Farewell

Purgatorio 8 is the last canto of ante-purgatory, the last full canto devoted to this elegiac, nostalgic waiting place. Purgatorio 8 begins with a passage that fully captures the backward-turning affect-laden tonality of this section of Purgatorio. In order to say that it is dusk the poet says that it is that time of day that makes travelers think of home, and that makes them turn their thoughts back to the day when they bid farewell to their sweet friends. The melancholy sweetness, the sweet melancholia, of these verses is palpable:

  Era già l’ora che volge il disio
ai navicanti e ’ntenerisce il core
lo dì c’han detto ai dolci amici addio;
  e che lo novo peregrin d’amore
punge, se ode squilla di lontano
che paia il giorno pianger che si more...(Purg. 8.1-6)
  It was the hour that turns seafarers’ longings
homeward—the hour that makes their hearts grow tender 
upon the day they bid sweet friends farewell;
  the hour that pierces the new traveler
with love when he has heard, far off, the bell
that seems to mourn the dying of the day...

The narrator then moves on to recount a ritual event in which the temptation of Adam and Eve (“la prima gente” of Purgatorio 1.24) is performed for the saved souls in the Valley. There is, however, a radically different outcome to this ritual from that which originally occurred in the Garden of Eden: angels appear with swords and drive away the snake.

The angels’ garments are the color of “leaves just-now-born” (“fogliette pur mo nate”), a color that we can try very hard to see in the early spring, before the leaves darken, as they begin to do almost immediately:

  Verdi come fogliette pur mo nate
erano in veste, che da verdi penne
percosse traean dietro e ventilate. (Purg. 8.28-30)
  Their garments, just as green as newborn leaves,
were agitated, fanned by their green wings,
and trailed behind them.

I call this performance a ritual event because it occurs, as far as we can tell, every evening, affording these souls an opportunity to meditate continuously on the temptation that they were able to defeat. It is, effectively, a kind of evening Mass that reminds the souls what they overcame to achieve salvation. The ritual is signposted by the poet with an address to the reader (Purg. 8.19-21). For some of the narrative complexities raised by the representation of this ritual, see The Undivine Comedy, pp. 85-86.

The complex narrative structure of Purgatorio 8 interweaves the ritual of the angels and the snake with two encounters: an encounter with Nino Visconti and an encounter with Currado Malaspina. The narrator begins to recount the ritual, focusing on the angels who guard the Valley (Purg. 8.1-42); he then interrupts to narrate the meeting between Dante and his friend “Giudice Nin” (43-84); he then returns to the account of the ritual and completes the story (85-108); and finally he narrates the meeting of Dante with Currado Malaspina (109-39). We could outline the canto in the following manner:

1-42 Beginning of ritual
43-84 Encounter with Giudice Nin
85-108 Completion of ritual
109-139 Encounter with Currado Malaspina

Nino Visconti, grandson of Ugolino della Gherardesca, hailed by Dante as “giudice Nin gentil” (Purg. 8.53)—“Noble Judge Nino”—is another in the fraternity of friends whom Dante meets in purgatory. As occurred when Dante met Belacqua, Dante signals his relief at his friend’s salvation:

  Ver’ me si fece, e io ver’ lui mi fei:
giudice Nin gentil, quanto mi piacque
quando ti vidi non esser tra ’ rei! (Purg. 8.52-54)
  He moved toward me, and I advanced toward him.
Noble Judge Nino—what delight was mine
when I saw you were not among the damned!

See below for an attached breakdown of the canto’s four narrative sections to which I have added the basic thematic connectors between sections; there are many other recalls between the four building blocks that you can add.

Women and gender issues abound in this canto, on a spectrum that runs from Mary to Eve. Featured, in between those extremes, are the female relatives of Nino Visconti, in particular his remarried wife Beatrice d’Este. Nino indulges in essentializing regret for the fickleness of females, who forget a man once he is no longer present to touch her:

  Per lei assai di lieve si comprende
quanto in femmina foco d’amor dura,
se l’occhio o ’l tatto spesso non l’accende. (Purg. 8.76-78)
  Through her, one understands so easily
how brief, in woman, is love's fire—when not
rekindled frequently by eye or touch. 

