Purgatorio: Canto X
When we had crossed
the threshold of the door
the perverted love of souls disuses,
Because it makes the crooked way seem straight,
Re-echoing I heard
it closed again;
if I had turned back mine eyes upon it,
What for my failing had been fit excuse?
We mounted upward
through a rifted rock,
undulated to this side and that,
Even as a wave receding and advancing.
"Here it behoves us
use a little art,"
my Leader, "to adapt ourselves
Now here, now there, to the receding side."
And this our
footsteps so infrequent made,
sooner had the moon's decreasing disk
Regained its bed to sink again to rest,
Than we were forth
from out that needle's eye;
when we free and in the open were,
There where the mountain backward piles itself,
I wearied out, and
both of us uncertain
our way, we stopped upon a plain
More desolate than roads across the deserts.
From where its
margin borders on the void,
foot of the high bank that ever rises,
A human body three times told would measure;
And far as eye of
mine could wing its flight,
on the left, and on the right flank now,
The same this cornice did appear to me.
Thereon our feet
had not been moved as yet,
I perceived the embankment round about,
Which all right of ascent had interdicted,
To be of marble
white, and so adorned
sculptures, that not only Polycletus,
But Nature's self, had there been put to shame.
The Angel, who came
down to earth with tidings
peace, that had been wept for many a year,
And opened Heaven from its long interdict,
In front of us
appeared so truthfully
sculptured in a gracious attitude,
He did not seem an image that is silent.
One would have
sworn that he was saying, "Ave;"
she was there in effigy portrayed
Who turned the key to ope the exalted love,
And in her mien
this language had impressed,
ancilla Dei," as distinctly
As any figure stamps itself in wax.
"Keep not thy mind
upon one place alone,"
gentle Master said, who had me standing
Upon that side where people have their hearts;
Whereat I moved
mine eyes, and I beheld
rear of Mary, and upon that side
Where he was standing who conducted me,
Another story on
the rock imposed;
I passed Virgilius and drew near,
So that before mine eyes it might be set.
There sculptured in
the self-same marble were
cart and oxen, drawing the holy ark,
Wherefore one dreads an office not appointed.
People appeared in
front, and all of them
seven choirs divided, of two senses
Made one say "No," the other, "Yes, they sing."
Likewise unto the
smoke of the frankincense,
there was imaged forth, the eyes and nose
Were in the yes and no discordant made.
Preceded there the
with girded loins, the humble Psalmist,
And more and less than King was he in this.
represented at the window
a great palace, Michal looked upon him,
Even as a woman scornful and afflicted.
I moved my feet
from where I had been standing,
examine near at hand another story,
Which after Michal glimmered white upon me.
There the high
glory of the Roman Prince
chronicled, whose great beneficence
Moved Gregory to his great victory;
'Tis of the Emperor
Trajan I am speaking;
a poor widow at his bridle stood,
In attitude of weeping and of grief.
Around about him
seemed it thronged and full
cavaliers, and the eagles in the gold
Above them visibly in the wind were moving.
The wretched woman
in the midst of these
to be saying: "Give me vengeance, Lord,
For my dead son, for whom my heart is breaking."
And he to answer
her: "Now wait until
shall return." And she: "My Lord," like one
In whom grief is impatient, "shouldst thou not
Return?" And he:
"Who shall be where I am
give it thee." And she: "Good deed of others
What boots it thee, if thou neglect thine own?"
Whence he: "Now
comfort thee, for it behoves me
I discharge my duty ere I move;
Justice so wills, and pity doth retain me."
He who on no new
thing has ever looked
the creator of this visible language,
Novel to us, for here it is not found.
While I delighted
me in contemplating
images of such humility,
And dear to look on for their Maker's sake,
"Behold, upon this
side, but rare they make
steps," the Poet murmured, "many people;
These will direct us to the lofty stairs."
Mine eyes, that in
beholding were intent
see new things, of which they curious are,
In turning round towards him were not slow.
But still I wish
not, Reader, thou shouldst swerve
thy good purposes, because thou hearest
How God ordaineth that the debt be paid;
Attend not to the
fashion of the torment,
of what follows; think that at the worst
It cannot reach beyond the mighty sentence.
"Master," began I,
"that which I behold
towards us seems to me not persons,
And what I know not, so in sight I waver."
And he to me: "The
this their torment bows them so to earth,
That my own eyes at first contended with it;
But look there
fixedly, and disentangle
sight what cometh underneath those stones;
Already canst thou see how each is stricken."
O ye proud
Christians! wretched, weary ones!
in the vision of the mind infirm
Confidence have in your backsliding steps,
Do ye not
comprehend that we are worms,
to bring forth the angelic butterfly
That flieth unto judgment without screen?
Why floats aloft
your spirit high in air?
are ye unto insects undeveloped,
Even as the worm in whom formation fails!
As to sustain a
ceiling or a roof,
place of corbel, oftentimes a figure
Is seen to join its knees unto its breast,
Which makes of the
unreal real anguish
in him who sees it, fashioned thus
Beheld I those, when I had ta'en good heed.
True is it, they
were more or less bent down,
as they more or less were laden;
And he who had most patience in his looks
Weeping did seem to
say, "I can no more!"