The Lyric, Ethicized

Purgatorio 18 is a very important canto, particularly to those readers who cherish Dante’s origins as a lyric poet, which Dante-poet here evokes in loving detail.

Reiterating the lesson learned in the previous canto, whereby love is the root cause of all human behavior, of our “operare” both good and evil, Dante-pilgrim asks Virgilio to explain love:

  Però ti prego, dolce padre caro,
che mi dimostri amore, a cui reduce
ogne buono operare e ’l suo contraro. (Purg. 18.13-15)
  Therefore, I pray you, gentle father dear,
to teach me what love is: you have reduced
to love both each good and its opposite.

The question is “che mi dimostri amore”—teach me what love is—and there is no better primer on this subject of love than the one provided by the great tradition of the courtly love lyric, a tradition that is seriously explored in the Commedia, and particularly in Purgatorio. The classical Roman Virgilio therefore offers an explanation of love that is rooted in the vernacular lyric tradition that began with the Occitan poets in the South of France and moved to Italy via the Sicilian poets in the court of Frederic II. This is a tradition that we first encounter in this commentary in glossing Inferno 2 and Inferno 5.

Virgilio explains as follows. The soul is created quick to love (“creato ad amar presto” [19]) and is susceptible to those pleasing things (“piacere” [21]) that awaken the capacity to love in it, moving the soul from potency to act (“atto” [21]). Activated, the soul responds to and “is mobile with respect to” (“è mobile a” [20]) everything that pleases it (“ogne cosa . . . che piace” [20]):

  L’animo, ch’è creato ad amar presto,
ad ogne cosa è mobile che piace,
tosto che dal piacere in atto è desto. (Purg. 18.19-21)
  The soul, which is created quick to love,
responds to everything that pleases, just
as soon as beauty wakens it to act. 

In the next step of the process of “falling in love,” our cognitive ability (“apprensiva” [22]) takes an image (“intenzione” [23]) from a true being in the external world (“esser verace” [22]) and unfolds that image within the soul (“dentro a voi la spiega” [23]). In other words, we “take a picture” of an object of desire and then post that image on an internal memory board, recreating the object of desire internally:

  Vostra apprensiva da esser verace
tragge intenzione, e dentro a voi la spiega,
sì che l’animo ad essa volger face; (Purg. 18.22-24)
  Your apprehension draws an image from
a real object and expands upon
that object until soul has turned toward it;

If the soul, once turned toward that internal image (“sì che l’animo ad essa volger face” [24]), should incline toward it, then that inclination (“quel piegare” [26]) is love:

  e se, rivolto, inver’ di lei si piega,
quel piegare è amor, quell’è natura
che per piacer di novo in voi si lega. (Purg. 18.25-27)
  and if, so turned, the soul tends steadfastly,
then that propensity is love—it’s nature
that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty.

The soul, having in this manner been seized by love (“preso” in Purg. 18.31 is a quintessentially lyric word, used in Dante’s sonnet Ciascun’alma presa e gentil core and by Francesca, echoing the lyric, in Inferno 5), now enters on a quest. It “moves into longing, / a motion of the spirit” (“entra in disire, / ch’è moto spiritale” [Purg. 18.31-32]) and never rests until the beloved object makes it happy:

  così l’animo preso entra in disire,
ch’è moto spiritale, e mai non posa
fin che la cosa amata il fa gioire. (Purg. 18.31-33)
  so does the soul, when seized, move into longing,
a motion of the spirit, never resting
till the beloved thing has made it joyous.

This definition of desire as spiritual motion, as that which moves us along the path of our life (the “cammin di nostra vita” in the first verse of the Commedia), is the bedrock of the analysis of The Undivine Comedy, as you can see from the opening section of Chapter 2, culminating on page 26.

But the pilgrim has a rejoinder for his guide. Primed by the lesson he learned from Marco Lombardo on the freedom of the will, he sees a pitfall in the description of the soul in motion, pursuing the beloved object until it gives it joy. How then, the pilgrim wants to know, if love is a response to something offered from outside us, can there be merit in choosing a good or bad object of desire (Purg. 18.43-45)? Here we see the lyric tradition collide with ethics: what happens if we incline in love toward something bad? Are we justified in saying that love forced us (as Francesca says)? Or do we still have a choice?

