True Flesh, True Blood

The travelers meet a new group of souls, who are as fast-paced and sharp-edged as the previous group (the lazy) was relaxed and low-key. These new souls seem anxious as they press around Dante, perhaps as a result of their violent deaths and their last-minute barely-achieved-in-time salvations.

One cries out to the others that Dante casts a shadow and that he walks as though alive, but Virgilio, having learned the lesson about no dawdling in purgatory from Cato, forbids Dante to stop and speak to the gawkers. Again, another group notices that Dante’s body blocks the light (he allows “no path for rays of light to cross my body” [Purg. 5.25-26]) and two messengers race over to inquire. Virgilio this time allows an interaction with the souls, in order to confirm what they believe, that they are looking at a living, breathing, fleshly body:

  E ’l mio maestro: «Voi potete andarne
e ritrarre a color che vi mandaro
che ’l corpo di costui è vera carne.» (Purg. 5.31-33)
  My master answered them: “You can return
and carry this report to those who sent you:
in truth, the body of this man is flesh.”

In the verse “’l corpo di costui è vera carne” (Purg. 5.33)—“the body of this man is true flesh”—we find a distillation of the nostalgia for the body that suffuses ante-purgatory. The emphasis on the “true flesh” of Dante’s body is particularly apposite for this canto, where three souls will tell of their violent deaths: two in battle, and one at the hands of her husband.

All the souls hanging about on the lower slopes of Mount Purgatory share a still active nostalgia for home: they still yearn for where they lived on earth, the earth that they left behind only quite recently. (The souls we meet in ante-purgatory are all roughly contemporaries of Dante; there is no one from antiquity with the exception of the guardian, Cato.) Their nostalgia for home and life on earth is expressed in a continuous interest in the body: our fleshly home while we are alive.

The first to recount his violent death is Iacopo del Cassero, a political figure and warrior, who was assassinated in 1298 by agents of Azzo VIII d’Este, Lord of Ferrara. Iacopo acquired the enmity of Azzo while serving as chief magistrate (podestà) of Bologna, during which time he protected Bologna from Azzo’s expansionist aims.

Azzo subsequently had Iacopo chased down and killed in the territory of Padova, when Iacopo was on his way to serve as podestà in Milano. Iacopo had chosen to go from Fano to Milano by way of Venice precisely to avoid the assassins of Azzo d’ Este, but someone betrayed him.

Assassinated only two years before he meets Dante in purgatory, Iacopo del Cassero speaks of the “piercing wounds from which there poured the blood where my life lived” (73-74), and describes the pool of blood that forms in the swamp where he dies:

  Corsi al palude, e le cannucce e ’l braco
m’impigliar sì ch’i’ caddi; e lì vid’io
de le mie vene farsi in terra laco. (Purg. 5.82-84)
  I hurried to the marsh. The mud, the reeds
entangled me; I fell. And there I saw
a pool, poured from my veins, form on the ground.

He is saved, and in purgatory, but Iacopo del Cassero still relives the experience of falling entangled in the mud and reeds of the Paduan swamp, pursued by his successful assassins, and watching the blood pour from his veins onto the ground.

Iacopo’s blood, violently spilled, reminds us of the river of boiling blood, Phlegethon, in which the violent are immersed in Inferno 12. There the tiranni are submerged to their eyebrows, since they exercised violence both with respect to the persons of others and with respect to their possessions. Azzo VIII’s father, Obizzo II d’Este, is immersed in that river, in a passage where Dante suggests that the tyrant was killed by his own son (Inf. 12.110-12). The sympathetic account of Iacopo del Cassero’s bloody death at the hands of Obizzo’s successor is the response of a poet who had written of tiranni that they “plunged their hands in blood and plundering”: “E’ son tiranni / che dier nel sangue e ne l’aver di piglio” (Inf. 12.104-05). I am always struck, when I read the Commedia, by how forcefully Dante communicates historical pain. Even when I read the Commedia as a naïve first-time reader in my first year at Sarah Lawrence College (1968-1969), I experienced the difference between metaphoric pain and historical pain. I know we write about the “sufferings” and “torments” of hell, but personally I do not respond to those sufferings as sufferings. The river of blood is not something I feel, it is something I understand. I experience it, in other words, as the metaphor that it is. I have a very different response to Iacopo’s description of watching his blood pool on the ground. There is physical pain in hell, but—for me at least—it is not in the contrapassi: it is in the simile that describes the contemporary punishment of burying a man upside down (Inferno 19.49-51), or the simile of the Sicilian bull, the instrument of torture used by the tyrant Phalaris in Sicily (Inferno 27.7-15).