In response one could cite Shakespeare’s “Sigh No More” from Much Ado About Nothing (“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, / Men were deceivers ever”) as well as Anne Elliot’s speech on the greater fidelity of women at the end of Jane Austen’s great novel, Persuasion.

The question of what we inherit from our parents—and what makes us noble—is kept alive in this canto, having been initiated in the previous canto.

The encounter with Currado Malaspina highlights Dante’s abiding interest in the virtues of cortesia. Dante praises the Malaspina family, which will host him during his exile, saying that they possess the two great chivalric virtues, demonstrating “[il] pregio de la borsa e de la spada” (the glory of the purse and of the sword [Purg. 8.129]). They come by their virtues as a result of the good offices of both “habit” and “nature” (“Uso e natura sì la privilegia” [Purg. 8.130]): in other words, they have good habits and are also well disposed by nature, through heredity. In this way Dante touches on the theme of heredity broached in the previous canto, and gives us an example of the “rare” passing on of virtue from father to son.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 2, “Infernal Incipits,” p. 34; Chapter 4, “Narrative and Style in Lower Hell,” pp. 85-86; Chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm,” pp. 120-21; Dante’s Poets, pp. 179-84.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 8: Farewell.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-8/

About the Commento

1 Era già l’ora che volge il disio
2 ai navicanti e ’ntenerisce il core
3 lo dì c’han detto ai dolci amici addio;

4 e che lo novo peregrin d’amore
5 punge, se ode squilla di lontano
6 che paia il giorno pianger che si more;

7 quand’ io incominciai a render vano
8 l’udire e a mirare una de l’alme
9 surta, che l’ascoltar chiedea con mano.

10 Ella giunse e levò ambo le palme,
11 ficcando li occhi verso l’orïente,
12 come dicesse a Dio: ‘D’altro non calme’ .

13Te lucis ante’ sì devotamente
14 le uscìo di bocca e con sì dolci note,
15 che fece me a me uscir di mente;

16 e l’altre poi dolcemente e devote
17 seguitar lei per tutto l’inno intero,
18 avendo li occhi a le superne rote.

19 Aguzza qui, lettor, ben li occhi al vero,
20 ché ’l velo è ora ben tanto sottile,
21 certo che ’l trapassar dentro è leggero.

22 Io vidi quello essercito gentile
23 tacito poscia riguardare in sùe,
24 quasi aspettando, palido e umìle;

25 e vidi uscir de l’alto e scender giùe
26 due angeli con due spade affocate,
27 tronche e private de le punte sue.

28 Verdi come fogliette pur mo nate
29 erano in veste, che da verdi penne
30 percosse traean dietro e ventilate.

31 L’un poco sovra noi a star si venne,
32 e l’altro scese in l’opposita sponda,
33 sì che la gente in mezzo si contenne.

34 Ben discernëa in lor la testa bionda;
35 ma ne la faccia l’occhio si smarria,
36 come virtù ch’a troppo si confonda.

37 «Ambo vegnon del grembo di Maria»,
38 disse Sordello, «a guardia de la valle,
39 per lo serpente che verrà vie via».

40 Ond’ io, che non sapeva per qual calle,
41 mi volsi intorno, e stretto m’accostai,
42 tutto gelato, a le fidate spalle.

43 E Sordello anco: «Or avvalliamo omai
44 tra le grandi ombre, e parleremo ad esse;
45 grazïoso fia lor vedervi assai».

46 Solo tre passi credo ch’i’ scendesse,
47 e fui di sotto, e vidi un che mirava
48 pur me, come conoscer mi volesse.

49 Temp’ era già che l’aere s’annerava,
50 ma non sì che tra li occhi suoi e ’ miei
51 non dichiarisse ciò che pria serrava.

52 Ver’ me si fece, e io ver’ lui mi fei:
53 giudice Nin gentil, quanto mi piacque
54 quando ti vidi non esser tra ’ rei!

55 Nullo bel salutar tra noi si tacque;
56 poi dimandò: «Quant’ è che tu venisti
57 a piè del monte per le lontane acque?».

58 «Oh!», diss’ io lui, «per entro i luoghi tristi
59 venni stamane, e sono in prima vita,
60 ancor che l’altra, sì andando, acquisti».