The collision that Dante dramatizes in Purgatorio 18 is one that he lived over the course of his youth as a poet, as he worked out the ethical implications inherent in the courtly love lyric. The story of how he moved from the answer that he gives to Dante da Maiano in the early 1280s, when he says that there is no way to oppose love, to the poet who can dramatize the problem itself in Purgatorio 18 is the story I tell in my commentary to his lyric poetry. This is not an issue that Dante ethicizes only now, in the Commedia, for the first time. Rather, Dante here dramatizes the process of bringing an ethically-attuned philosophical mind into confrontation with the lyric tradition, an experience at the heart of his own intellectual formation.

The pilgrim’s question leads to a discussion of free will (see Marco Lombardo’s discourse in Purgatorio 16). Virgilio uses the beautiful metaphor of reason as that which guards the threshold of assent:

  Or perché a questa ogn’altra si raccoglia,
innata v’è la virtù che consiglia,
e de l’assenso de’ tener la soglia. (Purg. 18.61-63)
  Now, that all other longings may conform 
to this first will, there is in you, inborn,
the power that counsels, keeper of the threshold
of your assent.

As in the sonnet Per quella via che la Bellezza corre (circa 1292), reason metaphorically stands guard at the doorway of the mansion of the soul and prevents evil desire from entering. It follows that if evil desire should cross the threshold and gain entry, our free will has failed to deploy our reason to combat it.

This passage also leads to one of Virgilio’s confessions of his limitations as guide, and to his conjuring of Beatrice as the one who can better answer Dante’s query:

  La nobile virtù Beatrice intende
per lo libero arbitrio, e però guarda
che l’abbi a mente, s’a parlar ten prende. (Purg. 18.73-75)
  This noble power is what Beatrice
means by free will; therefore, remember it,
if she should ever speak of it to you.

The latter half of Purgatorio 18 is devoted to the accidiosi, those whose sin is accidia: a kind of moral sloth, despair, lack of commitment to the good. Remarkably, Dante compresses the whole fourth terrace into half a canto. (The baseline measure for a terrace is provided by the first terrace, pride, which takes up three canti: Purgatorio 10-12.) The compressed narrative is a textual analogue to the “holy haste” that motivates the souls on this terrace. They are so busy running that they cannot stop to talk to Dante. The souls call out the examples of zeal and of its opposite, moral torpor, as they run by. The result is that there are no encounters with souls, no conversations that require textual expenditure, and the poet “runs through” the terrace of sloth.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 2, “Infernal Incipits,” p. 26; Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” pp. 104-05; “Guittone’s Ora parrà, Dante’s Doglia mi reca, and the Commedia’s Anatomy of Desire,” in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture; “Dante and Cavalcanti: On Making Distinctions in Matters of Love,” in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture; on the word “preso”, see Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’ (U. of Toronto Press, 2014), especially the Introduction to A ciascun’alma presa; on “guarding the threshold”, see Dante’s Lyric Poetry, especially the Introduction to Per quella via che la Bellezza corre.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 18: The Lyric, Ethicized.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-18/

About the Commento

1Posto avea fine al suo ragionamento
2l’alto dottore, e attento guardava
3ne la mia vista s’io parea contento;

4e io, cui nova sete ancor frugava,
5di fuor tacea, e dentro dicea: ‘Forse
6lo troppo dimandar ch’io fo li grava’.

7Ma quel padre verace, che s’accorse
8del timido voler che non s’apriva,
9parlando, di parlare ardir mi porse.

10Ond’ io: «Maestro, il mio veder s’avviva
11sì nel tuo lume, ch’io discerno chiaro
12quanto la tua ragion parta o descriva.

13Però ti prego, dolce padre caro,
14che mi dimostri amore, a cui reduci
15ogne buono operare e ’l suo contraro».

16«Drizza», disse, «ver’ me l’agute luci
17de lo ’ntelletto, e fieti manifesto
18l’error de’ ciechi che si fanno duci.

19L’animo, ch’è creato ad amar presto,
20ad ogne cosa è mobile che piace,
21tosto che dal piacere in atto è desto.

22Vostra apprensiva da esser verace
23tragge intenzione, e dentro a voi la spiega,
24sì che l’animo ad essa volger face;

25e se, rivolto, inver’ di lei si piega,
26quel piegare è amor, quell’ è natura
27che per piacer di novo in voi si lega.

28Poi, come ’l foco movesi in altura
29per la sua forma ch’è nata a salire
30là dove più in sua matera dura,

31così l’animo preso entra in disire,
32ch’è moto spiritale, e mai non posa
33fin che la cosa amata il fa gioire.

