Apocalypse Now

Purgatorio 32 forces us to turn our attention from Dante to the universal and macrocosmic. In the same way the pilgrim is forced to look away from Beatrice, at whom he is staring too fixedly (“Troppo fiso!” [Purg. 32.9]), and turn his attention back to the events unfolding in front of him.

From Purgatorio 30’s focus on three irreducible incarnate historical essences, and its signature inscription of individual historicity through names—“Dante, perché Virgilio se ne vada” and “Ben son, ben son Beatrice” (Purg. 30.55 and 73)—we move in Purgatorio 32 to the history of the universal Church.

Of course, Dante has managed to blur productively the distinction between the historicity of irreducible and embodied beings (Virgilio, Dante, Beatrice) and the history of the universal Church by making the Word of God (the books of the Bible) take the form of embodied persons. This is in effect what occurs in the procession that comes into our view in Purgatorio 29. So doing, he merges figural allegory (in which the literal/historical is true) with personification allegory (in which it is not). On the intersection of the two modes of allegory in the canti of the earthly paradise, see The Undivine Comedy, p. 158.

There are two diagrams at the end of this Introduction. One is the linear outline of the events of the earthly paradise divided into “Acts”; we now find ourselves at Act IV. The second attachment details the events of Purgatorio 32.

In this canto Dante scripts a performance of God’s role in human history. The first performance, in Purgatorio 32.37-60, depicts Adam’s sin and fall and Christ’s redemption of mankind.

Beatrice is now in the chariot at the center of the procession, the chariot that was empty when the procession first came into view. As you recall, the chariot is surrounded by the four animals representing the Gospels who are further surrounded by the personified books of the Bible; see the schematic drawing of the procession at the end of Purgatorio 29.

At this point, the entire procession wheels around and turns east; Matelda, Dante, and Stazio follow the chariot with Beatrice in it (Purg. 32.28-30). After they travel the distance of three flights of an arrow, Beatrice descends from the chariot (Purg. 32.34-36). Dante now hears a general murmuring of the name “Adamo” as everyone circles around a tree that has been stripped of its leaves and flowers (Purg. 32.37-39). This is an inverted tree like the ones on the terrace of gluttony; this is the tree from which those trees were grafted.

And in fact the griffin (who is pulling the chariot) is congratulated by everyone precisely for not having eaten from this tree:

  Beato se’, grifon, che non discendi
col becco d’esto legno dolce al gusto,
poscia che mal si torce il ventre quindi. (Purg. 32.43-45)
  Blessed are you, whose beak does not, o griffin,
pluck the sweet-tasting fruit that is forbidden
and then afflicts the belly that has eaten!

This is the tree from which Adam and Eve ate. The sin of gluttony thus reaches its full metaphorical potential, given that the eating that is castigated here is not literal but supremely metaphorical: Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You can see how Dante ties together all the threads, connecting his personal emblem of transgression, Ulysses, to the biblical story of transgression:

Here we find the Purgatorio’s ultimate synthesis of the Ulyssean model (a man—in this case Dante—tempted by sirens) with Augustine’s critique of false pleasure. Given that the sirens of verse 45 may be interpreted in the light of Cicero’s De Finibus as knowledge, resistance to the sirens constitutes not only resistance to the false pleasures of the flesh but also resistance to the false lure of philosophical knowledge, a lure embodied in Dante’s earlier itinerary by the donna gentile/Lady Philosophy of the Convivio, the text that begins with the Ulyssean copula of desire and knowledge: “tutti li uomini naturalmente desiderano di sapere.”

As the pilgrim has learned restraint before the sweet siren in all her guises, so, in the earthly paradise, the griffin is praised for having resisted the sweet taste of the tree of knowledge: “Beato se’, grifon, che non discindi / col becco d’esto legno dolce al gusto, / poscia che mal si torce il ventre quindi” (Blessed are you, griffin, who do not tear with your beak from this tree sweet to the taste, for by it the belly is evilly twisted [Purg. 32.43-45]). By resisting the temptation of knowledge, the griffin refuses to challenge God’s interdict (the interdetto of Purgatorio 33.71, where the tree is glossed precisely in terms of the limits it represents, the obedience it exacts, and the consequent justice of the punishment meted to those who transgress). The temptation to which Adam/Ulysses succumb is the temptation that the griffin resists.

(The Undivine Comedy, p. 108)

The griffin drags the chariot to the dead tree, and ties the one to the other. The tree comes back to life, a rebirth described with the same metaphoric language that will be used for the reborn Dante at the end of Purgatorio:

  Come le nostre piante, quando casca
giù la gran luce mischiata con quella
che raggia dietro a la celeste lasca,
  turgide fansi, e poi si rinovella
di suo color ciascuna, pria che ’l sole
giunga li suoi corsier sotto altra stella;
  men che di rose e più che di viole
colore aprendo, s’innovò la pianta,
che prima avea le ramora sì sole. (Purg. 32.52-60)
  Just like our plants that, when the great light falls
on earth, mixed with the light that shines behind
the stars of the celestial Fishes, swell
  with buds—each plant renews its coloring
before the sun has yoked its steeds beneath
another constellation: so the tree,
  whose boughs—before—had been so solitary,
was now renewed, showing a tint that was
less than the rose, more than the violet.

