Canto XXI

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   THE natural thirst, that ne’er is satisfied
2   Excepting with the water for whose grace
3   The woman of Samaria besought,
 
4   Put me in travail, and haste goaded me
5   Along the encumbered path behind my Leader
6   And I was pitying that righteous vengeance;
 
7   And lo! in the same manner as Luke writeth
8   That Christ appeared to two upon the way
9   From the sepulchral cave already risen,
 
10   A shade appeared to us, and came behind us,
11   Down gazing on the prostrate multitude,
12   Nor were we ware of it, until it spake,
 
13   Saying, My brothers, may God give you peace!
14   We turned us suddenly, and Virgilius rendered
15   To him the countersign thereto conforming
 
16   Thereon began he: In the blessed council,
17   Thee may the court veracious place in peace,
18   That me doth banish in eternal exile!
 
19   How, said he, and the while we went with speed,
20   If ye are shades whom God deigns not on high,
21   Who up his stairs so far has guided you?
 
22   And said my Teacher: If thou note the marks
23   Which this one bears,and which the Angel traces
24   Well shalt thou see he with the good must reign.
 
25   But because she who spinneth day and night
26   For him had not yet drawn the distaff off,
27   Which Clotho lays for each one and compacts,
 
28   His soul, which is thy sister and my own,
29   In coming upwards could not come alone,
30   By reason that it sees not in our fashion.
 
31   Whence I was drawn from out the ample throat
32   Of Hell to be his guide,and I shall guide him
33   As far on as my school has power to lead.
 
34   But tell us, if thou knowest, why such a shudder
35   Erewhile the mountain gave, and why together
36   All seemed to cry, as far as its moist feet?
 
37   In asking he so hit the very eye
38   Of my desire, that merely with the hope
39   My thirst became the less unsatisfied.
 
40   Naught is there, he began, that without order
41   May the religion of the mountain feel,
42   Nor aught that may be foreign to its custom.
 
43   Free is it here from every permutation;
44   What from itself heaven in itself receiveth
45   Can be of this the cause, and naught beside;
 
46   Because that neither rain, nor hail, nor snow,
47   Nor dew, nor hoar-frost any higher falls
48   Than the short, little stairway of three steps.
 
49   Dense clouds do not appear, nor rarefied,
50   Nor coruscation, nor the daughter of Thaumas,
51   That often upon earth her region shifts;
 
52   No arid vapour any farther rises
53   Than to the top of the three steps I spake of,
54   Whereon the Vicar of Peter has his feet.
 
55   Lower down perchance it trembles less or more,
56   But, for the wind that in the earth is hidden
57   I know not how, up here it never trembled.
 
58   It trembles here, whenever any soul
59   Feels itself pure, so that it soars, or moves
60   To mount aloft, and such a cry attends it.
 
61   Of purity the will alone gives proof,
62   Which, being wholly free to change its convent,
63   Takes by surprise the soul, and helps it fly.
 
64   First it wills well; but the desire permits not,
65   Which divine justice with the self-same will
66   There was to sin, upon the torment sets.
 
67   And I, who have been Iying in this pain
68   Five hundred years and more, but just now felt
69   A free volition for a better seat.
 
70   Therefore thou heardst the earthquake, and the pious
71   Spirits along the mountain rendering praise
72   Unto the Lord, that soon he speed them upwards.
 
73   So said he to him; and since we enjoy
74   As much in drinking as the thirst is great,
75   I could not say how much it did me good.
 
76   And the wise Leader: Now I see the net
77   That snares you here, and how ye are set free,
78   Why the earth quakes, and wherefore ye rejoice.
 
79   Now who thou wast be pleased that I may know;
80   And why so many centuries thou hast here
81   Been Iying, let me gather from thy words.
 
82   In days when the good Titus, with the aid
83   Of the supremest King, avenged the wounds
84   Whence issued forth the blood by Judas sold,
 
85   Under the name that most endures and honours,
86   Was I on earth, that spirit made reply,
87   Greatly renowned, but not with faith as yet.
 
88   My vocal spirit was so sweet, that Rome
89   Me, a Thoulousian, drew unto herself,
90   Where I deserved to deck my brows with myrtle.
 
91   Statius the people name me still on earth;
92   I sang of Thebes, and then of great Achilles;
93   But on the way fell with my second burden.
 
94   The seeds unto my ardour were the sparks
95   Of that celestial flame which heated me,
96   Whereby more than a thousand have been fired;
 
97   Of the Aeneid speak I, which to me
98   A mother was, and was my nurse in song;
99   Without this weighed I not a drachma’s weight.
 
100   And to have lived upon the earth what time
101   Virgilius lived, I would accept one sun
102   More than I must ere issuing from my ban.
 
103   These words towards me made Virgilius turn
104   With looks that in their silence said, Be silent!
105   But yet the power that wills cannot do all things;
 
106   For tears and laughter are such pursuivants
107   Unto the passion from which each springs forth,
108   In the most truthful least the will they follow.
 
109   I only smiled, as one who gives the wink;
110   Whereat the shade was silent, and it gazed
111   Into mine eyes, where most expression dwells;
 
112   And, As thou well mayst consummate a labour
113   So great, it said, why did thy face just now
114   Display to me the lightning of a smile?
 
115   Now am I caught on this side and on that;
116   One keeps me silent, one to speak conjures me,
117   Wherefore I sigh, and I am understood.
 
118   Speak, said my Master, and be not afraid
119   Of speaking, but speak out, and say to him
120   What he demands with such solicitude.
 
121   Whence I: Thou peradventure marvellest,
122   O antique spirit, at the smile I gave;
123   But I will have more wonder seize upon thee.
 
124   This one, who guides on high these eyes of mine,
125   Is that Virgilius, from whom thou didst learn
126   To sing aloud of men and of the Gods.
 
127   If other cause thou to my smile imputedst,
128   Abandon it as false, and trust it was
129   Those words which thou hast spoken concerning him.
 
130   Already he was stooping to embrace
131   My Teacher’s feet; but he said to him: Brother,
132   Do not; for shade thou art, and shade beholdest.
 
133   And he uprising: Now canst thou the sum
134   Of love which warms me to thee comprehend,
135   When this our vanity I disremember,
 
136   Treating a shadow as substantial thing.