Wings of Desire

Purgatorio 4 offers a long description of an alpine climb up the steep rock face of the mountain. The description itself is arduous and difficult, and I like to think of it as the narratological equivalent of the arduous climb experienced by the pilgrim. In other words: what the pilgrim experiences on the mountain, the reader experiences at her/his desk.

Recalling some particularly steep Italian towns that nonetheless can be climbed with one’s feet (I have been to San Leo, and can testify that the main street appears almost vertical as one looks up it), Dante comments that here, on this mountain, the slope is so steep that feet are not enough. Here are needed the wings of desire:

  Vassi in Sanleo e discendesi in Noli,
montasi su in Bismantova e ’n Cacume
con esso i piè; ma qui convien ch’om voli;
  dico con l’ale snelle e con le piume
del gran disio, di retro a quel condotto
che speranza mi dava e facea lume. (Purg. 4.25-30)
  San Leo can be climbed, one can descend
to Noli and ascend Cacume and
Bismantova with feet alone, but here
  I had to fly: I mean with rapid wings
and pinions of immense desire, behind
the guide who gave me hope and was my light.

In the above verses, Dante unpacks his metaphor of flight. He tells us, straightforwardly and almost pedagogically, that “to fly” in the Commedia equals “to desire”. First he says, “here I had to fly”, and then he explains that by “flying” he means metaphoric flight: he was required to fly with the “rapid wings and pinions of immense desire” (Purg. 4.27-29). Here Dante glosses himself: as though we are pupils who need some help in deciphering, he tells us, “Whenever I refer to flying, I am referring to desiring”. In the lexicon of the Commedia, volare = desiderare. In the verses “ma qui convien ch’om voli; / dico con l’ale snelle e con le piume / del gran disio” (Purg. 4.27-29), Dante glosses all the flight imagery in the Commedia, retrospectively and prospectively. All flights are instances of great desire: whether of great desire that goes astray, like the desire that propelled Ulysses on his “folle volo” (Inf. 26.125), or of great desire that leads aright, like the desire that propels Dante to climb the steep face of purgatory. The saturation of the Commedia with flight imagery—Ulyssean flight imagery—is due to the importance of desire as the impulse that governs all questing, all voyaging, all coming to know.

All the more interesting therefore, and worthy of note, are the mythological periphrases regarding “failed flyers” tucked into the lengthy explanation, offered by Virgilio, of why the sun’s rays hit Dante from the opposite direction of where they hit him on earth. Thus, to refer to the path of the sun, Virgilio refers to “la strada / che mal non seppe carreggiar Fetòn” (the path which Phaeton drove so poorly [Purg. 4.71-72]). For the motion of the sun, see the “earth-clock” chart attached at the end of this Introduction.

After the arduous climb, the travelers come upon the souls of another group of ante-purgatorial penitents: these are the lazy souls and among them is Dante’s old friend, Belacqua, who overhears the zealous pupil and his teacher. Here Dante sets up an amusing and tender contrast between the two friends: between himself, the hyper-attentive pupil, and Belacqua, a little too “chill” in life but saved nonetheless. Belacqua makes fun of his old friend with a friendly taunt: “Forse / che di sedere in pria avrai distretta!” (Perhaps you will / have need to sit before you reach the top! [Purg. 4.98-99]). He then humorously asks Dante, picking up and condensing the metaphor of the sun’s chariot from Virgilio’s ponderous lesson, if he has now “fathomed how the sun can drive his chariot on your left?”: “Hai ben veduto come ’l sole / da l’omero sinistro il carro mena? (Purg. 4.119-20).  I love the absolute marvel of the freshness of the dialogue between Dante and Belacqua, a dialogue that captures the intimate rhythms of friends who run into each other on the street and exchange a few words. The profundity of the affection under the intimate banter is captured in Dante’s first words to his friend: “Belacqua, a me non dole / di te omai” (From this time on, Belacqua, / I need not grieve for you [Purg. 4.123-24]).