Dante falls asleep, in a sleep that is described in a manner that has interesting repercussions for the concept of a visionary “waking sleep”, as in the personified Book of the Apocalypse at the end of Purgatorio 29, who walks “dormendo, con la faccia arguta” (Purg. 29.144). (All of this is discussed in great detail in Chapter 7 of The Undivine Comedy.) When he awakens the whole company is ascending to heaven following the griffin that symbolizes Christ, leaving as custodians of the renewed tree only Beatrice with the seven maidens who symbolize the virtues (the ladies who were dancing around the chariot: the three theological and four cardinal virtues).

Beatrice addresses Dante, telling him of his destiny and his obligation to write what he is shown (Purg. 32.100-105). There follow the series of allegorical “performances” that dramatize the history of the Church (the chariot), which is performed for Dante to witness:

1) the persecutions of the Church by the early emperors (the eagle);

2) the early heresies, overcome by the Church (the fox driven away by Beatrice);

3) the Church’s acquisition of temporal possessions through the Donation of Constantine (the eagle’s feathers fall on the chariot; see Introduction to Inferno 19);

4) the great schism by which the Church was rent (the dragon representing Islam; see Inferno 28);

5) the further accession of wealth and power that utterly distorts and deforms the original character of the Church;

6) the Church disfigured by the seven deadly vices that afflict it in its corruption; it becomes the monster of the Apocalpyse (this whole section is Dante’s own personal version of the Apocalpyse);

7) the Avignon Captivity: the transferral of the Church from Rome to Avignon in 1309 (Beatrice is replaced in the chariot by a whore guarded by a giant, who drags the chariot away).

Canto 32, Dante’s personal “Apocalypse Now”, is the longest canto in the poem.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” especially p. 108; Chapter 7, “Nonfalse Errors and the True Dreams of the Evangelist.”

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 32: Apocalypse Now.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-32/

About the Commento

1Tant’ eran li occhi miei fissi e attenti
2a disbramarsi la decenne sete,
3che li altri sensi m’eran tutti spenti.

4Ed essi quinci e quindi avien parete
5di non caler—così lo santo riso
6a sé traéli con l’antica rete!—;

7quando per forza mi fu vòlto il viso
8ver’ la sinistra mia da quelle dee,
9perch’ io udi’ da loro un «Troppo fiso!»;

10e la disposizion ch’a veder èe
11ne li occhi pur testé dal sol percossi,
12sanza la vista alquanto esser mi fée.

13Ma poi ch’al poco il viso riformossi
14(e dico ‘al poco’ per rispetto al molto
15sensibile onde a forza mi rimossi),

16vidi ’n sul braccio destro esser rivolto
17lo glorïoso essercito, e tornarsi
18col sole e con le sette fiamme al volto.

19Come sotto li scudi per salvarsi
20volgesi schiera, e sé gira col segno,
21prima che possa tutta in sé mutarsi;

22quella milizia del celeste regno
23che procedeva, tutta trapassonne
24pria che piegasse il carro il primo legno.

25Indi a le rote si tornar le donne,
26e ’l grifon mosse il benedetto carco
27sì, che però nulla penna crollonne.

28La bella donna che mi trasse al varco
29e Stazio e io seguitavam la rota
30che fé l’orbita sua con minore arco.

31Sì passeggiando l’alta selva vòta,
32colpa di quella ch’al serpente crese,
33temprava i passi un’angelica nota.

34Forse in tre voli tanto spazio prese
35disfrenata saetta, quanto eramo
36rimossi, quando Bëatrice scese.

37Io senti’ mormorare a tutti «Adamo»;
38poi cerchiaro una pianta dispogliata
39di foglie e d’altra fronda in ciascun ramo.

40La coma sua, che tanto si dilata
41più quanto più è sù, fora da l’Indi
42ne’ boschi lor per altezza ammirata.

43«Beato se’, grifon, che non discindi
44col becco d’esto legno dolce al gusto,
45poscia che mal si torce il ventre quindi».

46Così dintorno a l’albero robusto
47gridaron li altri; e l’animal binato:
48«Sì si conserva il seme d’ogne giusto».

49E vòlto al temo ch’elli avea tirato,
50trasselo al piè de la vedova frasca,
51e quel di lei a lei lasciò legato.

52Come le nostre piante, quando casca
53giù la gran luce mischiata con quella
54che raggia dietro a la celeste lasca,

55turgide fansi, e poi si rinovella
56di suo color ciascuna, pria che ’l sole
57giunga li suoi corsier sotto altra stella;

58men che di rose e più che di vïole
59colore aprendo, s’innovò la pianta,
60che prima avea le ramora sì sole.