61 E come fu la mia risposta udita,
62 Sordello ed elli in dietro si raccolse
63 come gente di sùbito smarrita.

64 L’uno a Virgilio e l’altro a un si volse
65 che sedea lì, gridando:«Sù, Currado!
66 vieni a veder che Dio per grazia volse».

67 Poi, vòlto a me: «Per quel singular grado
68 che tu dei a colui che sì nasconde
69 lo suo primo perché, che non lì è guado,

70 quando sarai di là da le larghe onde,
71 dì a Giovanna mia che per me chiami
72 là dove a li ’nnocenti si risponde.

73 Non credo che la sua madre più m’ami,
74 poscia che trasmutò le bianche bende,
75 le quai convien che, misera!, ancor brami.

76 Per lei assai di lieve si comprende
77 quanto in femmina foco d’amor dura,
78 se l’occhio o ’l tatto spesso non l’accende.

79 Non le farà sì bella sepultura
80 la vipera che Melanesi accampa,
81 com’ avria fatto il gallo di Gallura».

82 Così dicea, segnato de la stampa,
83 nel suo aspetto, di quel dritto zelo
84 che misuratamente in core avvampa.

85 Li occhi miei ghiotti andavan pur al cielo,
86 pur là dove le stelle son più tarde,
87 sì come rota più presso a lo stelo.

88 E ‘l duca mio: «Figliuol, che là sù guarde?».
89 E io a lui: «A quelle tre facelle
90 di che ’l polo di qua tutto quanto arde».

91 Ond’ elli a me: «Le quattro chiare stelle
92 che vedevi staman, son di là basse,
93 e queste son salite ov’ eran quelle».

94 Com’ ei parlava, e Sordello a sé il trasse
95 dicendo:«Vedi là ’l nostro avversaro»;
96 e drizzò il dito perché ’n là guardasse.

97 Da quella parte onde non ha riparo
98 la picciola vallea, era una biscia,
99 forse qual diede ad Eva il cibo amaro.

100 Tra l’erba e ’ fior venìa la mala striscia,
101 volgendo ad ora ad or la testa, e ’l dosso
102 leccando come bestia che si liscia.

103 Io non vidi, e però dicer non posso,
104 come mosser li astor celestïali;
105 ma vidi bene e l’uno e l’altro mosso.

106 Sentendo fender l’aere a le verdi ali,
107 fuggì ’l serpente, e li angeli dier volta,
108 suso a le poste rivolando iguali.

109 L’ombra che s’era al giudice raccolta
110 quando chiamò, per tutto quello assalto
111 punto non fu da me guardare sciolta.

112 «Se la lucerna che ti mena in alto
113 truovi nel tuo arbitrio tanta cera
114 quant’ è mestiere infino al sommo smalto»,

115 cominciò ella, «se novella vera
116 di Val di Magra o di parte vicina
117 sai, dillo a me, che già grande là era.

118 Fui chiamato Currado Malaspina;
119 non son l’antico, ma di lui discesi;
120 a’ miei portai l’amor che qui raffina».

121 «Oh!», diss’ io lui, «per li vostri paesi
122 già mai non fui; ma dove si dimora
123 per tutta Europa ch’ ei non sien palesi?

124 La fama che la vostra casa onora,
125 grida i segnori e grida la contrada,
126 sì che ne sa chi non vi fu ancora;

127 e io vi giuro, s’io di sopra vada,
128 che vostra gente onrata non si sfregia
129 del pregio de la borsa e de la spada.

130 Uso e natura sì la privilegia,
131 che, perché il capo reo il mondo torca,
132 sola va dritta e ’l mal cammin dispregia».

133 Ed elli: «Or va; che ’l sol non si ricorca
134 sette volte nel letto che ’l Montone
135 con tutti e quattro i piè cuopre e inforca,

136 che cotesta cortese oppinïone
137 ti fia chiavata in mezzo de la testa
138 con maggior chiovi che d’altrui sermone,

139 se corso di giudicio non s’arresta».

It was the hour that turns seafarers’ longings
homeward—the hour that makes their hearts grow tender
upon the day they bid sweet friends farewell;

the hour that pierces the new traveler
with love when he has heard, far off, the bell
that seems to mourn the dying of the day;

when I began to let my hearing fade
and watched one of those souls who, having risen,
had signaled with his hand for our attention.

