Embracing the Human

The long astronomical periphrasis that opens this canto is a way of communicating the time that is a feature of Purgatorio; the beginning of Purgatorio 2 introduces us to the “earth-clock” (see the attached chart of the “earth-clock” at the end of this Introduction). Dante-poet tells time in purgatory always in relation to the time at different points on the earth’s circumference: sunrise in purgatory is noon at the Straits of Gibraltar, sunset in Jerusalem, and midnight at the river Ganges. In this way, Dante positions the action of Purgatorio with respect to time on earth, reminding us that purgatory is more like earth than the other two realms, for like earth it exists in time.

purgatorio 2

Unlike hell and heaven, which are eternal, purgatory is located on the earth, in the southern hemisphere, and exists in time, just like the lands of the northern hemisphere. By the same token, purgatory will cease to exist at the end of time. At the last judgment all the souls who go through purgatory on their way to paradise will be saved, and there will be no further need of a place in which saved souls must work to purify themselves before ascending to heaven.

The apparently triune structure of this afterworld thus overlays a fundamentally binary structure: at the end of time, after the last judgment, all souls will be either damned (in hell for all eternity) or saved (in paradise for all eternity). No one will any longer be making use of the (temporary) services of purgatory.

Purgatory is a waystation for saved souls, a place and a condition in which an already saved soul works to be completely freed from the underlying impulses that lead to sin. By means of its journey up the mountain, a soul that is saved when it arrives in purgatory is made, as in the last verse of Purgatorio, “pure and prepared to climb unto the stars”: “puro e disposto a salire alle stelle” (Purg. 33.145).

Let me state again: everyone who arrives in purgatory is already saved. However many thousands of years a soul might require for its purgation—for although there are particular sufferings coordinated to particular vices, the true currency of purgatory is time spent in the second realm—every soul who comes to this place will be saved when time comes to an end.

Purgatorio 2 is a canto of intense intertextuality, focused on two verses from two very different songs: one biblical, the other “contemporary” and in Italian. The two verses in question are cited verbatim: first the biblical psalm In exitu Israel de Aegypto and next the vernacular love poem Amor che nella mente mi ragiona, written by Dante himself.

The psalm is sung by souls who are being sailed to purgatory by an angel-helmsman. Dante’s friend Casella will explain later in the canto that all souls bound for purgatory gather and are picked up by the angelic craft at the mouth of the Tiber (Purg. 2.100-05). The psalm’s theme of the Exodus, the flight of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, clearly resonates to the theme of purgatory as a quest to leave bondage for freedom.

Among the souls who disembark on the shore of purgatory is Dante’s friend Casella. A strong Vergilian intertextuality suffuses the encounter with Casella. The poignant language of Dante’s attempt to embrace his friend only to find that he is an intangible shade is based on the melancholy passages of Aeneid 6 in which Aeneas tries to embrace lost loved ones:

Ohi ombre vane, fuor che ne l’aspetto! tre volte dietro a lei le mani avvinsi, e tante mi tornai con esse al petto. (Purg. 2.79-81) O shades—in all except appearance—empty! Three times I clasped my hands behind him and as often brought them back against my chest.

Dante asks Casella to sing for him an “amoroso canto” (a song of love [Purg. 1.107]), as was his wont on earth, and Casella complies by singing the first verse of a canzone: “Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona” (Love that discourses to me in my mind [Purg. 1.112]). The canzone Amor che nella mente is a love canzone that Dante had previously placed in his philosophical treatise Convivio, where he claims that the lady addressed is Lady Philosophy; it is the first of three of his own canzoni that Dante inserts into the Commedia. The first chapter of Dante’s Poets, “Autocitation and Autobiography,” interprets the three Dantean canzoni placed in the Commedia, decoding what is intended by the choice of canzoni and by their placement within the overall narrative structure.