61Io non lo ’ntesi, né qui non si canta
62l’inno che quella gente allor cantaro,
63né la nota soffersi tutta quanta.

64S’io potessi ritrar come assonnaro
65li occhi spietati udendo di Siringa,
66li occhi a cui pur vegghiar costò sì caro;

67come pintor che con essempro pinga,
68disegnerei com’ io m’addormentai;
69ma qual vuol sia che l’assonnar ben finga.

70Però trascorro a quando mi svegliai,
71e dico ch’un splendor mi squarciò ’l velo
72del sonno, e un chiamar: «Surgi: che fai?».

73Quali a veder de’ fioretti del melo
74che del suo pome li angeli fa ghiotti
75e perpetüe nozze fa nel cielo,

76Pietro e Giovanni e Iacopo condotti
77e vinti, ritornaro a la parola
78da la qual furon maggior sonni rotti,

79e videro scemata loro scuola
80così di Moïsè come d’Elia,
81e al maestro suo cangiata stola;

82tal torna’ io, e vidi quella pia
83sovra me starsi che conducitrice
84fu de’ miei passi lungo ’l fiume pria.

85E tutto in dubbio dissi: «Ov’ è Beatrice?».
86Ond’ ella: «Vedi lei sotto la fronda
87nova sedere in su la sua radice.

88Vedi la compagnia che la circonda:
89li altri dopo ’l grifon sen vanno suso
90con più dolce canzone e più profonda».

91E se più fu lo suo parlar diffuso,
92non so, però che già ne li occhi m’era
93quella ch’ad altro intender m’avea chiuso.

94Sola sedeasi in su la terra vera,
95come guardia lasciata lì del plaustro
96che legar vidi a la biforme fera.

97In cerchio le facevan di sé claustro
98le sette ninfe, con quei lumi in mano
99che son sicuri d’Aquilone e d’Austro.

100«Qui sarai tu poco tempo silvano;
101e sarai meco sanza fine cive
102di quella Roma onde Cristo è romano.

103Però, in pro del mondo che mal vive,
104al carro tieni or li occhi, e quel che vedi,
105ritornato di là, fa che tu scrive».

106Così Beatrice; e io, che tutto ai piedi
107d’i suoi comandamenti era divoto,
108la mente e li occhi ov’ ella volle diedi.

109Non scese mai con sì veloce moto
110foco di spessa nube, quando piove
111da quel confine che più va remoto,

112com’ io vidi calar l’uccel di Giove
113per l’alber giù, rompendo de la scorza,
114non che d’i fiori e de le foglie nove;

115e ferì ’l carro di tutta sua forza;
116ond’ el piegò come nave in fortuna,
117vinta da l’onda, or da poggia, or da orza.

118Poscia vidi avventarsi ne la cuna
119del trïunfal veiculo una volpe
120che d’ogne pasto buon parea digiuna;

121ma, riprendendo lei di laide colpe,
122la donna mia la volse in tanta futa
123quanto sofferser l’ossa sanza polpe.

124Poscia per indi ond’ era pria venuta,
125l’aguglia vidi scender giù ne l’arca
126del carro e lasciar lei di sé pennuta;

127e qual esce di cuor che si rammarca,
128tal voce uscì del cielo e cotal disse:
129«O navicella mia, com’ mal se’ carca!».

130Poi parve a me che la terra s’aprisse
131tr’ambo le ruote, e vidi uscirne un drago
132che per lo carro sù la coda fisse;

133e come vespa che ritragge l’ago,
134a sé traendo la coda maligna,
135trasse del fondo, e gissen vago vago.

136Quel che rimase, come da gramigna
137vivace terra, da la piuma, offerta
138forse con intenzion sana e benigna,

139si ricoperse, e funne ricoperta
140e l’una e l’altra rota e ’l temo, in tanto
141che più tiene un sospir la bocca aperta.

142Trasformato così ’l dificio santo
143mise fuor teste per le parti sue,
144tre sovra ’l temo e una in ciascun canto.

145Le prime eran cornute come bue,
146ma le quattro un sol corno avean per fronte:
147simile mostro visto ancor non fue.

148Sicura, quasi rocca in alto monte,
149seder sovresso una puttana sciolta
150m’apparve con le ciglia intorno pronte;

151e come perché non li fosse tolta,
152vidi di costa a lei dritto un gigante;
153e basciavansi insieme alcuna volta.

154Ma perché l’occhio cupido e vagante
155a me rivolse, quel feroce drudo
156la flagellò dal capo infin le piante;

157poi, di sospetto pieno e d’ira crudo,
158disciolse il mostro, e trassel per la selva,
159tanto che sol di lei mi fece scudo

160a la puttana e a la nova belva.

My eyes were so insistent, so intent
on finding satisfaction for their ten—
year thirst that every other sense was spent.

