Vision and Violence

Purgatorio 9 is the canto where the pilgrim transitions to the place where purgatory truly begins: “là dove purgatorio ha dritto inizio” in the language of Purgatorio 7.39. And indeed in Purgatorio 9.49 Virgilio tells Dante that he has now arrived in purgatory: “Tu se’ omai al purgatorio giunto” (You have already come to purgatory).

How does Dante get to the gate of Purgatory? One answer is: through dreaming. Night falls at the beginning of Purgatorio 9, and Dante sleeps. He dreams that he is “rapt” (“ratto” in Purg. 9.24, “rapisse” in Purg. 9.30) by an eagle that carries him up, as Ganymede was carried by Jove:

  Poi mi parea che, poi rotata un poco,
terribil come folgor discendesse,
e me rapisse suso infino al foco. (Purg. 9.28-30)
  Then it seemed to me that, wheeling
slightly and terrible as lightning, it
swooped, snatching me up to the fire’s orbit.

This dream sequence weaves together mythological figures like Ganymede in Purg. 9.23 and Achilles in Purg. 9.34 with echoes of 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, where St. Paul recounts being “caught up into paradise” (“raptus est in paradisum”):

1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Dante had established St. Paul as a model for himself in Inferno 2, when he worries that this journey is not for him, since after all he is not Aeneas and not Paul: “Io non Enea, io non Paulo sono” (Inf. 2.32). Now Pauline raptus is explicitly evoked in the language that recounts the first dream of Purgatorio.

Dante conjures the violence of raptus and visionary experience through the many frightening details in the description of the eagle, as it hangs in the air preparing to strike, and then as it swoops down “terribil come folgor” (terrible as lightning [Purg. 9.29]). St. Thomas notes the violence that is implicit in raptus: “Rapture adds something to ecstasy. For ecstasy implies simply ‘standing outside oneself’ as when a person is placed outside his usual disposition. But rapture (‘being caught up’) adds a note of violence to this” (ST 2a2ae 175.2, in the Blackfriars translation, vol. 45, p. 101).

The divinatory and prophetic nature of the dream is established before it is narrated:

  e che la mente nostra, peregrina
più da la carne e men da’ pensier presa,
a le sue vision quasi è divina...(Purg. 9.16-18)
  when, free to wander farther from the flesh
and less held fast by cares, our intellect's
envisionings become almost divine...

After the dream is narrated, Virgilio tells Dante “what really happened”: beginning in Purg. 9.55, Virgilio effectively translates Dante’s experience from one order of reality—heightened, visionary, mystical—to a more “normal” order of reality. In this “translation” of what the dream recounts in mystical form, Lucia (see Inferno 2.97-108) came and picked up Dante while he was sleeping and transported him up the mountain to the gate of purgatory. It speaks volumes of the world that Dante creates that the second account seems like an everyday occurrence! The dream is a way of communicating the nature of visionary experience within the vision that is the Commedia: it is a vision within the Vision.

The dream of Purgatorio 9 and its “interpretation” by Virgilio are important for my analysis of different kinds of discourse in The Undivine Comedy. I argue that “Dante forges a new ‘jumping’ discourse for the moments in which the narrative line cannot be sustained, when the narrative cammino is fractured by ineffability” (p. 163). This new discourse will be particularly evident in Paradiso but Dante begins to present examples of it in Purgatorio, especially in visionary contexts. Purgatorio 9 is a primer with respect to the alternative styles that will come to dominate Paradiso: it showcases the special discourse manufactured for the “fantastic” event, the dream sequence, and then the return to sustained “normal” discourse in Virgilio’s translation.

In the second part of Purgatorio 9, Dante faces the angel who guards the gate of purgatory and undergoes a ritual confession. I call this a “ritual confession” because this is not the personal confession that Dante makes later to Beatrice, when he meets her in the Earthly Paradise.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 7, “Nonfalse Errors and the True Dreams of the Evangelist,” pp. 153, 163-65.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 9: Vision and Violence.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-9/

About the Commento

1 La concubina di Titone antico
2 già s’imbiancava al balco d’orïente,
3 fuor de le braccia del suo dolce amico;

4 di gemme la sua fronte era lucente,
5 poste in figura del freddo animale
6 che con la coda percuote la gente;

7 e la notte, de’ passi con che sale,
8 fatti avea due nel loco ov’ eravamo,
9 e ’l terzo già chinava in giuso l’ale;

10 quand’ io, che meco avea di quel d’Adamo,
11 vinto dal sonno, in su l’erba inchinai
12 là ’ve già tutti e cinque sedavamo.