34Or ti puote apparer quant’ è nascosa
35la veritate a la gente ch’avvera
36ciascun amore in sé laudabil cosa;

37però che forse appar la sua matera
38sempre esser buona, ma non ciascun segno
39è buono, ancor che buona sia la cera».

40«Le tue parole e ’l mio seguace ingegno»,
41rispuos’ io lui, «m’hanno amor discoverto,
42ma ciò m’ha fatto di dubbiar più pregno;

43ché, s’amore è di fuori a noi offerto
44e l’anima non va con altro piede,
45se dritta o torta va, non è suo merto».

46Ed elli a me: «Quanto ragion qui vede,
47dir ti poss’ io; da indi in là t’aspetta
48pur a Beatrice, ch’è opra di fede.

49Ogne forma sustanzïal, che setta
50è da matera ed è con lei unita,
51specifica vertute ha in sé colletta,

52la qual sanza operar non è sentita,
53né si dimostra mai che per effetto,
54come per verdi fronde in pianta vita.

55Però, là onde vegna lo ’ntelletto
56de le prime notizie, omo non sape,
57e de’ primi appetibili l’affetto,

58che sono in voi sì come studio in ape
59di far lo mele; e questa prima voglia
60merto di lode o di biasmo non cape.

61Or perché a questa ogn’ altra si raccoglia,
62innata v’è la virtù che consiglia,
63e de l’assenso de’ tener la soglia.

64Quest’ è ’l principio là onde si piglia
65ragion di meritare in voi, secondo
66che buoni e rei amori accoglie e viglia.

67Color che ragionando andaro al fondo,
68s’accorser d’esta innata libertate;
69però moralità lasciaro al mondo.

70Onde, poniam che di necessitate
71surga ogne amor che dentro a voi s’accende,
72di ritenerlo è in voi la podestate.

73La nobile virtù Beatrice intende
74per lo libero arbitrio, e però guarda
75che l’abbi a mente, s’a parlar ten prende».

76La luna, quasi a mezza notte tarda,
77facea le stelle a noi parer più rade,
78fatta com’ un secchion che tuttor arda;

79e correa contro ’l ciel per quelle strade
80che ’l sole infiamma allor che quel da Roma
81tra ’ Sardi e ’ Corsi il vede quando cade.

82E quell’ ombra gentil per cui si noma
83Pietola più che villa mantoana,
84del mio carcar diposta avea la soma;

85per ch’io, che la ragione aperta e piana
86sovra le mie quistioni avea ricolta,
87stava com’ om che sonnolento vana.

88Ma questa sonnolenza mi fu tolta
89subitamente da gente che dopo
90le nostre spalle a noi era già volta.

91E quale Ismeno già vide e Asopo
92lungo di sè di notte furia e calca,
93pur che i Teban di Bacco avesser uopo,

94cotal per quel giron suo passo falca,
95per quel ch’io vidi di color, venendo,
96cui buon volere e giusto amor cavalca.

97Tosto fur sovr’ a noi, perché correndo
98si movea tutta quella turba magna;
99e due dinanzi gridavan piangendo:

100«Maria corse con fretta a la montagna;
101e Cesare, per soggiogare Ilerda,
102punse Marsilia e poi corse in Ispagna».

103«Ratto, ratto, che ’l tempo non si perda
104per poco amor», gridavan li altri appresso,
105«che studio di ben far grazia rinverda».

106«O gente in cui fervore aguto adesso
107ricompie forse negligenza e indugio
108da voi per tepidezza in ben far messo,

109questi che vive, e certo i’ non vi bugio,
110vuole andar sù, pur che ’l sol ne riluca;
111però ne dite ond’ è presso il pertugio».

112Parole furon queste del mio duca;
113e un di quelli spirti disse: «Vieni
114di retro a noi, e troverai la buca.

115Noi siam di voglia a muoverci sì pieni,
116che restar non potem; però perdona,
117se villania nostra giustizia tieni.

118Io fui abate in San Zeno a Verona
119sotto lo ’mperio del buon Barbarossa,
120di cui dolente ancor Milan ragiona.

121E tale ha già l’un piè dentro la fossa,
122che tosto piangerà quel monastero,
123e tristo fia d’avere avuta possa;

124perché suo figlio, mal del corpo intero,
125e de la mente peggio, e che mal nacque,
126ha posto in loco di suo pastor vero».

127Io non so se più disse o s’ei si tacque,
128tant’ era già di là da noi trascorso;
129ma questo intesi, e ritener mi piacque.

