Translated by Rev. H.F. Cary, M.A.
O'er better waves to speed her rapid course The light bark of my genius lifts the sail, Well pleas'd to leave so cruel sea behind; And of that second region will I sing, In which the human spirit from sinful blot Is purg'd, and for ascent to Heaven prepares.
Here, O ye hallow'd Nine! for in your train I follow, here the deadened strain revive; Nor let Calliope refuse to sound A somewhat higher song, of that loud tone, Which when the wretched birds of chattering note Had heard, they of forgiveness lost all hope.
Sweet hue of eastern sapphire, that was spread O'er the serene aspect of the pure air, High up as the first circle, to mine eyes Unwonted joy renew'd, soon as I 'scap'd Forth from the atmosphere of deadly gloom, That had mine eyes and bosom fill'd with grief. The radiant planet, that to love invites, Made all the orient laugh, and veil'd beneath The Pisces' light, that in his escort came.
To the right hand I turn'd, and fix'd my mind On the' other pole attentive, where I saw Four stars ne'er seen before save by the ken Of our first parents. Heaven of their rays Seem'd joyous. O thou northern site, bereft Indeed, and widow'd, since of these depriv'd!
As from this view I had desisted, straight Turning a little tow'rds the other pole, There from whence now the wain had disappear'd, I saw an old man standing by my side Alone, so worthy of rev'rence in his look, That ne'er from son to father more was ow'd. Low down his beard and mix'd with hoary white Descended, like his locks, which parting fell Upon his breast in double fold. The beams Of those four luminaries on his face So brightly shone, and with such radiance clear Deck'd it, that I beheld him as the sun.
"Say who are ye, that stemming the blind stream, Forth from th' eternal prison-house have fled?" He spoke and moved those venerable plumes. "Who hath conducted, or with lantern sure Lights you emerging from the depth of night, That makes the infernal valley ever black? Are the firm statutes of the dread abyss Broken, or in high heaven new laws ordain'd, That thus, condemn'd, ye to my caves approach?"
My guide, then laying hold on me, by words And intimations given with hand and head, Made my bent knees and eye submissive pay Due reverence; then thus to him replied.
"Not of myself I come; a Dame from heaven Descending, had besought me in my charge To bring. But since thy will implies, that more Our true condition I unfold at large, Mine is not to deny thee thy request. This mortal ne'er hath seen the farthest gloom. But erring by his folly had approach'd So near, that little space was left to turn. Then, as before I told, I was dispatch'd To work his rescue, and no way remain'd Save this which I have ta'en. I have display'd Before him all the regions of the bad; And purpose now those spirits to display, That under thy command are purg'd from sin. How I have brought him would be long to say. From high descends the virtue, by whose aid I to thy sight and hearing him have led. Now may our coming please thee. In the search Of liberty he journeys: that how dear They know, who for her sake have life refus'd. Thou knowest, to whom death for her was sweet In Utica, where thou didst leave those weeds, That in the last great day will shine so bright. For us the' eternal edicts are unmov'd: He breathes, and I am free of Minos' power, Abiding in that circle where the eyes Of thy chaste Marcia beam, who still in look Prays thee, O hallow'd spirit! to own her shine. Then by her love we' implore thee, let us pass Through thy sev'n regions; for which best thanks I for thy favour will to her return, If mention there below thou not disdain."
"Marcia so pleasing in my sight was found," He then to him rejoin'd, "while I was there, That all she ask'd me I was fain to grant. Now that beyond the' accursed stream she dwells, She may no longer move me, by that law, Which was ordain'd me, when I issued thence. Not so, if Dame from heaven, as thou sayst, Moves and directs thee; then no flattery needs. Enough for me that in her name thou ask. Go therefore now: and with a slender reed See that thou duly gird him, and his face Lave, till all sordid stain thou wipe from thence. For not with eye, by any cloud obscur'd, Would it be seemly before him to come, Who stands the foremost minister in heaven. This islet all around, there far beneath, Where the wave beats it, on the oozy bed Produces store of reeds. No other plant, Cover'd with leaves, or harden'd in its stalk, There lives, not bending to the water's sway. After, this way return not; but the sun Will show you, that now rises, where to take The mountain in its easiest ascent."
He disappear'd; and I myself uprais'd Speechless, and to my guide retiring close, Toward him turn'd mine eyes. He thus began; "My son! observant thou my steps pursue. We must retreat to rearward, for that way The champain to its low extreme declines."
The dawn had chas'd the matin hour of prime, Which deaf before it, so that from afar I spy'd the trembling of the ocean stream.
We travers'd the deserted plain, as one Who, wander'd from his track, thinks every step Trodden in vain till he regain the path.
When we had come, where yet the tender dew Strove with the sun, and in a place, where fresh The wind breath'd o'er it, while it slowly dried; Both hands extended on the watery grass My master plac'd, in graceful act and kind. Whence I of his intent before appriz'd, Stretch'd out to him my cheeks suffus'd with tears. There to my visage he anew restor'd That hue, which the dun shades of hell conceal'd.