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 3, “Geryon and Ulysses,” pp. 48-49; Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” pp. 107-14.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 4: Wings of Desire.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-4/

About the Commento

1 Quando per dilettanze o ver per doglie,
2 che alcuna virtù nostra comprenda,
3 l’anima bene ad essa si raccoglie,

4 par ch’a nulla potenza più intenda;
5 e questo è contra quello error che crede
6 ch’un’anima sovr’ altra in noi s’accenda.

7 E però, quando s’ode cosa o vede
8 che tegna forte a sé l’anima volta,
9 vassene ’l tempo e l’uom non se n’avvede;

10 ch’altra potenza è quella che l’ascolta,
11 e altra è quella c’ha l’anima intera:
12 questa è quasi legata e quella è sciolta.

13 Di ciò ebb’ io esperïenza vera,
14 udendo quello spirto e ammirando;
15 ché ben cinquanta gradi salito era

16 lo sole, e io non m’era accorto, quando
17 venimmo ove quell’anime ad una
18 gridaro a noi: «Qui è vostro dimando».

19 Maggiore aperta molte volte impruna
20 con una forcatella di sue spine
21 l’uom de la villa quando l’uva imbruna,

22 che non era la calla onde salìne
23 lo duca mio, e io appresso, soli,
24 come da noi la schiera si partìne.

25 Vassi in Sanleo e discendesi in Noli,
26 montasi su in Bismantova e ’n Cacume
27 con esso i piè; ma qui convien ch’ om voli;

28 dico con l’ale snelle e con le piume
29 del gran disio, di retro a quel condotto
30 che speranza mi dava e facea lume.

31 Noi salavam per entro ’l sasso rotto,
32 e d’ogne lato ne stringea lo stremo,
33 e piedi e man volea il suol di sotto.

34 Poi che noi fummo in su l’orlo suppremo
35 de l’alta ripa, a la scoperta piaggia,
36 «Maestro mio», diss’ io, «che via faremo?».

37 Ed elli a me: «Nessun tuo passo caggia;
38 pur su al monte dietro a me acquista,
39 fin che n’appaia alcuna scorta saggia».

40 Lo sommo er’ alto che vincea la vista,
41 e la costa superba più assai
42 che da mezzo quadrante a centro lista.

43 Io era lasso, quando cominciai:
44 «O dolce padre, volgiti, e rimira
45 com’ io rimango sol, se non restai».

46 «Figliuol mio», disse, «infin quivi ti tira»,
47 additandomi un balzo poco in sùe
48 che da quel lato il poggio tutto gira.

49 Sì mi spronaron le parole sue,
50 ch’i’ mi sforzai carpando appresso lui,
51 tanto che ’l cinghio sotto i piè mi fue.

52 A seder ci ponemmo ivi ambedui
53 vòlti a levante ond’ eravam saliti,
54 che suole a riguardar giovare altrui.

55 Li occhi prima drizzai ai bassi liti;
56 poscia li alzai al sole, e ammirava
57 che da sinistra n’eravam feriti.

58 Ben s’avvide il poeta ch’ïo stava
59 stupido tutto al carro de la luce,
60 ove tra noi e Aquilone intrava.

61 Ond’ elli a me: «Se Castore e Poluce
62 fossero in compagnia di quello specchio
63 che sù e giù del suo lume conduce,

64 tu vedresti il Zodïaco rubecchio
65 ancora a l’Orse più stretto rotare,
66 se non uscisse fuor del cammin vecchio.

67 Come ciò sia, se ’l vuoi poter pensare,
68 dentro raccolto, imagina Sïòn
69 con questo monte in su la terra stare

70 sì, ch’amendue hanno un solo orizzòn
71 e diversi emisperi; onde la strada
72 che mal non seppe carreggiar Fetòn,

73 vedrai come a costui convien che vada
74 da l’un, quando a colui da l’altro fianco,
75 se lo ’ntelletto tuo ben chiaro bada».

