Divine Comedy (Longfellow 1867)/Volume 2/Canto 25

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Now was it the ascent no hindrance brooked,
   Because the sun had his meridian circle
   To Taurus left, and night to Scorpio;

Wherefore as doth a man who tarries not,
   But goes his way, whate'er to him appear,
   If of necessity the sting transfix him,

In this wise did we enter through the gap,
   Taking the stairway, one before the other,
   Which by its narrowness divides the climbers.

And as the little stork that lifts its wing
   With a desire to fly, and does not venture
   To leave the nest, and lets it downward droop,

Even such was I, with the desire of asking
   Kindled and quenched, unto the motion coming
   He makes who doth address himself to speak.

Not for our pace, though rapid it might be,
   My father sweet forbore, but said: "Let fly
   The bow of speech thou to the barb hast drawn."

With confidence I opened then my mouth,
   And I began: "How can one meagre grow
   There where the need of nutriment applies not?"

"If thou wouldst call to mind how Meleager
   Was wasted by the wasting of a brand,
   This would not," said he, "be to thee so sour;

And wouldst thou think how at each tremulous motion
   Trembles within a mirror your own image;
   That which seems hard would mellow seem to thee.

But that thou mayst content thee in thy wish
   Lo Statius here; and him I call and pray
   He now will be the healer of thy wounds."

"If I unfold to him the eternal vengeance,"
   Responded Statius, "where thou present art,
   Be my excuse that I can naught deny thee."

Then he began: "Son, if these words of mine
   Thy mind doth contemplate and doth receive,
   They'll be thy light unto the How thou sayest.

The perfect blood, which never is drunk up
   Into the thirsty veins, and which remaineth
   Like food that from the table thou removest,

Takes in the heart for all the human members
   Virtue informative, as being that
   Which to be changed to them goes through the veins

Again digest, descends it where 'tis better
   Silent to be than say; and then drops thence
   Upon another's blood in natural vase.

There one together with the other mingles,
   One to be passive meant, the other active
   By reason of the perfect place it springs from;

And being conjoined, begins to operate,
   Coagulating first, then vivifying
   What for its matter it had made consistent.

The active virtue, being made a soul
   As of a plant, (in so far different,
   This on the way is, that arrived already,)

Then works so much, that now it moves and feels
   Like a sea-fungus, and then undertakes
   To organize the powers whose seed it is.

Now, Son, dilates and now distends itself
   The virtue from the generator's heart,
   Where nature is intent on all the members.

But how from animal it man becomes
   Thou dost not see as yet; this is a point
   Which made a wiser man than thou once err

So far, that in his doctrine separate
   He made the soul from possible intellect,
   For he no organ saw by this assumed.

Open thy breast unto the truth that's coming,
   And know that, just as soon as in the foetus
   The articulation of the brain is perfect,

The primal Motor turns to it well pleased
   At so great art of nature, and inspires
   A spirit new with virtue all replete,

Which what it finds there active doth attract
   Into its substance, and becomes one soul,
   Which lives, and feels, and on itself revolves.

And that thou less may wonder at my word,
   Behold the sun's heat, which becometh wine,
   Joined to the juice that from the vine distils.

Whenever Lachesis has no more thread,
   It separates from the flesh, and virtually
   Bears with itself the human and divine;

The other faculties are voiceless all;
   The memory, the intelligence, and the will
   In action far more vigorous than before.

Without a pause it falleth of itself
   In marvellous way on one shore or the other;
   There of its roads it first is cognizant.

Soon as the place there circumscribeth it,
   The virtue informative rays round about,
   As, and as much as, in the living members.

And even as the air, when full of rain,
   By alien rays that are therein reflected,
   With divers colours shows itself adorned,

So there the neighbouring air doth shape itself
   Into that form which doth impress upon it
   Virtually the soul that has stood still.

And then in manner of the little flame,
   Which followeth the fire where'er it shifts,
   After the spirit followeth its new form.

Since afterwards it takes from this its semblance,
   It is called shade; and thence it organizes
   Thereafter every sense, even to the sight.

Thence is it that we speak, and thence we laugh;
   Thence is it that we form the tears and sighs,
   That on the mountain thou mayhap hast heard.

According as impress us our desires
   And other affections, so the shade is shaped,
   And this is cause of what thou wonderest at."

And now unto the last of all the circles
   Had we arrived, and to the right hand turned,
   And were attentive to another care.

There the embankment shoots forth flames of fire,
   And upward doth the cornice breathe a blast
   That drives them back, and from itself sequesters.

Hence we must needs go on the open side,
   And one by one; and I did fear the fire
   On this side, and on that the falling down.

My Leader said: "Along this place one ought
   To keep upon the eyes a tightened rein,
   Seeing that one so easily might err."

"Summae Deus clementiae," in the bosom
   Of the great burning chanted then I heard,
   Which made me no less eager to turn round;

And spirits saw I walking through the flame;
   Wherefore I looked, to my own steps and theirs
   Apportioning my sight from time to time.

After the close which to that hymn is made,
   Aloud they shouted, "Virum non cognosco;"
   Then recommenced the hymn with voices low.

This also ended, cried they: "To the wood
   Diana ran, and drove forth Helice
   Therefrom, who had of Venus felt the poison."

Then to their song returned they; then the wives
   They shouted, and the husbands who were chaste.
   As virtue and the marriage vow imposes.

And I believe that them this mode suffices,
   For all the time the fire is burning them;
   With such care is it needful, and such food,

That the last wound of all should be closed up.