Through the figure of Casella the poet introduces to the Purgatorio the great theme of friendship: there is no theme that has deeper roots in Dante’s poetry than that of male friendship, particularly friendship among poets and artists (see the sonnet Guido, i’ vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io). The theme of friendship in Purgatorio is tightly linked to the enduring connection that the souls still feel to their bodies. Casella beautifully expresses this connection, when he tells Dante that the love he felt for him “within my mortal flesh”—“nel mortal corpo” (Purg. 1.89)—is what he feels for Dante now, “freed from his body”:

  Rispuosemi: «Così com’io t’amai
nel mortal corpo, così t’amo sciolta:
però m’arresto; ma tu perché vai?». (Purg. 2.88-90)
He answered: “As I loved you when I was
within my mortal flesh, so, freed, I love you:
therefore I stay. But you, why do you journey?”

Those who stop to listen to Casella sing are lulled by the beauty of the song, until Cato breaks in upon the reverie at canto’s end with a sharp rebuke:

  qual negligenza, quale stare è questo?
Correte al monte a spogliarvi lo scoglio
ch’esser non lascia a voi Dio manifesto. (Purg. 2.121-23)
  What negligence, what lingering is this?
Quick, to the mountain to cast off the slough
that will not let you see God show Himself!

This will be the dynamic of Purgatorio: the love of the two friends who embrace each other, only to find their hands come up empty; the beauty of the love song that the souls linger to listen to, only to find that they are late for their appointment with paradise. Here we see the failures and the corrections of attempts to embrace the human: this is purgatory after all, and there is a job to do. But before the failure and the correction, Dante employs beautiful language to describe and indeed caress the warmth of human affection and the beauty of human art. In this language resides the special bitter-sweet music of Purgatorio: its music dwells precisely in its embrace of the human, caressed in this cantica as nowhere else in Dante’s poem.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm: Traveling the New and Never-Before-Traveled Path of this Life/Poem,” pp. 101-02; Dante’s Poets, Chapter 1, “Autocitation and Autobiography,” especially the section on the canzone Amor che nella mente mi ragiona.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 2: Embracing the Human.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-2/

About the Commento

1 Già era ’l sole a l’orizzonte giunto
2 lo cui meridïan cerchio coverchia
3 Ierusalèm col suo più alto punto;

4 e la notte, che opposita a lui cerchia,
5 uscia di Gange fuor con le Bilance,
6 che le caggion di man quando soverchia;

7 sì che le bianche e le vermiglie guance,
8 là dov’ i’ era, de la bella Aurora
9 per troppa etate divenivan rance.

10 Noi eravam lunghesso mare ancora,
11 come gente che pensa a suo cammino,
12 che va col cuore e col corpo dimora.

13 Ed ecco, qual, sorpreso dal mattino,
14 per li grossi vapor Marte rosseggia
15 giù nel ponente sovra ’l suol marino,

16 cotal m’apparve, s’ io ancor lo veggia,
17 un lume per lo mar venir sì ratto,
18 che ’l muover suo nessun volar pareggia.

19 Dal qual com’ io un poco ebbi ritratto
20 l’occhio per domandar lo duca mio,
21 rividil più lucente e maggior fatto.

22 Poi d’ogne lato ad esso m’appario
23 un non sapeva che bianco, e di sotto
24 a poco a poco un altro a lui uscìo.

25 Lo mio maestro ancor non facea motto,
26 mentre che i primi bianchi apparver ali;
27 allor che ben conobbe il galeotto,

28 gridò: «Fa, fa che le ginocchia cali.
29 Ecco l’angel di Dio: piega le mani;
30 omai vedrai di sì fatti officiali.

31 Vedi che sdegna li argomenti umani,
32 sì che remo non vuol, né altro velo
33 che l’ali sue, tra liti sì lontani.

34 Vedi come l’ha dritte verso ’l cielo,
35 trattando l’aere con l’etterne penne,
36 che non si mutan come mortal pelo».

37 Poi, come più e più verso noi venne
38 l’uccel divino, più chiaro appariva:
39 per che l’occhio da presso nol sostenne,

40 ma chinail giuso; e quei sen venne a riva
41      con un vasello snelletto e leggero,
42 tanto che l’acqua nulla ne ‘nghiottiva.