And to each side, my eyes were walled in by
indifference to all else (with its old net,
the holy smile so drew them to itself),

when I was forced to turn my eyes leftward
by those three goddesses because I heard
them warning me: “You stare too fixedly.”

And the condition that afflicts the sight
when eyes have just been struck by the sun’s force
left me without my vision for a time.

But when my sight became accustomed to
lesser sensations (that is, lesser than
the mighty force that made my eyes retreat),

I saw the glorious army: it had wheeled
around and to the right; it had turned east;
it faced the seven flames and faced the sun.

Just as, protected by its shields, a squadron
will wheel, to save itself, around its standard
until all of its men have changed direction;

so here all troops of the celestial kingdom
within the vanguard passed in front of us
before the chariot swung around the pole—shaft.

Back to the wheels the ladies then returned;
and though the griffin moved the blessed burden,
when he did that, none of his feathers stirred.

The lovely lady who’d helped me ford Lethe,
and I and Statius, following the wheel
that turned right, round the inner, smaller arc,

were slowly passing through the tall woods—empty
because of one who had believed the serpent;
our pace was measured by angelic song.

The space we covered could be matched perhaps
by three flights of an unleashed arrow’s shafts,
when Beatrice descended from the chariot.

“Adam,” I heard all of them murmuring,
and then they drew around a tree whose every
branch had been stripped of flowers and of leaves.

As it grows higher, so its branches spread
wider; it reached a height that even in
their forests would amaze the Indians.

“Blessed are you, whose beak does not, o griffin,
pluck the sweet—tasting fruit that is forbidden
and then afflicts the belly that has eaten!”

So, round the robust tree, the others shouted;
and the two-natured animal: “Thus is
the seed of every righteous man preserved.”

And turning to the pole—shaft he had pulled,
he drew it to the foot of the stripped tree
and, with a branch of that tree, tied the two.

Just like our plants that, when the great light falls
on earth, mixed with the light that shines behind
the stars of the celestial Fishes, swell

with buds—each plant renews its coloring
before the sun has yoked its steeds beneath
another constellation: so the tree,

whose boughs—before—had been so solitary,
was now renewed, showing a tint that was
less than the rose, more than the violet.

I did not understand the hymn that they
then sang—it is not sung here on this earth—
nor, drowsy, did I listen to the end.

Could I describe just how the ruthless eyes
(eyes whose long wakefulness cost them so dear),
hearing the tale of Syrinx, fell asleep,

then like a painter painting from a model,
I’d draw the way in which I fell asleep;
but I refrain—let one more skillful paint.

I move, therefore, straight to my waking time;
I say that radiance rent the veil of sleep,
as did a voice: “Rise up: what are you doing?”

Even as Peter, John, and James, when brought
to see the blossoms of the apple tree—
whose fruit abets the angels’ hungering,

providing endless wedding-feasts in Heaven—
were overwhelmed by what they saw, but then,
hearing the word that shattered deeper sleeps,

arose and saw their fellowship was smaller—
since Moses and Elijah now had left—
and saw a difference in their Teacher’s dress;

so I awoke and saw, standing above me,
she who before—compassionate—had guided
my steps along the riverbank. Completely

bewildered, I asked: “Where is Beatrice?”
And she: “Beneath the boughs that were renewed,
she’s seated on the root of that tree; see

the company surrounding her; the rest
have left; behind the griffin they have climbed
on high with song that is more sweet, more deep.”

I do not know if she said more than that,
because, by now, I had in sight one who
excluded all things other from my view.

She sat alone upon the simple ground,
left there as guardian of the chariot
I’d seen the two—form animal tie fast.

The seven nymphs encircled her as garland,
and in their hands they held the lamps that can
not be extinguished by the north or south winds.

“Here you shall be—awhile—a visitor;
but you shall be with me—and without end—
Rome’s citizen, the Rome in which Christ is

Roman; and thus, to profit that world which
lives badly, watch the chariot steadfastly
and, when you have returned beyond, transcribe

what you have seen.” Thus, Beatrice; and I,
devoutly, at the feet of her commandments,
set mind and eyes where she had wished me to.

Never has lightning fallen with such swift
motion from a thick cloud, when it descends
from the most distant limit in the heavens,

as did the bird of Jove that I saw swoop
down through the tree, tearing the bark as well
as the new leaves and the new flowering.

It struck the chariot with all its force;
the chariot twisted, like a ship that’s crossed
by seas that now storm starboard and now port.

I then saw, as it leaped into the body
of that triumphal chariot, a fox
that seemed to lack all honest nourishment:

but, as she railed against its squalid sins,
my lady forced that fox to flight as quick
as, stripped of flesh, its bones permitted it.

Then I could see the eagle plunge—again
down through the tree—into the chariot
and leave it feathered with its plumage; and,

just like a voice from an embittered heart,
a voice issued from Heaven, saying this:
“O my small bark, your freight is wickedness!”

