Non-Normative Consolation

Purgatorio 31, with Purgatorio 30, belongs to the microcosmic core of the canti of the earthly paradise, encircled by the macrocosm that treats world-historical events (see the diagram at the end of Purgatorio 28). Here Dante’s life and Dante’s personal choices are at stake.

Purgatorio 31 continues Beatrice’s rebuke, begun in the previous canto, where she vigorously expresses her dismay that Dante, after her death, had “taken himself from her and given himself to others”: “questi si tolse a me, e diessi altrui” (Purg. 30.126).

In Purgatorio 31, she refers again to these “others”, now as “sirens” (“serene” [Purg. 31.45]). Dante’s “errore” (44) in listening to sirens was the greater because he had been given Beatrice, and he should have been able to follow her—even after her death—in the proper direction:

  Tuttavia, perché mo vergogna porte
del tuo errore, e perché altra vota,
udendo le serene, sie più forte,
  pon giù il seme del piangere e ascolta:
sì udirai come in contraria parte
mover dovieti mia carne sepolta. (Purg. 31.43-48)
  Nevertheless, that you may feel more shame
for your mistake, and that—in time to come—
hearing the Sirens, you may be more strong,
  have done with all the tears you sowed, and listen:
so shall you hear how, unto other ends,
my buried flesh should have directed you.

Who are these sirens who tempted Dante after Beatrice’s death? They are both real/historical and allegorical/symbolic. Dante’s love poetry contains the names of many ladies other than Beatrice, including one, the donna petra, to whom he wrote some of the most charged and compellingly beautiful erotic verse ever written. The second half of the Vita Nuova hinges on the compassion shown to Dante by a beautiful lady after Beatrice’s death, and his subsequent falling in love with her. The Convivio returns to the donna gentile episode of the Vita Nuova, more than a decade later, to say that the donna gentile never existed in reality: she was really Lady Philosophy. In another poem, Parole mie, he writes openly of “quella donna in cui errai” (that lady in whom I erred [Parole mie 3]). All these ladies who caused him to err after Beatrice’s death are now lumped into “diessi altrui” (Purg. 30.126): he gave himself to others.

The theme of whether one should be constant in love or whether variability in love is to be expected is one to which Dante is deeply drawn: he begins to treat it in his earliest poetry and returns throughout his life. As a topic it culminates in Beatrice’s purgatorial rebuke. She settles the matter: constancy is required, even when the beloved has died.

In requiring constancy toward a dead beloved, Beatrice validates an unconventional position that Dante had adopted as early as the Vita Nuova. This edict is stated in the sonnet L’amaro lagrimar (Vita Nuova XXXVII/26):

  Voi non dovreste mai, se non per morte,
la vostra donna, ch’è morta, obliare.
  Unless you die, you should not ever be
forgetful of your lady who has died.

The position adopted in L’amaro lagrimar is not a conventional position for lovers in the previous lyric tradition. It became conventional after Dante, because Petrarch used it—another of Dante’s forgotten but exploited “inventions” (see the Introduction to Purgatorio 29).

In my commentary to Videro gli occhi miei, another of the donna gentile poems of the Vita Nuova, I write as follows about Dante’s “refusal of normative consolation” and the non-normative route to consolation that he devised for himself:

Often fidelity is withdrawn and reallocated in case of death, and in “normal” daily life we do not consider such a substitution sinful. In fact, we consider it healthy to accept the death of a beloved and to “move on.” Ultimately Dante does not accept the normative rules of his society and so has himself be reprimanded by Beatrice in the earthly paradise for not having remained faithful to her after her death. According to the logic of their conversation in purgatory, only after her death did Beatrice become truly “useable” (in the Augustinian sense of the tension between uti and frui: one must use the things of this world, not take delight in them), capable of directing Dante’s will beyond any mortal object towards the only correct goal, the transcendent object. All this is implicit in Li occhi dolenti, where Dante first comes up with the idea of having himself be consoled by his dead lady.

In the donna gentile sequence Dante has backed away from the radical consolatory move of Li occhi dolenti and of the Divine Comedy, in which the dead beloved returns to life and speaks and comforts the sufferer. In Videro gli occhi miei we find a more pragmatic reaction to loss, the reaction that prevails in the everyday human social consortium whose laws can be glimpsed behind the curtains of this sonnet: the process of mourning, often eased by others’ sympathy, brings about resignation, and from the acceptance of the loss of the old love, one inevitably moves to the acceptance of a new. It is precisely this healthy and normative sequence of events, repeated over and over again in the course of human history, that Dante will ultimately refuse, not in his material life, in which he married and had children, but in his interior life, the one reflected in his writings. This refusal of normative consolation, in both its material form as the donna gentile of the Vita Nuova and in its allegorized form as Lady Philosophy in the Convivio, is the condition sine qua non of the Commedia, whose essential plot hinges on a far more radical form of self-consolation, whereby the old love is divinized.

(Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’, pp. 268-69)

In Purgatorio 31, Beatrice continues to hammer on the theme of appropriate objects of desire: her own perfection as a mortal being was the lens that should have put everything into perspective for Dante and kept him from straying. The core of her argument is that, since he had already seen in her the highest mortal beauty—the “sommo piacer” of Purgatorio 31.52—he should not have been distracted by lesser beauty after losing her. Rather, her death should have functioned as a prophylactic against further desiring of secondary goods:

  Mai non t’appresentò natura o arte
piacer, quanto le belle membra in ch’io
rinchiusa fui, e che so’ ’n terra sparte;
  e se ’l sommo piacer sì ti fallio
per la mia morte, qual cosa mortale
dovea poi trarre te nel suo disio?
  Ben ti dovevi, per lo primo strale
de le cose fallaci, levar suso
di retro a me che non era più tale.
  Non ti dovea gravar le penne in giuso,
ad aspettar più colpo, o pargoletta
o altra novità con sì breve uso. (Purg. 31.49-60)
  Nature or art had never showed you any
beauty that matched the lovely limbs in which
I was enclosed—limbs scattered now in dust;
  and if the highest beauty failed you through
my death, what mortal thing could then induce
you to desire it? For when the first
  arrow of things deceptive struck you, then
you surely should have lifted up your wings
to follow me, no longer such a thing.
  No green young girl or other novelty—
such brief delight—should have weighed down your wings,
awaiting further shafts.

This concept, that death should function as a prophylactic, immunizing one from further desire, is Augustinian. Augustine in the Confessions wrote of the death of a male friend as the death that liberated him from loving other mortal creatures, because it taught him the error of loving mortal beings as though they are not mortal: “diligendo moriturum ac si non moriturum”—“loving a man that must die as though he were not to die” (Conf. 4.8). On this concept, see The Undivine Comedy, p. 107, where I link the above passage from Purgatorio 31 to the Vita Nuova and to Confessions 4.8.

At Purgatorio 31.80, the canto shifts; everything changes. Dante sees Beatrice focused now not on him but on the griffin, the animal that is “one person in two natures”: “fera / ch’è sola una persona in due nature” (Purg. 31.80-81). With this succinct evocation of Christ’s dual nature as both man and God, the focus begins to move away from the microcosmic events of Dante’s life to the macrocosmic events of human providential history.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” pp. 103, 107-08; Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’, see the introductory essays on the poems dealing with the donna gentile.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 31: Non-Normative Consolation.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-31/

About the Commento

1«O tu che se’ di là dal fiume sacro»,
2volgendo suo parlare a me per punta,
3che pur per taglio m’era paruto acro,

4ricominciò, seguendo sanza cunta,
5«dì, dì se questo è vero: a tanta accusa
6tua confession conviene esser congiunta».

7Era la mia virtù tanto confusa,
8che la voce si mosse, e pria si spense
9che da li organi suoi fosse dischiusa.

10Poco sofferse; poi disse: «Che pense?
11Rispondi a me; ché le memorie triste
12in te non sono ancor da l’acqua offense».

13Confusione e paura insieme miste
14mi pinsero un tal «sì» fuor de la bocca,
15al quale intender fuor mestier le viste.

16Come balestro frange, quando scocca
17da troppa tesa, la sua corda e l’arco,
18e con men foga l’asta il segno tocca,

19sì scoppia’ io sottesso grave carco,
20fuori sgorgando lagrime e sospiri,
21e la voce allentò per lo suo varco.

22Ond’ ella a me: «Per entro i mie’ disiri,
23che ti menavano ad amar lo bene
24di là dal qual non è a che s’aspiri,

25quai fossi attraversati o quai catene
26trovasti, per che del passare innanzi
27dovessiti così spogliar la spene?

28E quali agevolezze o quali avanzi
29ne la fronte de li altri si mostraro,
30per che dovessi lor passeggiare anzi?».

31Dopo la tratta d’un sospiro amaro,
32a pena ebbi la voce che rispuose,
33e le labbra a fatica la formaro.

34Piangendo dissi: «Le presenti cose
35col falso lor piacer volser miei passi,
36tosto che ’l vostro viso si nascose».

37Ed ella: «Se tacessi o se negassi
38ciò che confessi, non fora men nota
39la colpa tua: da tal giudice sassi!