He joined his palms and, lifting them, he fixed
all his attention on the east, as if
to say to God: “I care for nothing else.”

“Te lucis ante” issued from his lips
with such devotion and with notes so sweet
that I was moved to move beyond my mind.

And then the other spirits followed him—
devoutly, gently—through all of that hymn,
their eyes intent on the supernal spheres.

Here, reader, let your eyes look sharp at truth,
for now the veil has grown so very thin—
it is not difficult to pass within.

I saw that company of noble spirits,
silent and looking upward, pale and humble,
as if in expectation; and I saw,

emerging and descending from above,
two angels bearing flaming swords, of which
the blades were broken off, without their tips.

Their garments, just as green as newborn leaves,
were agitated, fanned by their green wings,
and trailed behind them; and one angel came

and stood somewhat above us, while the other
descended on the opposite embankment,
flanking that company of souls between them.

My eyes made out their blond heads clearly, but
my sight was dazzled by their faces—just
like any sense bewildered by excess.

“Both come from Mary’s bosom,” said Sordello,
“to serve as the custodians of the valley
against the serpent that will soon appear.”

At this, not knowing where its path might be,
frozen with fear, I turned around, pressing
close to the trusty shoulders. And Sordello

continued: “Let us now descend among
the great shades in the valley; we shall speak
with them; and seeing you, they will be pleased.”

I think that I had taken but three steps
to go below, when I saw one who watched
attentively, trying to recognize me.

The hour had now arrived when air grows dark,
but not so dark that it deprived my eyes
and his of what—before—they were denied.

He moved toward me, and I advanced toward him.
Noble Judge Nino—what delight was mine
when I saw you were not among the damned!

There was no gracious greeting we neglected
before he asked me: “When did you arrive,
across long seas, beneath this mountainside?”

I told him, “Oh, by way of the sad regions,
I came this morning; I am still within
the first life—although, by this journeying,

I earn the other.” When they heard my answer,
Sordello and Judge Nino, just behind him,
drew back like people suddenly astonished.

One turned to Virgil, and the other turned
and called to one who sat there: “Up, Currado!
Come see what God, out of His grace, has willed!”

Then, when he turned to me: “By that especial
gratitude you owe to Him who hides
his primal aim so that no human mind

may find the ford to it, when you return
across the wide waves, ask my own Giovanna—
there where the pleas of innocents are answered—

to pray for me. I do not think her mother
still loves me: she gave up her white veils—surely,
poor woman, she will wish them back again.

Through her, one understands so easily
how brief, in woman, is love’s fire—when not
rekindled frequently by eye or touch.

The serpent that assigns the Milanese
their camping place will not provide for her
a tomb as fair as would Gallura’s rooster.”

So Nino spoke; his bearing bore the seal
of that unswerving zeal which, though it flames
within the heart, maintains a sense of measure.

My avid eyes were steadfast, staring at
that portion of the sky where stars are slower,
even as spokes when they approach the axle.

And my guide: “Son, what are you staring at?”
And I replied: “I’m watching those three torches
with which this southern pole is all aflame.”

Then he to me: “The four bright stars you saw
this morning now are low, beyond the pole,
and where those four stars were, these three now are.”

Even as Virgil spoke, Sordello drew
him to himself: “See there—our adversary!”
he said; and then he pointed with his finger.

At the unguarded edge of that small valley,
there was a serpent—similar, perhaps,
to that which offered Eve the bitter food.

Through grass and flowers the evil streak advanced;
from time to time it turned its head and licked
its back, like any beast that preens and sleeks.

I did not see—and therefore cannot say—
just how the hawks of heaven made their move,
but I indeed saw both of them in motion.

Hearing the green wings cleave the air, the serpent
fled, and the angels wheeled around as each
of them flew upward, back to his high station.

The shade who, when the judge had called, had drawn
closer to him, through all of that attack,
had not removed his eyes from me one moment.

“So may the lantern that leads you on high
discover in your will the wax one needs—
enough for reaching the enameled peak,”

that shade began, “if you have heard true tidings
of Val di Magra or the lands nearby,
tell them to me—for there I once was mighty.