43 Da poppa stava il celestial nocchiero,
44 tal che faria beato pur descripto;
45 e più di cento spirti entro sediero.

46 ‘In exitu Isräel de Aegypto’
47 cantavan tutti insieme ad una voce
48 con quanto di quel salmo è poscia scripto.

49 Poi fece il segno lor di santa croce;
50 ond’ ei si gittar tutti in su la piaggia:
51 ed el sen gì, come venne, veloce.

52 La turba che rimase lì, selvaggia
53 parea del loco, rimirando intorno
54 come colui che nove cose assaggia.

55 Da tutte parti saettava il giorno
56 lo sol, ch’avea con le saette conte
57 di mezzo ’l ciel cacciato Capricorno,

58 quando la nova gente alzò la fronte
59 ver’ noi, dicendo a noi: «Se voi sapete,
60 mostratene la via di gire al monte».

61 E Virgilio rispuose: «Voi credete
62 forse che siamo esperti d’esto loco;
63 ma noi siam peregrin come voi siete.

64 Dianzi venimmo, innanzi a voi un poco,
65 per altra via, che fu sì aspra e forte,
66 che lo salire omai ne parrà gioco».

67 L’anime, che si fuor di me accorte,
68 per lo spirare, ch’i’ era ancor vivo,
69 maravigliando diventaro smorte.

70 E come a messagger che porta ulivo
71 tragge la gente per udir novelle,
72 e di calcar nessun si mostra schivo,

73 così al viso mio s’affisar quelle
74 anime fortunate tutte quante,
75 quasi oblïando d’ire a farsi belle.

76 Io vidi una di lor trarresi avante
77 per abbracciarmi con sì grande affetto,
78 che mosse me a far lo somigliante.

79 Ohi ombre vane, fuor che ne l’aspetto!
80 tre volte dietro a lei le mani avvinsi,
81 e tante mi tornai con esse al petto.

82 Di maraviglia, credo, mi dipinsi;
83 per che l’ombra sorrise e si ritrasse,
84 e io, seguendo lei, oltre mi pinsi.

85 Soavemente disse ch’io posasse;
86 allor conobbi chi era, e pregai
87 che, per parlarmi, un poco s’arrestasse.

88 Rispuosemi: «Così com’ io t’amai
89 nel mortal corpo, così t’amo sciolta:
90 però m’arresto; ma tu perché vai?».

91 «Casella mio, per tornar altra volta
92 là dov’ io son, fo io questo vïaggio»,
93 diss’ io; «ma a te com’ è tanta ora tolta?».

94 Ed elli a me: «Nessun m’è fatto oltraggio,
95 se quei che leva quando e cui li piace,
96 più volte m’ ha negato esto passaggio;

97 ché di giusto voler lo suo si face:
98 veramente da tre mesi elli ha tolto
99 chi ha voluto intrar, con tutta pace.

100 Ond’ io, ch’era ora a la marina vòlto
101 dove l’acqua di Tevero s’insala,
102 benignamente fu’ da lui ricolto.

103 A quella foce ha elli or dritta l’ala,
104 però che sempre quivi si ricoglie
105 qual verso Acheronte non si cala».

106 E io: «Se nuova legge non ti toglie
107 memoria o uso a l’amoroso canto
108 che mi solea quetar tutte mie doglie,

109 di ciò ti piaccia consolare alquanto
110 l’anima mia, che, con la sua persona
111 venendo qui, è affannata tanto!».

112 ‘Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona’
113 cominciò elli allor sì dolcemente,
114 che la dolcezza ancor dentro mi suona.

115 Lo mio maestro e io e quella gente
116 ch’eran con lui parevan sì contenti,
117 come a nessun toccasse altro la mente.

118 Noi eravam tutti fissi e attenti
119 a le sue note; ed ecco il veglio onesto
120 gridando: «Che è ciò, spiriti lenti?

121 qual negligenza, quale stare è questo?
122 Correte al monte a spogliarvi lo scoglio
123 ch’esser non lascia a voi Dio manifesto».

