1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

The ante-purgatorio of Dante Alighieri online

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Caatle St. Leicester Sq.






THE little vessel of my genius now

Hoists sail o'er better waves to follow helm,
Turning from sea so terrible its prow :

And I will sing now of that second realm
Wherein are purified the souls of men

Until of heaven they worthy shall have grown.
But here dead poesy must rise again :

O sacred Muses ! I am now your own ;
Nor let Calliope here fall below

But soar to my * song ! with that epic strain
Whereof those wretched magpies * felt the blow

So that their hope of pardon was "but vain.

* Verses 10 and 11 :

' Soar to my song,' &c.

' . . . . magpies.' &c.

Ovid tells the story of the nine daughters of Pierus Pierides who



Of oriental sapphire one sweet blue

Which overspread the beautiful serene
Of the pure ether, far as eye could view

To heaven's first circle, brightened up my mien,
Soon as I left that atmosphere of death

Which had my heart so saddened with mine eyes :
The beauteous planet* which gives love new breath

With laughing light cheered all the orient skies,
Dimming the Fishes that her escort made :


Then, turning to my right, I stood to scan
The southern pole, and four stars there surveyed
Save the first people, never seen by man.

challenged the Muses to sing, and being defeated, were changed into magpies.
As the Muses were also called Pierides,

' Dulcem quse strepitum, Fieri ! temperas,'

a familiar verse of Horace, it has been supposed that the victorious Muses took
the name of the vanquished maids.

In this lofty invocation Dante, many times before depressed and faltering,
becomes fully conscious of his powers, and, by this allusion to the chattering
fowl of antiquity, whose successors in every age fret the genuine poet, gives vent
to his native scorn for all the pretenders of his art. Horace, in his Ode to Calliope^
' Descende coelo, et die age tibia
Regina longum, Calliope ! melos,'

uses the ordinary style of poetry: ' Mjjjvtv acids, 0ta,' 'Musa, mihi causas
memora,' ' Sing, heavenly Muse !' &c. Dante is the first who boldly craves the
goddess of epic song to be \nsfoUower, ' seguitando 7 mio canto.'

A curious commentator might infer from this how hard a step to Purgatory
a nature like Dante's found it to gird his spirit with that ' reed of humility.'

* Venus.


Heaven seemed rejoicing in their blazing rajs.

widowed north, how much art thou bereft
That constellation hidden from thy gaze !

Ceasing my look, a little towards the left
(The pole whence now the Wain had disappeared)

1 turned, and saw an old* man all alone
Near me, whose aspect claimed to be revered ;

More might no father claim it of a son.
His beard was long, and streaked, as was his hair

Which fell in two lengths down his breast, with white.
The rays of those four sacred splendours there

So sprinkled o'er his countenance with light
It seemed to me the Sun before me stood !

And thus he spake, shaking those reverend plumes :

' Say, who are ye 'gainst the dark stream who could

Fly, as ye have, the eternal dungeon's glooms ?
Who was your guide ? Who lighted you the way

Escaping forth from that profoundest night
Which makes the infernal valley black for aye ?

The laws of that abyss, are they so slight ?
Or is the purpose changed which heaven did please,

That ye condemned approach these crags of mine ? '

* Cato


Here my lord beckoned me to bend my knees

And brows (words adding to his touch and sign),
Then answered thus :


* My will was not my guide ;
A maid from heaven besought me so to bear

This being company that I complied.
More of our state wouldst have me to declare,

Thy will to gainsay, my will cannot be.
This man hath never seen life's closing even,

But through his folly came so nigh to see
That for escape but little space was given.

Therefore was I, as I have told thee, sent
To turn him back, and other way was none

Save this to which my guidance I have lent.
All the bad spirits I to him have shown,

And purpose now revealing to him those
Who under thee their natures purify.

Twere long how I have led him to disclose,
But a grace aids me, granted from on high,

To bring him thus to see thee and to hear :
Now may it please thee, greet him fair ! he goes

In quest of Liberty, that is so dear ;
How dear, who spurneth life for freedom knows


Thou know'st ! who didst in Utica delight
To die for her, doffing that vestment there

Which at the last great day shall show so whit
Unchanged for us th' eternal edicts are ;

This man yet lives, and Minos binds not me ;
I come from where thy Marcia's chaste eyes shine,

Who seems in aspect still imploring thee,
O sacred breast ! that thou wilt keep her thine.