13 Ne l’ora che comincia i tristi lai
14 la rondinella presso a la mattina,
15 forse a memoria de’ suo’ primi guai,

16 e che la mente nostra, peregrina
17 più da la carne e men da’ pensier presa,
18 a le sue visïon quasi è divina,

19 in sogno mi parea veder sospesa
20 un’aguglia nel ciel con penne d’ oro,
21 con l’ali aperte e a calare intesa;

22 ed esser mi parea là dove fuoro
23 abbandonati i suoi da Ganimede,
24 quando fu ratto al sommo consistoro.

25 Fra me pensava: ‘Forse questa fiede
26 pur qui per uso, e forse d’altro loco
27 disdegna di portarne suso in piede’ .

28 Poi mi parea che, poi rotata un poco,
29 terribil come folgor discendesse,
30 e me rapisse suso infino al foco.

31 Ivi parea che ella e io ardesse;
32 e sì lo ’ncendio imaginato cosse,
33 che convenne che ’l sonno si rompesse.

34 Non altrimenti Achille si riscosse,
35 li occhi svegliati rivolgendo in giro
36 e non sappiendo là dove si fosse,

37 quando la madre da Chirón a Schiro
38 trafuggò lui dormendo in le sue braccia,
39 là onde poi li Greci il dipartiro;

40 che mi scoss’ io, sì come da la faccia
41 mi fuggì ’l sonno, e diventa’ ismorto,
42 come fa l’uom che, spaventato, agghiaccia.

43 Dallato m’era solo il mio conforto,
44 e ’l sole er’ alto già più che due ore,
45 e ’l viso m’era a la marina torto.

46 «Non aver tema», disse il mio segnore;
47 «fatti sicur, ché noi semo a buon punto;
48 non stringer, ma rallarga ogne vigore.

49 Tu se’ omai al purgatorio giunto:
50 vedi là il balzo che ’l chiude dintorno;
51 vedi l’entrata là ’ve par digiunto.

52 Dianzi, ne l’alba che procede al giorno,
53 quando l’anima tua dentro dormia,
54 sovra li fiori ond’ è là giù addorno

55 venne una donna, e disse: “I’ son Lucia;
56 lasciatemi pigliar costui che dorme;
57 sì l’agevolerò per la sua via”.

58 Sordel rimase e l’altre genti forme;
59 ella ti tolse, e come ’l dì fu chiaro,
60 sen venne suso; e io per le sue orme.

61 Qui ti posò, ma pria mi dimostraro
62 li occhi suoi belli quella intrata aperta;
63 poi ella e ’l sonno ad una se n’andaro».

64 A guisa d’ uom che ’n dubbio si raccerta
65 e che muta in conforto sua paura,
66 poi che la verità li è discoperta,

67 mi cambia’ io; e come sanza cura
68 vide me ’l duca mio, su per lo balzo
69 si mosse, e io di rietro inver’ l’altura.

70 Lettor, tu vedi ben com’ io innalzo
71 la mia matera, e però con più arte
72 non ti maravigliar s’io la rincalzo.

73 Noi ci appressammo, ed eravamo in parte,
74 che là dove pareami prima rotto,
75 pur come un fesso che muro diparte,

76 vidi una porta, e tre gradi di sotto
77 per gire ad essa, di color diversi,
78 e un portier ch’ancor non facea motto.

79 E come l’occhio più e più v’apersi,
80 vidil seder sovra ’l grado sovrano,
81 tal ne la faccia ch’io non lo soffersi;

82 e una spada nuda avëa in mano,
83 che reflettëa i raggi sì ver’ noi,
84 ch’io drizzava spesso il viso in vano.

85 «Dite costinci: che volete voi?»,
86 cominciò elli a dire, «ov’ è la scorta?
87 Guardate che ’l venir sù non vi nòi».

