The Divine Comedy
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The Divine Comedy
Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Now was it the ascent no hindrance brooked,|
Because the sun had his meridian circle
To Taurus left, and night to Scorpio;
Wherefore as doth a man who tarries not,
But goes his way, whateer to him appear,
If of necessity the sting transfix him,
In this wise did we enter through the gap,
Taking the stairway, one before the other,
Which by its narrowness divides the climbers.
And as the little stork that lifts its wing
With a desire to fly, and does not venture
To leave the nest, and lets it downward droop,
Even such was I, with the desire of asking
Kindled and quenched, unto the motion coming
He makes who doth address himself to speak.
Not for our pace, though rapid it might be,
My father sweet forbore, but said: Let fly
The bow of speech thou to the barb hast drawn.
With confidence I opened then my mouth,
And I began: How can one meagre grow
There where the need of nutriment applies not?
If thou wouldst call to mind how Meleager
Was wasted by the wasting of a brand,
This would not, said he, be to thee so sour;
And wouldst thou think how at each tremulous motion
Trembles within a mirror your own image;
That which seems hard would mellow seem to thee.
But that thou mayst content thee in thy wish
Lo Statius here; and him I call and pray
He now will be the healer of thy wounds.
If I unfold to him the eternal vengeance,
Responded Statius, where thou present art,
Be my excuse that I can naught deny thee.
Then he began: Son, if these words of mine
Thy mind doth contemplate and doth receive,
Theyll be thy light unto the How thou sayest.
The perfect blood, which never is drunk up
Into the thirsty veins, and which remaineth
Like food that from the table thou removest,
Takes in the heart for all the human members
Virtue informative, as being that
Which to be changed to them goes through the veins
Again digest, descends it where tis better
Silent to be than say; and then drops thence
Upon anothers blood in natural vase.
There one together with the other mingles,
One to be passive meant, the other active
By reason of the perfect place it springs from;
And being conjoined, begins to operate,
Coagulating first, then vivifying
What for its matter it had made consistent.
The active virtue, being made a soul
As of a plant, (in so far different,
This on the way is, that arrived already,)
Then works so much, that now it moves and feels
Like a sea-fungus, and then undertakes
To organize the powers whose seed it is.
Now, Son, dilates and now distends itself
The virtue from the generators heart,
Where nature is intent on all the members.
But how from animal it man becomes
Thou dost not see as yet; this is a point
Which made a wiser man than thou once err
So far, that in his doctrine separate
He made the soul from possible intellect,
For he no organ saw by this assumed.
Open thy breast unto the truth thats coming,
And know that, just as soon as in the foetus
The articulation of the brain is perfect,
The primal Motor turns to it well pleased
At so great art of nature, and inspires
A spirit new with virtue all replete,
Which what it finds there active doth attract
Into its substance, and becomes one soul,
Which lives, and feels, and on itself revolves.
And that thou less may wonder at my word,
Behold the suns heat, which becometh wine,
Joined to the juice that from the vine distils.
Whenever Lachesis has no more thread,
It separates from the flesh, and virtually
Bears with itself the human and divine;
The other faculties are voiceless all;
The memory, the intelligence, and the will
In action far more vigorous than before.
Without a pause it falleth of itself
In marvellous way on one shore or the other;
There of its roads it first is cognizant.
Soon as the place there circumscribeth it,
The virtue informative rays round about,
As, and as much as, in the living members.
And even as the air, when full of rain,
By alien rays that are therein reflected,
With divers colours shows itself adorned,
So there the neighbouring air doth shape itself
Into that form which doth impress upon it
Virtually the soul that has stood still.
And then in manner of the little flame,
Which followeth the fire whereer it shifts,
After the spirit followeth its new form.
Since afterwards it takes from this its semblance,
It is called shade; and thence it organizes
Thereafter every sense, even to the sight.
Thence is it that we speak, and thence we laugh;
Thence is it that we form the tears and sighs,
That on the mountain thou mayhap hast heard.
According as impress us our desires
And other affections, so the shade is shaped,
And this is cause of what thou wonderest at.
And now unto the last of all the circles
Had we arrived, and to the right hand turned,
And were attentive to another care.
There the embankment shoots forth flames of fire,
And upward doth the cornice breathe a blast
That drives them back, and from itself sequesters.
Hence we must needs go on the open side,
And one by one; and I did fear the fire
On this side, and on that the falling down.
My Leader said: Along this place one ought
To keep upon the eyes a tightened rein,
Seeing that one so easily might err.
Summae Deus clementiae, in the bosom
Of the great burning chanted then I heard,
Which made me no less eager to turn round;
And spirits saw I walking through the flame;
Wherefore I looked, to my own steps and theirs
Apportioning my sight from time to time.
After the close which to that hymn is made,
Aloud they shouted, Virum non cognosco;
Then recommenced the hymn with voices low.
This also ended, cried they: To the wood
Diana ran, and drove forth Helice
Therefrom, who had of Venus felt the poison.
Then to their song returned they; then the wives
They shouted, and the husbands who were chaste
As virtue and the marriage vow imposes.
And I believe that them this mode suffices,
For all the time the fire is burning them;
With such care is it needful, and such food,
That the last wound of all should be closed up.