76 «Certo, maestro mio,» diss’ io, «unquanco
77 non vid’ io chiaro sì com’ io discerno
78 là dove mio ingegno parea manco,

79 che ’l mezzo cerchio del moto superno,
80 che si chiama Equatore in alcun’ arte,
81 e che sempre riman tra ’l sole e ’l verno,

82 per la ragion che di’, quinci si parte
83 verso settentrïon, quanto li Ebrei
84 vedevan lui verso la calda parte.

85 Ma se a te piace, volontier saprei
86 quanto avemo ad andar; ché ’l poggio sale
87 più che salir non posson li occhi miei».

88 Ed elli a me: «Questa montagna è tale,
89 che sempre al cominciar di sotto è grave;
90 e quant’ om più va sù, e men fa male.

91 Però, quand’ ella ti parrà soave
92 tanto, che sù andar ti fia leggero
93 com’ a seconda giù andar per nave,

94 allor sarai al fin d’esto sentiero;
95 quivi di riposar l’affanno aspetta.
96 Più non rispondo, e questo so per vero».

97 E com’ elli ebbe sua parola detta,
98 una voce di presso sonò: «Forse
99 che di sedere in pria avrai distretta!».

100 Al suon di lei ciascun di noi si torse,
101 e vedemmo a mancina un gran petrone,
102 del qual né io né ei prima s’accorse.

103 Là ci traemmo; e ivi eran persone
104 che si stavano a l’ombra dietro al sasso
105 come l’uom per negghienza a star si pone.

106 E un di lor, che mi sembiava lasso,
107 sedeva e abbracciava le ginocchia,
108 tenendo ’l viso giù tra esse basso.

109 «O dolce segnor mio», diss’ io, «adocchia
110 colui che mostra sé più negligente
111 che se pigrizia fosse sua serocchia».

112 Allor si volse a noi e puose mente,
113 movendo ’l viso pur su per la coscia,
114 e disse: «Or va tu sù, che se’ valente!».

115 Conobbi allor chi era, e quella angoscia
116 che m’avacciava un poco ancor la lena,
117 non m’impedì l’andare a lui; e poscia

118 ch’a lui fu’ giunto, alzò la testa a pena,
119 dicendo: «Hai ben veduto come ’l sole
120 da l’omero sinistro il carro mena?».

121 Li atti suoi pigri e le corte parole
122 mosser le labbra mie un poco a riso;
123 poi cominciai: «Belacqua, a me non dole

124 di te omai; ma dimmi: perché assiso
125 quiritto se’? attendi tu iscorta,
126 o pur lo modo usato t’ha’ ripriso?».

127 Ed elli: «O frate, andar in sù che porta?
128 ché non mi lascerebbe ire a’ martìri
129 l’angel di Dio che siede in su la porta.

130 Prima convien che tanto il ciel m’ aggiri
131 di fuor da essa, quanto fece in vita,
132 perch’ io ’ndugiai al fine i buon sospiri,

133 se orazïone in prima non m’aita
134 che surga sù di cuor che in grazia viva;
135 l’altra che val, che ’n ciel non è udita?».

136 E già il poeta innanzi mi saliva,
137 e dicea: «Vienne omai; vedi ch’è tocco
138 meridïan dal sole e a la riva

139 cuopre la notte già col piè Morrocco».

When any of our faculties retains
a strong impression of delight or pain,
the soul will wholly concentrate on that,

neglecting any other power it has
(and this refutes the error that maintains
that—one above the other—several souls

can flame in us); and thus, when something seen
or heard secures the soul in stringent grip,
time moves and yet we do not notice it.

The power that perceives the course of time
is not the power that captures all the mind;
the former has no force—the latter binds.

And I confirmed this by experience,
hearing that spirit in my wonderment;
for though the sun had fully climbed fifty

degrees, I had not noticed it, when we
came to the point at which in unison
those souls cried out to us: “Here’s what you want.”

The farmer, when the grape is darkening,
will often stuff a wider opening
with just a little forkful of his thorns,

than was the gap through which my guide and I,
who followed after, climbed, we two alone,
after that company of souls had gone.