130E quei che m’era ad ogne uopo soccorso
131disse: «Volgiti qua: vedine due
132venir dando a l’accidïa di morso».

133Di retro a tutti dicean: «Prima fue
134morta la gente a cui il mar s’aperse,
135che vedesse Iordan le rede sue.

136E quella che l’affanno non sofferse
137fino a la fine col figlio d’Anchise,
138sé stessa a vita sanza gloria offerse».

139Poi quando fuor da noi tanto divise
140quell’ ombre, che veder più non potiersi,
141novo pensiero dentro a me si mise,

142del qual più altri nacquero e diversi;
143e tanto d’uno in altro vaneggiai,
144che li occhi per vaghezza ricopersi,

145e ’l pensamento in sogno trasmutai.

The subtle teacher had completed his
discourse to me; attentively he watched
my eyes to see if I seemed satisfied.

And I, still goaded by new thirst, was silent
without, although within I said: “Perhaps
I have displeased him with too many questions.”

But that true father, who had recognized
the timid want I would not tell aloud,
by speaking, gave me courage to speak out.

At which I said: “Master, my sight is so
illumined by your light—I recognize
all that your words declare or analyze.

Therefore, I pray you, gentle father dear,
to teach me what love is: you have reduced
to love both each good and its opposite.”

He said: “Direct your intellect’s sharp eyes
toward me, and let the error of the blind
who’d serve as guides be evident to you.

The soul, which is created quick to love,
responds to everything that pleases, just
as soon as beauty wakens it to act.

Your apprehension draws an image from
a real object and expands upon
that object until soul has turned toward it;

and if, so turned, the soul tends steadfastly,
then that propensity is love—it’s nature
that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty.

Then, just as flames ascend because the form
of fire was fashioned to fly upward, toward
the stuff of its own sphere, where it lasts longest,

so does the soul, when seized, move into longing,
a motion of the spirit, never resting
till the beloved thing has made it joyous.

Now you can plainly see how deeply hidden
truth is from scrutinists who would insist
that every love is, in itself, praiseworthy;

and they are led to error by the matter
of love, because it may seem—always—good;
but not each seal is fine, although the wax is.”

“Your speech and my own wit that followed it,”
I answered him, “have shown me what love is;
but that has filled me with still greater doubt;

for if love’s offered to us from without
and is the only foot with which soul walks,
soul—going straight or crooked—has no merit.”

And he to me: “What reason can see here,
I can impart; past that, for truth of faith,
it’s Beatrice alone you must await.

Every substantial form, at once distinct
from matter and conjoined to it, ingathers
the force that is distinctively its own,

a force unknown to us until it acts—
it’s never shown except in its effects,
just as green boughs display the life in plants.

And thus man does not know the source of his
intelligence of primal notions and
his tending toward desire’s primal objects:

both are in you just as in bees there is
the honey—making urge; such primal will
deserves no praise, and it deserves no blame.

Now, that all other longings may conform
to this first will, there is in you, inborn,
the power that counsels, keeper of the threshold

of your assent: this is the principle
on which your merit may be judged, for it
garners and winnows good and evil longings.

Those reasoners who reached the roots of things
learned of this inborn freedom; the bequest
that, thus, they left unto the world is ethics.

Even if we allow necessity
as source for every love that flames in you,
the power to curb that love is still your own.

This noble power is what Beatrice
means by free will; therefore, remember it,
if she should ever speak of it to you.”

The moon, with midnight now behind us, made
the stars seem scarcer to us; it was shaped
just like a copper basin, gleaming, new;

and countercourse, it crossed those paths the sun
ignites when those in Rome can see it set
between the Corsicans and the Sardinians.

That gracious shade for whom Pietola
won more renown than any Mantuan town,
had freed me from the weight of doubt I bore;

so that I, having harvested his clear
and open answers to my questions, stood
like one who, nearing sleep, has random visions.

But readiness for sleep was suddenly
taken from me by people who, behind
our backs, already turned in our direction.

Just as—of old—Ismenus and Asopus,
at night, along their banks, saw crowds and clamor
whenever Thebans had to summon Bacchus,

such was the arching crowd that curved around
that circle, driven on, as I made out,
by righteous will as well as by just love.

Soon all that mighty throng drew near us, for
they ran and ran; and two, in front of them,
who wept, were crying: “In her journey, Mary

made haste to reach the mountain, and, in order
to conquer Lerida, first Caesar thrust
against Marseilles, and then to Spain he rushed.”