The second soul to speak to Dante is Bonconte da Montefeltro, who was a warrior like his father, Guido da Montefeltro (Inferno 27). Bonconte was killed at the battle of Campaldino on 11 June 1289, where he led the Ghibelline cavalry; Dante, who also fought at that battle, was a Guelph and therefore fought on the opposite side. Bonconte, whose body was never found on the battlefield, also recounts his bloody ending, when he was “forato ne la gola, / fuggendo a piede e sanguinando il piano” (my throat was pierced—fleeing on foot and bloodying the plain [Purg. 5.98-99]).

The third soul, the elliptical Pia de’ Tolomei, was killed by her husband. Her story is suppressed, like much domestic violence. She differs in this respect from Francesca da Rimini, who, like Pia, was killed by her husband. Unlike Pia, who offers up so little of her personal story, Francesca tells with gusto her scandalous tale of falling in love with her brother-in-law.

Again, as with Manfredi in Purgatorio 3 (who also died a violent death, at the battle of Benevento), a key theological point is God’s mercy, extended even to those who wait until the “last hour” to “make peace” with Him:

  Noi fummo tutti già per forza morti,
e peccatori infino a l’ultima ora;
quivi lume del ciel ne fece accorti,
  sì che, pentendo e perdonando, fora
di vita uscimmo a Dio pacificati,
che del disio di sé veder n’accora. (Purg. 5.52-57)
  We all were done to death by violence,
and we all sinned until our final hour;
then light from Heaven granted understanding,
  so that, repenting and forgiving, we
came forth from life at peace with God, and He
instilled in us the longing to see Him.

Bonconte ends his life with the name of Mary on his lips. How poignant is the comparison with Bonconte’s father Guido, who devised a sure-proof plan to guarantee salvation, going so far as to become a Franciscan friar, only to find himself taken to hell by a devil at the end. Bonconte gives the opposite account: in the son’s case a devil came for his soul and was rebuffed by an angel. The devil is infuriated that “one little tear”—“una lagrimetta” (Purg. 5.107)—is enough to deprive him of Bonconte’s soul. But so it is.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” pp. 114-15.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 5: True Flesh, True Blood.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-5/

About the Commento

1 Io era già da quell’ ombre partito,
2 e seguitava l’orme del mio duca,
3 quando di retro a me, drizzando ’l dito,

4 una gridò: «Ve’ che non par che luca
5 lo raggio da sinistra a quel di sotto,
6 e come vivo par che si conduca!».

7 Li occhi rivolsi al suon di questo motto,
8 e vidile guardar per maraviglia
9 pur me, pur me, e ’l lume ch’era rotto.

10 «Perché l’animo tuo tanto s’impiglia»,
11 disse ’l maestro, «che l’andare allenti?
12 che ti fa ciò che quivi si pispiglia?

13 Vien dietro a me, e lascia dir le genti:
14 sta come torre ferma, che non crolla
15 già mai la cima per soffiar di venti;

16 ché sempre l’omo in cui pensier rampolla
17 sovra pensier, da sé dilunga il segno,
18 perché la foga l’un de l’altro insolla».

19 Che potea io ridir, se non «Io vegno»?
20 Dissilo, alquanto del color consperso
21 che fa l’uom di perdon talvolta degno.

22 E ’ntanto per la costa di traverso
23 venivan genti innanzi a noi un poco,
24 cantando ‘Miserere’ a verso a verso.

25 Quando s’accorser ch’i’ non dava loco
26 per lo mio corpo al trapassar d’i raggi,
27 mutar lor canto in un «oh!» lungo e roco;

28 e due di loro, in forma di messaggi,
29 corsero incontr’ a noi e dimandarne:
30 «Di vostra condizion fatene saggi».

31 E ’l mio maestro: «Voi potete andarne
32 e ritrarre a color che vi mandaro
33 che ’l corpo di costui è vera carne.

34 Se per veder la sua ombra restaro,
35 com’ io avviso, assai è lor risposto:
36 fàccianli onore, ed essere può lor caro».

