The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

Italian Literature

Page 6

"Glory of Latium!" he exclaim'd,

"In whom out tongue its utmost power display'd;

Boast of my honour'd birth-place! what desert

Of mine, what favour, rather, undeserved,

Shows thee to me? If I to hear that voice

Am worthy, say if from below thou comest,

And from what cloister's pale."---"Through every orb

Of that sad region," he replied, "thus far

Am I arrived, by heavenly influence led:

And with such aid I come. Not for my doing,

But for not doing, have I lost the sight

Of that high Sun, whom thou desirest, and who

By me too late was known. There is a place (25)

There underneath, not made by torments sad,

But by dun shades alone; where mourning's voice

Sounds not of anguish sharp, but breathes in sighs.

There I with little innocents abide,

Who by death's fangs were bitten, ere exempt

From human taint. There I with those abide,

Who the three holy virtues put not on,

But understood the rest, and without blame

Follow'd them all. But if thou know'st and canst,

Direct us how we soonest may arrive,

Where Purgatory its true beginning takes."

He answer'd thus: "We have no certain place

Assign'd us: upwards I may go, or round.

Far as I can, I join thee for thy guide.

But thou beholdest now how day declines;

And upwards to proceed by night, our power

Excels: therefore it may be well to choose

A place of pleasant sojourn. To the right

Some spirits sit apart retired. If thou

Consentest, I to these will lead thy steps:

And thou wilt know them, not without delight."

III. The Angel of the Gate.

From the Purgatorio.

The poets spend the night in this valley with Sordello and other spirits. In the morning they ascend to the gates of the real Purgatory. These are kept by an angel deputed by St. Peter.

Ashes, or earth ta'en dry out of the ground,

Were of one colour with the robe he wore.

From underneath that vestment forth he drew

Two keys, of metal twain: the one was gold,

Its fellow silver. With the pallid first,

And the next the burnish'd, he so ply'd the gate,

As to content me well. "Whenever one

Faileth of these, that in the key-hole straight

It turn not, to this alley then expect

Access in vain." Such were the words he spake.

"One is more precious (26): but the other needs,

Skill and sagacity, large share of each,

Ere its good task to disengage the knot

Be worthily perform'd. From Peter these

I hold, of him instructed that I err

Rather in opening, than in keeping fast;

So but the suppliant at my feet implore."

Then of that hallow'd gate he thrust the door,

Exclaiming, "Enter, but this warning hear:

He forth again departs who looks behind."

As in the hinges of that sacred ward

The swivels turn'd sonorous metal strong,

Harsh was the grating, nor so surlily

Roar'd the Tarpeian, when by force bereft

Of good Metellus, thenceforth from his loss

To leanness doom'd. Attentively I turn'd,

Listening the thunder that first issued forth;

And "We praise thee, O God," methought I heard,

In accents blended with sweet melody,

The strains came o'er mine ear, e'en as the sound

Of choral voices, that in solemn chant

With organ mingle, and, now high and clear

Come swelling, now float indistinct away.

IV. Beatrice Appears to Dante and Rebukes Him.

From the Purgatorio.

Inside the gates of Purgatory rise seven successive circles, in which the seven deadly sins are purged; in the first, the sin of pride; in the second, that of envy; in the third, anger; in the fourth, lukewarmness; in the fifth, avarice; in the sixth, gluttony; in the seventh, incontinence is purged by fire. Having passed through all these, Dante and his guide ascend to the summit of the mountain, the earthly paradise. Here Virgil ceases to guide the poet, but leaves him to choose for a while his own way. To him here descends Beatrice who, before assuming his further guidance, rebukes him for his manner of life on earth.

At the last audit, so

The blest shall rise, from forth his cavern each

Uplifting lightly his new-vested flesh;

As, on the sacred litter, at the voice

Authoritative of that elder, sprang

A hundred ministers and messengers

Of life eternal. "Blessed thou, who comest!"

And, "Oh!" they cried, "from full hands scatter ye

Upwither lilies": and, so saying, cast

Flowers over head and round them on all sides.

I have beheld, ere now, at break of day,


25. A place there underneath. Limbo. See first selection from the Divine Comedy.  (back)

26. One is more precious. The golden key is the divine authority by which the priest gives absolution. The silver stands for the learning and wisdom necessary for the priest.  (back)

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