40Ma quando scoppia de la propria gota
41l’accusa del peccato, in nostra corte
42rivolge sé contra ’l taglio la rota.

43Tuttavia, perché mo vergogna porte
44del tuo errore, e perché altra volta,
45udendo le serene, sie più forte,

46pon giù il seme del piangere e ascolta:
47sì udirai come in contraria parte
48mover dovieti mia carne sepolta.

49Mai non t’appresentò natura o arte
50piacer, quanto le belle membra in ch’io
51rinchiusa fui, e che so’ ’n terra sparte;

52e se ’l sommo piacer sì ti fallio
53per la mia morte, qual cosa mortale
54dovea poi trarre te nel suo disio?

55Ben ti dovevi, per lo primo strale
56de le cose fallaci, levar suso
57di retro a me che non era più tale.

58Non ti dovea gravar le penne in giuso,
59ad aspettar più colpo, o pargoletta
60o altra novità con sì breve uso.

61Novo augelletto due o tre aspetta;
62ma dinanzi da li occhi d’i pennuti
63rete si spiega indarno o si saetta».

64Quali fanciulli, vergognando, muti
65con li occhi a terra stannosi, ascoltando
66e sé riconoscendo e ripentuti,

67tal mi stav’ io; ed ella disse: «Quando
68per udir se’ dolente, alza la barba,
69e prenderai più doglia riguardando».

70Con men di resistenza si dibarba
71robusto cerro, o vero al nostral vento
72o vero a quel de la terra di Iarba,

73ch’io non levai al suo comando il mento;
74e quando per la barba il viso chiese,
75ben conobbi il velen de l’argomento.

76E come la mia faccia si distese,
77posarsi quelle prime creature
78da loro aspersïon l’occhio comprese;

79e le mie luci, ancor poco sicure,
80vider Beatrice volta in su la fiera
81ch’è sola una persona in due nature.

82Sotto ’l suo velo e oltre la rivera
83vincer pariemi più sé stessa antica,
84vincer che l’altre qui, quand’ ella c’era.

85Di penter sì mi punse ivi l’ortica,
86che di tutte altre cose qual mi torse
87più nel suo amor, più mi si fé nemica.

88Tanta riconoscenza il cor mi morse,
89ch’io caddi vinto; e quale allora femmi,
90salsi colei che la cagion mi porse.

91Poi, quando il cor virtù di fuor rendemmi,
92la donna ch’io avea trovata sola
93sopra me vidi, e dicea: «Tiemmi, tiemmi!».

94Tratto m’avea nel fiume infin la gola,
95e tirandosi me dietro sen giva
96sovresso l’acqua lieve come scola.

97Quando fui presso a la beata riva,
98‘Asperges me’ sì dolcemente udissi,
99che nol so rimembrar, non ch’io lo scriva.

100La bella donna ne le braccia aprissi;
101abbracciommi la testa e mi sommerse
102ove convenne ch’io l’acqua inghiottissi.

103Indi mi tolse, e bagnato m’offerse
104dentro a la danza de le quattro belle;
105e ciascuna del braccio mi coperse.

106«Noi siam qui ninfe e nel ciel siamo stelle;
107pria che Beatrice discendesse al mondo,
108fummo ordinate a lei per sue ancelle.

109Merrenti a li occhi suoi; ma nel giocondo
110lume ch’è dentro aguzzeranno i tuoi
111le tre di là, che miran più profondo».

112Così cantando cominciaro; e poi
113al petto del grifon seco menarmi,
114ove Beatrice stava volta a noi.

115Disser: «Fa che le viste non risparmi;
116posto t’avem dinanzi a li smeraldi
117ond’ Amor già ti trasse le sue armi».

118Mille disiri più che fiamma caldi
119strinsermi li occhi a li occhi rilucenti,
120che pur sopra ’l grifone stavan saldi.

121Come in lo specchio il sol, non altrimenti
122la doppia fiera dentro vi raggiava,
123or con altri, or con altri reggimenti.

124Pensa, lettor, s’io mi maravigliava,
125quando vedea la cosa in sé star queta,
126e ne l’idolo suo si trasmutava.

127Mentre che piena di stupore e lieta
128l’anima mia gustava di quel cibo
129che, saziando di sé, di sé asseta,

130sé dimostrando di più alto tribo
131ne li atti, l’altre tre si fero avanti,
132danzando al loro angelico caribo.

133«Volgi, Beatrice, volgi li occhi santi»,
134era la sua canzone, «al tuo fedele
135che, per vederti, ha mossi passi tanti!

136Per grazia fa noi grazia che disvele
137a lui la bocca tua, sì che discerna
138la seconda bellezza che tu cele».