37 Vapori accesi non vid’ io sì tosto
38 di prima notte mai fender sereno,
39 né, sol calando, nuvole d’agosto,

40 che color non tornasser suso in meno;
41 e, giunti là, con li altri a noi dire volta,
42 come schiera che scorre sanza freno.

43 «Questa gente che preme a noi è molta,
44 e vegnonti a pregar», disse ’l poeta:
45 «però pur va, e in andando ascolta».

46 «O anima che vai per esser lieta
47 con quelle membra con le quai nascesti»,
48 venian gridando, «un poco il passo queta.

49 Guarda s’alcun di noi unqua vedesti,
50 sì che di lui di là novella porti:
51 deh, perché vai? deh, perché non t’arresti?

52 Noi fummo tutti già per forza morti,
53 e peccatori infino a l’ultima ora;
54 quivi lume del ciel ne fece accorti,

55 sì che, pentendo e perdonando, fora
56 di vita uscimmo a Dio pacificati,
57 che del disio di sé veder n’accora».

58 E io: «Perché ne’ vostri visi guati,
59 non riconosco alcun; ma s’a voi piace
60 cosa ch’io possa, spiriti ben nati,

61 voi dite, e io farò per quella pace
62 che, dietro a’ piedi di sì fatta guida,
63 di mondo in mondo cercar mi si face».

64 E uno incominciò: «Ciascun si fida
65 del beneficio tuo sanza giurarlo,
66 pur che ’l voler nonpossa non ricida.

67 Ond’ io, che solo innanzi a li altri parlo,
68 ti priego, se mai vedi quel paese
69 che siede tra Romagna e quel di Carlo,

70 che tu mi sie di tuoi prieghi cortese
71 in Fano, sì che ben per me s’adori
72 pur ch’i’ possa purgar le gravi offese.

73 Quindi fu’ io; ma li profondi fóri
74 ond’ uscì ’l sangue in sul quale io sedea,
75 fatti mi fuoro in grembo a li Antenori,

76 là dov’ io più sicuro esser credea:
77 quel da Esti il fé far, che m’avea in ira
78 assai più là che dritto non volea.

79 Ma s’io fosse fuggito inver’ la Mira,
80 quando fu’ sovragiunto ad Orïaco,
81 ancor sarei di là dove si spira.

82 Corsi al palude, e le cannucce e ’l braco
83 m’impigliar sì ch’i’ caddi; e lì vid’ io
84 de le mie vene farsi in terra laco».

85 Poi disse un altro: «Deh, se quel disio
86 si compia che ti tragge a l’alto monte,
87 con buona pïetate aiuta il mio!

88 Io fui di Montefeltro, io son Bonconte;
89 Giovanna o altri non ha di me cura;
90 per ch’io vo tra costor con bassa fronte».

91 E io a lui: «Qual forza o qual ventura
92 ti travïò sì fuor di Campaldino,
93 che non si seppe mai tua sepultura?».

94 «Oh!», rispuos’ elli, «a piè del Casentino
95 traversa un’acqua c’ha nome l’Archiano,
96 che sovra l’Ermo nasce in Apennino.

97 Là ’ve ’l vocabol suo diventa vano,
98 arriva’ io forato ne la gola,
99 fuggendo a piede e sanguinando il piano.

100 Quivi perdei la vista e la parola;
101 nel nome di Maria fini’, e quivi
102 caddi, e rimase la mia carne sola.

103 Io dirò vero, e tu ’l ridì tra ’ vivi:
104 l’angel di Dio mi prese, e quel d’inferno
105 gridava: “O tu del ciel, perché mi privi?

106 Tu te ne porti di costui l’etterno
107 per una lagrimetta che ’l mi toglie;
108 ma io farò de l’altro altro governo!”.

109 Ben sai come ne l’aere si raccoglie
110 quell’ umido vapor che in acqua riede,
111 tosto che sale dove ’l freddo il coglie.

112 Giunse quel mal voler che pur mal chiede
113 con lo ’ntelletto, e mosse il fummo e ’l vento
114 per la virtù che sua natura diede.

115 Indi la valle, come ’l dì fu spento,
116 da Pratomagno al gran giogo coperse
117 di nebbia; e ’l ciel di sopra fece intento,

118 sì che ’l pregno aere in acqua si converse;
119 la pioggia cadde, e a’ fossati venne
120 di lei ciò che la terra non sofferse;

121 e come ai rivi grandi si convenne,
122 ver’ lo fiume real tanto veloce
123 si ruinò, che nulla la ritenne.