88 «Donna del ciel, di queste cose accorta»,
89 rispuose ’l mio maestro a lui, «pur dianzi
90 ne disse: “Andate là: quivi è la porta”».

91 «Ed ella i passi vostri in bene avanzi»,
92 ricominciò il cortese portinaio:
93 «Venite dunque a’ nostri gradi innanzi».

94 Là ne venimmo; e lo scaglion primaio
95 bianco marmo era sì pulito e terso,
96 ch’io mi specchiai in esso qual io paio.

97 Era il secondo tinto più che perso,
98 d’una petrina ruvida e arsiccia,
99 crepata per lo lungo e per traverso.

100 Lo terzo, che di sopra s’ammassiccia,
101 porfido mi parea, sì fiammeggiante
102 come sangue che fuor di vena spiccia.

103 Sovra questo tenëa ambo le piante
104 l’angel di Dio, sedendo in su la soglia
105 che mi sembiava pietra di diamante.

106 Per li tre gradi sù di buona voglia
107 mi trasse il duca mio, dicendo: «Chiedi
108 umilemente che ’l serrame scioglia».

109 Divoto mi gittai a’ santi piedi;
110 misericordia chiesi e ch’el m’aprisse,
111 ma tre volte nel petto pria mi diedi.

112 Sette P ne la fronte mi descrisse
113 col punton de la spada, e «Fa che lavi,
114 quando se’ dentro, queste piaghe» disse.

115 Cenere, o terra che secca si cavi,
116 d’ un color fora col suo vestimento;
117 e di sotto da quel trasse due chiavi.

118 L’una era d’oro e l’altra era d’argento;
119 pria con la bianca e poscia con la gialla
120 fece a la porta sì, ch’i’ fu’ contento.

121 «Quandunque l’una d’este chiavi falla,
122 che non si volga dritta per la toppa»,
123 diss’ elli a noi, «non s’apre questa calla.

124 Più cara è l’una; ma l’altra vuol troppa
125 d’arte e d’ingegno avanti che diserri,
126 perch’ ella è quella che ’l nodo digroppa.

127 Da Pier le tegno; e dissemi ch’i’ erri
128 anzi ad aprir ch’a tenerla serrata,
129 pur che la gente a’ piedi mi s’atterri».

130 Poi pinse l’uscio a la porta sacrata,
131 dicendo: «Intrate; ma facciovi accorti
132 che di fuor torna chi ’n dietro si guata».

133 E quando fuor ne’ cardini distorti
134 li spigoli di quella regge sacra,
135 che di metallo son sonanti e forti,

136 non rugghiò sì né si mostrò sì acra
137 Tarpëa, come tolto le fu il buono
138 Metello, per che poi rimase macra.

139 Io mi rivolsi attento al primo tuono,
140 e ‘Te Deum laudamus‘ mi parea
141 udire in voce mista al dolce suono.

142 Tale imagine a punto mi rendea
143 ciò ch’io udiva, qual prender si suole
144 quando a cantar con organi si stea;

145 ch’or sì or no s’intendon le parole.

Now she who shares the bed of old Tithonus,
abandoning the arms of her sweet lover,
grew white along the eastern balcony;

the heavens facing her were glittering
with gems set in the semblance of the chill
animal that assails men with its tail;

while night within the valley where we were
had moved across two of the steps it climbs,
and now the third step made night’s wings incline;

when I, who bore something of Adam with me,
feeling the need for sleep, lay down upon
the grass where now all five of us were seated.

At that hour close to morning when the swallow
begins her melancholy songs, perhaps
in memory of her ancient sufferings,

when, free to wander farther from the flesh
and less held fast by cares, our intellect’s
envisionings become almost divine—

in dream I seemed to see an eagle poised,
with golden pinions, in the sky: its wings
were open; it was ready to swoop down.

And I seemed to be there where Ganymede
deserted his own family when he
was snatched up for the high consistory.

Within myself I thought: “This eagle may
be used to hunting only here; its claws
refuse to carry upward any prey

found elsewhere.” Then it seemed to me that, wheeling
slightly and terrible as lightning, it
swooped, snatching me up to the fire’s orbit.

And there it seemed that he and I were burning;
and this imagined conflagration scorched
me so—I was compelled to break my sleep.

