Canto XII

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   ABREAST, like oxen going in a yoke,
2   I with that heavy-laden soul went on,
3   As long as the sweet pedagogue permitted;
 
4   But when he said, Leave him, and onward pass,
5   For here ’tis good that with the sail and oars,
6   As much as may be, each push on his barque;
 
7   Upright, as walking wills it, I redressed
8   My person, notwithstanding that my thoughts
9   Remained within me downcast and abashed.
 
10   I had moved on, and followed willingly
11   The footsteps of my Master, and we both
12   Already showed how light of foot we were,
 
13   When unto me he said: Cast down thine eyes;
14   ‘Twere well for thee, to alleviate the way,
15   To look upon the bed beneath thy feet.
 
16   As, that some memory may exist of them
17   Above the buried dead their tombs in earth
18   Bear sculptured on them what they were before;
 
19   Whence often there we weep for them afresh,
20   From pricking of remembrance, which alone
21   To the compassionate doth set its spur;
 
22   So saw I there, but of a better semblance
23   In point of artifice, with figures covered
24   Whate’er as pathway from the mount projects.
 
25   I saw that one who was created noble
26   More than all other creatures, down from heaven
27   Flaming with lightnings fall upon one side.
 
28   I saw Briareus smitten by the dart
29   Celestial, Iying on the other side,
30   Heavy upon the earth by mortal frost.
 
31   I saw Thymbraeus, Pallas saw, and Mars,
32   Still clad in armour round about their father,
33   Gaze at the scattered members of the giants.
 
34   I saw, at foot of his great labour, Nimrod,
35   As if bewildered, looking at the people
36   Who had been proud with him in Sennaar.
 
37   O Niobe !with what afflicted eyes
38   Thee I beheld upon the pathway traced
39   Between thy seven and seven children slain!
 
40   O Saul! how fallen upon thy proper sword
41   Didst thou appear there lifeless in Gilboa,
42   That felt thereafter neither rain nor dew!
 
43   O mad Arachne! so I thee beheld
44   E’en then half spider, sad upon the shreds
45   Of fabric wrought in evil hour for thee!
 
46   O Rehoboam! no more seems to threaten
47   Thine image there; but full of consternation
48   A chariot bears it off, when none pursues!
 
49   Displayed moreo’er the adamantine pavement
50   How unto his own mother made Alcmaeon
51   Costly appear the luckless ornament;
 
52   Displayed how his own sons did throw themselves
53   Upon Sennacherib within the temple,
54   And how, he being dead, they left him there;
 
55   Displayed the ruin and the cruel carnage
56   That Tomyris wrought, when she to Cyrus said,
57   Blood didst thou thirst for, and with blood I glut thee!
 
58   Displayed how routed fled the Assyrians
59   After that Holofernes had been slain,
60   And likewise the remainder of that slaughter
 
61   I saw there Troy in ashes and in caverns;
62   O Ilion! thee, how abject and debased,
63   Displayed the image that is there discerned!
 
64   Whoe’er of pencil master was or stile,
65   That could portray the shades and traits which there
66   Would cause each subtile genius to admire ?
 
67   Dead seemed the dead, the living seemed alive;
68   Better than I saw not who saw the truth,
69   All that I trod upon while bowed I went.
 
70   Now wax ye proud, and on with looks uplifted,
71   Ye sons of Eve, and bow not down your faces
72   So that ye may behold your evil ways!
 
73   More of the mount by us was now encompassed,
74   And far more spent the circuit of the sun,
75   Than had the mind preoccupied imagined,
 
76   When he, who ever watchful in advance
77   Was going on, began: Lift up thy head,
78   ‘Tis no more time to go thus meditating
 
79   Lo there an Angel who is making haste
80   To come towards us; lo, returning is
81   From service of the day the sixth handmaiden,
 
82   With reverence thine acts and looks adorn,
83   So that he may delight to speed us upward;
84   Think that this day will never dawn again.
 
85   I was familiar with his admonition
86   Ever to lose no time; so on this theme
87   He could not unto me speak covertly.
 
88   Towards us came the being beautiful
89   Vested in white, and in his countenance
90   Such as appears the tremulous morning star.
 
91   His arms he opened, and opened then his wings;
92   Come, said he, near at hand here are the steps,
93   And easy from henceforth is the ascent.
 
94   At this announcement few are they who come!
95   Where seated IS the church that lordeth
96   O’er the well-guided, above Rubaconte,
 
97   He led us on to where the rock was cleft;
98   There smote upon my forehead with his wings,
99   Then a safe passage promised unto me.
 
100   As on the right hand, to ascend the mount
101   Where seated is the church that lordeth it
102   O’er the well-guided, above Rubaconte,
 
103   The bold abruptness of the ascent is broken
104   By stairways that were made there in the age
105   When still were safe the ledger and the stave,
 
106   E’en thus attempered is the bank which falls
107   Sheer downward from the second circle there
108   But on this, side and that the high rock graze
 
109   As we were turning thitherward our persons.
110   Beati pauperes spiritu,voices
111   Sang in such wise that speech could tell it not.
 
112   Ah me!how different are these entrances
113   From the Infernal!for with anthems here
114   One enters, and below with wild laments.
 
115   We now were hunting up the sacred stairs,
116   And it appeared to me by far more easy
117   Than on the plain it had appeared before.
 
118   Whence I: My Master, say, what heavy thing
119   Has been uplifted from me, so that hardly
120   Aught of fatigue is felt by me in walking?
 
121   He answered: When the P’s which have remained
122   Still on thy face almost obliterate
123   Shall wholly, as the first is, be erased
 
124   Thy feet will be so vanquished by good will,
125   That none alone they shall not feel fatigue,
126   But urging up will be to them delight.
 
127   Then did I even as they do who are going
128   With something on the head to them unknown,
129   Unless the signs of others make them doubt,
 
130   Wherefore the hand to ascertain is helpful,
131   And seeks and finds, and doth fulfil the office
132   Which cannot be accomplished by the sight;
 
133   And with the fingers of the right hand spread
134   I found but six the letters, that had carved
135   Upon my temples he who bore the keys;
 
136   Upon beholding which my Leader smiled.