124 Lo corpo mio gelato in su la foce
125 trovò l’Archian rubesto; e quel sospinse
126 ne l’Arno, e sciolse al mio petto la croce

127 ch’i’ fe’ di me quando ’l dolor mi vinse;
128 voltòmmi per le ripe e per lo fondo,
129 poi di sua preda mi coperse e cinse».

130 «Deh, quando tu sarai tornato al mondo,
131 e riposato de la lunga via»,
132 seguitò ’l terzo spirito al secondo,

133 «ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
134 Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma:
135 salsi colui che ’nnanellata pria

136 disposando m’avea con la sua gemma».

I had already left those shades behind
and followed in the footsteps of my guide
when, there beneath me, pointing at me, one

shade shouted: “See the second climber climb:
the sun seems not to shine on his left side
and when he walks, he walks like one alive!”

When I had heard these words, I turned my eyes
and saw the shades astonished as they stared
at me—at me, and at the broken light.

“Why have you let your mind get so entwined,”
my master said, “that you have slowed your walk?
Why should you care about what’s whispered here?

Come, follow me, and let these people talk:
stand like a sturdy tower that does not shake
its summit though the winds may blast; always

the man in whom thought thrusts ahead of thought
allows the goal he’s set to move far off—
the force of one thought saps the other’s force.”

Could my reply be other than “I come”?
And—somewhat colored by the hue that makes
one sometimes merit grace—I spoke those words.

Meanwhile, along the slope, crossing our road
slightly ahead of us, people approached,
singing the Miserere verse by verse.

When they became aware that I allowed
no path for rays of light to cross my body,
they changed their song into a long, hoarse “Oh!”

And two of them, serving as messengers,
hurried to meet us, and those two inquired:
“Please tell us something more of what you are.”

My master answered them: “You can return
and carry this report to those who sent you:
in truth, the body of this man is flesh.

If, as I think, they stopped to see his shadow,
that answer is sufficient: let them welcome
him graciously, and that may profit them.”

Never did I see kindled vapors rend
clear skies at nightfall or the setting sun
cleave August clouds with a rapidity

that matched the time it took those two to speed
above; and, there arrived, they with the others
wheeled back, like ranks that run without a rein.

“These people pressing in on us are many;
they come beseeching you,” the poet said;
“don’t stop, but listen as you move ahead.”

“O soul who make your way to gladness with
the limbs you had at birth, do stay your steps
awhile,” they clamored as they came, “to see

if there is any of us whom you knew,
that you may carry word of him beyond.
Why do you hurry on? Why don’t you stop?

We all were done to death by violence,
and we all sinned until our final hour;
then light from Heaven granted understanding,

so that, repenting and forgiving, we
came forth from life at peace with God, and He
instilled in us the longing to see Him.”

And I: “Although I scrutinize your faces,
I recognize no one; but, spirits born
to goodness, if there’s anything within

my power that might please you, then—by that
same peace which in the steps of such a guide
I seek from world to world—I shall perform it.”

And one began: “We all have faith in your
good offices without your oath, as long
as lack of power does not curb your will.

Thus I, who speak alone—before the others—
beseech you, if you ever see the land
that lies between Romagna and the realm

of Charles, that you be courteous to me,
entreating those in Fano to bestow
fair prayers to purge me of my heavy sins.

My home was Fano; but the piercing wounds
from which there poured the blood where my life lived—
those I received among Antenor’s sons,

there where I thought that I was most secure;
for he of Este, hating me far more
than justice warranted, had that deed done.

But had I fled instead toward Mira when
they overtook me at Oriaco, then
I should still be beyond, where men draw breath.

I hurried to the marsh. The mud, the reeds
entangled me; I fell. And there I saw
a pool, poured from my veins, form on the ground.”

Another shade then said: “Ah, so may that
desire which draws you up the lofty mountain
be granted, with kind pity help my longing!

I was from Montefeltro, I’m Buonconte;
Giovanna and the rest—they all neglect me;
therefore, among these shades, I go in sadness.”

And I to him: “What violence or chance
so dragged you from the field of Campaldino
that we know nothing of your burial place?”

“Oh,” he replied, “across the Casentino
there runs a stream called Archiano—born
in the Apennines above the Hermitage.

