Canto XXVI

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   WHILE on the brink thus one before the other
2   We went upon our way, oft the good Master
3   Said: Take thou heed ! suffice it that I warn thee.
4   On the right shoulder smote me now the sun,
5   That, raying out, already the whole west
6   Changed from its azure aspect into white.
7   And with my shadow did I make the flame
8   Appear more red; and even to such a sign
9   Shades saw I many, as they went, give heed.
10   This was the cause that gave them a beginning
11   To speak of me; and to themselves began they
12   To say: That seems not a factitious body!
13   Then towards me, as far as they could come,
14   Came certain of them, always with regard
15   Not to step forth where they would not be burned.
16   O thou who goest, not from being slower
17   But reverent perhaps, behind the others,
18   Answer me, who in thirst and fire am burning.
19   Nor to me only is thine answer needful;
20   For all of these have greater thirst for it
21   Than for cold water Ethiop or Indian.
22   Tell us how is it that thou makest thyself
23   A wall unto the sun, as if thou hadst not
24   Entered as vet into the net of death.
25   Thus one of them addressed me, and I straight
26   Should have revealed myself, were I not bent
27   On other novelty that then appeared.
28   For through the middle of the burning road
29   There came a people face to face with these,
30   Which held me in suspense with gazing at them.
31   There see I hastening upon either side
32   Each of the shades, and kissing one another.
33   Without a pause, content with brief salute.
34   Thus in the middle of their brown battalions
35   Muzzle to muzzle one ant meets another
36   Perchance to spy their journey or their fortune.
37   No sooner is the friendly greeting ended,
38   Or ever the first footstep passes onward,
39   Each one endeavours to outcry the other;
40   The new-come people: Sodom and Gomorrah!
41   The rest: Into the cow Pasiphae enters,
42   So that the bull unto her lust may run!
43   Then as the cranes, that to Riphaen mountains
44   Might fly in part, and part towards the sands,
45   These of the frost, those of the sun avoidant,
46   One folk is going, and the other coming,
47   And weeping they return to their first songs,
48   And to the cry that most befitteth them;
49   And close to me approached, even as before,
50   The very same who had entreated me,
51   Attent to listen in their countenance.
52   I, who their inclination twice had seen
53   Began: O souls secure in the possession,
54   Whene’er it may be, of a state of peace,
55   Neither unripe nor ripened have remained
56   My members upon earth, but here are with me
57   With their own blood and their articulations.
58   I go up here to be no longer blind;
59   A Lady is above, who wins this grace,
60   Whereby the mortal through your world I bring.
61   But as your greatest longing satisfied
62   May soon become, so that the Heaven may house you
63   Which full of love is, and most amply spreads,
64   Tell me, that I again in books may write it,
65   Who are you, and what is that multitude
66   Which goes upon its way behind your backs?
67   Not otherwise with wonder is bewildered
68   The mountaineer, and staring round is dumb,
69   When rough and rustic to the town he goes,
70   Than every shade became in its appearance;
71   But when they of their stupor were disburdened,
72   Which in high hearts is quickly quieted,
73   Blessed be thou, who of our border-lands,
74   He recommenced who first had questioned us,
75   Experience freightest for a better life.
76   The folk that comes not with us have offended
77   In that for which once Caesar, triumphing,
78   Heard himself called in contumely, ‘Queen.’
79   Therefore they separate, exclaiming,’Sodom!’
80   Themselves reproving, even as thou hast heard,
81   And add unto their burning by their shame.
82   Our own transgression was hermaphrodite;
83   But because we observed not human law,
84   Following like unto beasts our appetite,
85   In our opprobrium by us is read,
86   When we part company, the name of her
87   Who bestialized herself in bestial wood.
88   Now knowest thou our acts, and what our crime was;
89   Wouldst thou perchance by name know who we are,
90   There is not time to tell, nor could I do it.
91   Thy wish to know me shall in sooth be granted;
92   I’m Guido Guinicelli, and now purge me,
93   Having repented ere the hour extreme.
94   The same that in the sadness of Lycurgus
95   Two sons became, their mother re-beholding,
96   Such I became, but rise not to such height,
97   The moment I heard name himself the father
98   Of me and of my betters, who had ever
99   Practised the sweet and gracious rhymes of love;
100   And without speech and hearing thoughtfully
101   For a long time I went, beholding him,
102   Nor for the fire did I approach him nearer.
103   When I was fed with looking, utterly
104   Myself I offered ready for his service,
105   With affirmation that compels belief
106   And he to me: Thou leavest footprints such
107   In me, from what I hear, and so distinct,
108   Lethe cannot efface them, nor make dim.
109   But if thy words just now the truth have sworn,
110   Tell me what is the cause why thou displayest
111   In word and look that dear thou holdest me?
112   And I to him: Those dulcet lays of yours
113   Which, long as shall endure our modern fashion,
114   Shall make for ever dear their very ink!
115   O brother,said he, he whom I point out,
116   And here he pointed at a spirit in front,
117   Was of the mother tongue a better smith.
118   Verses of love and proses of romance,
119   He mastered all; and let the idiots talk,
120   Who think the Lemosin surpasses him.
121   To clamour more than truth they turn their faces,
122   And in this way establish their opinion,
123   Ere art or reason has by them been heard.
124   Thus many ancients with Guittone did,
125   From cry to cry still giving him applause,
126   Until the truth has conquered with most persons.
127   Now, if thou hast such ample privilege
128   ‘Tis granted thee to go unto the cloister
129   Wherein is Christ the abbot of the college,
130   To him repeat for me a Paternoster,
131   So far as needful to us of this world,
132   Where power of sinning is no longer ours.
133   Then, to give place perchance to one behind,
134   Whom he had near, he vanished in the fire
135   As fish in water going to the bottom.
136   I moved a little tow’rds him pointed out,
137   And said that to his name my own desire
138   An honourable place was making ready.
139   He of his own free will began to say:
140   Tan m’ abellis vostre cortes deman,
141   Que jeu nom’ puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire;
142   Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan;
143   Consiros vei a passada folor,
144   E vei jauzen lo jorn qu’ esper denan.
145   Ara vus prec per aquella valor,
146   Que vus condus al som de la scalina,
147   Sovenga vus a temprar ma dolor.
148   Then hid him in the fire that purifies them.