Did continue, according to the psalm.
Then he made the sign of the sacred cross to them,
Whereat they cast themselves upon the shore,
And he departed even as speedily as he had come.
The throng of souls left standing there seemed
Unfamiliar with the place, and stared around
Like those who do experience something new.
The sun with his resplendent shafts had chased
Away from the mid-heavens Capricorn, and
The day’s rays were darting forth on every side,
When the new people raised their faces
Towards us, crying: “If you know it, show
Us the way to go up the mountain.”
And Virgil answered: “Ye think, perhaps,
That we have knowledge of this place,
But we are strangers like yourselves.
Just now we came, a little while before you,
By another route that was so rough and steep,
That any further climb will seem like sport to us.”
The souls who saw me drawing breath,
Become aware that I was still alive,
And blanched in their astonishment;
And as a crowd that presses round a messenger
To hear news of the olive branch he bears,
Careless of being trampled by each other,
So at the sight of me these fortunate ones gaped
Motionless, the entire company oblivious,
Of going on their way to be more blessed.
One from among them I did see come forward,
As if to embrace me, and with such great
Affection that I was moved to do the like.
O empty shadows, save in seeming! Three times
Did my arms clasp around him, and as oft
Did my hands return back on my breast!
I flushed in bewilderment and then grew pale,
Whereat the shadow smiled and backward drew;
While I, pursuing, eagerly pressed forward.
Then, at a gentle word that I should stay my steps
I knew for certain who it was, and did entreat
Him please to stop awhile to speak with me.
And he to me: “No outrage hath been done,
If he who takes both whom and when he pleases
Hath here denied me passage many times,
For his will is replete with righteousness. In truth,
He has for three months past been taking
Whosoever wished to enter in all peace;
So I, who had been on that shore where
Tiber’s stream turns to salt water,
Was received by him with every kindness.
And to that outlet hath he now winged course
Because the ones who can’t descend towards
Acheron, assemble there forever more.”
And I: “If some new rule hath not erased
Thy memory or skill in rendering that love song,
That was wont to calm all my desires,
May it please thee to comfort and console
My soul a while, that in coming here
With its own body suffers such distress?”
“Love, that within my mind discourses with me,”
Forthwith he began to sing, so sweetly
That its sweetness still resounds within me.
My Master, and myself, and all that folk
That round him flocked felt so gratified
To listen that we thought about naught else.
We were all standing motionless, attentive to his notes,
When lo! the grave old man appeared again
Exclaiming: “What, you lazy spirits? What is this?
What negligence, what idling about is this? Run
To the mountain, strip the scales from off your eyes,
That doth prevent you from seeing God manifest.”
Even as doves, when gathered round the grain
Or corn, feed quietly together, pecking
At their food without accustomed pride,
And then upon a sudden, should aught occur
To frighten them, abandon what they eat
Because a greater care assails them;
So did I see that company, freshly come,
The song relinquish, and scatter to the hills,
Like those that go but know not whither;
Nor was our own departure any slower.
Although their sudden flight had sent them
Running all across the plain, I turned towards
The mount where reason spurs us on,
Always keeping close unto my faithful comrade,
For how without him could I ever keep my course?
Who but he would guide me up that mountain?
And yet it seemed to me he did reproach himself;
O noble conscience, pure without a stain,
How sharp a sting a trivial fault is to thee!
After his feet had gradually slowed the pace
Which mars the dignity of every act,
My mind, that had been inwardly confined,
Widened its attention outwards, eagerly,
And I directed my sight upward to the peak
That highest tow’rds the sky did rise.
The sun, that was a flaming red behind us,
Cast a shape on the ground before me
Of my self, which blocked its rays;
And at the sight of that dark shadow,
Lying at my feet alone, I turned
To one side dreading abandonment.
“Why dost thou still mistrust?” my Comforter
Began, turning round to face me. “Dost thou
Not know I am thy constant guide?
’Tis evening there already, where lies buried
That body within which I once cast shadow;
It’s been taken from Brundusium; Naples has it.
If no shadow any longer fall before me now,
Marvel at it not more than at the heavens,
Where one ray of light doth not impede another.
That Power by whose will its works be not unveiled
To us, provides that bodies such as these
Must suffer torments, both of cold and heat.