Following them, the others cried: “Quick, quick,
lest time be lost through insufficient love;
where urge for good is keen, grace finds new green.”

“O people in whom eager fervor now
may compensate for sloth and negligence
you showed in doing good half—heartedly,

he—who’s alive, and surely I don’t lie
to you—would climb above as soon as he
has seen the sun shed light on us again;

then, tell us where the passage lies at hand.”
My guide said this. One of the souls replied:
“Come, follow us, and you will find the gap.

We are so fully anxious to advance—
we cannot halt; and do forgive us, should
you take our penance for discourtesy.

I was St. Zeno’s abbot in Verona
under the rule of valiant Barbarossa,
of whom Milan still speaks with so much sorrow.

And there is one with one foot in the grave,
who soon will weep over that monastery,
lamenting that he once had power there,

because, in place of its true shepherd, he
put one who was unsound of body and,
still more, of mind, and born in sin—his son.

I don’t know if he said more or was silent—
he had already raced so far beyond us;
but I heard this much and was pleased to hear it.

And he who was my help in every need
said: “Turn around: see those two coming—they
whose words mock sloth.” And I heard those two say

behind all of the rest: “The ones for whom
the sea parted were dead before the Jordan
saw those who had inherited its lands;

and those who did not suffer trials until
the end together with Anchises’ son
gave themselves up to life without renown.”

Then, when those shades were so far off from us
that seeing them became impossible,
a new thought rose inside of me and, from

that thought, still others—many and diverse—
were born: I was so drawn from random thought
to thought that, wandering in mind, I shut

my eyes, transforming thought on thought to dream.

AN end had put unto his reasoning
The lofty Teacher, and attent was looking
Into my face, if I appeared content;

And I, whom a new thirst still goaded on,
Without was mute, and said within: “Perchance
The too much questioning I make annoys him.”

But that true Father, who had comprehended
The timid wish, that opened not itself,
By speaking gave me hardihood to speak.

Whence I: “My sight is, Master, vivified
So in thy light, that clearly I discern
Whate’er thy speech importeth or describes

Therefore I thee entreat, sweet Father dear,
To teach me love, to which thou dost refer
Every good action and its contrary.”

“Direct,” he said, “towards me the keen eyes
Of intellect, and clear will be to thee
The error,of the blind, who would be leaders

The soul, which is created apt to love,
Is mobile unto everything that pleases,
Soon as by pleasure she is waked to action.

Your apprehension from some real thing
An image draws, and in yourselves displays it
So that it makes the soul turn unto it.

And if, when turned, towards it she incline,
Love is that inclination; it is nature,
Which is by pleasure bound in you anew

Then even as the fire doth upward move
By its own form, which to ascend is born,
Where longest in its matter it endures,

So comes the captive soul into desire,
Which is a motion spiritual, and ne’er rests
Until she doth enjoy the thing beloved.

Now may apparent be to thee how hidden
The truth is from those people, who aver
All love is in itself a laudable thing,

Because its matter may perchance appear
Aye to be good; but yet not each impression
Is good, albeit good may be the wax.”

“Thy words, and my sequacious intellect,”
I answered him, “have love revealed to me;
But that has made me more impregned with doubt;

For if love from without be offered us,
And with another foot the soul go not,
If right or wrong she go, ’tis not her merit.”

And he to me: “What reason seeth here,
Myself can tell thee; beyond that await
For Beatrice since ’tis a work of faith.

Every substantial form, that segregate
From matter is, and with it is united,
Specific power has in itself collected,

Which without act is not perceptible,
Nor shows itself except by its effect,
As life does in a plant by the green leaves.

But still, whence cometh the intelligence
Of the first notions, man is ignorant,
And the affection for the first allurements,

Which are in you as instinct in the bee
To make its honey; and this first desire
Merit of praise or blame containeth not.

Now, that to this all others may be gathered,
Innate within you is the power that counsels,
And it should keep the threshold of assent.

This is the principle, from which is taken
Occasion of desert in you, according
As good and guilty loves it takes and winnows.

Those who,. in reasoning, to the bottom went,
Were of this innate liberty aware,
Therefore bequeathed they Ethics to the world.

Supposing, then, that from necessity
Springs every love that is within you kindled,
Within yourselves the power is to restrain it.

The noble virtue Beatrice understands
By the free will; and therefore see that thou
Bear it in mind, if she should speak of it.”