Just like the waking of Achilles when
he started up, casting his eyes about him,
not knowing where he was (after his mother

had stolen him, asleep, away from Chiron
and in her arms had carried him to Skyros,
the isle the Greeks would-later-make him leave);

such was my starting up, as soon as sleep
had left my eyes, and I went pale, as will
a man who, terrified, turns cold as ice.

The only one beside me was my comfort;
by now the sun was more than two hours high;
it was the sea to which I turned my eyes.

My lord said: “Have no fear; be confident,
for we are well along our way; do not
restrain, but give free rein to, all your strength.

You have already come to Purgatory:
see there the rampart wall enclosing it;
see, where that wall is breached, the point of entry.

Before, at dawn that ushers in the day,
when soul was sleeping in your body, on
the flowers that adorn the ground below,

a lady came; she said: ‘I am Lucia;
let me take hold of him who is asleep,
that I may help to speed him on his way.’

Sordello and the other noble spirits
stayed there; and she took you, and once the day
was bright, she climbed—I following behind.

And here she set you down, but first her lovely
eyes showed that open entryway to me;
then she and sleep together took their leave.”

Just like a man in doubt who then grows sure,
exchanging fear for confidence, once truth
has been revealed to him, so was I changed;

and when my guide had seen that I was free
from hesitation, then he moved, with me
behind him, up the rocks and toward the heights.

Reader, you can see clearly how I lift
my matter; do not wonder, therefore, if
I have to call on more art to sustain it.

Now we were drawing closer; we had reached
the part from which—where first I’d seen a breach,
precisely like a gap that cleaves a wall—

I now made out a gate and, there below it,
three steps—their colors different—leading to it,
and a custodian who had not yet spoken.

As I looked more and more directly at him,
I saw him seated on the upper step—
his face so radiant, I could not bear it;

and in his hand he held a naked sword,
which so reflected rays toward us that I,
time and again, tried to sustain that sight

in vain. “Speak out from there; what are you seeking?”
so he began to speak. “Where is your escort?
Take care lest you be harmed by climbing here.”

My master answered him: “But just before,
a lady came from Heaven and, familiar
with these things, told us: ‘That’s the gate; go there.'”

“And may she speed you on your path of goodness!”
the gracious guardian of the gate began
again. “Come forward, therefore, to our stairs.”

There we approached, and the first step was white
marble, so polished and so clear that I
was mirrored there as I appear in life.

The second step, made out of crumbling rock,
rough—textured, scorched, with cracks that ran across
its length and width, was darker than deep purple.

The third, resting above more massively,
appeared to me to be of porphyry,
as flaming red as blood that spurts from veins.

And on this upper step, God’s angel—seated
upon the threshold, which appeared to me
to be of adamant—kept his feet planted.

My guide, with much good will, had me ascend
by way of these three steps, enjoining me:
“Do ask him humbly to unbolt the gate.”

I threw myself devoutly at his holy
feet, asking him to open out of mercy;
but first I beat three times upon my breast.

Upon my forehead, he traced seven P’s
with his sword’s point and said: “When you have entered
within, take care to wash away these wounds.”

Ashes, or dry earth that has just been quarried,
would share one color with his robe, and from
beneath that robe he drew two keys; the one

was made of gold, the other was of silver;
first with the white, then with the yellow key,
he plied the gate so as to satisfy me.

“Whenever one of these keys fails, not turning
appropriately in the lock,” he said
to us, “this gate of entry does not open.

One is more precious, but the other needs
much art and skill before it will unlock—
that is the key that must undo the knot.

These I received from Peter; and he taught me
rather to err in opening than in keeping
this portal shut-whenever souls pray humbly.”

Then he pushed back the panels of the holy
gate, saying: “Enter; but I warn you—he
who would look back, returns-again—outside.”

And when the panels of that sacred portal,
which are of massive and resounding metal,
turned in their hinges, then even Tarpeia

(when good Metellus was removed from it,
for which that rock was left impoverished)
did not roar so nor show itself so stubborn.

Hearing that gate resound, I turned, attentive;
I seemed to hear, inside, in words that mingled
with gentle music, ” Te Deum laudamus.”

And what I heard gave me the very same
impression one is used to getting when
one hears a song accompanied by organ,

and now the words are clear and now are lost.