Currado Malaspina was my name;
I’m not the old Currado, but I am
descended from him: to my own I bore

the love that here is purified.” I answered:
never visited your lands; but can
there be a place in all of Europe where

they are not celebrated? Such renown
honors your house, acclaims your lords and lands—
even if one has yet to journey there.

And so may I complete my climb, I swear
to you: your honored house still claims the prize—
the glory of the purse and of the sword.

Custom and nature privilege it so
that, though the evil head contorts the world,
your kin alone walk straight and shun the path

of wickedness.” And he: “Be sure of that.
The sun will not have rested seven times
within the bed that’s covered and held fast

by all the Ram’s four feet before this gracious
opinion’s squarely nailed into your mind
with stouter nails than others’ talk provides—

if the divine decree has not been stayed.”

‘TWAS now the hour that turneth back desire
In those who sail the sea, and melts the heart,
The day they’ve said to their sweet friends farewell,

And the new pilgrim penetrates with love,
If he doth hear from far away a bell
That seemeth to deplore the dying day,

When I began to make of no avail
My hearing, and to watch one of the souls
Uprisen, that begged attention with its hand.

It joined and lifted upward both its palms,
Fixing its eyes upon the orient,
As if it said to God, “Naught else I care for.”

_”Te lucis ante”_ so devoutly issued
Forth from its mouth, and with such dulcet notes,
It made me issue forth from my own mind.

And then the others, sweetly and devoutly,
Accompanied it through all the hymn entire,
Having their eyes on the supernal wheels.

Here, Reader, fix thine eyes well on the truth,
For now indeed so subtile is the veil,
Surely to penetrate within is easy.

I saw that army of the gentle—born
Thereafterward in silence upward gaze,
As if in expectation, pale and humble;

And from on high come forth and down descend,
I saw two Angels with two flaming swords,
Truncated and deprived of their points.

Green as the little leaflets just now born
Their garments were, which, by their verdant pinions
Beaten and blown abroad, they trailed behind.

One just above us came to take his station,
And one descended to the opposite bank,
So that the people were contained between them.

Clearly in them discerned I the blond head;
But in their faces was the eye bewildered,
As faculty confounded by excess.

“From Mary’s bosom both of them have come,”
Sordello said, “as guardians of the valley
Against the serpent, that will come anon.”

Whereupon I, who knew not by what road,
Turned round about, and closely drew myself,
Utterly frozen, to the faithful shoulders.

And once again Sordello: “Now descend we
‘Mid the grand shades, and we will speak to them;
Right pleasant will it be for them to see you.”

Only three steps I think that I descended,
And was below, and saw one who was looking
Only at me, as if he fain would know me.

Already now the air was growing dark,
But not so that between his eyes and mine
It did not show w hat it before locked up.

Tow’rds me he moved, and I tow’rds him did move;
Noble Judge Nino! how it me delighted,
When I beheld thee not among the damned!

No greeting fair was left unsaid between us;
Then asked he: “How long is it since thou camest
O’er the far waters to the mountain’s foot ?”

“Oh!” said I to him, “through the dismal places
I came this morn; and am in the first life,
Albeit the other, going thus, I gain.”

And on the instant my reply was heard,
He and Sordello both shrank back from me,
Like people who are suddenly bewildered.

One to Virgilius, and the other turned
To one who sat there, crying, “Up, Currado!
Come and behold what God in grace has willed!”

Then, turned to me: “By that especial grace
Thou owest unto Him, who so conceals
His own first wherefore, that it has no ford,

When thou shalt be beyond the waters wide,
Tell my Giovanna that she pray for me,
Where answer to the innocent is made.

I do not think her mother loves me more,
Since she has laid aside her wimple white,
Which she, unhappy, needs must wish again.

Through her full easily is comprehended
How long in woman lasts the fire of love,
If eye or touch do not relight it often.

So fair a hatchment will not make for her
The Viper marshalling the Milanese
A—field, as would have made Gallura’s Cock.”

In this wise spake he, with the stamp impressed
Upon his aspect of that righteous zeal
Which measurably burneth in the heart.

My greedy eyes still wandered up to heaven,
Still to that point where slowest are the stars
Even as a wheel the nearest to its axle.