San Leo can be climbed, one can descend
to Noli and ascend Cacume and
Bismantova with feet alone, but here

I had to fly: I mean with rapid wings
and pinions of immense desire, behind
the guide who gave me hope and was my light.

We made our upward way through rifted rock;
along each side the edges pressed on us;
the ground beneath required feet and hands.

When we had reached the upper rim of that
steep bank, emerging on the open slope,
I said: “My master, what way shall we take?”

And he to me: “Don’t squander any steps;
keep climbing up the mountain after me
until we find some expert company.”

The summit was so high, my sight fell short;
the slope was far more steep than the line drawn
from middle—quadrant to the center point.

I was exhausted when I made this plea:
“O gentle father, turn around and see—
I will be left alone unless you halt.”

“My son,” he said, “draw yourself up to there,”
while pointing to a somewhat higher terrace,
which circles all the slope along that side.

His words incited me; my body tried;
on hands and knees I scrambled after him
until the terrace lay beneath my feet.

There we sat down together, facing east,
in the direction from which we had come:
what joy—to look back at a path we’ve climbed!

My eyes were first set on the shores below,
and then I raised them toward the sun; I was
amazed to find it fall upon our left.

And when the poet saw that I was struck
with wonder as I watched the chariot
of light passing between the north and us,

he said to me: “Suppose Castor and Pollux
were in conjunction with that mirror there,
which takes the light and guides it north and south,

then you would see the reddish zodiac
still closer to the Bears as it revolves—
unless it has abandoned its old track.

If you would realize how that should be,
then concentrate, imagining this mountain
so placed upon this earth that both Mount Zion

and it, although in different hemispheres,
share one horizon; therefore, you can see,
putting your mind to it attentively,

how that same path which Phaethon drove so poorly
must pass this mountain on the north, whereas
it skirts Mount Zion on the southern side.”

I said: “My master, surely I have never—
since my intelligence seemed lacking—seen
as clearly as I now can comprehend,

that the mid—circle of the heavens’ motion
(one of the sciences calls it Equator),
which always lies between the sun and winter,

as you explained, lies as far north of here
as it lies southward of the site from which
the Hebrews, looking toward the tropics, saw it.

But if it please you, I should willingly
learn just how far it is we still must journey:
the slope climbs higher than my eyes can follow.”

And he to me: “This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.

Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful
as traveling downstream by boat, you will

be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.
I say no more, and this I know as truth.”

And when his words were done, another voice
nearby was heard to say: “Perhaps you will
have need to sit before you reach that point!”

Hearing that voice, both of us turned around,
and to the left we saw a massive boulder,
which neither he nor I—before—had noticed.

We made our way toward it and toward the people
who lounged behind that boulder in the shade,
as men beset by listlessness will rest.

And one of them, who seemed to me exhausted,
was sitting with his arms around his knees;
between his knees, he kept his head bent down.

“O my sweet lord,” I said, “look carefully
at one who shows himself more languid than
he would have been were laziness his sister!”

Then that shade turned toward us attentively,
lifting his eyes, but just above his thigh,
and said: “Climb, then, if you’re so vigorous!”

Then I knew who he was, and the distress
that still was quickening my breath somewhat,
did not prevent my going to him; and

when I had reached him, scarcely lifting up
his head, he said: “And have you fathomed how
the sun can drive his chariot on your left?”

The slowness of his movements, his brief words
had stirred my lips a little toward a smile;
then I began: “From this time on, Belacqua,

I need not grieve for you; but tell me, why
do you sit here? Do you expect a guide?
Or have you fallen into your old ways?”

And he: “O brother, what’s the use of climbing?
God’s angel, he who guards the gate, would not
let me pass through to meet my punishment.

Outside that gate the skies must circle round
as many times as they did when I lived—
since I delayed good sighs until the end—

unless, before then, I am helped by prayer
that rises from a heart that lives in grace;
what use are other prayers—ignored by Heaven?”