139O isplendor di viva luce etterna,
140chi palido si fece sotto l’ombra
141sì di Parnaso, o bevve in sua cisterna,

142che non paresse aver la mente ingombra,
143tentando a render te qual tu paresti
144là dove armonizzando il ciel t’adombra,

145quando ne l’aere aperto ti solvesti?

“O you upon the holy stream’s far shore,”
so she, turning her speech’s point against me—
even its edge had seemed too sharp—began

again, without allowing interruption,
“tell, tell if this is true; for your confession
must be entwined with such self—accusation.”

My power of speech was so confounded that
my voice would move and yet was spent before
its organs had released it. She forbore

a moment, then she said: “What are you thinking?
Reply to me, the water has not yet
obliterated your sad memories.”

Confusion mixed with fear compelled a Yes
out of my mouth, and yet that Yes was such—
one needed eyes to make out what it was.

Just as a crossbow that is drawn too taut
snaps both its cord and bow when it is shot,
and arrow meets its mark with feeble force,

so, caught beneath that heavy weight, I burst;
and I let tears and sighs pour forth; my voice
had lost its life along its passage out.

At this she said: “In the desire for me
that was directing you to love the Good
beyond which there’s no thing to draw our longing,

what chains were strung, what ditches dug across
your path that, once you’d come upon them, caused
your loss of any hope of moving forward?”

What benefits and what allurements were
so evident upon the brow of others
that you had need to promenade before them?”

After I had withheld a bitter sigh,
I scarcely had the voice for my reply,
but, laboring, my lips gave my words form.

Weeping, I answered: “Mere appearances
turned me aside with their false loveliness,
as soon as I had lost your countenance.”

And she: “Had you been silent or denied
what you confess, your guilt would not be less
in evidence: it’s known by such a Judge!

But when the charge of sinfulness has burst
from one’s own cheek, then in our court the whet—
stone turns and blunts our blade’s own cutting edge.

Nevertheless, that you may feel more shame
for your mistake, and that—in time to come—
hearing the Sirens, you may be more strong,

have done with all the tears you sowed, and listen:
so shall you hear how, unto other ends,
my buried flesh should have directed you.

Nature or art had never showed you any
beauty that matched the lovely limbs in which
I was enclosed—limbs scattered now in dust;

and if the highest beauty failed you through
my death, what mortal thing could then induce
you to desire it? For when the first

arrow of things deceptive struck you, then
you surely should have lifted up your wings
to follow me, no longer such a thing.

No green young girl or other novelty—
such brief delight—should have weighed down your wings,
awaiting further shafts. The fledgling bird

must meet two or three blows before he learns,
but any full—fledged bird is proof against
the net that has been spread or arrow, aimed.”

As children, when ashamed, will stand, their eyes
upon the ground—they listen, silently,
acknowledging their fault repentantly—

so did I stand; and she enjoined me: “Since
hearing alone makes you grieve so, lift up
your beard, and sight will bring you greater tears.”

There’s less resistance in the sturdy oak
to its uprooting by a wind from lands
of ours or lands of Iarbas than I showed

in lifting up my chin at her command;
I knew quite well—when she said “beard” but meant
my face—the poison in her argument.

When I had raised my face upright, my eyes
were able to perceive that the first creatures
had paused and were no longer scattering flowers;

and still uncertain of itself, my vision
saw Beatrice turned toward the animal
that is, with its two natures, but one person.

Beneath her veil, beyond the stream, she seemed
so to surpass her former self in beauty
as, here on earth, she had surpassed all others.

The nettle of remorse so stung me then,
that those—among all other—things that once
most lured my love, became most hateful to me.

Such self—indictment seized my heart that I
collapsed, my senses slack; what I became
is known to her who was the cause of it.

Then, when my heart restored my outer sense,
I saw the woman whom I’d found alone,
standing above me, saying: “Hold, hold me!”

She’d plunged me, up to my throat, in the river,
and, drawing me behind her, she now crossed,
light as a gondola, along the surface.

When I was near the blessed shore, I heard
“Asperges me” so sweetly sung that I
cannot remember or, much less, transcribe it.

The lovely woman opened wide her arms;
she clasped my head, and then she thrust me under
to that point where I had to swallow water.

That done, she drew me out and led me, bathed,
into the dance of the four lovely women;
and each one placed her arm above my head.

“Here we are nymphs; in heaven, stars; before
she had descended to the world, we were
assigned, as her handmaids, to Beatrice;

we’ll be your guides unto her eyes; but it
will be the three beyond, who see more deeply,
who’ll help you penetrate her joyous light.”