There, at the place where that stream’s name is lost,
I came—my throat was pierced—fleeing on foot
and bloodying the plain; and there it was

that I lost sight and speech; and there, as I
had finished uttering the name of Mary,
I fell; and there my flesh alone remained.

I’ll speak the truth—do you, among the living,
retell it: I was taken by God’s angel,
but he from Hell cried: ‘You from Heaven—why

do you deny me him? For just one tear
you carry off his deathless part; but I
shall treat his other part in other wise.’

You are aware how, in the air, moist vapor
will gather and again revert to rain
as soon as it has climbed where cold enfolds.

His evil will, which only seeks out evil,
conjoined with intellect; and with the power
his nature grants, he stirred up wind and vapor.

And then, when day was done, he filled the valley
from Pratomagno far as the great ridge
with mist; the sky above was saturated.

The dense air was converted into water;
rain fell, and then the gullies had to carry
whatever water earth could not receive;

and when that rain was gathered into torrents,
it rushed so swiftly toward the royal river
that nothing could contain its turbulence.

The angry Archiano—at its mouth—
had found my frozen body; and it thrust
it in the Arno and set loose the cross

that, on my chest, my arms, in pain, had formed.
It rolled me on the banks and river bed,
then covered, girded me with its debris.”

“Pray, after your returning to the world,
when, after your long journeying, you’ve rested,”
the third soul, following the second, said,

“may you remember me, who am La Pia;
Siena made—Maremma unmade—me:
he who, when we were wed, gave me his pledge

and then, as nuptial ring, his gem, knows that.”

I HAD already from those shades departed,
And followed in the footsteps of my Guide,
When from behind, pointing his finger at me,

One shouted: “See, it seems as if shone not
The sunshine on the left of him below,
And like one living seems he to conduct him

Mine eyes I turned at utterance of these words,
And saw them watching with astonishment
But me, but me, and the light which was broken!

“Why doth thy mind so occupy itself,”
The Master said, “that thou thy pace dost slacken ?
What matters it to thee what here is whispered ?

Come after me, and let the people talk;
Stand like a steadfast tower, that never wags
Its top for all the blowing of the winds;

For evermore the man in whom is springing
Thought upon thought, removes from him the mark,
Because the force of one the other weakens.”

What could I say in answer but “I come”?
I said it somewhat with that colour tinged
Which makes a man of pardon sometimes worthy.

Meanwhile along the mountain—side across
Came people in advance of us a little,
Singing the Miserere verse by verse.

When they became aware I gave no place
For passage of the sunshine through my body,
They changed their song into a long, hoarse “Oh!”

And two of them, in form of messengers,
Ran forth to meet us, and demanded of us,
“Of your condition make us cognisant.”

And said my Master: “Ye can go your way
And carry back again to those who sent you,
That this one’s body is of very flesh.

If they stood still because they saw his shadow,
As I suppose, enough is answered them;
Him let them honour, it may profit them.”

Vapours enkindled saw I ne’er so swiftly
At early nightfall cleave the air serene,
Nor, at the set of sun, the clouds of August,

But upward they returned in briefer time,
And, on arriving, with the others wheeled
Tow’rds us, like troops that run without a rein.

“This folk that presses unto us is great,
And cometh to implore thee,” said the Poet;
“So still go onward, and in going listen.”

“O soul that goest to beatitude
With the same members wherewith thou wast born,”
Shouting they came, “a little stay thy steps.

Look, if thou e’er hast any of us seen,
So that o’er yonder thou bear news of him;
Ah, why dost thou go on ? Ah, why not stay ?

Long since we all were slain by violence,
And sinners even to the latest hour;
Then did a light from heaven admonish us,

So that, both penitent and pardoning, forth
From life we issued reconciled to God,
Who with desire to see Him stirs our hearts.”

And I: “Although I gaze into your faces,
No one I recognize; but if may please you
Aught I have power to do, ye well—born spirits,

Speak ye, and I will do it, by that peace
Which, following the feet of such a Guide,
From world to world makes itself sought by me.”

And one began: “Each one has confidence
In thy good offices without an oath,
Unless the I cannot cut off the I will;

Whence I, who speak alone before the others,
Pray thee, if ever thou dost see the land
That ‘twixt Romagna lies and that of Charles,

Thou be so courteous to me of thy prayers
In Fano, that they pray for me devoutly,
That I may purge away my grave offences.

