Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Purgatorio
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

Introduction to the Purgatorio
The Shore of the Island of Purgatory. Cato

To run o'er better water hoists her sails
the little vessel of my genius now,
which leaves behind her such a cruel sea;
and of that second Realm I 'll sing, wherein
the human spirit purifies itself,
and groweth worthy to ascend to Heaven.

But here let Poetry arise from death,
since, holy Muses, yours I am; and let
Calliopė, here somewhat higher soaring,
with those sweet tones accompany my song,
whose power the miserable Magpies felt
so keenly, that of pardon they despaired.

The oriental sapphire's tender hue,
now gathering in the sky's unclouded face,
as far as to the first of circles pure,
began again to give mine eyes delight,
when forth I issued from the deadly air,
which with its gloom had filled mine eyes and heart.
The beauteous planet which incites to love,
veiling with light the Fishes in her train,
was causing all the eastern sky to laugh.

Round to the right I turned, and set my mind
upon the other pole, and saw four stars,
never perceived, save by the first of men.
The sky appeared to enjoy their little flames.
O region of the North, that widowed art,
because deprived of gazing thereupon!

When I had from the sight of them withdrawn,
turning a little toward the other pole,
whence now the Wain had wholly disappeared,
a lone Old Man beside me I perceived,
deserving of such reverence in his looks,
that no son owes his father any more.
Long was the beard he wore, and partly white,
as likewise was the hair upon his head,
two locks of which hung down upon his breast.
And so the rays of those four holy stars
adorned his face with splendor, that to me course
he looked as if the sun were facing him.

"Who, then, are ye, that 'gainst the blind stream's
have from the eternal Prison escaped?" he said,
moving the while those venerable locks.
"Who led you, or what served you as a lamp,
when forth ye issued from the night profound,
which makes the infernal Vale forever black?
Are broken thus the laws of Hell's abyss,
or through new counsel is there change in Heaven,
that ye, though damned, are come to these my cliffs?"

My Leader thereupon took hold of me,
and with his words and with his hands and signs
imposed respect upon my legs and brow.

He then replied: "I came not of myself;
from Heaven came down a Lady, at whose prayer
I helped this man with my companionship.
But since thy will it is that our true state
should be explained to thee more clearly, mine
it cannot be that this should be denied thee.
Not yet hath this man his last evening seen;
but through his folly was so near to it,
that he was left but very little time.
As I have told thee, I was sent to save
his life; nor was there any other way
than this, to which I have addressed myself.
I 've shown him all the people who are guilty;
and now I mean those spirits to reveal,
who 'neath thy jurisdiction cleanse themselves.
Long would it take to tell thee how I led him;
virtue descendeth from on high, which helps me
lead him to see thee and to hear thee speak.
His coming, therefore, please to welcome; Freedom
he seeks, which is so dear, as knoweth he
who gives up life therefor. This thou dost know,
since death for its sake was not bitter to thee
in Utica, where thou didst leave the robe,
which on the Great Day will so brightly shine.
The eternal edicts are not void through us;
for this man lives, and I 'm not bound by Minos;
but of that circle am, wherein the eyes
of thy chaste Marcia are, O holy breast,
whose looks implore thee still to hold her thine;
for love of her, then, yield thee unto us!
Permit us through thy seven domains to go.
My grateful praise of thee I 'll bear to her,
if to be mentioned there below thou deign."

"Marcia so pleased mine eyes," he then replied,
"that, while upon the other side I was,
I granted all the favors she desired.
Now that she dwells beyond the evil stream,
no longer can she move me, by the law
made at the moment when I issued thence.
But if a Lady of Heaven impel and guide thee,
as thou hast said, no need of flattering prayers;
suffice it thee that for her sake thou ask.
Go, then, and see that with a leafless rush
thou gird this man, and that thou wash his face,
so that therefrom all foulness thou remove;
for 't were not fit he went, with eyes o'ercast
by any mist, before the first of those
who serve as Ministers of Paradise.
This little isle around its lowest base,
down yonder where the waves are beating it,
produces rushes on its yielding ooze.
No other plant, like one that brought forth leaves,
or hardened, can maintain its life down there,
because it yields not when receiving blows.
Thereafter be not hither your return;
the sun, which rises now, will show you how
to climb the Mountain by the easiest slope."

Thereat he disappeared; and I arose
without a word, and to my Leader's side
I closely drew, and toward him turned mine eyes.
And he began: "Son, follow thou my steps;
let us turn backward, for the shore slopes down
on this side toward its lowly boundaries."

The dawn was vanquishing the morning breeze,
which fled before it, so that, from afar,
I recognized the shimmering of the sea.

We now were going o'er the lonely plain,
as one who to a road he lost returns,
and, till he find it, seems to go in vain.
When we were there, where with the sun the dew
still struggles on, through being in a place
where, for the breeze, it slowly melts away,
my Teacher, having spread out both his hands,
rested them gently on the tender grass;
whence I, who of his purpose was aware,
yielded to him the cheeks my tears had stained;
he then brought all that natural color back,
which Hell had on my countenance concealed.

We came thereafter to that lonely shore,
which never saw its waters sailed by one
who afterward experienced a return.
Here, as the other pleased, he girded me.
O wondrous sight! For, like the humble plant
which he had chosen, another instantly
sprang forth again from where he tore the first.

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