124 Come quando, cogliendo biado o loglio,
125 li colombi adunati a la pastura,
126 queti, sanza mostrar l’usato orgoglio,

127 se cosa appare ond’ elli abbian paura,
128 subitamente lasciano star l’esca,
129 perch’ assaliti son da maggior cura;

130 così vid’ io quella masnada fresca
131 lasciar lo canto, e fuggir ver’ la costa,
132 com’ om che va, né sa dove rïesca;

133 né la nostra partita fu men tosta.

By now the sun was crossing the horizon
of the meridian whose highest point
covers Jerusalem; and from the Ganges,

night, circling opposite the sun, was moving
together with the Scales that, when the length
of dark defeats the day, desert night’s hands;

so that, above the shore that I had reached,
the fair Aurora’s white and scarlet cheeks
were, as Aurora aged, becoming orange.

We still were by the sea, like those who think
about the journey they will undertake,
who go in heart but in the body stay.

And just as Mars, when it is overcome
by the invading mists of dawn, glows red
above the waters’ plain, low in the west,

so there appeared to me—and may I see it
again—a light that crossed the sea: so swift,
there is no flight of bird to equal it.

When, for a moment, I’d withdrawn my eyes
that I might ask a question of my guide,
I saw that light again, larger, more bright.

Then, to each side of it, I saw a whiteness,
though I did not know what that whiteness was;
below, another whiteness slowly showed.

My master did not say a word before
the whitenesses first seen appeared as wings;
but then, when he had recognized the helmsman,

he cried: “Bend, bend your knees: behold the angel
of God, and join your hands; from this point on,
this is the kind of minister you’ll meet.

See how much scorn he has for human means;
he’d have no other sail than his own wings
and use no oar between such distant shores.

See how he holds his wings, pointing to Heaven,
piercing the air with his eternal pinions,
which do not change as mortal plumage does.”

Then he—that bird divine—as he drew closer
and closer to us, seemed to gain in brightness,
so that my eyes could not endure his nearness,

and I was forced to lower them; and he
came on to shore with boat so light, so quick
that nowhere did the water swallow it.

The helmsman sent from Heaven, at the stern,
seemed to have blessedness inscribed upon him;
more than a hundred spirits sat within.

“In exitu Israel de Aegypto,”
with what is written after of that psalm,
all of those spirits sang as with one voice.

Then over them he made the holy cross
as sign; they flung themselves down on the shore,
and he moved off as he had come—swiftly.

The crowd that he had left along the beach
seemed not to know the place; they looked about
like those whose eyes try out things new to them.

Upon all sides the sun shot forth the day;
and from mid—heaven its incisive arrows
already had chased Capricorn away,

when those who’d just arrived lifted their heads
toward us and said: “Do show us, if you know,
the way by which we can ascend this slope.”

And Virgil answered: “You may be convinced
that we are quite familiar with this shore;
but we are strangers here, just as you are;

we came but now, a little while before you,
though by another path, so difficult
and dense that this ascent seems sport to us.”

The souls who, noticing my breathing, sensed
that I was still a living being, then,
out of astonishment, turned pale; and just

as people crowd around a messenger
who bears an olive branch, to hear his news,
and no one hesitates to join that crush,

so here those happy spirits—all of them—
stared hard at my face, just as if they had
forgotten to proceed to their perfection.

I saw one of those spirits moving forward
in order to embrace me—his affection
so great that I was moved to mime his welcome.

O shades—in all except appearance—empty!
Three times I clasped my hands behind him and
as often brought them back against my chest.

Dismay, I think, was painted on my face;
at this, that shadow smiled as he withdrew;
and I, still seeking him, again advanced.

Gently, he said that I could now stand back;
then I knew who he was, and I beseeched
him to remain awhile and talk with me.

He answered: “As I loved you when I was
within my mortal flesh, so, freed, I love you:
therefore I stay. But you, why do you journey?”

“My own Casella, to return again
to where I am, I journey thus; but why,”
I said, “were you deprived of so much time?”

And he: “No injury is done to me
if he who takes up whom—and when—he pleases
has kept me from this crossing many times,

for his own will derives from a just will.
And yet, for three months now, he has accepted,
most tranquilly, all those who would embark.