Then for her love incline thee to our prayer ;
Through thy seven kingdoms grant as leave to go :

Thy grace I gratefully will tell her where
She dwells, if thou deign mentioning below/


' Marcia delighted so mine eyes above,
When I was there/ he answered, ' that I gave

Whate'er she asked me freely to her love.
But now she dwells that side the wicked wave

She cannot move me longer : I am stayed
By laws which when I came thence were decreed.

But since thou tell'st me a celestial maid
Urges and guides thee of fair words what need ?

Enough her name to sanction thy demand.
Go then ! and let this being with a plain


Smooth reed be girt, and wash with thine own hand
His visage pure from every soil and stain:

For, until every dimness be dispersed,
It were not fitting to beclouded eyes

To come before the One who sits the First
Angel, a ministrant of Paradise.

Round its low margent, on the yielding ooze,
Down by the far strand where the waves have strife,

This isle bears reeds : not any plant which grows
Hard, or that puts forth leaf, may there have life,

For no such stem to every stroke would bow.
In fine, not this way look to journey back :

The sun will show you, which is rising now,
To take this mountain at some easier track.'

Herewith he vanished : I straightway did rise
Without a word, and toward my guiding One

All closely drew, fastening on Him mine eyes,
Who thus began : ' Follow my steps, my son.

Turn we back this way ; for this way/ he said,
' The shore sinks low to where its limits are.'

Now day's white light had quelled the morning's red
Which fled before it, so that from afar

I recognised the trembling of the main.
Like one who turns to find a pathway lost,

And till he find it seems to walk in vain,


Silent that solitary plain we crossed.

When we had come to where the dewdrops pass
But slowly off (by reason of the shade

The sun resisting), on the soft small grass
His outstretched palms my Master gently laid :

Whence I, acquainted with his act's intent,
Held up my cheeks all wet with tears to him,

While he restored unto my face besprent
My natural hue, which Hell had made so grim,

We came soon after to the desert shore
Which never yet beheld a man who had

Come back, once having crossed those waters o'er.
Here then he girded me as Cato bade :

O how miraculous ! with instant growth
Sprang up immediately another spray

In the same spot, and of the same kind both,
Whence he had plucked the lowly reed away.



Now that horizon whose meridian arch

Hangs o'er Jerusalem its topmost height
The sun had reached : while opposite, her march

Holding in countercourse, the circling Night
Walked forth from Ganges, bearing in her hand

The Scales that she lets fall with her advance,
So fair Aurora's cheeks, by ripe age tanned,

From white and red grew orange to my glance.

Still by the sea we made some brief delay,

Like lingering men, that on their journey dream,
Who go in spirit, but in body stay :

And lo ! as when, surprised by morning's beam,
Through the gross vapours Mars doth redly burn

Down in the west upon the ocean floor ;
A light appeared oh ! may that light return !

So rapidly those waters travelling o'er,
That to its motion flying were but slow :

Then, having momently withdrawn my gaze
To question of my Guide, I looked, and lo !

Larger it burned, and seemed almost ablaze.


Soon from each side thereof, although I knew

Naught what they were, something appeared of white,

And underneath another of like hue
Little by little grew forth into sight.

My Master spake not : I meantime could spell

Wings in those first white objects at the side :
Soon as he recognised the pilot well,

' Behold God's Angel ! bend thy knees ! ' he cried,
* Lift up thy palms to him ; henceforward more

Such heavenly delegates thou shalt behold !
Look how he scorns man's arguments of oar

And sail, but simply doth unfold
His own pure pinions (winnowing the air

And heavenward stretching those eternal pens),
From shore to shore so distant plumes that ne'er

Moult like the changing tresses that are men's/

Then as more near and nearer to us drew

That divine bird, so grew the splendour more

Till scarce the eye could bear a closer view ;
I bent name down, and he arrived ashore

With a fleet skiff, so light upon the flood

That without wake it skimmed the water's breast ;

High on the stern the heavenly helmsman stood,



In aspect such as Holy Writ calls Blest. 1 *
More than an hundred spirits in one band

Within sat blending in one voice their strains,
" In exitu Isrdel, From the land

Of Egypt/ and what else that psalm contains, t

The sign of holy cross he made them then,

Whereat they bounded all upon the strand,
And he, swift as he came, sped back again.