So, singing, they began; then, leading me
together with them to the griffin’s breast,
where Beatrice, turned toward us, stood, they said:

“See that you are not sparing of your gaze:
before you we have set those emeralds
from which Love once had aimed his shafts at you.”

A thousand longings burning more than flames
compelled my eyes to watch the radiant eyes
that, motionless, were still fixed on the griffin.

Just like the sun within a mirror, so
the double—natured creature gleamed within,
now showing one, and now the other guise.

Consider, reader, if I did not wonder
when I saw something that displayed no movement
though its reflected image kept on changing.

And while, full of astonishment and gladness,
my soul tasted that food which, even as
it quenches hunger, spurs the appetite,

the other three, whose stance showed them to be
the members of a higher troop, advanced—
and, to their chant, they danced angelically.

“Turn, Beatrice, o turn your holy eyes
upon your faithful one,” their song beseeched,
“who, that he might see you, has come so far.

Out of your grace, do us this grace; unveil
your lips to him, so that he may discern
the second beauty you have kept concealed.”

O splendor of eternal living light,
who’s ever grown so pale beneath Parnassus’
shade or has drunk so deeply from its fountain,

that he’d not seem to have his mind confounded,
trying to render you as you appeared
where heaven’s harmony was your pale likeness—

your face, seen through the air, unveiled completely?

“O THOU who art beyond the sacred river,”
Turning to me the point of her discourse,
That edgewise even had seemed to me so keen,

She recommenced, continuing without pause,
“Say, say if this be true; to such a charge,
Thy own confession needs must be conjoined.”

My faculties were in so great confusion,
That the voice moved, but sooner was extinct
Than by its organs it was set at large.

Awhile she waited; then she said: “What thinkest ?
Answer me; for the mournful memories
In thee not yet are by the waters injured.”

Confusion and dismay together mingled
Forced such a Yes! from out my mouth, that sight
Was needful to the understanding of it.

Even as a cross—bow breaks, when ’tis discharged
Too tensely drawn the bowstring and the bow,
And with less force the arrow hits the mark,

So I gave way beneath that heavy burden,
Outpouring in a torrent tears and sighs,
And the voice flagged upon its passage forth.

Whence she to me: “In those desires of mine
Which led thee to the loving of that good,
Beyond which there is nothing to aspire to,

What trenches lying traverse or what chains
Didst thou discover, that of passing onward
Thou shouldst have thus despoiled thee of the hope ?

And what allurements or what vantages
Upon the forehead of the others showed,
That thou shouldst turn thy footsteps unto them?”

After the heaving of a bitter sigh,
Hardly had I the voice to make response,
And with fatigue my lips did fashion it

Weeping I said: “The things that present were
With their false pleasure turned aside my steps,
Soon as your countenance concealed itself.”

And she: “Shouldst thou be silent, or deny
What thou confessest, not less manifest
Would be thy fault, by such a Judge ’tis known

But when from one’s own cheeks comes bursting forth
The accusal of the sin, in our tribunal
Against the edge the wheel doth turn itself

But still, that thou mayst feel a greater shame
For thy transgression, and another time
Hearing the Sirens thou mayst be more strong,

Cast down the seed of weeping and attend;
So shalt thou hear, how in an opposite way
My buried flesh should have directed thee.

Never to thee presented art or nature
Pleasure so great as the fair limbs wherein
I was enclosed, which scattered are in earth.

And if the highest pleasure thus did fail thee
By reason of my death. what mortal thing
Should then have drawn thee into its desire ?

Thou oughtest verily at the first shaft
Of things fallacious to have risen up
To follow me, who was no longer such.

Thou oughtest not to have stooped thy pinions downward
To wait for further blows, or little girl,
Or other vanity of such brief use.

The callow birdlet waits for two or three,
But to the eyes of those already fledged,
In vain the net is spread or shaft is shot.”

Even as children silent in their shame
Stand listening with their eyes upon the ground,
And conscious of their fault, and penitent;

So was I standing; and she said: “If thou
In hearing sufferest pain, lift up thy beard
And thou shalt feel a greater pain in seeing.”

With less resistance is a robust holm
Uprooted, either by a native wind
Or else by that from regions of Iarbas,

Than I upraised at her command my chin;
And when she by the beard the face demanded,
Well I perceived the venom of her meaning.

And as my countenance was lifted up,
Mine eye perceived those creatures beautiful
Had rested from the strewing of the flowers;

And, still but little reassured, mine eyes
Saw Beatrice turned round towards the monster,
That is one person only in two natures.

Beneath her veil, beyond the margent green,
She seemed to me far more her ancient self
To excel, than others here, when she was here.