Therefore, I, who had turned then to the shore
at which the Tiber’s waters mix with salt,
was gathered in by his benevolence.

Straight to that river mouth, he set his wings:
that always is the place of gathering
for those who do not sink to Acheron.”

And I: “If there’s no new law that denies
you memory or practice of the songs
of love that used to quiet all my longings,

then may it please you with those songs to solace
my soul somewhat; for—having journeyed here
together with my body—it is weary.”

“Love that discourses to me in my mind”
he then began to sing—and sang so sweetly
that I still hear that sweetness sound in me.

My master, I, and all that company
around the singer seemed so satisfied,
as if no other thing might touch our minds.

We all were motionless and fixed upon
the notes, when all at once the grave old man
cried out: “What have we here, you laggard spirits?

What negligence, what lingering is this?
Quick, to the mountain to cast off the slough
that will not let you see God show Himself!”

Even as doves, assembled where they feed,
quietly gathering their grain or weeds,
forgetful of their customary strut,

will, if some thing appears that makes them fear,
immediately leave their food behind
because they are assailed by greater care;

so did I see that new—come company—
they left the song behind, turned toward the slope,
like those who go and yet do not know where.

And we were no less hasty in departure.

ALREADY had the sun the horizon reached
Whose circle of meridian covers o’er
Jerusalem with its most lofty point,

And night that opposite to him revolves
Was issuing forth from Ganges with the Scales
That fall from out her hand when she exceedeth;

So that the white and the vermilion cheeks
Of beautiful Aurora, where I was,
By too great age were changing into orange.

We still were on the border of the sea,
Like people who are thinking of their road,
Who go in heart and with the body stay;

And lo! as when, upon the approach of morning,
Through the gross vapours Mars grows fiery red
Down in the West upon the ocean floor,

Appeared to me— may I again behold it!—
A light along the sea so swiftly coming,
Its motion by no flight of wing is equalled;

From which when I a little had withdrawn
Mine eyes, that I might question my Conductor,
Again I saw it brighter grown and larger.

Then on each side of it appeared to me
I knew not what of white, and underneath it.
Little by little there came forth another.

My Master yet had uttered not a word
While the first whiteness into wings unfolded;
But when he clearly recognised the pilot,

He cried: “Make haste, make haste to bow the knee!
Behold the Angel of God! fold thou thy hands!
Henceforward shalt thou see such officers!

See how he scorneth human arguments,
So that nor oar he wants, nor other sail
Than his own wings, between so distant shores.

See how he holds them pointed up to heaven,
Fanning the air with the eternal pinions,
That do not moult themselves like mortal hair!”

Then as still nearer and more near us came
The Bird Divine, more radiant he appeared
So that near by the eye could not endure him,

But down I cast it; and he came to shore
With a small vessel, very swift and light,
So that the water swallowed naught thereof,

Upon the stern stood the Celestial Pilot;
Beatitude seemed written in his face,
And more than a hundred spirits sat within.

_”In exitu Israel de Aegypto!”_
They chanted all together in one voice,
With whatso in that psalm is after written.

Then made he sign of holy rood upon them,
Whereat all cast themselves upon the shore,
And he departed swiftly as he came.

The throng which still remained there unfamiliar
Seemed with the place, all round about them gazing,
As one who in new matters makes essay.

On every side was darting forth the day
The sun, who had with his resplendent shafts
From the mid—heaven chased forth the Capricorn,

When the new people lifted up their faces
Towards us, saying to us: “If ye know,
Show us the way to go unto the mountain.”

And answer made Virgilius: ‘ Ye believe
Perchance that we have knowledge of this place,
But we are strangers even as ourselves

Just now we came, a little while before you;
Another way, which was so rough and steep,
That mounting will henceforth seem sport to us.”

The souls who had, from seeing me draw breath,
Become aware that I was still alive,
Pallid in their astonishment became;

And as to messenger who bears the olive
The people throng to listen to the news,
And no one shows himself afraid of crowding,

So at the sight of me stood motionless
Those fortunate spirits, all of them, as if
Oblivious to go and make them fair.