He is a fool who would surmise that reason
Can traverse that infinite path on which
One Substance in three Persons walks!
Mortals, remain content with asking ‘Quia;’
For if ye had been able to see all, no need
Would there have been for Mary to give birth;
And what ye have seen is that fruitless longing,
Granted as eternal grief to those who long
For their desires to be quenched at last.
I speak of Aristotle and of Plato, and of
Many others;” — here bowed he his head,
And no more said, but remained troubled.
Meanwhile unto the mountain’s foot we reached
Where so precipitous we found the cliff that
Even limbs of the nimblest had been vain.
The most desolate and solitary track, between
Turbia and Lerici would have seemed
An easy open stairway by comparison.
My Master, halting then began, “Now who can tell us
Where this cliff slopes down a little, so that
Even those without wings may mount?”
While he kept fixed eyes to the ground,
Musing about the nature of the path,
I turned my gaze up towards the rocks,
And on the left I saw a throng of souls appear
Whose feet moved towards us, but who
Came so slowly they seemed not to move at all.
“Raise thine eyes,” I to the Master said. “Behold!
On this side some come who may give us counsel,
If thou of thine own self canst have it not.”
He looked at them, relieved, and with an air of joy
Replied: “Let us go towards them, and confirm
Thy hopes, sweet son, for they come slowly,”
And Virgil began: “O spirits that have here attained,
A good end, O happy ones already chosen,
By that peace which I believe you all await,
Tell us upon which side the mountain slopes,
So that we may be able thus to climb, for
Lost time irks him most who most would know.”
As sheep come issuing forth from out the fold
By ones and twos and threes, while the others
Stand back timidly, with eyes and noses down,
And what the foremost does the others do,
Huddling themselves against her, if she stop,
Simple and quiet and questioning not;
So thereupon, I saw beginning to approach us
The leader of that fortunate flock,
Modest in face and dignified in gait.
As soon as those in front saw that the light was
Shadowed on the ground to my right side,
And had lengthened to the cliff’s very foot
They stopped, and backward drew somewhat;
And all the others, following after them,
Not knowing why or wherefore, did the same.
“Without your asking,” Virgil said, “let me confess
That this indeed a human body is which you do see,
And therefore is the sunshine cleft upon the ground.
But marvel not thereat, and be persuaded yet
That only through Heaven’s power derived
Would he endeavour to surmount this wall.”
After the Master spoke, these worthy people
Signalled with the backs of their hands
Saying “Turn there then, and go before us,”
And one of them called out: “Whoe’er thou art,
Before you go, turn thine eyes here, consider
Well if e’er thou saw me in the other world.”
I turned me tow’rds him, and looked closely;
Blond he was and beautiful, of noble mien,
But one eyebrow was split by a heavy blow.
When with humility I disclaimed of ever having
Seen him, he said “Now do thou behold!”
And showed high on his breast another wound.
Then with a smile he added: “I Manfredi
Am, the grandson of the Empress Constance;
Therefore, on thy return, I do beseech thee
Go to my lovely daughter Constanza, mother
Of Sicily’s honour and of Aragon’s,
And tell her this truth, whatever else be told.
After my body had been pierced by
These two mortal stabs, I gave myself up
Weeping unto Him, who willingly doth pardon.
Horrible had been my iniquities; but
Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms,
That she receives whoever turns to her.
If the Bishop of Cosenza, who by Clement
Had been sent to hunt me down, had
Read the page of God aright
The bones of my dead body would still be
At the bridge-head, near to Benevento,
Under the safeguard of the heavy cairn.
Now the rain bathes and the wind moves them
Far beyond the realm, by the River Verde,
Where he transported them with tapers quenched.
But this curse of theirs has not so killed
Eternal Love, that it cannot return,
So long as hope has anything of green.
True is it, that he who dies disobedient
To Holy Church, though penitent at last,
Must on the outer side of this bank wait
For thirty times the duration of his life
Of insolence, unless such decree
Be shortened by prayers of the righteous.
See now if thou hast power to make me happy,
By telling good and beautiful Costanza
How thou hast seen me, and of this ban besides,
For those on earth can much advance us here.”