From thence was I; but the deep wounds, through which
Issued the blood wherein I had my seat,
Were dealt me in bosom of the Antenori,

There where I thought to be the most secure;
‘Twas he of Este had it done, who held me
In hatred far beyond what justice willed.

But if towards the Mira I had fled,
When I was overtaken at Oriaco,
I still should be o’er yonder where men breathe.

I ran to the lagoon, and reeds and mire
Did so entangle me I fell, and saw there
A lake made from my veins upon the ground.”

Then said another: “Ah, be that desire
Fulfilled that draws thee to the lofty mountain,
As thou with pious pity aidest mine.

I was of Montefeltro, and am Buonconte;
Giovanna, nor none other cares for me;
Hence among these I go with downcast front.”

And I to him: “What violence or what chance
Led thee astray so far from Campaldino,
That never has thy sepulture been known ?”

“Oh,” he replied, “at Casentino’s foot
A river crosses named Archiano, born
Above the Hermitage in Apennine.

There where the name thereof becometh void
Did I arrive, pierced through and through the throat,
Fleeing on foot, and bloodying the plain;

There my sight lost I, and my utterance
Ceased in the name of Mary, and thereat
I fell, and tenantless my flesh remained.

Truth will I speak, repeat it to the living;
God’s Angel took me up, and he of hell
Shouted: ‘O thou from heaven, why dost thou rob me ?

‘Thou bearest away the eternal part of him,
For one poor little tear, that takes him from me;
But with the rest I’ll deal in other fashion! ‘

Well knowest thou how in the air is gathered
That humid vapour which to water turns,
Soon as it rises where the cold doth grasp it.

He joined that evil will, which aye seeks evil,
To intellect, and moved the mist and wind
By means of power, which his own nature gave;

Thereafter when the day was spent, the valley
From Pratomagno to the great yoke covered
With fog, and made the heaven above intent,

So that the pregnant air to water changed;
Down fell the rain, and to the gullies came
Whate’er of it earth tolerated not;

And as it mingled with the mighty torrents,
Towards the royal river with such speed
It headlong rushed, that nothing held it back.

My frozen body near unto its outlet
The robust Archian found, and into Arno
Thrust it, and loosened from my breast the cross

I made of me, when agony o’ercame me;
It rolled me on the banks and on the bottom,
Then with its booty covered and begirt me.”

“Ah, when thou hast returned unto the world,
And rested thee from thy long journeying,”
After the second followed the third spirit,

“Do thou remember me who am the Pia;
Siena made me, unmade me Maremma;
He knoweth it, who had encircled first,

Espousing me, my finger with his gem.”

I had already left those shades behind
and followed in the footsteps of my guide
when, there beneath me, pointing at me, one

shade shouted: “See the second climber climb:
the sun seems not to shine on his left side
and when he walks, he walks like one alive!”

When I had heard these words, I turned my eyes
and saw the shades astonished as they stared
at me—at me, and at the broken light.

“Why have you let your mind get so entwined,”
my master said, “that you have slowed your walk?
Why should you care about what’s whispered here?

Come, follow me, and let these people talk:
stand like a sturdy tower that does not shake
its summit though the winds may blast; always

the man in whom thought thrusts ahead of thought
allows the goal he’s set to move far off—
the force of one thought saps the other’s force.”

Could my reply be other than “I come”?
And—somewhat colored by the hue that makes
one sometimes merit grace—I spoke those words.

Meanwhile, along the slope, crossing our road
slightly ahead of us, people approached,
singing the Miserere verse by verse.

When they became aware that I allowed
no path for rays of light to cross my body,
they changed their song into a long, hoarse “Oh!”

And two of them, serving as messengers,
hurried to meet us, and those two inquired:
“Please tell us something more of what you are.”

My master answered them: “You can return
and carry this report to those who sent you:
in truth, the body of this man is flesh.

If, as I think, they stopped to see his shadow,
that answer is sufficient: let them welcome
him graciously, and that may profit them.”

Never did I see kindled vapors rend
clear skies at nightfall or the setting sun
cleave August clouds with a rapidity

that matched the time it took those two to speed
above; and, there arrived, they with the others
wheeled back, like ranks that run without a rein.

“These people pressing in on us are many;
they come beseeching you,” the poet said;
“don’t stop, but listen as you move ahead.”

“O soul who make your way to gladness with
the limbs you had at birth, do stay your steps
awhile,” they clamored as they came, “to see

if there is any of us whom you knew,
that you may carry word of him beyond.
Why do you hurry on? Why don’t you stop?

