The Divine Comedy/Paradiso/Canto XVI

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The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Paradiso, Canto XVI
Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
O thou our poor nobility of blood,
   If thou dost make the people glory in thee
   Down here where our affection languishes, 

A marvellous thing it ne'er will be to me;
   For there where appetite is not perverted,
   I say in Heaven, of thee I made a boast! 

Truly thou art a cloak that quickly shortens,
   So that unless we piece thee day by day
   Time goeth round about thee with his shears! 

With 'You,' which Rome was first to tolerate,
   (Wherein her family less perseveres,)
   Yet once again my words beginning made; 

Whence Beatrice, who stood somewhat apart,
   Smiling, appeared like unto her who coughed
   At the first failing writ of Guenever. 

And I began: "You are my ancestor,
   You give to me all hardihood to speak,
   You lift me so that I am more than I. 

So many rivulets with gladness fill
   My mind, that of itself it makes a joy
   Because it can endure this and not burst. 

Then tell me, my beloved root ancestral,
   Who were your ancestors, and what the years
   That in your boyhood chronicled themselves? 

Tell me about the sheepfold of Saint John,
   How large it was, and who the people were
   Within it worthy of the highest seats." 

As at the blowing of the winds a coal
   Quickens to flame, so I beheld that light
   Become resplendent at my blandishments. 

And as unto mine eyes it grew more fair,
   With voice more sweet and tender, but not in
   This modern dialect, it said to me: 

"From uttering of the 'Ave,' till the birth
   In which my mother, who is now a saint,
   Of me was lightened who had been her burden, 

Unto its Lion had this fire returned
   Five hundred fifty times and thirty more,
   To reinflame itself beneath his paw. 

My ancestors and I our birthplace had
   Where first is found the last ward of the city
   By him who runneth in your annual game. 

Suffice it of my elders to hear this;
   But who they were, and whence they thither came,
   Silence is more considerate than speech. 

All those who at that time were there between
   Mars and the Baptist, fit for bearing arms,
   Were a fifth part of those who now are living; 

But the community, that now is mixed
   With Campi and Certaldo and Figghine,
   Pure in the lowest artisan was seen. 

O how much better 'twere to have as neighbours
   The folk of whom I speak, and at Galluzzo
   And at Trespiano have your boundary, 

Than have them in the town, and bear the stench
   Of Aguglione's churl, and him of Signa
   Who has sharp eyes for trickery already. 

Had not the folk, which most of all the world
   Degenerates, been a step-dame unto Caesar,
   But as a mother to her son benignant, 

Some who turn Florentines, and trade and discount,
   Would have gone back again to Simifonte
   There where their grandsires went about as beggars. 

At Montemurlo still would be the Counts,
   The Cerchi in the parish of Acone,
   Perhaps in Valdigrieve the Buondelmonti. 

Ever the intermingling of the people
   Has been the source of malady in cities,
   As in the body food it surfeits on; 

And a blind bull more headlong plunges down
   Than a blind lamb; and very often cuts
   Better and more a single sword than five. 

If Luni thou regard, and Urbisaglia,
   How they have passed away, and how are passing
   Chiusi and Sinigaglia after them, 

To hear how races waste themselves away,
   Will seem to thee no novel thing nor hard,
   Seeing that even cities have an end. 

All things of yours have their mortality,
   Even as yourselves; but it is hidden in some
   That a long while endure, and lives are short; 

And as the turning of the lunar heaven
   Covers and bares the shores without a pause,
   In the like manner fortune does with Florence. 

Therefore should not appear a marvellous thing
   What I shall say of the great Florentines
   Of whom the fame is hidden in the Past. 

I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
   Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, and Alberichi,
   Even in their fall illustrious citizens; 

And saw, as mighty as they ancient were,
   With him of La Sannella him of Arca,
   And Soldanier, Ardinghi, and Bostichi. 

Near to the gate that is at present laden
   With a new felony of so much weight
   That soon it shall be jetsam from the bark, 

The Ravignani were, from whom descended
   The County Guido, and whoe'er the name
   Of the great Bellincione since hath taken. 

He of La Pressa knew the art of ruling
   Already, and already Galigajo
   Had hilt and pommel gilded in his house. 

Mighty already was the Column Vair,
   Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifant, and Barucci,
   And Galli, and they who for the bushel blush. 

The stock from which were the Calfucci born
   Was great already, and already chosen
   To curule chairs the Sizii and Arrigucci. 

O how beheld I those who are undone
   By their own pride! and how the Balls of Gold
   Florence enflowered in all their mighty deeds! 

So likewise did the ancestors of those
   Who evermore, when vacant is your church,
   Fatten by staying in consistory. 

The insolent race, that like a dragon follows
   Whoever flees, and unto him that shows
   His teeth or purse is gentle as a lamb, 

Already rising was, but from low people;
   So that it pleased not Ubertin Donato
   That his wife's father should make him their kin. 

Already had Caponsacco to the Market
   From Fesole descended, and already
   Giuda and Infangato were good burghers. 

I'll tell a thing incredible, but true;
   One entered the small circuit by a gate
   Which from the Della Pera took its name! 

Each one that bears the beautiful escutcheon
   Of the great baron whose renown and name
   The festival of Thomas keepeth fresh, 

Knighthood and privilege from him received;
   Though with the populace unites himself
   To-day the man who binds it with a border. 

Already were Gualterotti and Importuni;
   And still more quiet would the Borgo be
   If with new neighbours it remained unfed. 

The house from which is born your lamentation,
   Through just disdain that death among you brought
   And put an end unto your joyous life, 

Was honoured in itself and its companions.
   O Buondelmonte, how in evil hour
   Thou fled'st the bridal at another's promptings! 

Many would be rejoicing who are sad,
   If God had thee surrendered to the Ema
   The first time that thou camest to the city. 

But it behoved the mutilated stone
   Which guards the bridge, that Florence should provide
   A victim in her latest hour of peace. 

With all these families, and others with them,
   Florence beheld I in so great repose,
   That no occasion had she whence to weep; 

With all these families beheld so just
   And glorious her people, that the lily
   Never upon the spear was placed reversed, 

Nor by division was vermilion made."