So pricked me then the thorn of penitence,
That of all other things the one which turned me
Most to its love became the most my foe.

Such self—conviction stung me at the heart
O’erpowered I fell, and what I then became
She knoweth who had furnished me the cause.

Then, when the heart restored my outward sense,
The lady I had found alone, above me
I saw, and she was saying, “Hold me, hold me.”

Up to my throat she in the stream had drawn me,
And, dragging me behind her, she was moving
Upon the water lightly as a shuttle.

When I was near unto the blessed shore,
_”Asperges me,”_ I heard so sweetly sung,
Remember it I cannot, much less write it

The beautiful lady opened wide her arms,
Embraced my head, and plunged me underneath,
Where I was forced to swallow of the water.

Then forth she drew me, and all dripping brought
Into the dance of the four beautiful,
And each one with her arm did cover me.

‘We here are Nymphs, and in the Heaven are stars;
Ere Beatrice descended to the world,
We as her handmaids were appointed her.

We’ll lead thee to her eyes; but for the pleasant
Light that within them is, shall sharpen thine
The three beyond, who more profoundly look.”

Thus singing they began; and afterwards
Unto the Griffin’s breast they led me with them,
Where Beatrice was standing, turned towards us.

“See that thou dost not spare thine eyes,” they said;
“Before the emeralds have we stationed thee,
Whence Love aforetime drew for thee his weapons.”

A thousand longings, hotter than the flame,
Fastened mine eyes upon those eyes relucent,
That still upon the Griffin steadfast stayed.

As in a glass the sun, not otherwise
Within them was the twofold monster shining,
Now with the one, now with the other nature.

Think, Reader, if within myself I marvelled,
When I beheld the thing itself stand still,
And in its image it transformed itself.

While with amazement filled and jubilant,
My soul was tasting of the food, that while
It satisfies us makes us hunger for it,

Themselves revealing of the highest rank
In bearing, did the other three advance,
Singing to their angelic saraband.

“Turn, Beatrice, O turn thy holy eyes,”
Such was their song, “unto thy faithful one,
Who has to see thee ta’en so many steps.

In grace do us the grace that thou unveil
Thy face to him, so that he may discern
The second beauty which thou dost conceal.”

O splendour of the living light eternal!
Who underneath the shadow of Parnassus
Has grown so pale, or drunk so at its cistern,

He would not seem to have his mind encumbered
Striving to paint thee as thou didst appear,
Where the harmonious heaven o’ershadowed thee,

When in the open air thou didst unveil ?

“O you upon the holy stream’s far shore,”
so she, turning her speech’s point against me—
even its edge had seemed too sharp—began

again, without allowing interruption,
“tell, tell if this is true; for your confession
must be entwined with such self—accusation.”

My power of speech was so confounded that
my voice would move and yet was spent before
its organs had released it. She forbore

a moment, then she said: “What are you thinking?
Reply to me, the water has not yet
obliterated your sad memories.”

Confusion mixed with fear compelled a Yes
out of my mouth, and yet that Yes was such—
one needed eyes to make out what it was.

Just as a crossbow that is drawn too taut
snaps both its cord and bow when it is shot,
and arrow meets its mark with feeble force,

so, caught beneath that heavy weight, I burst;
and I let tears and sighs pour forth; my voice
had lost its life along its passage out.

At this she said: “In the desire for me
that was directing you to love the Good
beyond which there’s no thing to draw our longing,

what chains were strung, what ditches dug across
your path that, once you’d come upon them, caused
your loss of any hope of moving forward?”

What benefits and what allurements were
so evident upon the brow of others
that you had need to promenade before them?”

After I had withheld a bitter sigh,
I scarcely had the voice for my reply,
but, laboring, my lips gave my words form.

Weeping, I answered: “Mere appearances
turned me aside with their false loveliness,
as soon as I had lost your countenance.”

And she: “Had you been silent or denied
what you confess, your guilt would not be less
in evidence: it’s known by such a Judge!

But when the charge of sinfulness has burst
from one’s own cheek, then in our court the whet—
stone turns and blunts our blade’s own cutting edge.

Nevertheless, that you may feel more shame
for your mistake, and that—in time to come—
hearing the Sirens, you may be more strong,

have done with all the tears you sowed, and listen:
so shall you hear how, unto other ends,
my buried flesh should have directed you.

Nature or art had never showed you any
beauty that matched the lovely limbs in which
I was enclosed—limbs scattered now in dust;

and if the highest beauty failed you through
my death, what mortal thing could then induce
you to desire it? For when the first

arrow of things deceptive struck you, then
you surely should have lifted up your wings
to follow me, no longer such a thing.