We all were done to death by violence,
and we all sinned until our final hour;
then light from Heaven granted understanding,

so that, repenting and forgiving, we
came forth from life at peace with God, and He
instilled in us the longing to see Him.”

And I: “Although I scrutinize your faces,
I recognize no one; but, spirits born
to goodness, if there’s anything within

my power that might please you, then—by that
same peace which in the steps of such a guide
I seek from world to world—I shall perform it.”

And one began: “We all have faith in your
good offices without your oath, as long
as lack of power does not curb your will.

Thus I, who speak alone—before the others—
beseech you, if you ever see the land
that lies between Romagna and the realm

of Charles, that you be courteous to me,
entreating those in Fano to bestow
fair prayers to purge me of my heavy sins.

My home was Fano; but the piercing wounds
from which there poured the blood where my life lived—
those I received among Antenor’s sons,

there where I thought that I was most secure;
for he of Este, hating me far more
than justice warranted, had that deed done.

But had I fled instead toward Mira when
they overtook me at Oriaco, then
I should still be beyond, where men draw breath.

I hurried to the marsh. The mud, the reeds
entangled me; I fell. And there I saw
a pool, poured from my veins, form on the ground.”

Another shade then said: “Ah, so may that
desire which draws you up the lofty mountain
be granted, with kind pity help my longing!

I was from Montefeltro, I’m Buonconte;
Giovanna and the rest—they all neglect me;
therefore, among these shades, I go in sadness.”

And I to him: “What violence or chance
so dragged you from the field of Campaldino
that we know nothing of your burial place?”

“Oh,” he replied, “across the Casentino
there runs a stream called Archiano—born
in the Apennines above the Hermitage.

There, at the place where that stream’s name is lost,
I came—my throat was pierced—fleeing on foot
and bloodying the plain; and there it was

that I lost sight and speech; and there, as I
had finished uttering the name of Mary,
I fell; and there my flesh alone remained.

I’ll speak the truth—do you, among the living,
retell it: I was taken by God’s angel,
but he from Hell cried: ‘You from Heaven—why

do you deny me him? For just one tear
you carry off his deathless part; but I
shall treat his other part in other wise.’

You are aware how, in the air, moist vapor
will gather and again revert to rain
as soon as it has climbed where cold enfolds.

His evil will, which only seeks out evil,
conjoined with intellect; and with the power
his nature grants, he stirred up wind and vapor.

And then, when day was done, he filled the valley
from Pratomagno far as the great ridge
with mist; the sky above was saturated.

The dense air was converted into water;
rain fell, and then the gullies had to carry
whatever water earth could not receive;

and when that rain was gathered into torrents,
it rushed so swiftly toward the royal river
that nothing could contain its turbulence.

The angry Archiano—at its mouth—
had found my frozen body; and it thrust
it in the Arno and set loose the cross

that, on my chest, my arms, in pain, had formed.
It rolled me on the banks and river bed,
then covered, girded me with its debris.”

“Pray, after your returning to the world,
when, after your long journeying, you’ve rested,”
the third soul, following the second, said,

“may you remember me, who am La Pia;
Siena made—Maremma unmade—me:
he who, when we were wed, gave me his pledge

and then, as nuptial ring, his gem, knows that.”

I HAD already from those shades departed,
And followed in the footsteps of my Guide,
When from behind, pointing his finger at me,

One shouted: “See, it seems as if shone not
The sunshine on the left of him below,
And like one living seems he to conduct him

Mine eyes I turned at utterance of these words,
And saw them watching with astonishment
But me, but me, and the light which was broken!

“Why doth thy mind so occupy itself,”
The Master said, “that thou thy pace dost slacken ?
What matters it to thee what here is whispered ?

Come after me, and let the people talk;
Stand like a steadfast tower, that never wags
Its top for all the blowing of the winds;

For evermore the man in whom is springing
Thought upon thought, removes from him the mark,
Because the force of one the other weakens.”

What could I say in answer but “I come”?
I said it somewhat with that colour tinged
Which makes a man of pardon sometimes worthy.

Meanwhile along the mountain—side across
Came people in advance of us a little,
Singing the Miserere verse by verse.

When they became aware I gave no place
For passage of the sunshine through my body,
They changed their song into a long, hoarse “Oh!”