THE concubine of old Tithonus now
Gleamed white upon the eastern balcony,
Forth from the arms of her sweet paramour;

With gems her forehead all relucent was,
Set in the shape of that cold animal
Which with its tail doth smite amain the nations,

And of the steps, with which she mounts, the Night
Had taken two in that place where we were,
And now the third was bending down its wings;

When I, who something had of Adam in me,
Vanquished by sleep, upon the grass reclined,
There were all five of us already sat.

Just at the hour when her sad lay begins
The little swallow, near unto the morning,
Perchance in memory of her former woes,

And when the mind of man, a wanderer
More from the flesh, and less by thought imprisoned,
Almost prophetic in its visions is,

In dreams it seemed to me I saw suspended
An eagle in the sky, with plumes of gold,
With wings wide open, and intent to stoop,

And this, it seemed to me, was where had been
By Ganymede his kith and kin abandoned,
When to the high consistory he was rapt.

I thought within myself, perchance he strikes
From habit only here, and from elsewhere
Disdains to bear up any in his feet.

Then wheeling somewhat more, it seemed to me,
Terrible as the lightning he descended,
And snatched me upward even to the fire.

Therein it seemed that he and I were burning,
An(l the imagined fire did scorch me so,
That of necessity my sleep was broken.

Not otherwise Achilles started up,
Around him turning his awakened eyes,
And knowing not the place in which he was,

What time from Chiron stealthily his mother
Carried him sleeping in her arms to Scyros,
Wherefrom the Greeks withdrew him afterwards,

Than I upstarted, when from off my face
Sleep fled away; and pallid I became,
As doth the man who freezes with affright.

Only my Comforter was at my side,
And now the sun was more than two hours high,
And turned towards the sea—shore was my face.

“Be not intimidated,” said my Lord,
“Be reassured, for all is well with us;
Do not restrain, but put forth all thy strength.

Thou hast at length arrived at Purgatory;
See there the cliff that closes it around;
See there the entrance, where it seems disjoined.

Whilom at dawn, which doth precede the day,
When inwardly thy spirit was asleep
Upon the flowers that deck the land below,

There came a Lady and said: “I am Lucia;
Let me take this one up, who is asleep;
So will I make his journey easier for him.’

Sordello and the other noble shapes
Remained; she took thee, and, as day grew bright,
Upward she came, and I upon her footsteps.

She laid thee here; and first her beauteous eyes
That open entrance pointed out to me;
Then she and sleep together went away.”

In guise of one whose doubts are reassured,
And who to confidence his fear doth change,
After the truth has been discovered to him,

So did I change; and when without disquiet
My Leader saw me, up along the cliff
He moved, and I behind him, tow’rd the height.

Reader, thou seest well how I exalt
My theme, and therefore if with greater art
I fortify it, marvel not thereat.

Nearer approached we, and were in such place,
That there, where first appeared to me a rift
Like to a crevice that disparts a wall,

I saw a portal, and three stairs beneath,
Diverse in colour, to go up to it,
And a gate—keeper, who yet spake no word.

And as I opened more and more mine eyes,
I saw him seated on the highest stair,
Such in the face that I endured it not.

And in his hand he had a naked sword,
Which so reflected back the sunbeams tow’rds us,
That oft in vain I lifted up mine eyes.

“Tell it from where you are, what is’t you wish ?”
Began he to exclaim; “where is the escort ?
Take heed your coming hither harm you not!”

“A Lady of Heaven, with these things conversant,”
My Master answered him, “but even now
Said to us, ‘ Thither go; there is the portal.'”

“And may she speed your footsteps in all good,”
Again began the courteous janitor;
“Come forward then unto these stairs of ours.”

Thither did we approach; and the first stair
Was marble white, so polished and so smooth,
I mirrored myself therein as I appear.

The second, tinct of deeper hue than perse,
Was of a calcined and uneven stone,
Cracked all asunder lengthwise and across.

The third, that uppermost rests massively,
Porphyry seemed to me, as flaming red
As blood that from a vein is spirting forth.

Both of his feet was holding upon this
The Angel of God, upon the threshold seated,.
Which seemed to me a stone of diamond.

Along the three stairs upward with good will
Did my Conductor draw me, saying: “Ask
Humbly that he the fastening may undo.”