The moon, belated almost unto midnight,
Now made the stars appear to us more rare,
Formed like a bucket, that is all ablaze,

And counter to the heavens ran through those paths
Which the sun sets aflame, when he of Rome
Sees it ‘twixt Sardes and Corsicans go down;

And that patrician shade, for whom is named
Pietola more than any Mantuan town,
Had laid aside the burden of my lading;

Whence I, who reason manifest and plain
In answer to my questions had received,
Stood like a my in drowsy reverie.

But taken from me was this drowsiness
Suddenly by a people, that behind
Our backs already had come round to us.

And as, of old, Ismenus and Asopus
Beside them saw at night the rush and throng,
If but the Thebans were in need of Bacchus,

So they along that circle curve their step,
From what I saw of those approaching us,
Who by good—will and righteous love are ridden.

Full soon they were upon us, because running
Moved onward all that mighty multitude,
And two in the advance cried out, lamenting,

“Mary in haste unto the mountain ran,
And Caesar, that he might subdue Ilerda,
Thrust at Marseilles, and then ran into Spain.”

“Quick! quick! so that the time may not be lost
By little love!” forthwith the others cried,
“For ardour in well—doing freshens grace!”

“O folk, in whom an eager fervour now
Supplies perhaps delay and negligence,
Put by you in well—doing, through lukewarmness,

This one who lives, and truly I lie not,
Would fain go up, if but the sun relight us;
So tell us where the passage nearest is.”

These were the words of him who was my Guide;
And some one of those spirits said: “Come on
Behind us, and the opening shalt thou find;

So full of longing are we to move onward,
That stay we cannot; therefore pardon us,
If thou for churlishness our justice take.

I was San Zeno’s Abbot at Verona,
Under the empire of good Barbarossa,
Of whom still sorrowing Milan holds discourse

And he has one foot in the grave already,
Who shall erelong lament that monastery,
And sorry be of having there had power,

Because his son, in his whole body sick,
And worse in mind, and who was evil—born,
He put into the place of its true pastor.”

If more he said, or silent was, I know not
He had already passed so far beyond us;
But this I heard, and to retain it pleased me.

And he who was in every need my succour
Said: “Turn thee hitherward; See two of them
Come fastening upon slothfulness their teeth.”

In rear of all they shouted: “Sooner were
The people dead to whom the sea was opened,
Than their inheritors the Jordan saw;

And those who the fatigue did not endure
Unto the issue, with Anchises’ son,
Themselves to life withouten glory offered.”

Then When from us so separated were
Those shades, that they no longer could be seen,
Within me a new thought did entrance find,

Whence others many and diverse were born
And so I lapsed from one into another
That in a reverie mine eyes I closed,

And meditation into dream transmuted.

The subtle teacher had completed his
discourse to me; attentively he watched
my eyes to see if I seemed satisfied.

And I, still goaded by new thirst, was silent
without, although within I said: “Perhaps
I have displeased him with too many questions.”

But that true father, who had recognized
the timid want I would not tell aloud,
by speaking, gave me courage to speak out.

At which I said: “Master, my sight is so
illumined by your light—I recognize
all that your words declare or analyze.

Therefore, I pray you, gentle father dear,
to teach me what love is: you have reduced
to love both each good and its opposite.”

He said: “Direct your intellect’s sharp eyes
toward me, and let the error of the blind
who’d serve as guides be evident to you.

The soul, which is created quick to love,
responds to everything that pleases, just
as soon as beauty wakens it to act.

Your apprehension draws an image from
a real object and expands upon
that object until soul has turned toward it;

and if, so turned, the soul tends steadfastly,
then that propensity is love—it’s nature
that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty.

Then, just as flames ascend because the form
of fire was fashioned to fly upward, toward
the stuff of its own sphere, where it lasts longest,

so does the soul, when seized, move into longing,
a motion of the spirit, never resting
till the beloved thing has made it joyous.

Now you can plainly see how deeply hidden
truth is from scrutinists who would insist
that every love is, in itself, praiseworthy;

and they are led to error by the matter
of love, because it may seem—always—good;
but not each seal is fine, although the wax is.”

“Your speech and my own wit that followed it,”
I answered him, “have shown me what love is;
but that has filled me with still greater doubt;

for if love’s offered to us from without
and is the only foot with which soul walks,
soul—going straight or crooked—has no merit.”

And he to me: “What reason can see here,
I can impart; past that, for truth of faith,
it’s Beatrice alone you must await.

Every substantial form, at once distinct
from matter and conjoined to it, ingathers
the force that is distinctively its own,

a force unknown to us until it acts—
it’s never shown except in its effects,
just as green boughs display the life in plants.