And two of them, in form of messengers,
Ran forth to meet us, and demanded of us,
“Of your condition make us cognisant.”

And said my Master: “Ye can go your way
And carry back again to those who sent you,
That this one’s body is of very flesh.

If they stood still because they saw his shadow,
As I suppose, enough is answered them;
Him let them honour, it may profit them.”

Vapours enkindled saw I ne’er so swiftly
At early nightfall cleave the air serene,
Nor, at the set of sun, the clouds of August,

But upward they returned in briefer time,
And, on arriving, with the others wheeled
Tow’rds us, like troops that run without a rein.

“This folk that presses unto us is great,
And cometh to implore thee,” said the Poet;
“So still go onward, and in going listen.”

“O soul that goest to beatitude
With the same members wherewith thou wast born,”
Shouting they came, “a little stay thy steps.

Look, if thou e’er hast any of us seen,
So that o’er yonder thou bear news of him;
Ah, why dost thou go on ? Ah, why not stay ?

Long since we all were slain by violence,
And sinners even to the latest hour;
Then did a light from heaven admonish us,

So that, both penitent and pardoning, forth
From life we issued reconciled to God,
Who with desire to see Him stirs our hearts.”

And I: “Although I gaze into your faces,
No one I recognize; but if may please you
Aught I have power to do, ye well—born spirits,

Speak ye, and I will do it, by that peace
Which, following the feet of such a Guide,
From world to world makes itself sought by me.”

And one began: “Each one has confidence
In thy good offices without an oath,
Unless the I cannot cut off the I will;

Whence I, who speak alone before the others,
Pray thee, if ever thou dost see the land
That ‘twixt Romagna lies and that of Charles,

Thou be so courteous to me of thy prayers
In Fano, that they pray for me devoutly,
That I may purge away my grave offences.

From thence was I; but the deep wounds, through which
Issued the blood wherein I had my seat,
Were dealt me in bosom of the Antenori,

There where I thought to be the most secure;
‘Twas he of Este had it done, who held me
In hatred far beyond what justice willed.

But if towards the Mira I had fled,
When I was overtaken at Oriaco,
I still should be o’er yonder where men breathe.

I ran to the lagoon, and reeds and mire
Did so entangle me I fell, and saw there
A lake made from my veins upon the ground.”

Then said another: “Ah, be that desire
Fulfilled that draws thee to the lofty mountain,
As thou with pious pity aidest mine.

I was of Montefeltro, and am Buonconte;
Giovanna, nor none other cares for me;
Hence among these I go with downcast front.”

And I to him: “What violence or what chance
Led thee astray so far from Campaldino,
That never has thy sepulture been known ?”

“Oh,” he replied, “at Casentino’s foot
A river crosses named Archiano, born
Above the Hermitage in Apennine.

There where the name thereof becometh void
Did I arrive, pierced through and through the throat,
Fleeing on foot, and bloodying the plain;

There my sight lost I, and my utterance
Ceased in the name of Mary, and thereat
I fell, and tenantless my flesh remained.

Truth will I speak, repeat it to the living;
God’s Angel took me up, and he of hell
Shouted: ‘O thou from heaven, why dost thou rob me ?

‘Thou bearest away the eternal part of him,
For one poor little tear, that takes him from me;
But with the rest I’ll deal in other fashion! ‘

Well knowest thou how in the air is gathered
That humid vapour which to water turns,
Soon as it rises where the cold doth grasp it.

He joined that evil will, which aye seeks evil,
To intellect, and moved the mist and wind
By means of power, which his own nature gave;

Thereafter when the day was spent, the valley
From Pratomagno to the great yoke covered
With fog, and made the heaven above intent,

So that the pregnant air to water changed;
Down fell the rain, and to the gullies came
Whate’er of it earth tolerated not;

And as it mingled with the mighty torrents,
Towards the royal river with such speed
It headlong rushed, that nothing held it back.

My frozen body near unto its outlet
The robust Archian found, and into Arno
Thrust it, and loosened from my breast the cross

I made of me, when agony o’ercame me;
It rolled me on the banks and on the bottom,
Then with its booty covered and begirt me.”

“Ah, when thou hast returned unto the world,
And rested thee from thy long journeying,”
After the second followed the third spirit,

“Do thou remember me who am the Pia;
Siena made me, unmade me Maremma;
He knoweth it, who had encircled first,

Espousing me, my finger with his gem.”