Then on the solitary shore arriv'd, That never sailing on its waters saw Man, that could after measure back his course, He girt me in such manner as had pleas'd Him who instructed, and O, strange to tell! As he selected every humble plant, Wherever one was pluck'd, another there Resembling, straightway in its place arose.
Now had the sun to that horizon reach'd, That covers, with the most exalted point Of its meridian circle, Salem's walls, And night, that opposite to him her orb Sounds, from the stream of Ganges issued forth, Holding the scales, that from her hands are dropp'd When she reigns highest: so that where I was, Aurora's white and vermeil-tinctur'd cheek To orange turn'd as she in age increas'd.
Meanwhile we linger'd by the water's brink, Like men, who, musing on their road, in thought Journey, while motionless the body rests. When lo! as near upon the hour of dawn, Through the thick vapours Mars with fiery beam Glares down in west, over the ocean floor; So seem'd, what once again I hope to view, A light so swiftly coming through the sea, No winged course might equal its career. From which when for a space I had withdrawn Thine eyes, to make inquiry of my guide, Again I look'd and saw it grown in size And brightness: thou on either side appear'd Something, but what I knew not of bright hue, And by degrees from underneath it came Another. My preceptor silent yet Stood, while the brightness, that we first discern'd, Open'd the form of wings: then when he knew The pilot, cried aloud, "Down, down; bend low Thy knees; behold God's angel: fold thy hands: Now shalt thou see true Ministers indeed."
Lo how all human means he sets at naught! So that nor oar he needs, nor other sail Except his wings, between such distant shores. Lo how straight up to heaven he holds them rear'd, Winnowing the air with those eternal plumes, That not like mortal hairs fall off or change!"
As more and more toward us came, more bright Appear'd the bird of God, nor could the eye Endure his splendor near: I mine bent down. He drove ashore in a small bark so swift And light, that in its course no wave it drank. The heav'nly steersman at the prow was seen, Visibly written blessed in his looks.
Within a hundred spirits and more there sat. "In Exitu Israel de Aegypto;" All with one voice together sang, with what In the remainder of that hymn is writ. Then soon as with the sign of holy cross He bless'd them, they at once leap'd out on land, The swiftly as he came return'd. The crew, There left, appear'd astounded with the place, Gazing around as one who sees new sights.
From every side the sun darted his beams, And with his arrowy radiance from mid heav'n Had chas'd the Capricorn, when that strange tribe Lifting their eyes towards us: "If ye know, Declare what path will Lead us to the mount."
Them Virgil answer'd. "Ye suppose perchance Us well acquainted with this place: but here, We, as yourselves, are strangers. Not long erst We came, before you but a little space, By other road so rough and hard, that now The' ascent will seem to us as play." The spirits, Who from my breathing had perceiv'd I liv'd, Grew pale with wonder. As the multitude Flock round a herald, sent with olive branch, To hear what news he brings, and in their haste Tread one another down, e'en so at sight Of me those happy spirits were fix'd, each one Forgetful of its errand, to depart, Where cleans'd from sin, it might be made all fair.
Then one I saw darting before the rest With such fond ardour to embrace me, I To do the like was mov'd. O shadows vain Except in outward semblance! thrice my hands I clasp'd behind it, they as oft return'd Empty into my breast again. Surprise I needs must think was painted in my looks, For that the shadow smil'd and backward drew. To follow it I hasten'd, but with voice Of sweetness it enjoin'd me to desist. Then who it was I knew, and pray'd of it, To talk with me, it would a little pause. It answered: "Thee as in my mortal frame I lov'd, so loos'd forth it I love thee still, And therefore pause; but why walkest thou here?"
"Not without purpose once more to return, Thou find'st me, my Casella, where I am Journeying this way;" I said, "but how of thee Hath so much time been lost?" He answer'd straight: "No outrage hath been done to me, if he Who when and whom he chooses takes, me oft This passage hath denied, since of just will His will he makes. These three months past indeed, He, whose chose to enter, with free leave Hath taken; whence I wand'ring by the shore Where Tyber's wave grows salt, of him gain'd kind Admittance, at that river's mouth, tow'rd which His wings are pointed, for there always throng All such as not to Archeron descend."
Then I: "If new laws have not quite destroy'd Memory and use of that sweet song of love, That while all my cares had power to 'swage; Please thee with it a little to console My spirit, that incumber'd with its frame, Travelling so far, of pain is overcome."
"Love that discourses in my thoughts." He then Began in such soft accents, that within The sweetness thrills me yet. My gentle guide And all who came with him, so well were pleas'd, That seem'd naught else might in their thoughts have room.
Fast fix'd in mute attention to his notes We stood, when lo! that old man venerable Exclaiming, "How is this, ye tardy spirits? What negligence detains you loit'ring here? Run to the mountain to cast off those scales, That from your eyes the sight of God conceal."
As a wild flock of pigeons, to their food Collected, blade or tares, without their pride Accustom'd, and in still and quiet sort, If aught alarm them, suddenly desert Their meal, assail'd by more important care; So I that new-come troop beheld, the song Deserting, hasten to the mountain's side, As one who goes yet where he tends knows not.
Nor with less hurried step did we depart.