Devoutly at the holy feet I cast me,
For mercy’s sake besought that he would open,
But first upon my breast three times I smote.

Seven P’s upon my forehead he described
With the sword’s point, and, “Take heed that thou wash
These wounds, when thou shalt be within,” he said.

Ashes, or earth that dry is excavated,
Of the same colour were with his attire,
And from beneath it he drew forth two keys.

One was of gold, and the other was of silver;
First with the white, and after with the yellow,
Plied he the door, so that I was content.

“Whenever faileth either of these keys
So that it turn not rightly in the lock,”
He said to us, “this entrance doth not open.

More precious one is, but the other needs
More art and intellect ere it unlock,
For it is that which doth the knot unloose.

From Peter I have them; and he bade me err
Rather in opening than in keeping shut,
If people but fall down before my feet.”

Then pushed the portals Of the sacred door,
Eclaiming: “Enter; but I give you warning
That forth returns whoever looks behind.”

And when upon their hinges were turned round
The swivels of that consecrated gate,
Which are of metal, massive and sonorous,

Roared not so loud, nor so discordant seemed
Tarpeia, when was ta’en from it the good
Metellus, wherefore meagre it remained.

At the first thunder—peal I turned attentive,
And _”Te Deum laudamus”_ seemed to hear
In voices mingled with sweet melody.

Exactly such an image rendered me
That which I heard, as we are wont to catch,
When people singing with the organ stand;

For now we hear, and now hear not, the words.

Now she who shares the bed of old Tithonus,
abandoning the arms of her sweet lover,
grew white along the eastern balcony;

the heavens facing her were glittering
with gems set in the semblance of the chill
animal that assails men with its tail;

while night within the valley where we were
had moved across two of the steps it climbs,
and now the third step made night’s wings incline;

when I, who bore something of Adam with me,
feeling the need for sleep, lay down upon
the grass where now all five of us were seated.

At that hour close to morning when the swallow
begins her melancholy songs, perhaps
in memory of her ancient sufferings,

when, free to wander farther from the flesh
and less held fast by cares, our intellect’s
envisionings become almost divine—

in dream I seemed to see an eagle poised,
with golden pinions, in the sky: its wings
were open; it was ready to swoop down.

And I seemed to be there where Ganymede
deserted his own family when he
was snatched up for the high consistory.

Within myself I thought: “This eagle may
be used to hunting only here; its claws
refuse to carry upward any prey

found elsewhere.” Then it seemed to me that, wheeling
slightly and terrible as lightning, it
swooped, snatching me up to the fire’s orbit.

And there it seemed that he and I were burning;
and this imagined conflagration scorched
me so—I was compelled to break my sleep.

Just like the waking of Achilles when
he started up, casting his eyes about him,
not knowing where he was (after his mother

had stolen him, asleep, away from Chiron
and in her arms had carried him to Skyros,
the isle the Greeks would-later-make him leave);

such was my starting up, as soon as sleep
had left my eyes, and I went pale, as will
a man who, terrified, turns cold as ice.

The only one beside me was my comfort;
by now the sun was more than two hours high;
it was the sea to which I turned my eyes.

My lord said: “Have no fear; be confident,
for we are well along our way; do not
restrain, but give free rein to, all your strength.

You have already come to Purgatory:
see there the rampart wall enclosing it;
see, where that wall is breached, the point of entry.

Before, at dawn that ushers in the day,
when soul was sleeping in your body, on
the flowers that adorn the ground below,

a lady came; she said: ‘I am Lucia;
let me take hold of him who is asleep,
that I may help to speed him on his way.’

Sordello and the other noble spirits
stayed there; and she took you, and once the day
was bright, she climbed—I following behind.

And here she set you down, but first her lovely
eyes showed that open entryway to me;
then she and sleep together took their leave.”

Just like a man in doubt who then grows sure,
exchanging fear for confidence, once truth
has been revealed to him, so was I changed;

and when my guide had seen that I was free
from hesitation, then he moved, with me
behind him, up the rocks and toward the heights.

Reader, you can see clearly how I lift
my matter; do not wonder, therefore, if
I have to call on more art to sustain it.

