The hour was when ascent brooked no delay,
because the sun had left the noon-time ring
to Taurus, as to Scorpio had the Night;
therefore, as doth a man who, whatsoe'er
appear to him, stops not, but goes his way,
if spurred by goading of necessity;
so, one before the other, through the gap
we entered in, and took the flight of stairs,
which by its narrowness parts those who climb.
And like the little stork, which lifts its wings,
because it longs to fly, but ventures not
to leave its nest, and lets them droop again;
even such was I, with kindled, and with quenched
desire to ask, when coming to the act
of one who starts to speak. Nor, though our pace
was fast, did my dear Father check himself,
but said to me: "Discharge the bow of speech,
which to the arrow-head thou now hast drawn."
With confidence I opened then my mouth,
and said: "How can one possibly grow lean,
where need of nourishment doth not obtain?"
"Shouldst thou recall" he said, "how, when the brand
was burning, Meleager was consumed,
this would not be so difficult for thee;
and shouldst thou think how, at your quivering,
your image quivers in the looking-glass,
that which seems hard to thee would easy seem.
But that thou ease thee to thy heart's content,
lo, here is Statius; him I call and beg
that he be now a healer of thy wounds."
"If I unfold for him the eternal view,
when in thy presence," Statius then replied,
"be my excuse that I cannot refuse thee."
He then began: "If, son, thy mind shall hear
and understand my words, they 'll prove a light
for thee unto the 'how' which thou dost ask.
The perfect blood, which by the thirsty veins
is never drunk, but stays as doth the food
which from the table thou dost take away,
gets in the heart a power informative
for all the human members, being that
which floweth through the veins to form the same.
When redigested, it flows down to parts,
whereof more seemly silence is than speech;
then on another's blood it trickles thence
into the natural vessel. There both meet,
passive the one, the other active, since
perfect the place from which it was distilled;
joining the former, it begins to work,
coagulating first, then quickening that,
which it had formed as matter for itself.
The active virtue, now become a soul, -
as of a plant, though so far differing from it,
that this is on its way, and that, arrived, -
so worketh next, that now it moves and feels,
like fungi of the sea; then undertakes
to organize the powers whose germ it is.
That virtue, son, now spreads, and now extends,
which from the generator's heart derives,
where Nature on all members is intent.
But how from animal it comes to be
a child, thou see'st not yet; a point so hard,
it led a wiser man than thou so far
astray, that, in his teaching, from the soul
he parted the potential intellect,
because he saw no organ it assumed.
Open thy mind unto the coming truth,
and know that, when the brain's organization
is in the foetus to perfection brought,
the Primal Mover, glad of such a work
of Nature, turns toward it, and breathes therein
a spirit new and full of powers, which draws
into its substance what it active finds
therein, and so becomes a single soul,
which lives and feels, and on itself reflects.
And that the less thou wonder at my words,
consider how to wine the sun's heat turns,
when joined to juices flowing from the vine!
When Lachesis hath no more thread, the soul
frees itself from the flesh, and bears away
potentially the human and divine;
mute one and all the other faculties,
with memory, intelligence, and will
far keener in their action than before.
Then, without stopping, of itself it falls
in wondrous way to one or other shore;
here first it learns its road. As soon as place
has circumscribed it there, the forming virtue
rays round it in the same degree and way,
as when the members were alive it did;
and as the air, when fully charged with rain,
is by another's rays, which it reflects
within itself, adorned with many hues;
so here the neighboring air takes on the shape
the soul, which settled there, impresses on it,
as would a seal, by its own forming power;
and afterward, as doth the little flame,
which follows fire where'er it changes place,
so the new shape accompanies its spirit;
which, since it hence takes visibility,
is called a shade; and therewith organizes
each of the senses, up to that of sight.
By means of this we speak, by means of this
we laugh, and by this means we make the tears
and sighs, thou mayst have heard upon the Mount.
As our desires and other passions move us,
our shade takes shape accordingly; and this
the reason is of what thou wonderest at."
We now had reached the final circling place,
and, to the right hand having turned our steps,
intent we were upon another care.
The bank here outwardly shoots forth a flame,
while upward from the ledge below a blast
is breathed, which drives it back, and keeps it off;
hence one by one along the open side
we had to walk; while I on one hand feared
the fire, and, on the other, falling down.
My Leader said to me: "Along this path
a tight rein must be kept upon one's eyes,
for one might very easily go wrong."
"O God of highest Clemency," I then
heard sung within the bosom of the fire,
whose glowing no less made me wish to turn;
and spirits moving through the flame I saw;
hence at their steps I looked, and at mine own,
lending my eyes to each from time to time.
After the lines with which that hymn concludes,
aloud they shouted: "I know not a man;"
then in low tones began the hymn again.
They cried again, this ended: "To the woods
Diana kept, and thence drove Hèlicë,
for having known the taste of Venus' poison."
Then they resumed the song; and then proclaimed
the names of wives and husbands who were chaste,
as virtue and the marriage state enjoin.
And this course, I believe, suffices them
for all the period, during which the fire
is burning them; and such the care and diet,
wherewith the wound is finally sewed up.