One from among them saw I coming forward,
As to embrace me, with such great affection,
That it incited me to do the like.

O empty shadows, save in aspect only!
Three times behind it did I clasp my hands,
As oft returned with them to my own breast!

I think with wonder I depicted me;
Whereat the shadow smiled and backward drew;
And I, pursuing it, pressed farther forward.

Gently it said that I should stay my steps;
Then knew I who it was, and I entreated
That it would stop awhile to speak with me.

It made reply to me: “Even as I loved thee
In mortal body, so I love thee free;
Therefore I stop; but wherefore goest thou ?”

“My own Casella! to return once more
There where I am, I make this journey,”said I;
“But how from thee has so much time be taken?

And he to me: “No outrage has been done me,
If he who takes both when and whom he pleases
Has many times denied to me this passage,

For of a righteous will his own is made.
He, sooth to say, for three months past has taken
Whoever wished to enter with all peace;

Whence I, who now had turned unto that shore
Where salt the waters of the Tiber grow,
Benignantly by him have been received.

Unto that outlet now his wing is pointed,
Because for evermore assemble there
Those who tow’rds Acheron do not descend.”

And I: “If some new law take not from thee
Memory or practice of the song of love,
Which used to quiet in me all my longings,

Thee may it please to comfort therewithal
Somewhat this soul of mine, that with its body
Hitherward coming is so much distressed.”

_”Love, that within my mind discourses with me,”_
Forthwith began he so melodiously,
The melody within me still is sounding.

My Master, and myself, and all that people
Which with him were, appeared as satisfied
As if naught else might touch the mind of any;

We all of us were moveless and attentive
Unto his notes; and lo! the grave old man,
Exclaiming: “What is this, ye laggard spirits

What negligence, what standing still is this ?
Run to the mountain to strip off the slough,
That lets not God be manifest to you.”

Even as when, collecting grain or tares,
The doves, together at their pasture met,
Quiet, nor showing their accustomed pride,

If aught appear of which they are afraid,
Upon a sudden leave their food alone,
Because they are assailed by greater care;

So that fresh company did I behold
The song relinquish, and go tow’rds the hill,
As one who goes, and knows not whitherward;

Nor was our own departure less in haste.

By now the sun was crossing the horizon
of the meridian whose highest point
covers Jerusalem; and from the Ganges,

night, circling opposite the sun, was moving
together with the Scales that, when the length
of dark defeats the day, desert night’s hands;

so that, above the shore that I had reached,
the fair Aurora’s white and scarlet cheeks
were, as Aurora aged, becoming orange.

We still were by the sea, like those who think
about the journey they will undertake,
who go in heart but in the body stay.

And just as Mars, when it is overcome
by the invading mists of dawn, glows red
above the waters’ plain, low in the west,

so there appeared to me—and may I see it
again—a light that crossed the sea: so swift,
there is no flight of bird to equal it.

When, for a moment, I’d withdrawn my eyes
that I might ask a question of my guide,
I saw that light again, larger, more bright.

Then, to each side of it, I saw a whiteness,
though I did not know what that whiteness was;
below, another whiteness slowly showed.

My master did not say a word before
the whitenesses first seen appeared as wings;
but then, when he had recognized the helmsman,

he cried: “Bend, bend your knees: behold the angel
of God, and join your hands; from this point on,
this is the kind of minister you’ll meet.

See how much scorn he has for human means;
he’d have no other sail than his own wings
and use no oar between such distant shores.

See how he holds his wings, pointing to Heaven,
piercing the air with his eternal pinions,
which do not change as mortal plumage does.”

Then he—that bird divine—as he drew closer
and closer to us, seemed to gain in brightness,
so that my eyes could not endure his nearness,

and I was forced to lower them; and he
came on to shore with boat so light, so quick
that nowhere did the water swallow it.

The helmsman sent from Heaven, at the stern,
seemed to have blessedness inscribed upon him;
more than a hundred spirits sat within.

“In exitu Israel de Aegypto,”
with what is written after of that psalm,
all of those spirits sang as with one voice.