The crowd that stayed looked wildly round, and scanned
The place like strangers coming to things new.

Now on all sides had Phoebus pierced the day
With his keen arrows, which so fiercely flew

That Capricorn was chased from heaven's midway,
When the new-comers raised their brows to us,

Saying : ' Show us the pathway, if ye know,
Up to the mountain.' Virgil answered thus :

' Perchance you think we know this place ; not so,
We, like yourselves, are only pilgrims here :

Just before you, and by another way,
We came, a road so rugged, so severe,

That climbing this will seem thereto as play.

* ' Blessed are the pure in heart : for they shall see God.'
f Psalm cxiv.


The spirits, by my breathing who could guess

That I was living, wan with wonder grew ;
And just as people round a herald press

Who comes with olive wreaths, to hear what new
Tidings he bears, regardless how they tread,

Thus gathering round, those favoured souls eyed me ;
Each one, as 'twere, forgetful how he sped

Towards where they go, more beautiful to be.

One I beheld before the rest, who came

As to embrace me, with such look intense
Of love, it moved me to return the same.

Oh ! save in aspect, shadows void of sense !
Three times my hands around his form I threw,

And thrice received them back upon my breast.
I think my face was tinged with wonder's hue ;

For the shade smiled as after him I pressed,
And, I still following, he so sweetly said :

' Follow no longer ; ' whose that voice must be
I knew full well, and begged him, ere he fled,

To stay a little while to speak with me.

He answered me : ' As in my mortal part

I loved thee once, I love thee loose from clay,
And therefore stop ; but thou, why wandering art ? '


' My dear Casella, I come not to stay,
And must return where I am dwelling still.

But tell me what has so delayed thy bliss ?
' If he who taketh whom and when he will

Refused my passage oft, no wrong was this,'
The shade replied : ' To Heaven's his choice conforms :

These three months freely he hath carried o'er,
At their own pleasure, the peace-parted swarms :

Whence I, too, coasting by the sacred shore,
Where Tiber's waves grow salt, with gracious hand

Was gathered. Thitherward he now has gone,
Bending his pinions towards that opening strand,

Since all meet there who seek not Acheron/

Then I : ' Unless the new laws here forbid

Memory or use of that love-laden style
Which all my longings once full gently chid,

Soothe with one song, beseech thee, for a while
This soul of mine, which, dragging here its clay,

Is so worn out.' Directly he began,
'Love reasons with me' in so sweet a way

That the same sweetness I could hear, I can.
We stood, my Master and myself, as though

Naught else possessed us, and that shadowy swarm,
Rapt, listening round him to his notes : and lo !


That noble old man's venerable form' 55 '
Came crying : ' How now, tardy spirits, why

This negligence ? why lingering do ye plod ?
Run to the mountain, that from every eye

The scales may fall that seal your sight from God.'

As doves, when busy gathering grain or tares,

Clustered at pasture in a single flock,
Quiet, nor showing their accustomed airs,

If aught approach the timid tribe to shock,
Fly from their food, assailed by greater care,

So quit the song this new-come troop, and started
Hillward, like one who goes unknowing where :

And with no less a pace we, too, departed.

* The spirit of Cato of Utica, introduced in the First Canto.



THOUGH round the plain their quick flight scattered them,

Bent for that Hill where reason turns our tread,*
My faithful guide close at my garment's hem

I kept : how could I without him have sped ?
Who else had o'er that mountain marshalled me ?

He seemed, methought, as inly touched with shame :
noble conscience, void of stain, to thee

How sharp the bite is of the smallest blame !
Soon as his feet the hurried movement checked

Which every action's dignity destroys,
My mind, till now restrained and circumspect,

Expanded with new strength, as 'twere of joy's.
My face I fixed upon that Hill to gaze

Towards highest heaven which springeth from the wave.
The sun behind me redly flamed ; its rays

Broke by the shadow which my figure gave.
When I perceived before me that the ground

* Dante means the Hill of Purgatory, to the ascent of which we are turned
no less by the right reason that is in us than by our contrition for an erroneous
course, from which we are happily passing.


Was darkened only by myself, in dread
Of being there deserted, I looked round

And fronting me in full, my Comfort said :
' Why this distrust ? believ'st thou not that I

Am with thee still, thy leader to the last ?
'Tis evening now already where on high

My body lies, which once a shadow cast,
Buried at Naples, from Brundusium brought.

