Canto XXV

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   Now was it the ascent no hindrance brooked,
2   Because the sun had his meridian circle
3   To Taurus left, and night to Scorpio;
4   Wherefore as doth a man who tarries not,
5   But goes his way, whate er to him appear,
6   If of necessity the sting transfix him,
7   In this wise did we enter through the gap,
8   Taking the stairway, one before the other,
9   Which by its narrowness divides the climbers.
10   And as the little stork that lifts its wing
11   With a desire to fly, and does not venture
12   To leave the nest, and lets it downward droop,
13   Even such was I, with the desire of asking
14   Kindled and quenched, unto the motion coming
15   He makes who doth address himself to speak.
16   Not for our pace, though rapid it might be,
17   My father sweet forbore, but said: Let fly
18   The bow of speech thou to the barb hast drawn
19   With confidence I opened then my mouth,
20   And I began: How can one meagre grow
21   There where the need of nutriment applies not?
22   If thou wouldst call to mind how Meleager
23   Was wasted by the wasting of a brand,
24   This would not, said he, be to thee so sour;
25   And wouldst thou think how at each tremulous motion
26   Trembles within a mirror your own image:
27   That which seems hard would mellow seem to thee
28   But that thou mayst content thee in thy wish
29   Lo Statius here; and him I call and pray
30   He now will be the healer of thy wounds.
31   If I unfold to him the eternal vengeance,
32   Responded Statius, where thou present art,
33   Be my excuse that I can naught deny thee.
34   Then he began: Son, if these words of mine
35   Thy mind doth contemplate and doth receive,
36   They’ll be thy light unto the How thou sayest.
37   The perfect blood, which never is drunk up
38   Into the thirsty veins, and which remaineth
39   Like food that from the table thou removest,
40   Takes in the heart for all the human members
41   Virtue informative, as being that
42   Which to be changed to them goes through the veins
43   Again digest, descends it where ’tis better
44   Silent to be than say; and then drops thence
45   Upon another’s blood in natural vase.
46   There one together with the other mingles,
47   One to be passive meant, the other active
48   By reason of the perfect place it springs from;
49   And being conjoined, begins to operate,
50   Coagulating first, then vivifying
51   What for its matter it had made consistent.
52   The active virtue, being made a soul
53   As of a plant, (in so far different,
54   This on the way is, that arrived already,)
55   Then works so much, that now it moves and feels
56   Like a sea-fungus, and then undertakes
57   To organize the powers whose seed it is.
58   Now, Son, dilates and now distends itself
59   The virtue from the generator’s heart,
60   Where nature is intent on all the members.
61   But how from animal it man becomes
62   Thou dost not see as yet; this is a point
63   Which made a wiser man than thou once err
64   So far, that in his doctrine separate
65   He made the soul from possible intellect,
66   For he no organ saw by this assumed.
67   Open thy breast unto the truth that’s coming,
68   And know that, just as soon as in the foetus
69   The articulation of the brain is perfect,
70   The prirmal Motor turns to it well pleased
71   At so great art of nature, and inspires
72   A spirit new with virtue all replete,
73   Which what it finds there active doth attract
74   Into its substance, and becomes one soul,
75   Which lives, and feels, and on itself revolves.
76   And that thou less may wonder at my word,
77   Behold the sun’s heat, which becometh wine,
78   Joined to the juice that from the vine distils.
79   Whenever Lachesis has no more thread,
80   It separates from the flesh, and virtually
81   Bears with itself the human and divine;
82   The other faculties are voiceless all;
83   The memory, the intelligence, and the will
84   In action far more vigorous than before.
85   Without a pause it falleth of itself
86   In marvellous way on one shore or the other;
87   ‘There of its roads it first is cognizant.
88   Soon as the place there circumscribeth it,
89   The virtue informative rays round about,
90   As, and as much as, in the living members.
91   And even as the air, when full of rain,
92   By alien rays that are therein reflected,
93   With divers colours shows itself adorned,
94   So there the neighbouring air doth shape itself
95   Into that form which doth impress upon it
96   Virtually the soul that has stood still.
97   And then in manner of the little flame,
98   Which followeth the fire where’er it shifts,
99   After the spirit followeth its new form.
100   Since afterwards it takes from this its semblance,
101   It is called shade; and thence it organizes
102   Thereafter every sense, even to the sight.
103   Thence is it that we speak, and thence we laugh;
104   Thence is it that we form the tears and sighs,
105   That on the mountain thou mayhap hast heard.
106   According as impress us our desires
107   And other affections, so the shade is shaped,
108   And this is cause of what thou wonderest at.
109   And now unto the last of all the circles
110   Had we arrived, and to the right hand turned,
111   And were attentive to another care.
112   There the embankment shoots forth flames of fire,
113   And upward doth the cornice breathe a blast
114   That drives them back, and from itself sequesters.
115   Hence we must needs go on the open side,
116   And one by one; and I did fear the fire
117   On this side, and on that the falling down.
118   My Leader said: Along this place one ought
119   To keep upon the eyes a tightened rein,
120   Seeing that one so easily might err.
121   Summae Deus clementiae,in the bosom
122   Of the great burning chanted then I heard,
123   Which made me no less eager to turn round;
124   And spirits saw I walking through the flame;
125   Wherefore I looked, to my own steps and theirs
126   Apportioning my sight from time to time.
127   After the close which to that hymn is made,
128   Aloud they shouted, Virum non cognosco ;
129   Then recommenced the hymn with voices low.
130   This also ended, cried they: To the wood
131   Diana ran, and drove forth Helice
132   Therefrom, who had of Venus felt the poison.
133   Then to their song returned they; then the wives
134   They shouted, and the husbands who were chaste.
135   As virtue and the marriage vow imposes.
136   And I believe that them this mode suffices,
137   For all the time the fire is burning them;
138   With such care is it needful, and such food,
139   That the last wound of all should be closed up.