Then did the ground between the two wheels seem
to me to open; from the earth, a dragon
emerged; it drove its tail up through the chariot;

and like a wasp when it retracts its sting,
drawing its venomed tail back to itself,
it dragged part of the bottom off, and went

its way, undulating. And what was left
was covered with the eagle’s plumes—perhaps
offered with sound and kind intent—much as

grass covers fertile ground; and the pole—shaft
and both wheels were re—covered in less time
than mouth must be kept open when one sighs.

Transfigured so, the saintly instrument
grew heads, which sprouted from its parts; three grew
upon the pole—shaft, and one at each corner.

The three were horned like oxen, but the four
had just a single horn upon their foreheads:
such monsters never have been seen before.

Just like a fortress set on a steep slope,
securely seated there, ungirt, a whore,
whose eyes were quick to rove, appeared to me;

and I saw at her side, erect, a giant,
who seemed to serve as her custodian;
and they—again, again—embraced each other.

But when she turned her wandering, wanton eyes
to me, then that ferocious amador
beat her from head to foot; then, swollen with

suspicion, fierce with anger, he untied
the chariot—made—monster, dragging it
into the wood, so that I could not see

either the whore or the strange chariot-beast.

SO steadfast and attentive were mine eyes
In satisfying their decennial thirst,
That all my other senses were extinct,

And upon this side and on that they had
Walls of indifference, so the holy smile
Drew them unto itself with the old net

When forcibly my sight was turned away
Towards my left hand by those goddesses,
Because l heard from them a “Too intently!”

And that condition of the sight which is
In eyes but lately smitten by the sun
Bereft me of my vision some short while;

But to the less when sight re—shaped itself,
I say the less in reference to the greater
Splendour from which perforce I had withdrawn,

I saw upon its right wing wheeled about
The glorious host returning with the sun
And with the sevenfold flames upon their faces.

As underneath its shields, to save itself,
A squadron turns, and with its banner wheels,
Before the whole thereof can change its front,

That soldiery of the celestial kingdom
Which marched in the advance had wholly passed us
Before the chariot had turned its pole.

Then to the wheels the maidens turned themselves,
And the Griffin moved his burden benedight,
But so that not a feather of him fluttered.

The lady fair who drew me through the ford
Followed with Statius and myself the wheel
Which made its orbit with the lesser arc.

So passing through the lofty forest, vacant
By fault of her who in the serpent trusted,
Angelic music made our steps keep time.

Perchance as great a space had in three flights
An arrow loosened from the string o’erpassed,
As we had moved when Beatrice descended.

I heard them murmur altogether, “Adam!”
Then circled they about a tree despoiled
Of blooms and other leafage on each bough.

Its tresses, which so much the more dilate
As higher they ascend, had been by Indians
Among their forests marvelled at for height.

“Blessed art thou, O Griffin, who dost not
Pluck with thy beak these branches sweet to taste,
Since appetite by this was turned to evil.”

After this fashion round the tree robust
The others shouted; and the twofold creature:
“Thus is preserved the seed of all the just.”

And turning to the pole which he had dragged,
He drew it close beneath the widowed bough,
And what was of it unto it left bound.

In the same manner as our trees (when downward
Falls the great light, with that together mingled
Which after the celestial Lasca shines)

Begin to swell, and then renew themselves,
Each one with its own colour, ere the Sun
Harness his steeds beneath another star:

Less than of rose and more than violet
A hue disclosing, was renewed the tree
That had erewhile its boughs so desolate.

I never heard, nor here below is sung,
The hymn which afterward that people sang,
Nor did I bear the melody throughout.

Had I the power to paint how fell asleep
Those eyes compassionless, of Syrinx hearing,
Those eyes to which more watching cost so dear,

Even as a painter who from model paints
I would portray how I was lulled asleep;
He may, who well can picture drowsihood.

Therefore I pass to what time I awoke,
And say a splendour rent from me the veil
Of slumber, and a calling: “Rise, what dost thou ?”

As to behold the apple—tree in blossom
Which makes the Angels greedy for its fruit,
And keeps perpetual bridals in the Heaven,

Peter and John and James conducted were,
And, overcome, recovered at the word
By which still greater slumbers have been broken,

And saw their school diminished by the loss
Not only of Elias, but of Moses,
And the apparel of their Master changed;

So I revived, and saw that piteous one
Above me standing, who had been conductress
Aforetime of my steps beside the river,

And all in doubt I said, “Where’s Beatrice ?”
And she: “Behold her seated underneath
The leafage new, upon the root of it.

Behold the company that circles her;
The rest behind the Griffin are ascending
With more melodious song, and more profound.”

And if her speech were more diffuse I know not,
Because already in my sight was she
Who from the hearing of aught else had shut me.

Alone she sat upon the very earth,
Left there as guardian of the chariot
Which I had seen the biform monster fasten.

Encircling her, a cloister made themselves
The seven Nymphs, with those lights in their hands
Which are secure from Aquilon and Auster.

