Purgatorio: Canto XXI
The natural thirst,
that ne'er is satisfied
with the water for whose grace
The woman of Samaria besought,
Put me in travail,
and haste goaded me
the encumbered path behind my Leader
And I was pitying that righteous vengeance;
And lo! in the same
manner as Luke writeth
Christ appeared to two upon the way
From the sepulchral cave already risen,
A shade appeared to
us, and came behind us,
gazing on the prostrate multitude,
Nor were we ware of it, until it spake,
brothers, may God give you peace!"
turned us suddenly, and Virgilius rendered
To him the countersign thereto conforming.
Thereon began he:
"In the blessed council,
may the court veracious place in peace,
That me doth banish in eternal exile!"
"How," said he, and
the while we went with speed,
ye are shades whom God deigns not on high,
Who up his stairs so far has guided you?"
And said my
Teacher: "If thou note the marks
this one bears, and which the Angel traces
Well shalt thou see he with the good must reign.
But because she who
spinneth day and night
him had not yet drawn the distaff off,
Which Clotho lays for each one and compacts,
His soul, which is
thy sister and my own,
coming upwards could not come alone,
By reason that it sees not in our fashion.
Whence I was drawn
from out the ample throat
Hell to be his guide, and I shall guide him
As far on as my school has power to lead.
But tell us, if
thou knowest, why such a shudder
the mountain gave, and why together
All seemed to cry, as far as its moist feet?"
In asking he so hit
the very eye
my desire, that merely with the hope
My thirst became the less unsatisfied.
"Naught is there,"
he began, "that without order
the religion of the mountain feel,
Nor aught that may be foreign to its custom.
Free is it here
from every permutation;
from itself heaven in itself receiveth
Can be of this the cause, and naught beside;
neither rain, nor hail, nor snow,
dew, nor hoar-frost any higher falls
Than the short, little stairway of three steps.
Dense clouds do not
appear, nor rarefied,
coruscation, nor the daughter of Thaumas,
That often upon earth her region shifts;
No arid vapour any
to the top of the three steps I spake of,
Whereon the Vicar of Peter has his feet.
perchance it trembles less or more,
for the wind that in the earth is hidden
I know not how, up here it never trembled.
It trembles here,
whenever any soul
itself pure, so that it soars, or moves
To mount aloft, and such a cry attends it.
Of purity the will
alone gives proof,
being wholly free to change its convent,
Takes by surprise the soul, and helps it fly.
First it wills
well; but the desire permits not,
divine justice with the self-same will
There was to sin, upon the torment sets.
And I, who have
been lying in this pain
hundred years and more, but just now felt
A free volition for a better seat.
heardst the earthquake, and the pious
along the mountain rendering praise
Unto the Lord, that soon he speed them upwards."
So said he to him;
and since we enjoy
much in drinking as the thirst is great,
I could not say how much it did me good.
And the wise
Leader: "Now I see the net
snares you here, and how ye are set free,
Why the earth quakes, and wherefore ye rejoice.
Now who thou wast
be pleased that I may know;
why so many centuries thou hast here
Been lying, let me gather from thy words."
"In days when the
good Titus, with the aid
the supremest King, avenged the wounds
Whence issued forth the blood by Judas sold,
Under the name that
most endures and honours,
I on earth," that spirit made reply,
"Greatly renowned, but not with faith as yet.
My vocal spirit was
so sweet, that Rome
a Thoulousian, drew unto herself,
Where I deserved to deck my brows with myrtle.
Statius the people
name me still on earth;
sang of Thebes, and then of great Achilles;
But on the way fell with my second burden.
The seeds unto my
ardour were the sparks
that celestial flame which heated me,
Whereby more than a thousand have been fired;
Of the Aeneid speak
I, which to me
mother was, and was my nurse in song;
Without this weighed I not a drachma's weight.
And to have lived
upon the earth what time
lived, I would accept one sun
More than I must ere issuing from my ban."
These words towards
me made Virgilius turn
looks that in their silence said, "Be silent!"
But yet the power that wills cannot do all things;
For tears and
laughter are such pursuivants
the passion from which each springs forth,
In the most truthful least the will they follow.
I only smiled, as
one who gives the wink;
the shade was silent, and it gazed
Into mine eyes, where most expression dwells;
And, "As thou well
mayst consummate a labour
great," it said, "why did thy face just now
Display to me the lightning of a smile?"
Now am I caught on
this side and on that;
keeps me silent, one to speak conjures me,
Wherefore I sigh, and I am understood.
"Speak," said my
Master, "and be not afraid
speaking, but speak out, and say to him
What he demands with such solicitude."
Whence I: "Thou
antique spirit, at the smile I gave;
But I will have more wonder seize upon thee.
This one, who
guides on high these eyes of mine,
that Virgilius, from whom thou didst learn
To sing aloud of men and of the Gods.
If other cause thou
to my smile imputedst,
it as false, and trust it was
Those words which thou hast spoken concerning him."
Already he was
stooping to embrace
Teacher's feet; but he said to him: "Brother,
Do not; for shade thou art, and shade beholdest."
And he uprising:
"Now canst thou the sum
love which warms me to thee comprehend,
When this our vanity I disremember,
Treating a shadow
as substantial thing."