No green young girl or other novelty—
such brief delight—should have weighed down your wings,
awaiting further shafts. The fledgling bird

must meet two or three blows before he learns,
but any full—fledged bird is proof against
the net that has been spread or arrow, aimed.”

As children, when ashamed, will stand, their eyes
upon the ground—they listen, silently,
acknowledging their fault repentantly—

so did I stand; and she enjoined me: “Since
hearing alone makes you grieve so, lift up
your beard, and sight will bring you greater tears.”

There’s less resistance in the sturdy oak
to its uprooting by a wind from lands
of ours or lands of Iarbas than I showed

in lifting up my chin at her command;
I knew quite well—when she said “beard” but meant
my face—the poison in her argument.

When I had raised my face upright, my eyes
were able to perceive that the first creatures
had paused and were no longer scattering flowers;

and still uncertain of itself, my vision
saw Beatrice turned toward the animal
that is, with its two natures, but one person.

Beneath her veil, beyond the stream, she seemed
so to surpass her former self in beauty
as, here on earth, she had surpassed all others.

The nettle of remorse so stung me then,
that those—among all other—things that once
most lured my love, became most hateful to me.

Such self—indictment seized my heart that I
collapsed, my senses slack; what I became
is known to her who was the cause of it.

Then, when my heart restored my outer sense,
I saw the woman whom I’d found alone,
standing above me, saying: “Hold, hold me!”

She’d plunged me, up to my throat, in the river,
and, drawing me behind her, she now crossed,
light as a gondola, along the surface.

When I was near the blessed shore, I heard
“Asperges me” so sweetly sung that I
cannot remember or, much less, transcribe it.

The lovely woman opened wide her arms;
she clasped my head, and then she thrust me under
to that point where I had to swallow water.

That done, she drew me out and led me, bathed,
into the dance of the four lovely women;
and each one placed her arm above my head.

“Here we are nymphs; in heaven, stars; before
she had descended to the world, we were
assigned, as her handmaids, to Beatrice;

we’ll be your guides unto her eyes; but it
will be the three beyond, who see more deeply,
who’ll help you penetrate her joyous light.”

So, singing, they began; then, leading me
together with them to the griffin’s breast,
where Beatrice, turned toward us, stood, they said:

“See that you are not sparing of your gaze:
before you we have set those emeralds
from which Love once had aimed his shafts at you.”

A thousand longings burning more than flames
compelled my eyes to watch the radiant eyes
that, motionless, were still fixed on the griffin.

Just like the sun within a mirror, so
the double—natured creature gleamed within,
now showing one, and now the other guise.

Consider, reader, if I did not wonder
when I saw something that displayed no movement
though its reflected image kept on changing.

And while, full of astonishment and gladness,
my soul tasted that food which, even as
it quenches hunger, spurs the appetite,

the other three, whose stance showed them to be
the members of a higher troop, advanced—
and, to their chant, they danced angelically.

“Turn, Beatrice, o turn your holy eyes
upon your faithful one,” their song beseeched,
“who, that he might see you, has come so far.

Out of your grace, do us this grace; unveil
your lips to him, so that he may discern
the second beauty you have kept concealed.”

O splendor of eternal living light,
who’s ever grown so pale beneath Parnassus’
shade or has drunk so deeply from its fountain,

that he’d not seem to have his mind confounded,
trying to render you as you appeared
where heaven’s harmony was your pale likeness—

your face, seen through the air, unveiled completely?

“O THOU who art beyond the sacred river,”
Turning to me the point of her discourse,
That edgewise even had seemed to me so keen,

She recommenced, continuing without pause,
“Say, say if this be true; to such a charge,
Thy own confession needs must be conjoined.”

My faculties were in so great confusion,
That the voice moved, but sooner was extinct
Than by its organs it was set at large.

Awhile she waited; then she said: “What thinkest ?
Answer me; for the mournful memories
In thee not yet are by the waters injured.”

Confusion and dismay together mingled
Forced such a Yes! from out my mouth, that sight
Was needful to the understanding of it.

Even as a cross—bow breaks, when ’tis discharged
Too tensely drawn the bowstring and the bow,
And with less force the arrow hits the mark,

So I gave way beneath that heavy burden,
Outpouring in a torrent tears and sighs,
And the voice flagged upon its passage forth.

Whence she to me: “In those desires of mine
Which led thee to the loving of that good,
Beyond which there is nothing to aspire to,

What trenches lying traverse or what chains
Didst thou discover, that of passing onward
Thou shouldst have thus despoiled thee of the hope ?

And what allurements or what vantages
Upon the forehead of the others showed,
That thou shouldst turn thy footsteps unto them?”