And thus man does not know the source of his
intelligence of primal notions and
his tending toward desire’s primal objects:

both are in you just as in bees there is
the honey—making urge; such primal will
deserves no praise, and it deserves no blame.

Now, that all other longings may conform
to this first will, there is in you, inborn,
the power that counsels, keeper of the threshold

of your assent: this is the principle
on which your merit may be judged, for it
garners and winnows good and evil longings.

Those reasoners who reached the roots of things
learned of this inborn freedom; the bequest
that, thus, they left unto the world is ethics.

Even if we allow necessity
as source for every love that flames in you,
the power to curb that love is still your own.

This noble power is what Beatrice
means by free will; therefore, remember it,
if she should ever speak of it to you.”

The moon, with midnight now behind us, made
the stars seem scarcer to us; it was shaped
just like a copper basin, gleaming, new;

and countercourse, it crossed those paths the sun
ignites when those in Rome can see it set
between the Corsicans and the Sardinians.

That gracious shade for whom Pietola
won more renown than any Mantuan town,
had freed me from the weight of doubt I bore;

so that I, having harvested his clear
and open answers to my questions, stood
like one who, nearing sleep, has random visions.

But readiness for sleep was suddenly
taken from me by people who, behind
our backs, already turned in our direction.

Just as—of old—Ismenus and Asopus,
at night, along their banks, saw crowds and clamor
whenever Thebans had to summon Bacchus,

such was the arching crowd that curved around
that circle, driven on, as I made out,
by righteous will as well as by just love.

Soon all that mighty throng drew near us, for
they ran and ran; and two, in front of them,
who wept, were crying: “In her journey, Mary

made haste to reach the mountain, and, in order
to conquer Lerida, first Caesar thrust
against Marseilles, and then to Spain he rushed.”

Following them, the others cried: “Quick, quick,
lest time be lost through insufficient love;
where urge for good is keen, grace finds new green.”

“O people in whom eager fervor now
may compensate for sloth and negligence
you showed in doing good half—heartedly,

he—who’s alive, and surely I don’t lie
to you—would climb above as soon as he
has seen the sun shed light on us again;

then, tell us where the passage lies at hand.”
My guide said this. One of the souls replied:
“Come, follow us, and you will find the gap.

We are so fully anxious to advance—
we cannot halt; and do forgive us, should
you take our penance for discourtesy.

I was St. Zeno’s abbot in Verona
under the rule of valiant Barbarossa,
of whom Milan still speaks with so much sorrow.

And there is one with one foot in the grave,
who soon will weep over that monastery,
lamenting that he once had power there,

because, in place of its true shepherd, he
put one who was unsound of body and,
still more, of mind, and born in sin—his son.

I don’t know if he said more or was silent—
he had already raced so far beyond us;
but I heard this much and was pleased to hear it.

And he who was my help in every need
said: “Turn around: see those two coming—they
whose words mock sloth.” And I heard those two say

behind all of the rest: “The ones for whom
the sea parted were dead before the Jordan
saw those who had inherited its lands;

and those who did not suffer trials until
the end together with Anchises’ son
gave themselves up to life without renown.”

Then, when those shades were so far off from us
that seeing them became impossible,
a new thought rose inside of me and, from

that thought, still others—many and diverse—
were born: I was so drawn from random thought
to thought that, wandering in mind, I shut

my eyes, transforming thought on thought to dream.

AN end had put unto his reasoning
The lofty Teacher, and attent was looking
Into my face, if I appeared content;

And I, whom a new thirst still goaded on,
Without was mute, and said within: “Perchance
The too much questioning I make annoys him.”

But that true Father, who had comprehended
The timid wish, that opened not itself,
By speaking gave me hardihood to speak.

Whence I: “My sight is, Master, vivified
So in thy light, that clearly I discern
Whate’er thy speech importeth or describes

Therefore I thee entreat, sweet Father dear,
To teach me love, to which thou dost refer
Every good action and its contrary.”

“Direct,” he said, “towards me the keen eyes
Of intellect, and clear will be to thee
The error,of the blind, who would be leaders

The soul, which is created apt to love,
Is mobile unto everything that pleases,
Soon as by pleasure she is waked to action.

Your apprehension from some real thing
An image draws, and in yourselves displays it
So that it makes the soul turn unto it.