“Short while shalt thou be here a forester,
And thou shalt be with me for evermore
A citizen of that Rome where Christ is Roman.

Therefore, for that world’s good which liveth ill,
Fix on the car thine eyes, and what thou seest.
Having returned to earth, take heed thou write.”

Thus Beatrice; and I, who at the feet
Of her commandments all devoted was,
My mind and eyes directed where she willed.

Never descended with so swift a motion
Fire from a heavy cloud, when it is raining
From out the region which is most remote,

As I beheld the bird of Jove descend
Down through the tree, rending away the bark,
As well as blossoms and the foliage new,

And he with all his might the chariot smote,
Whereat it reeled, like vessel in a tempest
Tossed by the waves, now starboard and now larboard.

Thereafter saw I leap into the body
Of the triumphal vehicle a Fox,
That seemed unfed with any wholesome food.

But for his hideous sins upbraiding him,
My Lady put him to as swift a flight
As such a fleshless skeleton could bear.

Then by the way that it before had come,
Into the chariot’s chest I saw the Eagle
Descend, and leave it feathered with his plumes.

And such as issues from a heart that mourns,
A voice from Heaven there issued, and it said:
“My little bark, how badly art thou freighted!”

Methought, then, that the earth did yawn between
Both wheels, and I saw rise from it a Dragon,
Who through the chariot upward fixed his tail,

And as a wasp that draweth back its sting,
Drawing unto himself his tail malign,
Drew out the floor, and went his way rejoicing

That which remained behind, even as with grass
A fertile region, with the feathers, offered
Perhaps with pure intention and benign,

Reclothed itself, and with them were reclothed
The pole and both the wheels so speedily,
A sigh doth longer keep the lips apart.

Transfigured thus the holy edifice
Thrust forward heads upon the parts of it,
Three on the pole and one at either corner.

The first were horned like oxen; but the four
Had but a single horn upon the forehead;
A monster such had never yet been seen!

Firm as a rock upon a mountain high,
Seated upon it, there appeared to me
A shameless whore, with eyes swift glancing round,

And, as if not to have her taken from him,
Upright beside her I beheld a giant ;
And ever and anon they kissed each other.

But because she her wanton, roving eye
Turned upon me, her angry paramour
Did scourge her from her head unto her feet.

Then full of jealousy, and fierce with wrath,
He loosed the monster, and across the forest
Dragged it so far, he made of that alone

A shield unto the whore and the strange beast.

My eyes were so insistent, so intent
on finding satisfaction for their ten—
year thirst that every other sense was spent.

And to each side, my eyes were walled in by
indifference to all else (with its old net,
the holy smile so drew them to itself),

when I was forced to turn my eyes leftward
by those three goddesses because I heard
them warning me: “You stare too fixedly.”

And the condition that afflicts the sight
when eyes have just been struck by the sun’s force
left me without my vision for a time.

But when my sight became accustomed to
lesser sensations (that is, lesser than
the mighty force that made my eyes retreat),

I saw the glorious army: it had wheeled
around and to the right; it had turned east;
it faced the seven flames and faced the sun.

Just as, protected by its shields, a squadron
will wheel, to save itself, around its standard
until all of its men have changed direction;

so here all troops of the celestial kingdom
within the vanguard passed in front of us
before the chariot swung around the pole—shaft.

Back to the wheels the ladies then returned;
and though the griffin moved the blessed burden,
when he did that, none of his feathers stirred.

The lovely lady who’d helped me ford Lethe,
and I and Statius, following the wheel
that turned right, round the inner, smaller arc,

were slowly passing through the tall woods—empty
because of one who had believed the serpent;
our pace was measured by angelic song.

The space we covered could be matched perhaps
by three flights of an unleashed arrow’s shafts,
when Beatrice descended from the chariot.

“Adam,” I heard all of them murmuring,
and then they drew around a tree whose every
branch had been stripped of flowers and of leaves.

As it grows higher, so its branches spread
wider; it reached a height that even in
their forests would amaze the Indians.

“Blessed are you, whose beak does not, o griffin,
pluck the sweet—tasting fruit that is forbidden
and then afflicts the belly that has eaten!”

So, round the robust tree, the others shouted;
and the two-natured animal: “Thus is
the seed of every righteous man preserved.”

And turning to the pole—shaft he had pulled,
he drew it to the foot of the stripped tree
and, with a branch of that tree, tied the two.

Just like our plants that, when the great light falls
on earth, mixed with the light that shines behind
the stars of the celestial Fishes, swell

with buds—each plant renews its coloring
before the sun has yoked its steeds beneath
another constellation: so the tree,

whose boughs—before—had been so solitary,
was now renewed, showing a tint that was
less than the rose, more than the violet.

I did not understand the hymn that they
then sang—it is not sung here on this earth—
nor, drowsy, did I listen to the end.

Could I describe just how the ruthless eyes
(eyes whose long wakefulness cost them so dear),
hearing the tale of Syrinx, fell asleep,

then like a painter painting from a model,
I’d draw the way in which I fell asleep;
but I refrain—let one more skillful paint.