Then over them he made the holy cross
as sign; they flung themselves down on the shore,
and he moved off as he had come—swiftly.

The crowd that he had left along the beach
seemed not to know the place; they looked about
like those whose eyes try out things new to them.

Upon all sides the sun shot forth the day;
and from mid—heaven its incisive arrows
already had chased Capricorn away,

when those who’d just arrived lifted their heads
toward us and said: “Do show us, if you know,
the way by which we can ascend this slope.”

And Virgil answered: “You may be convinced
that we are quite familiar with this shore;
but we are strangers here, just as you are;

we came but now, a little while before you,
though by another path, so difficult
and dense that this ascent seems sport to us.”

The souls who, noticing my breathing, sensed
that I was still a living being, then,
out of astonishment, turned pale; and just

as people crowd around a messenger
who bears an olive branch, to hear his news,
and no one hesitates to join that crush,

so here those happy spirits—all of them—
stared hard at my face, just as if they had
forgotten to proceed to their perfection.

I saw one of those spirits moving forward
in order to embrace me—his affection
so great that I was moved to mime his welcome.

O shades—in all except appearance—empty!
Three times I clasped my hands behind him and
as often brought them back against my chest.

Dismay, I think, was painted on my face;
at this, that shadow smiled as he withdrew;
and I, still seeking him, again advanced.

Gently, he said that I could now stand back;
then I knew who he was, and I beseeched
him to remain awhile and talk with me.

He answered: “As I loved you when I was
within my mortal flesh, so, freed, I love you:
therefore I stay. But you, why do you journey?”

“My own Casella, to return again
to where I am, I journey thus; but why,”
I said, “were you deprived of so much time?”

And he: “No injury is done to me
if he who takes up whom—and when—he pleases
has kept me from this crossing many times,

for his own will derives from a just will.
And yet, for three months now, he has accepted,
most tranquilly, all those who would embark.

Therefore, I, who had turned then to the shore
at which the Tiber’s waters mix with salt,
was gathered in by his benevolence.

Straight to that river mouth, he set his wings:
that always is the place of gathering
for those who do not sink to Acheron.”

And I: “If there’s no new law that denies
you memory or practice of the songs
of love that used to quiet all my longings,

then may it please you with those songs to solace
my soul somewhat; for—having journeyed here
together with my body—it is weary.”

“Love that discourses to me in my mind”
he then began to sing—and sang so sweetly
that I still hear that sweetness sound in me.

My master, I, and all that company
around the singer seemed so satisfied,
as if no other thing might touch our minds.

We all were motionless and fixed upon
the notes, when all at once the grave old man
cried out: “What have we here, you laggard spirits?

What negligence, what lingering is this?
Quick, to the mountain to cast off the slough
that will not let you see God show Himself!”

Even as doves, assembled where they feed,
quietly gathering their grain or weeds,
forgetful of their customary strut,

will, if some thing appears that makes them fear,
immediately leave their food behind
because they are assailed by greater care;

so did I see that new—come company—
they left the song behind, turned toward the slope,
like those who go and yet do not know where.

And we were no less hasty in departure.

ALREADY had the sun the horizon reached
Whose circle of meridian covers o’er
Jerusalem with its most lofty point,

And night that opposite to him revolves
Was issuing forth from Ganges with the Scales
That fall from out her hand when she exceedeth;

So that the white and the vermilion cheeks
Of beautiful Aurora, where I was,
By too great age were changing into orange.

We still were on the border of the sea,
Like people who are thinking of their road,
Who go in heart and with the body stay;

And lo! as when, upon the approach of morning,
Through the gross vapours Mars grows fiery red
Down in the West upon the ocean floor,

Appeared to me— may I again behold it!—
A light along the sea so swiftly coming,
Its motion by no flight of wing is equalled;

From which when I a little had withdrawn
Mine eyes, that I might question my Conductor,
Again I saw it brighter grown and larger.

Then on each side of it appeared to me
I knew not what of white, and underneath it.
Little by little there came forth another.