And if, when turned, towards it she incline,
Love is that inclination; it is nature,
Which is by pleasure bound in you anew

Then even as the fire doth upward move
By its own form, which to ascend is born,
Where longest in its matter it endures,

So comes the captive soul into desire,
Which is a motion spiritual, and ne’er rests
Until she doth enjoy the thing beloved.

Now may apparent be to thee how hidden
The truth is from those people, who aver
All love is in itself a laudable thing,

Because its matter may perchance appear
Aye to be good; but yet not each impression
Is good, albeit good may be the wax.”

“Thy words, and my sequacious intellect,”
I answered him, “have love revealed to me;
But that has made me more impregned with doubt;

For if love from without be offered us,
And with another foot the soul go not,
If right or wrong she go, ’tis not her merit.”

And he to me: “What reason seeth here,
Myself can tell thee; beyond that await
For Beatrice since ’tis a work of faith.

Every substantial form, that segregate
From matter is, and with it is united,
Specific power has in itself collected,

Which without act is not perceptible,
Nor shows itself except by its effect,
As life does in a plant by the green leaves.

But still, whence cometh the intelligence
Of the first notions, man is ignorant,
And the affection for the first allurements,

Which are in you as instinct in the bee
To make its honey; and this first desire
Merit of praise or blame containeth not.

Now, that to this all others may be gathered,
Innate within you is the power that counsels,
And it should keep the threshold of assent.

This is the principle, from which is taken
Occasion of desert in you, according
As good and guilty loves it takes and winnows.

Those who,. in reasoning, to the bottom went,
Were of this innate liberty aware,
Therefore bequeathed they Ethics to the world.

Supposing, then, that from necessity
Springs every love that is within you kindled,
Within yourselves the power is to restrain it.

The noble virtue Beatrice understands
By the free will; and therefore see that thou
Bear it in mind, if she should speak of it.”

The moon, belated almost unto midnight,
Now made the stars appear to us more rare,
Formed like a bucket, that is all ablaze,

And counter to the heavens ran through those paths
Which the sun sets aflame, when he of Rome
Sees it ‘twixt Sardes and Corsicans go down;

And that patrician shade, for whom is named
Pietola more than any Mantuan town,
Had laid aside the burden of my lading;

Whence I, who reason manifest and plain
In answer to my questions had received,
Stood like a my in drowsy reverie.

But taken from me was this drowsiness
Suddenly by a people, that behind
Our backs already had come round to us.

And as, of old, Ismenus and Asopus
Beside them saw at night the rush and throng,
If but the Thebans were in need of Bacchus,

So they along that circle curve their step,
From what I saw of those approaching us,
Who by good—will and righteous love are ridden.

Full soon they were upon us, because running
Moved onward all that mighty multitude,
And two in the advance cried out, lamenting,

“Mary in haste unto the mountain ran,
And Caesar, that he might subdue Ilerda,
Thrust at Marseilles, and then ran into Spain.”

“Quick! quick! so that the time may not be lost
By little love!” forthwith the others cried,
“For ardour in well—doing freshens grace!”

“O folk, in whom an eager fervour now
Supplies perhaps delay and negligence,
Put by you in well—doing, through lukewarmness,

This one who lives, and truly I lie not,
Would fain go up, if but the sun relight us;
So tell us where the passage nearest is.”

These were the words of him who was my Guide;
And some one of those spirits said: “Come on
Behind us, and the opening shalt thou find;

So full of longing are we to move onward,
That stay we cannot; therefore pardon us,
If thou for churlishness our justice take.

I was San Zeno’s Abbot at Verona,
Under the empire of good Barbarossa,
Of whom still sorrowing Milan holds discourse

And he has one foot in the grave already,
Who shall erelong lament that monastery,
And sorry be of having there had power,

Because his son, in his whole body sick,
And worse in mind, and who was evil—born,
He put into the place of its true pastor.”

If more he said, or silent was, I know not
He had already passed so far beyond us;
But this I heard, and to retain it pleased me.

And he who was in every need my succour
Said: “Turn thee hitherward; See two of them
Come fastening upon slothfulness their teeth.”

In rear of all they shouted: “Sooner were
The people dead to whom the sea was opened,
Than their inheritors the Jordan saw;

And those who the fatigue did not endure
Unto the issue, with Anchises’ son,
Themselves to life withouten glory offered.”

Then When from us so separated were
Those shades, that they no longer could be seen,
Within me a new thought did entrance find,

Whence others many and diverse were born
And so I lapsed from one into another
That in a reverie mine eyes I closed,

And meditation into dream transmuted.