And now the poet climbed ahead, before me,
and said: “It’s time; see the meridian
touched by the sun; elsewhere, along the Ocean,

night now has set its foot upon Morocco.”

WHENEVER by delight or else by pain,
That seizes any faculty of ours,
Wholly to that the soul collects itself,

It seemeth that no other power it heeds;
And this against that error is which thinks
One soul above another kindles in us.

And hence, whenever aught is heard or seen
Which keeps the soul intently bent upon it,
Time passes on, and we perceive it not,

Because one faculty is that which listens,
And other that which the soul keeps entire;
This is as if in bonds, and that is free.

Of this I had experience positive
In hearing and in gazing at that spirit;
For fifty full degrees uprisen was

The sun, and I had not perceived it, when
We came to where those souls with one accord
Cried out unto us: “Here is what you ask.”

A greater opening ofttimes hedges up
With but a little forkful of his thorns
The villager, what time the grape imbrowns,

Than was the passage—way through which ascended
Only my Leader and myself behind him,
After that company departed from us.

One climbs Sanleo and descends in Noli,
And mounts the summit of Bismantova,
With feet alone; but here one needs must fly;

With the swift pinions and the plumes I say
Of great desire, conducted after him
Who gave me hope, and made a light for me.

We mounted upward through the rifted rock,
And on each side the border pressed upon us,
And feet and hands the ground beneath required.

When we were come upon the upper rim
Of the high bank, out on the open slope,
“My Master,” said I, “what way shall we take ?”

And he to me: “No step of thine descend;
Still up the mount behind me win thy way,
Till some sage escort shall appear to us.”

The summit was so high it vanquished sight,
And the hillside precipitous far more
Than line from middle quadrant to the centre.

Spent with fatigue was I, when I began:
“O my sweet Father! turn thee and behold
How I remain alone, unless thou stay!”

“O son,” e said, “up yonder drag thyself,”
Pointing me to a terrace somewhat higher,
Which on that side encircles all the hill.

These words of his so spurred me on, that I
Strained every nerve, behind him scrambling up,
Until the circle was beneath my feet.

Thereon ourselves we seated both of us
Turned to the East, from which we had ascended,
For all men are delighted to look back.

To the low shores mine eyes I first directed,
Then to the sun uplifted them, and wondered
That on the left hand we were smitten by it.

The Poet well perceived that I was wholly
Bewildered at the chariot of the light,
Where ‘twixt us and the Aquilon it entered.

Whereon he said to me: “If Castor and Pollux
Were in the company of yonder mirror,
That up and down conducteth with its light,

Thou wouldst behold the zodiac’s jagged wheel
Revolving still more near unto the Bears,
Unless it swerved aside from its old track.

How that may be wouldst thou have power to think,
Collected in thyself, imagine Zion
Together with this mount on earth to stand,

So that they both one sole horizon have,
And hemispheres diverse; whereby the road
Which Phaeton, alas! knew not to drive,

Thou’lt see how of necessity must pass
This on one side, when that upon the other,
If thine intelligence right clearly heed.”

“Truly, my Master,” said I, “never yet
Saw I so clearly as I now discern,
There where my wit appeared incompetent,

That the mid—circle of supernal motion,
Which in some art is the Equator called
And aye remains between the Sun and Winter,

For reason which thou sayest, departeth hence
Tow’rds the Septentrion, what time the Hebrews
Beheld it tow’rds the region of the heat.

But, if it pleaseth thee, I fain would learn
How far we have to go; for the hill rises
Higher than eyes of mine have power to rise.

And he to me: “This mount is such, that ever
At the beginning down below ’tis tiresome,
And aye the more one climbs, the less it hurts.

Therefore, when it shall seem so pleasant to thee,
That going up shall be to thee as easy
As going down the current in a boat,

Then at this pathway’s ending thou wilt be;
There to repose thy panting breath expect;
No more I answer; and this I know for true.”

And as he finished uttering these words,
A voice close by us sounded: “Peradventure
Thou wilt have need of sitting down ere that.”

