Canto X

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   WHEN we had crossed the threshhold of the door
2   Which the perverted love of souls disuses,
3   Because it makes the crooked way seem straight,
 
4   Re-echoing I heard it closed again;
5   And if I had turned back mine eyes upon it,
6   What for my failing had been fit excuse?
 
7   We mounted upward through a rifted rock,
8   Which undulated to this side and that,
9   Even as a wave receding and advancing.
 
10   Here it behoves us use a little art,
11   Began my Leader, to adapt ourselves
12   NOW here, now there, to the receding side.
 
13   And this our footsteps so infrequent made,
14   That sooner had the moon’s decreasing disk
15   Regained its bed to sink again to rest,
 
16   Than we were forth from out that needle’s eye;
17   But when we free and in the open were
18   There where the mountain backward piles itself,
 
19   I wearied out, and both of us uncertain
20   About our way, we stopped upon a plain
21   More desolate than roads across the deserts.
 
22   From where its margin borders on the void,
23   To foot of the high bank that ever rises,
24   A human body three times told would measure;
 
25   And far as eye of mine could wing its flight,
26   Now on the left, and on the right flank now,
27   The same this cornice did appear to me.
 
28   Thereon our feet had not been moved as yet,
29   When I perceived the embankment round about,
30   Which all right of ascent had interdicted,
 
31   To be of marble white, and so adorned
32   With sculptures, that not only Polycletus,
33   But Nature’s self, had there been put to shame.
 
34   The Angel, who came down to earth with tidings
35   Of peace, that had been wept for many a year,
36   And opened Heaven from its long interdict,
 
37   In front of us appeared so truthfully
38   There sculptured in a gracious attitude,
39   He did not seem an image that is silent.
 
40   One would have sworn that he was saying,Ave;
41   For she was there in effigy portrayed
42   Who turned the key to ope the exalted love,
 
43   And in her mien this language had impressed,
44   Ecce ancilla Dei, as distinctly
45   As any figure stamps itself in wax.
 
46   Keep not thy mind upon one place alone,
47   The gentle Master said, who had me standing
48   Upon that side where people have their hearts;
 
49   Whereat I moved mine eyes, and I beheld
50   In rear of Mary, and upon that side
51   Where he was standing who conducted me,
 
52   Another story on the rock imposed;
53   Wherefore I passed Virgilius and drew near,
54   So that before mine eyes it might be set.
 
55   There sculptured in the self-same marble were
56   The cart and oxen, drawing the holy ark,
57   Wherefore one dreads an office not appointed.
 
58   People appeared in front, and all of them
59   In seven choirs divided, of two senses
60   Made one say No,the other, Yes, they sing.
 
61   Likewise unto the smoke of the frankincense,
62   Which there was imaged forth, the eyes and nose
63   Were in the yes and no discordant made.
 
64   Preceded there the vessel benedight,
65   Dancing with girded loins, the humble Psalmist,
66   And more and less than King was he in this.
 
67   Opposite, represented at the window
68   Of a great palace, Michal looked upon him,
69   Even as a woman scornful and afflicted.
 
70   I moved my feet from where I had been standing,
71   To examine near at hand another story
72   Which after Michal glimmered white upon me.
 
73   There the high glory of the Roman Prince
74   Was chronicled, whose great beneficence
75   Moved Gregory to his great victory;
 
76   ‘Tis of the Emperor Trajan I am speaking;
77   And a poor widow at his bridle stood,
78   In attitude of weeping and of grief.
 
79   Around about him seemed it thronged and full
80   Of cavaliers, and the eagles in the gold
81   Above them visibly in the wind were moving.
 
82   The wretched woman in the midst of these
83   Seemed to be saying: Give me vengeance, Lord,
84   For my dead son, for whom my heart is breaking
 
85   And he to answer her: Now wait until
86   I shall return. And she: My Lord, like one
87   In whom grief is impatient, shouldst thou not
 
88   Return ? And he: Who shall be where I am
89   Will give it thee.And she: Good deed of others
90   What boots it thee, if thou neglect thine own?
 
91   Whence he: Now comfort thee, for it behoves me
92   That I discharge my duty ere I move;
93   Justice so wills, and pity doth retain me.’
 
94   He who on no new thing has ever looked
95   Was the creator of this visible language,
96   Novel to us, for here it is not found.
 
97   While I delighted me in contemplating
98   The images of such humility,
99   And dear to look on for their Maker’s sake,
 
100   Behold, upon this side, but rare they make
101   Their steps, the Poet murmured, many people,
102   These will direct us to the lofty stairs.
 
103   Mine eyes, that in beholding were intent
104   To see new things, of which they curious are,
105   In turning round towards him were not slow.
 
106   But still I wish not, Reader, thou shouldst swerve
107   From thy good purposes, because thou hearest
108   How God ordaineth that the debt be paid;
 
109   Attend not to the fashion of the torment,
110   Think of what follows; think that at the worst
111   It cannot reach beyond the mighty sentence.
 
112   Master, began I, that which I behold
113   Moving towards us seems to me not persons,
114   And what I know not, so in sight I waver.
 
115   And he to me: The grievous quality
116   Of this their torment bows them so to earth,
117   That my own eyes at first contended with it;
 
118   But look there fixedly, and disentangle
119   By sight what cometh underneath those stones;
120   Already canst thou see how each is stricken.
 
121   O ye proud Christians! wretched, weary ones!
122   Who, in the vision of the mind infirm
123   Confidence have in your backsliding steps,
 
124   Do ye not comprehend that we are worms,
125   Born to bring forth the angelic butterfly
126   That flieth unto judgment without screen?
 
127   Why floats aloft your spirit high in air?
128   Like are ye unto insects undeveloped
129   Even as the worm in whom formation fails!
 
130   As to sustain a ceiling or a roof,
131   In place of corbel, oftentimes a figure
132   Is seen to join its knees unto its breast,
 
133   Which makes of the unreal real anguish
134   Arise in him who sees it, fashioned thus
135   Beheld I those, when I had ta’en good heed.
 
136   True is it, they were more or less bent down,
137   According as they more or less were laden;
138   And he who had most patience in his looks
 
139   Weeping did seem to say, I can no more!