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Purgatorio, Canto VIII

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’Twas now the hour that turneth back desire
In those who sail the sea, and melts the heart,
The day they’ve said to their sweet friends farewell,

And the new pilgrim penetrates with love,
If he doth hear from far away a bell
That seemeth to deplore the dying day,

When I began to make of no avail
My hearing, and to watch one of the souls
Uprisen, that begged attention with its hand.

It joined and lifted upward both its palms,
Fixing its eyes upon the orient,
As if it said to God, “Naught else I care for.”

“Te lucis ante” so devoutly issued
Forth from its mouth, and with such dulcet notes,
It made me issue forth from my own mind.

And then the others, sweetly and devoutly,
Accompanied it through all the hymn entire,
Having their eyes on the supernal wheels.

Here, Reader, fix thine eyes well on the truth,
For now indeed so subtile is the veil,
Surely to penetrate within is easy.

I saw that army of the gentle-born
Thereafterward in silence upward gaze,
As if in expectation, pale and humble;

And from on high come forth and down descend,
I saw two Angels with two flaming swords,
Truncated and deprived of their points.

Green as the little leaflets just now born
Their garments were, which, by their verdant pinions
Beaten and blown abroad, they trailed behind.

One just above us came to take his station,
And one descended to the opposite bank,
So that the people were contained between them.

Clearly in them discerned I the blond head;
But in their faces was the eye bewildered,
As faculty confounded by excess.

“From Mary’s bosom both of them have come,”
Sordello said, “as guardians of the valley
Against the serpent, that will come anon.”

Whereupon I, who knew not by what road,
Turned round about, and closely drew myself,
Utterly frozen, to the faithful shoulders.

And once again Sordello: “Now descend we
’Mid the grand shades, and we will speak to them;
Right pleasant will it be for them to see you.”

Only three steps I think that I descended,
And was below, and saw one who was looking
Only at me, as if he fain would know me.

Already now the air was growing dark,
But not so that between his eyes and mine
It did not show what it before locked up.

Tow’rds me he moved, and I tow’rds him did move;
Noble Judge Nino! how it me delighted,
When I beheld thee not among the damned!

No greeting fair was left unsaid between us;
Then asked he: “How long is it since thou camest
O’er the far waters to the mountain’s foot?”

“Oh!” said I to him, “through the dismal places
I came this morn; and am in the first life,
Albeit the other, going thus, I gain.”

And on the instant my reply was heard,
He and Sordello both shrank back from me,
Like people who are suddenly bewildered.

One to Virgilius, and the other turned
To one who sat there, crying, “Up, Currado!
Come and behold what God in grace has willed!”

Then, turned to me: “By that especial grace
Thou owest unto Him, who so conceals
His own first wherefore, that it has no ford,

When thou shalt be beyond the waters wide,
Tell my Giovanna that she pray for me,
Where answer to the innocent is made.

I do not think her mother loves me more,
Since she has laid aside her wimple white,
Which she, unhappy, needs must wish again.

Through her full easily is comprehended
How long in woman lasts the fire of love,
If eye or touch do not relight it often.

So fair a hatchment will not make for her
The Viper marshalling the Milanese
A-field, as would have made Gallura’s Cock.”

In this wise spake he, with the stamp impressed
Upon his aspect of that righteous zeal
Which measurably burneth in the heart.

My greedy eyes still wandered up to heaven,
Still to that point where slowest are the stars,
Even as a wheel the nearest to its axle.

And my Conductor: “Son, what dost thou gaze at
Up there?” And I to him: “At those three torches
With which this hither pole is all on fire.”

And he to me: “The four resplendent stars
Thou sawest this morning are down yonder low,
And these have mounted up to where those were.”

As he was speaking, to himself Sordello
Drew him, and said, “Lo there our Adversary!”
And pointed with his finger to look thither.

Upon the side on which the little valley
No barrier hath, a serpent was; perchance
The same which gave to Eve the bitter food.

’Twixt grass and flowers came on the evil streak,
Turning at times its head about, and licking
Its back like to a beast that smoothes itself.

I did not see, and therefore cannot say
How the celestial falcons ’gan to move,
But well I saw that they were both in motion.

Hearing the air cleft by their verdant wings,
The serpent fled, and round the Angels wheeled,
Up to their stations flying back alike.

The shade that to the Judge had near approached
When he had called, throughout that whole assault
Had not a moment loosed its gaze on me.

“So may the light that leadeth thee on high
Find in thine own free-will as much of wax
As needful is up to the highest azure,”

Began it, “if some true intelligence
Of Valdimagra or its neighbourhood
Thou knowest, tell it me, who once was great there.

Currado Malaspina was I called;
I’m not the elder, but from him descended;
To mine I bore the love which here refineth.”

“O,” said I unto him, “through your domains
I never passed, but where is there a dwelling
Throughout all Europe, where they are not known?

That fame, which doeth honour to your house,
Proclaims its Signors and proclaims its land,
So that he knows of them who ne’er was there.

And, as I hope for heaven, I swear to you
Your honoured family in naught abates
The glory of the purse and of the sword.

It is so privileged by use and nature,
That though a guilty head misguide the world,
Sole it goes right, and scorns the evil way.”

And he: “Now go; for the sun shall not lie
Seven times upon the pillow which the Ram
With all his four feet covers and bestrides,

Before that such a courteous opinion
Shall in the middle of thy head be nailed
With greater nails than of another’s speech,

Unless the course of justice standeth still.”

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