Now we were drawing closer; we had reached
the part from which—where first I’d seen a breach,
precisely like a gap that cleaves a wall—

I now made out a gate and, there below it,
three steps—their colors different—leading to it,
and a custodian who had not yet spoken.

As I looked more and more directly at him,
I saw him seated on the upper step—
his face so radiant, I could not bear it;

and in his hand he held a naked sword,
which so reflected rays toward us that I,
time and again, tried to sustain that sight

in vain. “Speak out from there; what are you seeking?”
so he began to speak. “Where is your escort?
Take care lest you be harmed by climbing here.”

My master answered him: “But just before,
a lady came from Heaven and, familiar
with these things, told us: ‘That’s the gate; go there.'”

“And may she speed you on your path of goodness!”
the gracious guardian of the gate began
again. “Come forward, therefore, to our stairs.”

There we approached, and the first step was white
marble, so polished and so clear that I
was mirrored there as I appear in life.

The second step, made out of crumbling rock,
rough—textured, scorched, with cracks that ran across
its length and width, was darker than deep purple.

The third, resting above more massively,
appeared to me to be of porphyry,
as flaming red as blood that spurts from veins.

And on this upper step, God’s angel—seated
upon the threshold, which appeared to me
to be of adamant—kept his feet planted.

My guide, with much good will, had me ascend
by way of these three steps, enjoining me:
“Do ask him humbly to unbolt the gate.”

I threw myself devoutly at his holy
feet, asking him to open out of mercy;
but first I beat three times upon my breast.

Upon my forehead, he traced seven P’s
with his sword’s point and said: “When you have entered
within, take care to wash away these wounds.”

Ashes, or dry earth that has just been quarried,
would share one color with his robe, and from
beneath that robe he drew two keys; the one

was made of gold, the other was of silver;
first with the white, then with the yellow key,
he plied the gate so as to satisfy me.

“Whenever one of these keys fails, not turning
appropriately in the lock,” he said
to us, “this gate of entry does not open.

One is more precious, but the other needs
much art and skill before it will unlock—
that is the key that must undo the knot.

These I received from Peter; and he taught me
rather to err in opening than in keeping
this portal shut-whenever souls pray humbly.”

Then he pushed back the panels of the holy
gate, saying: “Enter; but I warn you—he
who would look back, returns-again—outside.”

And when the panels of that sacred portal,
which are of massive and resounding metal,
turned in their hinges, then even Tarpeia

(when good Metellus was removed from it,
for which that rock was left impoverished)
did not roar so nor show itself so stubborn.

Hearing that gate resound, I turned, attentive;
I seemed to hear, inside, in words that mingled
with gentle music, ” Te Deum laudamus.”

And what I heard gave me the very same
impression one is used to getting when
one hears a song accompanied by organ,

and now the words are clear and now are lost.

THE concubine of old Tithonus now
Gleamed white upon the eastern balcony,
Forth from the arms of her sweet paramour;

With gems her forehead all relucent was,
Set in the shape of that cold animal
Which with its tail doth smite amain the nations,

And of the steps, with which she mounts, the Night
Had taken two in that place where we were,
And now the third was bending down its wings;

When I, who something had of Adam in me,
Vanquished by sleep, upon the grass reclined,
There were all five of us already sat.

Just at the hour when her sad lay begins
The little swallow, near unto the morning,
Perchance in memory of her former woes,

And when the mind of man, a wanderer
More from the flesh, and less by thought imprisoned,
Almost prophetic in its visions is,

In dreams it seemed to me I saw suspended
An eagle in the sky, with plumes of gold,
With wings wide open, and intent to stoop,

And this, it seemed to me, was where had been
By Ganymede his kith and kin abandoned,
When to the high consistory he was rapt.

I thought within myself, perchance he strikes
From habit only here, and from elsewhere
Disdains to bear up any in his feet.

Then wheeling somewhat more, it seemed to me,
Terrible as the lightning he descended,
And snatched me upward even to the fire.

Therein it seemed that he and I were burning,
An(l the imagined fire did scorch me so,
That of necessity my sleep was broken.

Not otherwise Achilles started up,
Around him turning his awakened eyes,
And knowing not the place in which he was,

What time from Chiron stealthily his mother
Carried him sleeping in her arms to Scyros,
Wherefrom the Greeks withdrew him afterwards,

Than I upstarted, when from off my face
Sleep fled away; and pallid I became,
As doth the man who freezes with affright.