I move, therefore, straight to my waking time;
I say that radiance rent the veil of sleep,
as did a voice: “Rise up: what are you doing?”

Even as Peter, John, and James, when brought
to see the blossoms of the apple tree—
whose fruit abets the angels’ hungering,

providing endless wedding-feasts in Heaven—
were overwhelmed by what they saw, but then,
hearing the word that shattered deeper sleeps,

arose and saw their fellowship was smaller—
since Moses and Elijah now had left—
and saw a difference in their Teacher’s dress;

so I awoke and saw, standing above me,
she who before—compassionate—had guided
my steps along the riverbank. Completely

bewildered, I asked: “Where is Beatrice?”
And she: “Beneath the boughs that were renewed,
she’s seated on the root of that tree; see

the company surrounding her; the rest
have left; behind the griffin they have climbed
on high with song that is more sweet, more deep.”

I do not know if she said more than that,
because, by now, I had in sight one who
excluded all things other from my view.

She sat alone upon the simple ground,
left there as guardian of the chariot
I’d seen the two—form animal tie fast.

The seven nymphs encircled her as garland,
and in their hands they held the lamps that can
not be extinguished by the north or south winds.

“Here you shall be—awhile—a visitor;
but you shall be with me—and without end—
Rome’s citizen, the Rome in which Christ is

Roman; and thus, to profit that world which
lives badly, watch the chariot steadfastly
and, when you have returned beyond, transcribe

what you have seen.” Thus, Beatrice; and I,
devoutly, at the feet of her commandments,
set mind and eyes where she had wished me to.

Never has lightning fallen with such swift
motion from a thick cloud, when it descends
from the most distant limit in the heavens,

as did the bird of Jove that I saw swoop
down through the tree, tearing the bark as well
as the new leaves and the new flowering.

It struck the chariot with all its force;
the chariot twisted, like a ship that’s crossed
by seas that now storm starboard and now port.

I then saw, as it leaped into the body
of that triumphal chariot, a fox
that seemed to lack all honest nourishment:

but, as she railed against its squalid sins,
my lady forced that fox to flight as quick
as, stripped of flesh, its bones permitted it.

Then I could see the eagle plunge—again
down through the tree—into the chariot
and leave it feathered with its plumage; and,

just like a voice from an embittered heart,
a voice issued from Heaven, saying this:
“O my small bark, your freight is wickedness!”

Then did the ground between the two wheels seem
to me to open; from the earth, a dragon
emerged; it drove its tail up through the chariot;

and like a wasp when it retracts its sting,
drawing its venomed tail back to itself,
it dragged part of the bottom off, and went

its way, undulating. And what was left
was covered with the eagle’s plumes—perhaps
offered with sound and kind intent—much as

grass covers fertile ground; and the pole—shaft
and both wheels were re—covered in less time
than mouth must be kept open when one sighs.

Transfigured so, the saintly instrument
grew heads, which sprouted from its parts; three grew
upon the pole—shaft, and one at each corner.

The three were horned like oxen, but the four
had just a single horn upon their foreheads:
such monsters never have been seen before.

Just like a fortress set on a steep slope,
securely seated there, ungirt, a whore,
whose eyes were quick to rove, appeared to me;

and I saw at her side, erect, a giant,
who seemed to serve as her custodian;
and they—again, again—embraced each other.

But when she turned her wandering, wanton eyes
to me, then that ferocious amador
beat her from head to foot; then, swollen with

suspicion, fierce with anger, he untied
the chariot—made—monster, dragging it
into the wood, so that I could not see

either the whore or the strange chariot-beast.

SO steadfast and attentive were mine eyes
In satisfying their decennial thirst,
That all my other senses were extinct,

And upon this side and on that they had
Walls of indifference, so the holy smile
Drew them unto itself with the old net

When forcibly my sight was turned away
Towards my left hand by those goddesses,
Because l heard from them a “Too intently!”

And that condition of the sight which is
In eyes but lately smitten by the sun
Bereft me of my vision some short while;

But to the less when sight re—shaped itself,
I say the less in reference to the greater
Splendour from which perforce I had withdrawn,

I saw upon its right wing wheeled about
The glorious host returning with the sun
And with the sevenfold flames upon their faces.

As underneath its shields, to save itself,
A squadron turns, and with its banner wheels,
Before the whole thereof can change its front,

That soldiery of the celestial kingdom
Which marched in the advance had wholly passed us
Before the chariot had turned its pole.

Then to the wheels the maidens turned themselves,
And the Griffin moved his burden benedight,
But so that not a feather of him fluttered.

The lady fair who drew me through the ford
Followed with Statius and myself the wheel
Which made its orbit with the lesser arc.

So passing through the lofty forest, vacant
By fault of her who in the serpent trusted,
Angelic music made our steps keep time.