Now, if no shade before me meet thy sight
It need wake no more wonder in thy thought

Than why one ray checks not another's light.
Omnipotence to such forms hath assigned

The powers of suffering torments cold and heat
But how, reveals not to created kind.

He is but mad who hopes this incomplete
Reason of ours may track the Infinite way

Which of three persons holds the substance one.
Rest, human race ! contented when you say

Simply because : could ye the whole have known
No need had been for Mary to have borne ;

And ye have seen in hopeless longing those
Who now to all eternity must mourn

Desire for which they vainly sought repose.
Of Aristotle and of Plato now

I speak, and many others : ' he remained


Silent at this, and stood with bended brow

And troubled look : meantime the Hill we gained.

We found the cliff here sloping so steep down

That nimblest legs had there been useless quite.
The wildest way betwixt Turbla's town

And Lerici, the roughest, were a flight
Compared with this, of open, easy stairs.

* Who knows/ my Master said and stayed his pace-
' Where this Hill slopeth, so that one who wears

No wings may climb it ? ' then his earnest face
Directed closely to the ground as if

Making in mind a study of the way.
Meantime I gazed up round about the cliff,

And on the left hand came to my survey
A band of spirits, moving on towards us,

That seemed not moving, for they came so slow.
' Lift up thine eyes/ I to the Master thus,

' If of thyself thou art not certain, lo !
Yon souls our footsteps may direct perchance.'

Thereat he looked, then frankly made reply ;
' Go we tow'rds them so gently they advance

And thou, my sweet son ! keep thy hope up high/

That people seemed as far, when we had gone


A thousand steps, I say, or thereabout,
As a good flinger might have cast a stone ;

When all at once, like one who goes in doubt
And stops to look, their moderate march the} 7 checked,

And close to that high bank's hard masses drew.
' ye peace-parted ! O ye spirits elect !

Ev'n by that peace which waits for each of you
As I believe/ thus Virgil them bespake,

' Inform us where this mountain slopeth so
That its ascent we may essay to make ;

For they mourn Times loss most, the most who know.'

Like lambs that issue from their fold one two

Then three at once (the rest all standing shy,
With eye and nostril to the ground), then do

Just what the foremost doth, unknowing why,
And crowd upon her back if she but stand,

Quiet and simple creatures, thus the head
I saw move towards us of that happy band,

Modest in face, and of a comely tread.

Soon as their leaders noticed that the light
On my right side lay broken at my feet,

So that my shadow reached the rocky height,
They stopped and drew a little in retreat,



And all the others following, though they knew

Naught why they drew back, did the very same.
' Without your question I confess to you

That here you see a living human frame :
Hence on the ground the sunlight thus is riven :

Marvel not at it, but believe ye all
Not without virtue by the Most High given

This man hath come to scale your Mountain's wall.'
My Master thus, and thus that gracious band :

' Turn then and join us, and before us go : '
And while some beckoned us with bended hand,

One called : ' Whoe'er thou art there journeying so,
Turn ! Think, hast ever looked on me before ? '

I turned and gazed upon the one who spoke.
Handsome and blond, he looked high-born, but o'er

One brow appeared the severance of a stroke.
When I had humbly answered himv^hat ne'er

Had I beheld him, ' Look ! ' he said, and high
Up on his breast showed me a wound he bare ;

Then added smilingly :

' Manfred am I,

The Empress Constance' grandson : in such name
Do I entreat, when back thou shalt have gone,
To my fair daughter hie, of whose womb came


Sicily's boast and Aragon's renown,
And tell her this, if aught but truth be said,

That after two stabs each of power to kill
I gave my soul back weeping ere it fled

To Him who pardoneth of His own free will ;
My sins were horrible ; but large embrace

Infinite Goodness hath, whose arms will ope
For every child who turneth back to Grace ;

And if Cosenza's bishop, by the Pope
Clement set on to hound me to the last,

That page of Holy Writ had better read,
My bones had still been sheltered from the blast

Near Benevento, by the bridge's head,
Under their load of stones ; but now without

The realm they lie, by Verde's river bare
For winds and rains to beat and blow about,

Dragged with quench'd candles and with curses there.
Yet not by their poor malediction can

Souls be so lost but that Eternal Love
May be brought back while hope hath life in man.