At sound thereof each one of us turned round,
And saw upon the left hand a great rock,
Which neither I nor he before had noticed.

Thither we drew; and there were persons there
Who in the shadow stood behind the rock,
As one through indolence is wont to stand.

And one of the, who seemed to me fatigued,
Was sitting down, and both his knees embraced,
Holding his face low down between them bowed.

“O my sweet Lord,” I said, “do turn thine eye
On him who shows himself more negligent
Then even Sloth herself his sister were.”

Then he turned round to us, and he gave heed,
Just lifting up his eyes above his thigh,
And said: “Now go thou up, for thou art valiant.”

Then knew I who he was; and the distress,
That still a little did my breathing quicken,
My going to him hindered not; and after

I came to him he hardly raised his head,
Saying: “Hast thou seen clearly how the sun
O’er thy left shoulder drives his chariot?”

His sluggish attitude and his curt words
A little unto laughter moved my lips;
Then I began: “Belacqua, I grieve not

For thee henceforth; but tell me, wherefore seated
In this place art thou ? Waitest thou an escort ?
Or has thy usual habit seized upon thee ?”

And he: “O brother, what’s the use of climbing?
Since to my torment would not let me go
The Angel of God, who sitteth at the gate.

First heaven must needs so long revolve me round
Outside thereof, as in my life it did,
Since the good sighs I to the end postponed,

Unless, e’er that, some prayer may bring me aid
Which rises from a heart that lives in grace;
What profit others that in heaven are heard not ?”

Meanwhile the Poet was before me mounting,
And saying: “Come now; see the sun has touched
Meridian, and from the shore the night

Covers already with her foot Morocco.”

When any of our faculties retains
a strong impression of delight or pain,
the soul will wholly concentrate on that,

neglecting any other power it has
(and this refutes the error that maintains
that—one above the other—several souls

can flame in us); and thus, when something seen
or heard secures the soul in stringent grip,
time moves and yet we do not notice it.

The power that perceives the course of time
is not the power that captures all the mind;
the former has no force—the latter binds.

And I confirmed this by experience,
hearing that spirit in my wonderment;
for though the sun had fully climbed fifty

degrees, I had not noticed it, when we
came to the point at which in unison
those souls cried out to us: “Here’s what you want.”

The farmer, when the grape is darkening,
will often stuff a wider opening
with just a little forkful of his thorns,

than was the gap through which my guide and I,
who followed after, climbed, we two alone,
after that company of souls had gone.

San Leo can be climbed, one can descend
to Noli and ascend Cacume and
Bismantova with feet alone, but here

I had to fly: I mean with rapid wings
and pinions of immense desire, behind
the guide who gave me hope and was my light.

We made our upward way through rifted rock;
along each side the edges pressed on us;
the ground beneath required feet and hands.

When we had reached the upper rim of that
steep bank, emerging on the open slope,
I said: “My master, what way shall we take?”

And he to me: “Don’t squander any steps;
keep climbing up the mountain after me
until we find some expert company.”

The summit was so high, my sight fell short;
the slope was far more steep than the line drawn
from middle—quadrant to the center point.

I was exhausted when I made this plea:
“O gentle father, turn around and see—
I will be left alone unless you halt.”

“My son,” he said, “draw yourself up to there,”
while pointing to a somewhat higher terrace,
which circles all the slope along that side.

His words incited me; my body tried;
on hands and knees I scrambled after him
until the terrace lay beneath my feet.

There we sat down together, facing east,
in the direction from which we had come:
what joy—to look back at a path we’ve climbed!

My eyes were first set on the shores below,
and then I raised them toward the sun; I was
amazed to find it fall upon our left.

And when the poet saw that I was struck
with wonder as I watched the chariot
of light passing between the north and us,

he said to me: “Suppose Castor and Pollux
were in conjunction with that mirror there,
which takes the light and guides it north and south,

then you would see the reddish zodiac
still closer to the Bears as it revolves—
unless it has abandoned its old track.