After the heaving of a bitter sigh,
Hardly had I the voice to make response,
And with fatigue my lips did fashion it

Weeping I said: “The things that present were
With their false pleasure turned aside my steps,
Soon as your countenance concealed itself.”

And she: “Shouldst thou be silent, or deny
What thou confessest, not less manifest
Would be thy fault, by such a Judge ’tis known

But when from one’s own cheeks comes bursting forth
The accusal of the sin, in our tribunal
Against the edge the wheel doth turn itself

But still, that thou mayst feel a greater shame
For thy transgression, and another time
Hearing the Sirens thou mayst be more strong,

Cast down the seed of weeping and attend;
So shalt thou hear, how in an opposite way
My buried flesh should have directed thee.

Never to thee presented art or nature
Pleasure so great as the fair limbs wherein
I was enclosed, which scattered are in earth.

And if the highest pleasure thus did fail thee
By reason of my death. what mortal thing
Should then have drawn thee into its desire ?

Thou oughtest verily at the first shaft
Of things fallacious to have risen up
To follow me, who was no longer such.

Thou oughtest not to have stooped thy pinions downward
To wait for further blows, or little girl,
Or other vanity of such brief use.

The callow birdlet waits for two or three,
But to the eyes of those already fledged,
In vain the net is spread or shaft is shot.”

Even as children silent in their shame
Stand listening with their eyes upon the ground,
And conscious of their fault, and penitent;

So was I standing; and she said: “If thou
In hearing sufferest pain, lift up thy beard
And thou shalt feel a greater pain in seeing.”

With less resistance is a robust holm
Uprooted, either by a native wind
Or else by that from regions of Iarbas,

Than I upraised at her command my chin;
And when she by the beard the face demanded,
Well I perceived the venom of her meaning.

And as my countenance was lifted up,
Mine eye perceived those creatures beautiful
Had rested from the strewing of the flowers;

And, still but little reassured, mine eyes
Saw Beatrice turned round towards the monster,
That is one person only in two natures.

Beneath her veil, beyond the margent green,
She seemed to me far more her ancient self
To excel, than others here, when she was here.

So pricked me then the thorn of penitence,
That of all other things the one which turned me
Most to its love became the most my foe.

Such self—conviction stung me at the heart
O’erpowered I fell, and what I then became
She knoweth who had furnished me the cause.

Then, when the heart restored my outward sense,
The lady I had found alone, above me
I saw, and she was saying, “Hold me, hold me.”

Up to my throat she in the stream had drawn me,
And, dragging me behind her, she was moving
Upon the water lightly as a shuttle.

When I was near unto the blessed shore,
_”Asperges me,”_ I heard so sweetly sung,
Remember it I cannot, much less write it

The beautiful lady opened wide her arms,
Embraced my head, and plunged me underneath,
Where I was forced to swallow of the water.

Then forth she drew me, and all dripping brought
Into the dance of the four beautiful,
And each one with her arm did cover me.

‘We here are Nymphs, and in the Heaven are stars;
Ere Beatrice descended to the world,
We as her handmaids were appointed her.

We’ll lead thee to her eyes; but for the pleasant
Light that within them is, shall sharpen thine
The three beyond, who more profoundly look.”

Thus singing they began; and afterwards
Unto the Griffin’s breast they led me with them,
Where Beatrice was standing, turned towards us.

“See that thou dost not spare thine eyes,” they said;
“Before the emeralds have we stationed thee,
Whence Love aforetime drew for thee his weapons.”

A thousand longings, hotter than the flame,
Fastened mine eyes upon those eyes relucent,
That still upon the Griffin steadfast stayed.

As in a glass the sun, not otherwise
Within them was the twofold monster shining,
Now with the one, now with the other nature.

Think, Reader, if within myself I marvelled,
When I beheld the thing itself stand still,
And in its image it transformed itself.

While with amazement filled and jubilant,
My soul was tasting of the food, that while
It satisfies us makes us hunger for it,

Themselves revealing of the highest rank
In bearing, did the other three advance,
Singing to their angelic saraband.

“Turn, Beatrice, O turn thy holy eyes,”
Such was their song, “unto thy faithful one,
Who has to see thee ta’en so many steps.

In grace do us the grace that thou unveil
Thy face to him, so that he may discern
The second beauty which thou dost conceal.”

O splendour of the living light eternal!
Who underneath the shadow of Parnassus
Has grown so pale, or drunk so at its cistern,

He would not seem to have his mind encumbered
Striving to paint thee as thou didst appear,
Where the harmonious heaven o’ershadowed thee,

When in the open air thou didst unveil ?