'Tis true that one who sets himself above
The Holy Church, and dies beneath its ban

(Even though he had repented at the last),
Outside this Mount must unadmitted rove

Thirty times longer than the term had been


Of his presumptuous contumacy past,

Unless good prayers a shorter penance win.

See now what power thou hast to make me glad ;
Report of me to my good Constance bear,

How thou saw'st me, and what I've told thee add ;
For much it profits us what they do there.'



WHENE'ER the mind, from any joy or pain
In any faculty, to that alone

Bends its whole strength, its other powers remain
Unexercised, it seems (whereby is shown

Plain contradiction of th' erroneous view
Which holds within us kindled several souls).

Hence, when we hear or see a thing whereto
The mind is strongly drawn, unheeded rolls

The passing hour ; the man observes it not :
That power is one whereby we hear or see,

And that another which absorbs our thought ;
This being chained, as 'twere the former free.

A real experience of this truth had I,
Listening that soul, and wondering at such force,

For now the sun full fifty degrees high
Had risen without my noticing his course,

When came we where the spirits, with one voice all.
Cried out to us, ' Behold the place ye seek ! '

A wider opening oft, in hedge or wall,


Some farmer, when the grape first browns its cheek,
Stops with one forkful of his brambles thrown,

Than was the narrow pass whereby my Guide
Began to climb, I following on alone,

While from our way I saw those wanderers glide.

A man may climb St. Leo, or descend
The steeps of Noli, or Bismantua's height

Scale to the top, and on his feet depend ;
Here one should fly ! I mean he needs the light

Pinions and plumage of a strong desire,
Under such leadership as gave me hope

And lighted me my way. Advancing higher
In through the broken rock, it left no scope

On either side, but cramped us close ; the ledge
O'er which we crept required both feet and hands.

When we had toiled up to the utmost edge
Of the high bank, where the clear coast expands,

' Which way,' said I, ' my Master, shall we take ? '
And he to me, ' Let not thy foot fall back ;

Still follow me, and for the mountain make,
Until some guide appear who knows the track/

Its top sight reached not, and the hillside rose
With far more salient angle than the line

That from half-quadrant to the centre goes.


Most weary was I : ' Gentle Father mine/

I thus broke silence, ' turn and see that if
Thou stay not for me, I remain alone.'

' Struggle, my son, as far as yonder cliff/
He said, and pointed upwards to a zone

Terracing all the mountain on that side!
His word so spurred me that I forced myself

And clambered on still close behind my Guide
Until my feet were on that girdling shelf.

Here we sat down and turned our faces towards
The East, from which point we had made ascent

(For looking back on toil some rest affords) ;
And on the low shore first mine eyes I bent,

Then raised them sunward, wondering as I gazed
How his light smote us from the left. While thus

I stared, he marked how I beheld amazed
Day's chariot entering 'twixt the North and us.

' Were yonder mirror now/ the Poet said,
' That with his light leads up and down the spheres,

In Castor and Pollux, thou wouldst see the red
Zodiac revolving closer to the Bears,

If it swerved nothing from its ancient course ;
Which fact to fathom wouldst thou power command,

Imagine, with thy mind's collected force,


This mount and Zion so on earth to stand

That though in adverse hemispheres, the twain
One sole horizon have : thence 'tis not hard

To see (if clear thine intellect remain)
How the Sun's road which Phaeton, ill-starreu,

Knew not to keep must pass that mountain o'er
On one, and this hill on the other side.'

'Certes, my Master, ne'er saw I before
So clear as at this moment,' I replied,

' (Where seemed but now my understanding maimed),
How the mid-circle of the heavenly spheres

And of their movements the Equator named
In special term of art which never veers

From its old course, 'twixt winter and the Sun,
Yet for the reason thou dost now assign,

Towards the Septentrioii from this point doth run,
While to the Jews it bore a South decline.

But if it please thee, gladly would I learn
How far we have to journey ; for so high

This hill soars that mine eyes cannot discern
The top thereof.' He made me this reply :

' Such is this mountain that for one below
The first ascent is evermore severe,
It grows less painful higher as we go.


So when to thee it pleasant shall appear

That no more toil thy climbing shall attend
Than sailing down, the way the current flows,

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Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriThe ante-purgatorio of Dante Alighieri → online text (page 1 of 3)