If you would realize how that should be,
then concentrate, imagining this mountain
so placed upon this earth that both Mount Zion

and it, although in different hemispheres,
share one horizon; therefore, you can see,
putting your mind to it attentively,

how that same path which Phaethon drove so poorly
must pass this mountain on the north, whereas
it skirts Mount Zion on the southern side.”

I said: “My master, surely I have never—
since my intelligence seemed lacking—seen
as clearly as I now can comprehend,

that the mid—circle of the heavens’ motion
(one of the sciences calls it Equator),
which always lies between the sun and winter,

as you explained, lies as far north of here
as it lies southward of the site from which
the Hebrews, looking toward the tropics, saw it.

But if it please you, I should willingly
learn just how far it is we still must journey:
the slope climbs higher than my eyes can follow.”

And he to me: “This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.

Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful
as traveling downstream by boat, you will

be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.
I say no more, and this I know as truth.”

And when his words were done, another voice
nearby was heard to say: “Perhaps you will
have need to sit before you reach that point!”

Hearing that voice, both of us turned around,
and to the left we saw a massive boulder,
which neither he nor I—before—had noticed.

We made our way toward it and toward the people
who lounged behind that boulder in the shade,
as men beset by listlessness will rest.

And one of them, who seemed to me exhausted,
was sitting with his arms around his knees;
between his knees, he kept his head bent down.

“O my sweet lord,” I said, “look carefully
at one who shows himself more languid than
he would have been were laziness his sister!”

Then that shade turned toward us attentively,
lifting his eyes, but just above his thigh,
and said: “Climb, then, if you’re so vigorous!”

Then I knew who he was, and the distress
that still was quickening my breath somewhat,
did not prevent my going to him; and

when I had reached him, scarcely lifting up
his head, he said: “And have you fathomed how
the sun can drive his chariot on your left?”

The slowness of his movements, his brief words
had stirred my lips a little toward a smile;
then I began: “From this time on, Belacqua,

I need not grieve for you; but tell me, why
do you sit here? Do you expect a guide?
Or have you fallen into your old ways?”

And he: “O brother, what’s the use of climbing?
God’s angel, he who guards the gate, would not
let me pass through to meet my punishment.

Outside that gate the skies must circle round
as many times as they did when I lived—
since I delayed good sighs until the end—

unless, before then, I am helped by prayer
that rises from a heart that lives in grace;
what use are other prayers—ignored by Heaven?”

And now the poet climbed ahead, before me,
and said: “It’s time; see the meridian
touched by the sun; elsewhere, along the Ocean,

night now has set its foot upon Morocco.”

WHENEVER by delight or else by pain,
That seizes any faculty of ours,
Wholly to that the soul collects itself,

It seemeth that no other power it heeds;
And this against that error is which thinks
One soul above another kindles in us.

And hence, whenever aught is heard or seen
Which keeps the soul intently bent upon it,
Time passes on, and we perceive it not,

Because one faculty is that which listens,
And other that which the soul keeps entire;
This is as if in bonds, and that is free.

Of this I had experience positive
In hearing and in gazing at that spirit;
For fifty full degrees uprisen was

The sun, and I had not perceived it, when
We came to where those souls with one accord
Cried out unto us: “Here is what you ask.”

A greater opening ofttimes hedges up
With but a little forkful of his thorns
The villager, what time the grape imbrowns,

Than was the passage—way through which ascended
Only my Leader and myself behind him,
After that company departed from us.

One climbs Sanleo and descends in Noli,
And mounts the summit of Bismantova,
With feet alone; but here one needs must fly;

With the swift pinions and the plumes I say
Of great desire, conducted after him
Who gave me hope, and made a light for me.

We mounted upward through the rifted rock,
And on each side the border pressed upon us,
And feet and hands the ground beneath required.

When we were come upon the upper rim
Of the high bank, out on the open slope,
“My Master,” said I, “what way shall we take ?”

And he to me: “No step of thine descend;
Still up the mount behind me win thy way,
Till some sage escort shall appear to us.”

The summit was so high it vanquished sight,
And the hillside precipitous far more
Than line from middle quadrant to the centre.

