Canto XVII

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   REMEMBER, Reader, if e’er in the Alps
2   A mist o’ertook thee, through which thou couldst see
3   Not otherwise than through its membrane
4   How, when the vapours humid and condensed
5   Begin to dissipate themselves, the sphere
6   Of the sun feebly enters in among them,
7   And thy imagination will be swift
8   In coming to perceive how I re-saw
9   The sun at first, that was already setting.
10   Thus, to the faithful footsteps of my Master
11   Mating mine own, I issued from that cloud
12   To rays already dead on the low shores.
13   O thou, Imagination, that dost steal us
14   So from without sometimes, that man perceives not,
15   Although around may sound a thousand trumpets,
16   Who moveth thee, if sense impel thee not?
17   Moves thee a light, which in the heaven takes form,
18   By self, or by a will that downward guides it.
19   Of her impiety, who changed her form
20   Into the bird that most delights in singing,
21   In my imagining appeared the trace;
22   And hereupon my mind was so withdrawn
23   Within itself, that from without there came
24   Nothing that then might be received by it.
25   Then reigned within my lofty fantasy
26   One crucified, disdainful and ferocious
27   In countenance, and even thus was dying.
28   Around him were the great Ahasuerus,
29   Esther his wife, and the just Mordecai,
30   Who was in word and action so entire.
31   And even as this image burst asunder
32   Of its own self, in fashion of a bubble
33   In which the water it was made of fails,
34   There rose up in my vision a young maiden
35   Bitterly weeping, and she said: O queen,
36   Why hast thou wished in anger to be naught?
37   Thou’st slain thyself, Lavinia not to lose;
38   Now hast thou lost me; I am she who mourns,
39   Mother, at thine ere at another’s ruin.
40   As sleep is broken, when upon a sudden
41   New light strikes in upon the eyelids closed,
42   And broken quivers ere it dieth wholly,
43   So this imagining of mine fell down
44   As soon as the effulgence smote my face,
45   Greater by far than what is in our wont.
46   I turned me round to see where I might be,
47   When said a voice, Here is the passage up;
48   Which from all other purposes removed me,
49   And made my wish so full of eagerness
50   To look and see who was it that was speaking,
51   It never rests till meeting face to face;
52   But as before the sun, which quells the sight,
53   And in its own excess its figure veils,
54   Even so my power was insufficient here.
55   This is a spirit divine, who in the way
56   Of going up directs us without asking
57   And who with his own light himself conceals.
58   He does with us as man doth with himself;
59   For he who sees the need, and waits the asking,
60   Malignly leans already tow’rds denial.
61   Accord we now our feet to such inviting,
62   Let us make haste to mount ere it grow dark;
63   For then we could not till the day return.
64   Thus my Conductor said; and I and he
65   Together turned our footsteps to a stairway,
66   And I, as soon as the first step I reached
67   Near me perceived a motion as of wings
68   And fanning in the face, and saying, Beati
69   Pacifi, who are without ill anger.
70   Already over us were so uplifted
71   The latest sunbeams, which the night pursues,
72   That upon many sides the stars appeared.
73   O manhood mine, why dost thou vanish so?
74   I said within myself; for I perceived
75   The vigour of my legs was put in truce.
76   We at the point were where no more ascends
77   The stairway upward, and were motionless,
78   Even as a ship, which at the shore arrives;
79   And I gave heed a little, if I might hear
80   Aught whatsoever in the circle new;
81   Then to my Master turned me round and said:
82   Say, my sweet Father, what delinquency
83   Is purged here in the circle where we are?
84   Although our feet may pause, pause not thy speech.’
85   And he to me: The love of good, remiss
86   In what it should have done, is here restored;
87   Here plied again the ill-belated oar;
88   But still more openly to understand,
89   Turn unto me thy mind, and thou shalt gather
90   Some profitable fruit from our delay.
91   Neither Creator nor a creature ever,
92   Son, he began, was destitute of love
93   Natural or spiritual; and thou knowest it.
94   The natural was ever without error;
95   But err the other may by evil object,
96   Or by too much, or by too little vigour.
97   While in the first it well directed is,
98   And in the second moderates itself,
99   It cannot be the cause of sinful pleasure;
100   But when to ill it turns, and, with more care
101   Or lesser than it ought, runs after good,
102   ”Gainst the Creator works his own creation.
103   Hence thou mayst comprehend that love must be
104   The seed within yourselves of every virtue,
105   And every act that merits punishment.
106   Now inasmuch as never from the welfare
107   Of its own subject can love turn its sight,
108   From their own hatred all things are secure;
109   And since we cannot think of any being
110   Standing alone, nor from the First divided,
111   Of hating Him is all desire cut off.
112   Hence if, discriminating, I judge well,
113   The evil that one loves is of one’s neighbour,
114   And this is born in three modes in your clay.
115   There are, who, by abasement of their neighbour,
116   Hope to excel, and therefore only long
117   That from his greatness he may be cast down;
118   There are, who power, grace, honour, and renown
119   Fear they may lose because another rises,
120   Thence are so sad that the reverse they love;
121   And there are those whom injury seems to chafe,
122   So that it makes them greedy for revenge,
123   And such must needs shape out another’s harm.
124   This threefold love is wept for down below;
125   Now of the other will I have thee hear,
126   That runneth after good with measure faulty.
127   Each one confusedly a good conceives
128   Wherein the mind may rest, and longeth for it;
129   Therefore to overtake it each one strives.
130   If languid love to look on this attract you,
131   Or in attaining unto it, this cornice,
132   After just penitence, torments you for it.
133   There’s other good that does not make man happy;
134   ‘Tis not felicity, ’tis not the good
135   Essence, of every good the fruit and root.
136   The love that yields itself too much to this
137   Above us is lamented in three circles;
138   But how tripartite it may be described,
139   I say not, that thou seek it for thyself.