And my Conductor: “Son, what dost thou gaze at
Up there ?” And I to him: “At those three torches
With which this hither pole is all on fire.”

And he to me: “The four resplendent stars
Thou sawest this morning are down yonder low,
And these have mounted up to where those were.”

As he was speaking, to himself Sordello
Drew him, and said, “Lo there our Adversary
And pointed with his finger to look thither.

Upon the side on which the little valley
No barrier hath, a serpent was; perchance
The same which gave to Eve the bitter food.

‘Twixt grass and flowers came on the evil streak,
Turning at times its head about, and licking
Its back like to a beast that smoothes itself

I did not see, and therefore cannot say
How the celestial falcons ‘gan to move,
But well I saw that they were both in motion.

Hearing the air cleft by their verdant wings,
The serpent fled, and round the Angels wheeled,
Up to their stations flying back alike.

The shade that to the Judge had near approached
When he had called, throughout that whole assault
Had not a moment loosed its gaze on me.

“So may the light that leadeth thee on high
Find in thine own free—will as much of wax
As needful is up to the highest azure,”

Began it, “if some true intelligence
Of Valdimagra or its neighbourhood
Thou knowest, tell it me, who once was great there.

Currado Malaspina was I called;
I’m not the elder, but from him descended;
To mine I bore the love which here refineth.”

“O,” said I unto him, “through your domains
I never passed, but where is there a dwelling
Throughout all Europe, where they are not known ?

That fame, which doeth honour to your house,
Proclaims its Signors and proclaims its land,
So that he knows of them who ne’er was there.

And, as I hope for heaven, I swear to you
Your honoured family in naught abates
The glory of the purse and of the sword.

It is so privileged by use and nature,
That though a guilty head misguide the world,
Sole it goes right, and scorns the evil way.”

And he: “Now go; for the sun shall not lie
Seven times upon the pillow which the Ram
With all his four feet covers and bestrides,

Before that such a courteous opinion
Shall in the middle of thy head be nailed
With greater nails than of another’s speech,

Unless the course of justice standeth still.”

It was the hour that turns seafarers’ longings
homeward—the hour that makes their hearts grow tender
upon the day they bid sweet friends farewell;

the hour that pierces the new traveler
with love when he has heard, far off, the bell
that seems to mourn the dying of the day;

when I began to let my hearing fade
and watched one of those souls who, having risen,
had signaled with his hand for our attention.

He joined his palms and, lifting them, he fixed
all his attention on the east, as if
to say to God: “I care for nothing else.”

“Te lucis ante” issued from his lips
with such devotion and with notes so sweet
that I was moved to move beyond my mind.

And then the other spirits followed him—
devoutly, gently—through all of that hymn,
their eyes intent on the supernal spheres.

Here, reader, let your eyes look sharp at truth,
for now the veil has grown so very thin—
it is not difficult to pass within.

I saw that company of noble spirits,
silent and looking upward, pale and humble,
as if in expectation; and I saw,

emerging and descending from above,
two angels bearing flaming swords, of which
the blades were broken off, without their tips.

Their garments, just as green as newborn leaves,
were agitated, fanned by their green wings,
and trailed behind them; and one angel came

and stood somewhat above us, while the other
descended on the opposite embankment,
flanking that company of souls between them.

My eyes made out their blond heads clearly, but
my sight was dazzled by their faces—just
like any sense bewildered by excess.

“Both come from Mary’s bosom,” said Sordello,
“to serve as the custodians of the valley
against the serpent that will soon appear.”

At this, not knowing where its path might be,
frozen with fear, I turned around, pressing
close to the trusty shoulders. And Sordello

continued: “Let us now descend among
the great shades in the valley; we shall speak
with them; and seeing you, they will be pleased.”

I think that I had taken but three steps
to go below, when I saw one who watched
attentively, trying to recognize me.

The hour had now arrived when air grows dark,
but not so dark that it deprived my eyes
and his of what—before—they were denied.

He moved toward me, and I advanced toward him.
Noble Judge Nino—what delight was mine
when I saw you were not among the damned!

There was no gracious greeting we neglected
before he asked me: “When did you arrive,
across long seas, beneath this mountainside?”

I told him, “Oh, by way of the sad regions,
I came this morning; I am still within
the first life—although, by this journeying,

I earn the other.” When they heard my answer,
Sordello and Judge Nino, just behind him,
drew back like people suddenly astonished.