My Master yet had uttered not a word
While the first whiteness into wings unfolded;
But when he clearly recognised the pilot,

He cried: “Make haste, make haste to bow the knee!
Behold the Angel of God! fold thou thy hands!
Henceforward shalt thou see such officers!

See how he scorneth human arguments,
So that nor oar he wants, nor other sail
Than his own wings, between so distant shores.

See how he holds them pointed up to heaven,
Fanning the air with the eternal pinions,
That do not moult themselves like mortal hair!”

Then as still nearer and more near us came
The Bird Divine, more radiant he appeared
So that near by the eye could not endure him,

But down I cast it; and he came to shore
With a small vessel, very swift and light,
So that the water swallowed naught thereof,

Upon the stern stood the Celestial Pilot;
Beatitude seemed written in his face,
And more than a hundred spirits sat within.

_”In exitu Israel de Aegypto!”_
They chanted all together in one voice,
With whatso in that psalm is after written.

Then made he sign of holy rood upon them,
Whereat all cast themselves upon the shore,
And he departed swiftly as he came.

The throng which still remained there unfamiliar
Seemed with the place, all round about them gazing,
As one who in new matters makes essay.

On every side was darting forth the day
The sun, who had with his resplendent shafts
From the mid—heaven chased forth the Capricorn,

When the new people lifted up their faces
Towards us, saying to us: “If ye know,
Show us the way to go unto the mountain.”

And answer made Virgilius: ‘ Ye believe
Perchance that we have knowledge of this place,
But we are strangers even as ourselves

Just now we came, a little while before you;
Another way, which was so rough and steep,
That mounting will henceforth seem sport to us.”

The souls who had, from seeing me draw breath,
Become aware that I was still alive,
Pallid in their astonishment became;

And as to messenger who bears the olive
The people throng to listen to the news,
And no one shows himself afraid of crowding,

So at the sight of me stood motionless
Those fortunate spirits, all of them, as if
Oblivious to go and make them fair.

One from among them saw I coming forward,
As to embrace me, with such great affection,
That it incited me to do the like.

O empty shadows, save in aspect only!
Three times behind it did I clasp my hands,
As oft returned with them to my own breast!

I think with wonder I depicted me;
Whereat the shadow smiled and backward drew;
And I, pursuing it, pressed farther forward.

Gently it said that I should stay my steps;
Then knew I who it was, and I entreated
That it would stop awhile to speak with me.

It made reply to me: “Even as I loved thee
In mortal body, so I love thee free;
Therefore I stop; but wherefore goest thou ?”

“My own Casella! to return once more
There where I am, I make this journey,”said I;
“But how from thee has so much time be taken?

And he to me: “No outrage has been done me,
If he who takes both when and whom he pleases
Has many times denied to me this passage,

For of a righteous will his own is made.
He, sooth to say, for three months past has taken
Whoever wished to enter with all peace;

Whence I, who now had turned unto that shore
Where salt the waters of the Tiber grow,
Benignantly by him have been received.

Unto that outlet now his wing is pointed,
Because for evermore assemble there
Those who tow’rds Acheron do not descend.”

And I: “If some new law take not from thee
Memory or practice of the song of love,
Which used to quiet in me all my longings,

Thee may it please to comfort therewithal
Somewhat this soul of mine, that with its body
Hitherward coming is so much distressed.”

_”Love, that within my mind discourses with me,”_
Forthwith began he so melodiously,
The melody within me still is sounding.

My Master, and myself, and all that people
Which with him were, appeared as satisfied
As if naught else might touch the mind of any;

We all of us were moveless and attentive
Unto his notes; and lo! the grave old man,
Exclaiming: “What is this, ye laggard spirits

What negligence, what standing still is this ?
Run to the mountain to strip off the slough,
That lets not God be manifest to you.”

Even as when, collecting grain or tares,
The doves, together at their pasture met,
Quiet, nor showing their accustomed pride,

If aught appear of which they are afraid,
Upon a sudden leave their food alone,
Because they are assailed by greater care;

So that fresh company did I behold
The song relinquish, and go tow’rds the hill,
As one who goes, and knows not whitherward;

Nor was our own departure less in haste.