Spent with fatigue was I, when I began:
“O my sweet Father! turn thee and behold
How I remain alone, unless thou stay!”

“O son,” e said, “up yonder drag thyself,”
Pointing me to a terrace somewhat higher,
Which on that side encircles all the hill.

These words of his so spurred me on, that I
Strained every nerve, behind him scrambling up,
Until the circle was beneath my feet.

Thereon ourselves we seated both of us
Turned to the East, from which we had ascended,
For all men are delighted to look back.

To the low shores mine eyes I first directed,
Then to the sun uplifted them, and wondered
That on the left hand we were smitten by it.

The Poet well perceived that I was wholly
Bewildered at the chariot of the light,
Where ‘twixt us and the Aquilon it entered.

Whereon he said to me: “If Castor and Pollux
Were in the company of yonder mirror,
That up and down conducteth with its light,

Thou wouldst behold the zodiac’s jagged wheel
Revolving still more near unto the Bears,
Unless it swerved aside from its old track.

How that may be wouldst thou have power to think,
Collected in thyself, imagine Zion
Together with this mount on earth to stand,

So that they both one sole horizon have,
And hemispheres diverse; whereby the road
Which Phaeton, alas! knew not to drive,

Thou’lt see how of necessity must pass
This on one side, when that upon the other,
If thine intelligence right clearly heed.”

“Truly, my Master,” said I, “never yet
Saw I so clearly as I now discern,
There where my wit appeared incompetent,

That the mid—circle of supernal motion,
Which in some art is the Equator called
And aye remains between the Sun and Winter,

For reason which thou sayest, departeth hence
Tow’rds the Septentrion, what time the Hebrews
Beheld it tow’rds the region of the heat.

But, if it pleaseth thee, I fain would learn
How far we have to go; for the hill rises
Higher than eyes of mine have power to rise.

And he to me: “This mount is such, that ever
At the beginning down below ’tis tiresome,
And aye the more one climbs, the less it hurts.

Therefore, when it shall seem so pleasant to thee,
That going up shall be to thee as easy
As going down the current in a boat,

Then at this pathway’s ending thou wilt be;
There to repose thy panting breath expect;
No more I answer; and this I know for true.”

And as he finished uttering these words,
A voice close by us sounded: “Peradventure
Thou wilt have need of sitting down ere that.”

At sound thereof each one of us turned round,
And saw upon the left hand a great rock,
Which neither I nor he before had noticed.

Thither we drew; and there were persons there
Who in the shadow stood behind the rock,
As one through indolence is wont to stand.

And one of the, who seemed to me fatigued,
Was sitting down, and both his knees embraced,
Holding his face low down between them bowed.

“O my sweet Lord,” I said, “do turn thine eye
On him who shows himself more negligent
Then even Sloth herself his sister were.”

Then he turned round to us, and he gave heed,
Just lifting up his eyes above his thigh,
And said: “Now go thou up, for thou art valiant.”

Then knew I who he was; and the distress,
That still a little did my breathing quicken,
My going to him hindered not; and after

I came to him he hardly raised his head,
Saying: “Hast thou seen clearly how the sun
O’er thy left shoulder drives his chariot?”

His sluggish attitude and his curt words
A little unto laughter moved my lips;
Then I began: “Belacqua, I grieve not

For thee henceforth; but tell me, wherefore seated
In this place art thou ? Waitest thou an escort ?
Or has thy usual habit seized upon thee ?”

And he: “O brother, what’s the use of climbing?
Since to my torment would not let me go
The Angel of God, who sitteth at the gate.

First heaven must needs so long revolve me round
Outside thereof, as in my life it did,
Since the good sighs I to the end postponed,

Unless, e’er that, some prayer may bring me aid
Which rises from a heart that lives in grace;
What profit others that in heaven are heard not ?”

Meanwhile the Poet was before me mounting,
And saying: “Come now; see the sun has touched
Meridian, and from the shore the night

Covers already with her foot Morocco.”