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

The Shore of the Island of Purgatory
The Angel Pilot and Arriving Souls

And now already had the sun arrived
at that horizon, whose meridian circle
rests with its zenith o'er Jerusalem;
and Night, which circles opposite thereto,
was issuing from the Ganges with the Scales,
which, when she gains, are falling from her hands;
so that the white and pure vermilion cheeks
of beautiful Aurora, where I was,
were turning orange through excessive age.

Along the seaside we were lingering still,
like folk who, taking thought about their road,
go on in heart, but with their body stay;
when lo, as, at the approach of morning, Mars,
because of heavy vapors, groweth red
down in the West above the ocean's floor;
even so I saw - may I again behold it! -
a light which o'er the sea so swiftly moved,
that no flight is as rapid as its motion;
from which when I a moment had withdrawn
mine eyes, to ask a question of my Leader,
again I saw it grown more bright and large.
And on each side of it there then appeared
I knew not what white thing, and underneath
little by little came another forth.

Meanwhile my Teacher uttered not a word
until the first white objects looked like wings;
then, having recognized the Pilot well,
he cried: "See, see now that thou bend thy knees!
This is God's Angel; fold thy hands! Henceforth
shalt thou behold such officers as this.
See how he so scorns human instruments,
as to wish neither oar, nor other sail
than his own wings, between such distant shores!
See how he holds them straight up toward the sky,
stroking the air with those eternal plumes,
which do not moult as mortal feathers do!"

And then, as more and more the Bird divine
drew near to us, the brighter he appeared;
therefore mine eyes endured him not near by,
but down I cast them; with a little boat
he came ashore, so agile and so light,
the water swallowed up no part of it.
Such on its stern the heavenly Pilot stood,
that he would bless one, were he but described;
more than a hundred spirits sat within.

"When Israel out of Egypt came," they all
in unison were singing there together,
with what is written after in that psalm.
Then, having signed them with the holy Cross,
whereat all cast themselves upon the shore,
he went away as swiftly as he came.

The crowd which stayed seemed strangers to the place,
and gazed around them there, as doth a man,
who with unwonted things acquaints himself.

The sun, which from the middle of the sky
had hunted Capricorn with arrows bright,
was shooting forth the day on every side,
when those new people raised their brows toward us,
and said: "If ye know how, point out to us
the road that one should take to reach the Mount."

And Virgil answered: "Ye, perchance, believe
that we have had experience of this place;
but we are pilgrim-strangers like yourselves.
We came just now, a little while before you,
but by another way, so rough and hard,
that going up will now seem play to us."

The souls who, by my breathing, had become
aware that I was still a living being,
in their astonishment turned death-like pale;
and as around a messenger who bears
the olive, people surge to hear the news,
and, as to crowding, none of them seem shy;
so one and all those fortune-favored souls
fixed on my face their gaze, as if forgetting
to go and make their spirits beautiful.

Then one among them I beheld advance,
in such a loving manner, to embrace me,
that it persuaded me to do the like.
O, save in your appearance, empty shades!
Three times behind it did I clasp my hands,
and to my breast therewith as oft returned.

With wonder, I believe, I painted me;
smiling because of this, the shade drew back,
while, following after, I pressed further on.
With gentle words he told me to desist;
then who it was I knew, and begged of him
to stop a little while and speak with me.

"As thee I loved, when in my mortal body,"
he answered me, "even so, when freed, I love thee;
therefore I stop; but wherefore goest thou?"

"Casella mine," said I, "I take this journey,
that where I am I may return again;
but why from thee hath so much time been taken?"

And he to me: "No outrage hath been done me,
if he, who takes both when and whom he likes,
hath more than once refused me passage here;
for to a Righteous Will is his conformed;
yet peacefully, these three months, hath he taken
whoever wished to enter into his boat.
Hence I, who now was toward the sea-shore bent,
where Tiber's water mingles with the salt,
was with benignity received by him
at yonder river's mouth, toward which his wings
ev'n now are turned; for those who go not down
toward Acheron, always assemble there."

And I: "If some new law take not from thee
the memory or the practice of the song
of love, which used to quiet all my longings,
be pleased a little to console therewith
my spirit, which, because of coming here
when in its body, is so sore distressed!"

"The love that talketh with me in my mind,"
he thereupon began to sing so sweetly,
that still within me is its sweetness heard.

My Teacher, I, and those that with him were,
seemed as contented, as if none of us
had any other thing upon his mind.
Absorbed in listening to his notes, we all
were motionless; when lo, the grave Old Man,
who cried: "Ye laggard spirits, what is this?
What means this negligence and standing still?
Run to the Mount, and strip ye off the slough,
which lets not God be visible to you."

Ev'n as, when picking grains of wheat or tares,
doves, met together at their feeding, calm,
and not displaying their accustomed pride,
if anything appear that frightens them,
all of a sudden leave their food alone,
because assailed by greater cause for care;
even so I saw that new-come family
give up the song, and toward the hillside move,
like one who goes, but whither knoweth not;
nor was in less haste our departure made.

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