One turned to Virgil, and the other turned
and called to one who sat there: “Up, Currado!
Come see what God, out of His grace, has willed!”

Then, when he turned to me: “By that especial
gratitude you owe to Him who hides
his primal aim so that no human mind

may find the ford to it, when you return
across the wide waves, ask my own Giovanna—
there where the pleas of innocents are answered—

to pray for me. I do not think her mother
still loves me: she gave up her white veils—surely,
poor woman, she will wish them back again.

Through her, one understands so easily
how brief, in woman, is love’s fire—when not
rekindled frequently by eye or touch.

The serpent that assigns the Milanese
their camping place will not provide for her
a tomb as fair as would Gallura’s rooster.”

So Nino spoke; his bearing bore the seal
of that unswerving zeal which, though it flames
within the heart, maintains a sense of measure.

My avid eyes were steadfast, staring at
that portion of the sky where stars are slower,
even as spokes when they approach the axle.

And my guide: “Son, what are you staring at?”
And I replied: “I’m watching those three torches
with which this southern pole is all aflame.”

Then he to me: “The four bright stars you saw
this morning now are low, beyond the pole,
and where those four stars were, these three now are.”

Even as Virgil spoke, Sordello drew
him to himself: “See there—our adversary!”
he said; and then he pointed with his finger.

At the unguarded edge of that small valley,
there was a serpent—similar, perhaps,
to that which offered Eve the bitter food.

Through grass and flowers the evil streak advanced;
from time to time it turned its head and licked
its back, like any beast that preens and sleeks.

I did not see—and therefore cannot say—
just how the hawks of heaven made their move,
but I indeed saw both of them in motion.

Hearing the green wings cleave the air, the serpent
fled, and the angels wheeled around as each
of them flew upward, back to his high station.

The shade who, when the judge had called, had drawn
closer to him, through all of that attack,
had not removed his eyes from me one moment.

“So may the lantern that leads you on high
discover in your will the wax one needs—
enough for reaching the enameled peak,”

that shade began, “if you have heard true tidings
of Val di Magra or the lands nearby,
tell them to me—for there I once was mighty.

Currado Malaspina was my name;
I’m not the old Currado, but I am
descended from him: to my own I bore

the love that here is purified.” I answered:
never visited your lands; but can
there be a place in all of Europe where

they are not celebrated? Such renown
honors your house, acclaims your lords and lands—
even if one has yet to journey there.

And so may I complete my climb, I swear
to you: your honored house still claims the prize—
the glory of the purse and of the sword.

Custom and nature privilege it so
that, though the evil head contorts the world,
your kin alone walk straight and shun the path

of wickedness.” And he: “Be sure of that.
The sun will not have rested seven times
within the bed that’s covered and held fast

by all the Ram’s four feet before this gracious
opinion’s squarely nailed into your mind
with stouter nails than others’ talk provides—

if the divine decree has not been stayed.”

‘TWAS now the hour that turneth back desire
In those who sail the sea, and melts the heart,
The day they’ve said to their sweet friends farewell,

And the new pilgrim penetrates with love,
If he doth hear from far away a bell
That seemeth to deplore the dying day,

When I began to make of no avail
My hearing, and to watch one of the souls
Uprisen, that begged attention with its hand.

It joined and lifted upward both its palms,
Fixing its eyes upon the orient,
As if it said to God, “Naught else I care for.”

_”Te lucis ante”_ so devoutly issued
Forth from its mouth, and with such dulcet notes,
It made me issue forth from my own mind.

And then the others, sweetly and devoutly,
Accompanied it through all the hymn entire,
Having their eyes on the supernal wheels.

Here, Reader, fix thine eyes well on the truth,
For now indeed so subtile is the veil,
Surely to penetrate within is easy.

I saw that army of the gentle—born
Thereafterward in silence upward gaze,
As if in expectation, pale and humble;

And from on high come forth and down descend,
I saw two Angels with two flaming swords,
Truncated and deprived of their points.

Green as the little leaflets just now born
Their garments were, which, by their verdant pinions
Beaten and blown abroad, they trailed behind.