Only my Comforter was at my side,
And now the sun was more than two hours high,
And turned towards the sea—shore was my face.

“Be not intimidated,” said my Lord,
“Be reassured, for all is well with us;
Do not restrain, but put forth all thy strength.

Thou hast at length arrived at Purgatory;
See there the cliff that closes it around;
See there the entrance, where it seems disjoined.

Whilom at dawn, which doth precede the day,
When inwardly thy spirit was asleep
Upon the flowers that deck the land below,

There came a Lady and said: “I am Lucia;
Let me take this one up, who is asleep;
So will I make his journey easier for him.’

Sordello and the other noble shapes
Remained; she took thee, and, as day grew bright,
Upward she came, and I upon her footsteps.

She laid thee here; and first her beauteous eyes
That open entrance pointed out to me;
Then she and sleep together went away.”

In guise of one whose doubts are reassured,
And who to confidence his fear doth change,
After the truth has been discovered to him,

So did I change; and when without disquiet
My Leader saw me, up along the cliff
He moved, and I behind him, tow’rd the height.

Reader, thou seest well how I exalt
My theme, and therefore if with greater art
I fortify it, marvel not thereat.

Nearer approached we, and were in such place,
That there, where first appeared to me a rift
Like to a crevice that disparts a wall,

I saw a portal, and three stairs beneath,
Diverse in colour, to go up to it,
And a gate—keeper, who yet spake no word.

And as I opened more and more mine eyes,
I saw him seated on the highest stair,
Such in the face that I endured it not.

And in his hand he had a naked sword,
Which so reflected back the sunbeams tow’rds us,
That oft in vain I lifted up mine eyes.

“Tell it from where you are, what is’t you wish ?”
Began he to exclaim; “where is the escort ?
Take heed your coming hither harm you not!”

“A Lady of Heaven, with these things conversant,”
My Master answered him, “but even now
Said to us, ‘ Thither go; there is the portal.'”

“And may she speed your footsteps in all good,”
Again began the courteous janitor;
“Come forward then unto these stairs of ours.”

Thither did we approach; and the first stair
Was marble white, so polished and so smooth,
I mirrored myself therein as I appear.

The second, tinct of deeper hue than perse,
Was of a calcined and uneven stone,
Cracked all asunder lengthwise and across.

The third, that uppermost rests massively,
Porphyry seemed to me, as flaming red
As blood that from a vein is spirting forth.

Both of his feet was holding upon this
The Angel of God, upon the threshold seated,.
Which seemed to me a stone of diamond.

Along the three stairs upward with good will
Did my Conductor draw me, saying: “Ask
Humbly that he the fastening may undo.”

Devoutly at the holy feet I cast me,
For mercy’s sake besought that he would open,
But first upon my breast three times I smote.

Seven P’s upon my forehead he described
With the sword’s point, and, “Take heed that thou wash
These wounds, when thou shalt be within,” he said.

Ashes, or earth that dry is excavated,
Of the same colour were with his attire,
And from beneath it he drew forth two keys.

One was of gold, and the other was of silver;
First with the white, and after with the yellow,
Plied he the door, so that I was content.

“Whenever faileth either of these keys
So that it turn not rightly in the lock,”
He said to us, “this entrance doth not open.

More precious one is, but the other needs
More art and intellect ere it unlock,
For it is that which doth the knot unloose.

From Peter I have them; and he bade me err
Rather in opening than in keeping shut,
If people but fall down before my feet.”

Then pushed the portals Of the sacred door,
Eclaiming: “Enter; but I give you warning
That forth returns whoever looks behind.”

And when upon their hinges were turned round
The swivels of that consecrated gate,
Which are of metal, massive and sonorous,

Roared not so loud, nor so discordant seemed
Tarpeia, when was ta’en from it the good
Metellus, wherefore meagre it remained.

At the first thunder—peal I turned attentive,
And _”Te Deum laudamus”_ seemed to hear
In voices mingled with sweet melody.

Exactly such an image rendered me
That which I heard, as we are wont to catch,
When people singing with the organ stand;

For now we hear, and now hear not, the words.