Perchance as great a space had in three flights
An arrow loosened from the string o’erpassed,
As we had moved when Beatrice descended.

I heard them murmur altogether, “Adam!”
Then circled they about a tree despoiled
Of blooms and other leafage on each bough.

Its tresses, which so much the more dilate
As higher they ascend, had been by Indians
Among their forests marvelled at for height.

“Blessed art thou, O Griffin, who dost not
Pluck with thy beak these branches sweet to taste,
Since appetite by this was turned to evil.”

After this fashion round the tree robust
The others shouted; and the twofold creature:
“Thus is preserved the seed of all the just.”

And turning to the pole which he had dragged,
He drew it close beneath the widowed bough,
And what was of it unto it left bound.

In the same manner as our trees (when downward
Falls the great light, with that together mingled
Which after the celestial Lasca shines)

Begin to swell, and then renew themselves,
Each one with its own colour, ere the Sun
Harness his steeds beneath another star:

Less than of rose and more than violet
A hue disclosing, was renewed the tree
That had erewhile its boughs so desolate.

I never heard, nor here below is sung,
The hymn which afterward that people sang,
Nor did I bear the melody throughout.

Had I the power to paint how fell asleep
Those eyes compassionless, of Syrinx hearing,
Those eyes to which more watching cost so dear,

Even as a painter who from model paints
I would portray how I was lulled asleep;
He may, who well can picture drowsihood.

Therefore I pass to what time I awoke,
And say a splendour rent from me the veil
Of slumber, and a calling: “Rise, what dost thou ?”

As to behold the apple—tree in blossom
Which makes the Angels greedy for its fruit,
And keeps perpetual bridals in the Heaven,

Peter and John and James conducted were,
And, overcome, recovered at the word
By which still greater slumbers have been broken,

And saw their school diminished by the loss
Not only of Elias, but of Moses,
And the apparel of their Master changed;

So I revived, and saw that piteous one
Above me standing, who had been conductress
Aforetime of my steps beside the river,

And all in doubt I said, “Where’s Beatrice ?”
And she: “Behold her seated underneath
The leafage new, upon the root of it.

Behold the company that circles her;
The rest behind the Griffin are ascending
With more melodious song, and more profound.”

And if her speech were more diffuse I know not,
Because already in my sight was she
Who from the hearing of aught else had shut me.

Alone she sat upon the very earth,
Left there as guardian of the chariot
Which I had seen the biform monster fasten.

Encircling her, a cloister made themselves
The seven Nymphs, with those lights in their hands
Which are secure from Aquilon and Auster.

“Short while shalt thou be here a forester,
And thou shalt be with me for evermore
A citizen of that Rome where Christ is Roman.

Therefore, for that world’s good which liveth ill,
Fix on the car thine eyes, and what thou seest.
Having returned to earth, take heed thou write.”

Thus Beatrice; and I, who at the feet
Of her commandments all devoted was,
My mind and eyes directed where she willed.

Never descended with so swift a motion
Fire from a heavy cloud, when it is raining
From out the region which is most remote,

As I beheld the bird of Jove descend
Down through the tree, rending away the bark,
As well as blossoms and the foliage new,

And he with all his might the chariot smote,
Whereat it reeled, like vessel in a tempest
Tossed by the waves, now starboard and now larboard.

Thereafter saw I leap into the body
Of the triumphal vehicle a Fox,
That seemed unfed with any wholesome food.

But for his hideous sins upbraiding him,
My Lady put him to as swift a flight
As such a fleshless skeleton could bear.

Then by the way that it before had come,
Into the chariot’s chest I saw the Eagle
Descend, and leave it feathered with his plumes.

And such as issues from a heart that mourns,
A voice from Heaven there issued, and it said:
“My little bark, how badly art thou freighted!”

Methought, then, that the earth did yawn between
Both wheels, and I saw rise from it a Dragon,
Who through the chariot upward fixed his tail,

And as a wasp that draweth back its sting,
Drawing unto himself his tail malign,
Drew out the floor, and went his way rejoicing

That which remained behind, even as with grass
A fertile region, with the feathers, offered
Perhaps with pure intention and benign,

Reclothed itself, and with them were reclothed
The pole and both the wheels so speedily,
A sigh doth longer keep the lips apart.

Transfigured thus the holy edifice
Thrust forward heads upon the parts of it,
Three on the pole and one at either corner.

The first were horned like oxen; but the four
Had but a single horn upon the forehead;
A monster such had never yet been seen!

Firm as a rock upon a mountain high,
Seated upon it, there appeared to me
A shameless whore, with eyes swift glancing round,

And, as if not to have her taken from him,
Upright beside her I beheld a giant ;
And ever and anon they kissed each other.

But because she her wanton, roving eye
Turned upon me, her angry paramour
Did scourge her from her head unto her feet.

Then full of jealousy, and fierce with wrath,
He loosed the monster, and across the forest
Dragged it so far, he made of that alone

A shield unto the whore and the strange beast.