One just above us came to take his station,
And one descended to the opposite bank,
So that the people were contained between them.

Clearly in them discerned I the blond head;
But in their faces was the eye bewildered,
As faculty confounded by excess.

“From Mary’s bosom both of them have come,”
Sordello said, “as guardians of the valley
Against the serpent, that will come anon.”

Whereupon I, who knew not by what road,
Turned round about, and closely drew myself,
Utterly frozen, to the faithful shoulders.

And once again Sordello: “Now descend we
‘Mid the grand shades, and we will speak to them;
Right pleasant will it be for them to see you.”

Only three steps I think that I descended,
And was below, and saw one who was looking
Only at me, as if he fain would know me.

Already now the air was growing dark,
But not so that between his eyes and mine
It did not show w hat it before locked up.

Tow’rds me he moved, and I tow’rds him did move;
Noble Judge Nino! how it me delighted,
When I beheld thee not among the damned!

No greeting fair was left unsaid between us;
Then asked he: “How long is it since thou camest
O’er the far waters to the mountain’s foot ?”

“Oh!” said I to him, “through the dismal places
I came this morn; and am in the first life,
Albeit the other, going thus, I gain.”

And on the instant my reply was heard,
He and Sordello both shrank back from me,
Like people who are suddenly bewildered.

One to Virgilius, and the other turned
To one who sat there, crying, “Up, Currado!
Come and behold what God in grace has willed!”

Then, turned to me: “By that especial grace
Thou owest unto Him, who so conceals
His own first wherefore, that it has no ford,

When thou shalt be beyond the waters wide,
Tell my Giovanna that she pray for me,
Where answer to the innocent is made.

I do not think her mother loves me more,
Since she has laid aside her wimple white,
Which she, unhappy, needs must wish again.

Through her full easily is comprehended
How long in woman lasts the fire of love,
If eye or touch do not relight it often.

So fair a hatchment will not make for her
The Viper marshalling the Milanese
A—field, as would have made Gallura’s Cock.”

In this wise spake he, with the stamp impressed
Upon his aspect of that righteous zeal
Which measurably burneth in the heart.

My greedy eyes still wandered up to heaven,
Still to that point where slowest are the stars
Even as a wheel the nearest to its axle.

And my Conductor: “Son, what dost thou gaze at
Up there ?” And I to him: “At those three torches
With which this hither pole is all on fire.”

And he to me: “The four resplendent stars
Thou sawest this morning are down yonder low,
And these have mounted up to where those were.”

As he was speaking, to himself Sordello
Drew him, and said, “Lo there our Adversary
And pointed with his finger to look thither.

Upon the side on which the little valley
No barrier hath, a serpent was; perchance
The same which gave to Eve the bitter food.

‘Twixt grass and flowers came on the evil streak,
Turning at times its head about, and licking
Its back like to a beast that smoothes itself

I did not see, and therefore cannot say
How the celestial falcons ‘gan to move,
But well I saw that they were both in motion.

Hearing the air cleft by their verdant wings,
The serpent fled, and round the Angels wheeled,
Up to their stations flying back alike.

The shade that to the Judge had near approached
When he had called, throughout that whole assault
Had not a moment loosed its gaze on me.

“So may the light that leadeth thee on high
Find in thine own free—will as much of wax
As needful is up to the highest azure,”

Began it, “if some true intelligence
Of Valdimagra or its neighbourhood
Thou knowest, tell it me, who once was great there.

Currado Malaspina was I called;
I’m not the elder, but from him descended;
To mine I bore the love which here refineth.”

“O,” said I unto him, “through your domains
I never passed, but where is there a dwelling
Throughout all Europe, where they are not known ?

That fame, which doeth honour to your house,
Proclaims its Signors and proclaims its land,
So that he knows of them who ne’er was there.

And, as I hope for heaven, I swear to you
Your honoured family in naught abates
The glory of the purse and of the sword.

It is so privileged by use and nature,
That though a guilty head misguide the world,
Sole it goes right, and scorns the evil way.”

And he: “Now go; for the sun shall not lie
Seven times upon the pillow which the Ram
With all his four feet covers and bestrides,

Before that such a courteous opinion
Shall in the middle of thy head be nailed
With greater nails than of another’s speech,

Unless the course of justice standeth still.”