Canto XVI

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   O THOU our poor nobility of blood,
2   If thou dost make the people glory in thee
3   Down here where our affection languishes,
 
4   A marvellous thing it ne’er will be to me;
5   For there where appetite is not perverted,
6   I say in Heaven, of thee I made a boast !
 
7   Truly thou art a cloak that quickly shortens,
8   So that unless we piece thee day by day
9   Time goeth round about thee with his shears!
 
10   With You, which Rome was first to tolerate,
11   (Wherein her family less perseveres,)
12   Yet once again my words beginning made;
 
13   Whence Beatrice, who stood somewhat apart,
14   Smiling, appeared like unto her who coughed
15   At the first failing writ of Guenever.
 
16   And I began: You are my ancestor,
17   You give to me all hardihood to speak,
18   You lift me so that I am more than I.
 
19   So many rivulets with gladness fill
20   My mind, that of itself it makes a joy
21   Because it can endure this and not burst.
 
22   ‘Then tell me, my beloved root ancestral,
23   Who were your ancestors, and what the years
24   That in your boyhood chronicled themselves?
 
25   Tell me about the sheepfold of Saint John,
26   low large it was, and who the people were
27   Within it worthy of the highest seats.
 
28   lt the blowing of the winds a coal
29   Quickens to flame, so I beheld that light
30   Become resplendent at my blandishments.
 
31   And as unto mine eyes it grew more fair,
32   With voice more sweet an(l tender, but not in
33   This modern dialect, it said to me:
 
34   From uttering of the Ave, till the birth
35   In which my mother, who is now a saint,
36   Of me was lightened who had been her burden,
 
37   Unto its Lion had this fire returned
38   Five hundred fifty times and thirty more,
39   To reinflame itself beneath his paw.
 
40   My ancestors and I our birthplace had
41   Where first is found the last ward of the city
42   By him who runneth in your annual game.
 
43   Suffice it of my elders to hear this;
44   But who they were, and whence they thither came,
45   Silence is more considerate than speech.
 
46   All those who at that time were there between
47   Mars and the Baptist, fit for bearing arms,
48   Were a fifth part of those who now are living;
 
49   But the community, that now is mixed
50   With Campi and Certaldo and Figghine,
51   Pure in the lowest artisan was seen.
 
52   O how much better ’twere to have as neighbours
53   The folk of whom I speak, and at Galluzzo
54   And at Trespiano have your boundary,
 
55   Than have them in the town, and bear the stench
56   Of Aguglione’s churl, and him of Signa
57   Who has sharp eyes for trickery already.
 
58   Had not the folk, which most of all the world
59   Degenerates, been a step-dame unto Caesar,
60   But as a mother to her son benignant,
 
61   Some who turn Florentines, and trade and discount,
62   Would have gone back again to Simifonte
63   There where their grandsires went about as beggars.
 
64   At Montemurlo still would be the Counts,
65   The Cerchi in the parish of Acone,
66   Perhaps in Valdigrieve the Buondelmonti.
 
67   Ever the intermingling of the people
68   Has been the source of malady in cities,
69   As in the body food it surfeits on;
 
70   And a blind bull more headlong plunges down
71   Than a blind lamb; and very often cuts
72   Better and more a single sword than five.
 
73   If Luni thou regard, and Urbisaglia,
74   How they have passed away, and how are passing
75   Chiusi and Sinigaglia after them,
 
76   To hear how races waste themselves away
77   Will seem to thee no novel thing nor hard
78   Seeing that even cities have an end.
 
79   All things of yours have their mortality,
80   Even as yourselves; but it is hidden in some
81   That a long while endure, and lives are short;
 
82   And as the turning of the lunar heaven
83   Covers and bares the shores without a pause,
84   In the like manner fortune does with Florence.
 
85   Therefore should not appear a marvellous thing
86   What I shall say of the great Florentines
87   Of whom the fame is hidden in the Past.
 
88   I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
89   Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, and Alberichi,
90   Even in their fall illustrious citizens;
 
91   And saw, as mighty as they ancient were,
92   With him of I,a Sannella him of Arca,
93   And Soldanier, Ardinghi, and Bostichi.
 
94   Near to the gate that is at present laden
95   With a ne felony of so much weight
96   That soon it shall be jetsam from the bark,
 
97   The Ravignani were, from whom descended
98   The County Guido, and whoe’er the name
99   Of the great Bellincione since hath taken.
 
100   He of a Pressa knew the art of ruling
101   Already, and already Galigajo
102   Had hilt and pommel gilded in his house.
 
103   Mighty already was the Column Vair,
104   Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifant, and Barucci,
105   And Galli, and they who for the bushel blush.
 
106   The stock from which were the Calfucci born
107   Was great already, and already chosen
108   To curule chairs the Sizii and Arrigucci.
 
109   O how beheld I those who are undone
110   By their own pride ! and how the Balls of Gold
111   Florence enflowered in all their mighty deeds!
 
112   So likewise did the ancestors of those
113   Who evermore, when vacant is your church,
114   Fatten by staying in consistory.
 
115   The insolent race, that like a dragon follows
116   Whoever flees, and unto him that shows
117   His teeth or purse is gentle as a lamb,
 
118   Already rising was, but from low people;
119   So that it pleased not Ubertin Donato
120   That his wife’s father should make him their kin.
 
121   Already had Caponsacco to the Market
122   From Fesole descended, and already
123   Giuda and Infangato were good burghers.
 
124   I’ll tell a thing incredible, but true;
125   One entered the small circuit by a gate
126   Which from the Della Pera took its name!
 
127   Each one that bears the beautiful escutcheon
128   Of the great baron whose renown and name
129   The festival of Thomas keepeth fresh,
 
130   Knighthood and privilege from him received;
131   Though with the populace unites himself
132   To-day the man who binds it with a border.
 
133   Already were Gualterotti and Importuni;
134   And still more quiet would the Borgo be
135   If with new neighbours it remained unfed.
 
136   The house from which is born your lamentation,
137   Through just disdain that death among you
138   And put an end unto your joyous life,
 
139   Was honoured in itself and its companions.
140   O Buondelmonte, how in evil hour
141   Thou fled’st the bridal at another’s promptings!
 
142   Many would be rejoicing who are sad,
143   If God had thee surrendered to the Ema
144   The first time that thou camest to the city.
 
145   But it behoved the mutilated stone
146   Which guards the bridge, that Florence should provide
147   A victim in her latest hour of peace.
 
148   With all these families, and others with them,
149   Florence beheld I in so great repose,
150   That no occasion had she whence to weep
 
151   With all these families beheld so just
152   And glorious her people, that the lily
153   Never upon the spear was placed reversed,
 
154   Nor by division was vermilion made.