« PreviousContinue »
Mourns with heart-griping anguish ; such was I,
Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace,
Who coming o'er against me, by degrees
Impell’d me where the sun in silence rests'.
While to the lower space with backward step
I fell, my ken discern'd the form of one [speech.
Whose voice seem'd faint through long disuse of
When him in that great desert I espied,
Have mercy on me,” cried I out aloud,
Spirit! or living man! whate'er thou be.".
He answer'd: “Now not man, man once I was,
And born of Lombard parents, Mantuans both
By country, when the power of Julius ? yet
Was scarcely firm. At Rome my life was past,
Beneath the mild Augustus, in the time
Of fabled deities and false. A bard
Was I, and made Anchises' upright son
The subject of my song, who came from Troy,
When the flames prey'd on Ilium's haughty towers 3.
But thou, say wherefore to such perils past
Return'st thou ? wherefore not this pleasant mount
Ascendest, cause and source of all delight ?”
And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring, From which such copious floods of eloquence Have issued ?” I with front abash'd replied.
Glory and light of all the tuneful train ! May it avail me, that I long with zeal Have sought thy volume, and with love immense
| Where the sun in silence rests.]
The sun to me is dark,
And silent as the moon,
When she deserts the night,
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
Milton, Sam. Agon.
The same metaphor will recur, Canto v. verse 29.
Into a place I came
Where light was silent all. 2 When the power of Julius.]
Nacqui sub Julio, ancorchè fosse tardi. This is explained by the Commentators: “ Although it were rather late with respect to my birth, before Julius Cæsar assumed the supreme authority, and made himself perpetual dictator.” Virgil indeed was born twenty-five years before that event. 3 Ilium's haughty towers. ]
Virgil, Æn. iii. 3.
Have conn'd it o’er. My master thou, and guide!!
Thou he from whom alone I have derived
That style, which for its beauty into fame
Exalts me. See the beast, from whom I fled.
O save me from her, thou illustrious sage!
For every vein and pulse throughout my frame
She hath made tremble.” He, soon as he saw
That I was weeping, answer'd, Thou must needs
Another way pursue, if thou wouldst ’scape
From out that savage wilderness. This beast,
At whom thou criest, her way will suffer none
To pass, and no less hindrance makes than death :
So bad and so accursed in her kind,
That never sated is her ravenous will,
Still after food? more craving than before.
To many an animal in wedlock vile
She fastens, and shall yet to many more,
Until that greyhound 3 come, who shall destroy
Her with sharp pain. He will not life support
By earth nor its base metals, but by love,
Wisdom, and virtue ; and his land shall be
The land 'twixt either Feltro4. In his might
1 My master thou, and guide.]
Tu se’ lo mio maestro, e'l mio autore,
Tu se' solo colui.
Thou art my father, thou my author, thou.
Milton, P. L. ii. 864. 2 Still after food.] So Frezzi:
La voglia sempre ha fame, e mai non s'empie,
Ed al più pasto più riman digiuna.
n Quadriregio, lib. ii. cap. xi. Venturi observes that the verse in the original is borrowed by Berni.
3 That greyhound.] This passage has been commonly understood as an eulogium on the liberal spirit of his Veronese patron, Can Grande della Scala.
4 'Tuixt either Feltro.] Verona, the country of Can della Scala, is situated between Feltro, a city in the Marca Trivigiana, and Monte Feltro, a city in the territory of Urbino.
But Dante perhaps does not merely point out the place of Can Grande's nativity, for he may allude further to a prophecs, ascribed to Michael Scot, which imported that the
Dog of Verona would be lord of Padua and of all the Marca Trivigiana.” It was fulfilled in the year 1329, a little before Can Grande's death. See G.Villani Hist. 1. x. cap. cv. and cxli. and some lively criticism by Gasparo Gozzi, entitled Giudizio degli Antichi Poeti, &c. printed at the end of the Zatta edition of Dante, t. iv. part. ii. p. 15. The prophecy, it is likely, was a fórgery; for Michael died before
Shall safety to Italia's plains' arise,
For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure,
Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell.
He, with incessant chase, through every town
Shall worry, until he to hell at length
Restore her, thence by envy first let loose.
I, for thy profit pondering, now devise
That thou mayst follow me; and I, thy guide,
Will lead thee hence through an eternal space,
Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see
Spirits of old tormented, who invoke
A second death?; and those next view, who dwell
Content in fire3, for that they hope to come,
Whene'er the time may be, among the blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
To ascend, a spirit worthier 4 than I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law
Adjudges me; and therefore hath decreed
That, to his city, none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne. O happy those,
Whom there he chuses !” I to him in few :
“ Bard! by that God, whom thou didst not adore,
1300, when Can Grande was only nine years old. See Hell, xx. 115, and Par. xvii. 75. Troya has given a new interpretation to Dante's prediction, which he applies to Uguccione della Faggiola, whose country also was situated between two Feltros. See the Veltro Allegorico di Dante, p. 110. But after all the pains he has taken, this very able writer fails to make it clear that Uguccione, though he acted a prominent part as a Ghibelline leader, is intended here or in Purgatory, c. xxxiii. 38. The main proofs rest on an ambiguous report mentioned by Boccaccio of the Inferno being dedicated to him, and on a suspicious letter attributed to a certain friar Ilario, in which the friar describes Dante addressing him as a stranger, and desiring him to convey that portion of the poem to Uguccione, There is no direct allusion to him throughout the Divina Commedia, as there is to the other chief public protectors of our poet during his exile. 1 Italia's plains.] “Umile Italia," from Virgil, Æn. lib. ii. 522.
Humilemque videmus Italiam. 2 A second death.] “ And in these days men shall seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them." Rev. ix. 6.
3 Content in fire.] The spirits in Purgatory.
4 A spirit worthier.] Beatrice, who conducts the Poet through Paradise.
I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse
I may escape) to lead me where thou saidst,
That I Saint Peter's gate' may view, and those
Who, as thou tell'st, are in such dismal plight."
Onward he moved, I close his steps pursued.
ARGUMENT. After the invocation, which poets are used to prefix to
their works, he shows, that, on a consideration of his own strength, he doubted whether it sufficed for the journey proposed to him, but that, being comforted by Virgil, he at last took courage, and followed him as his guide and
Now was the day departing ?, and the air,
Imbrown'd with shadows, from their toils released
All animals on earth ; and I alone
Prepared myself the conflict to sustain,
Both of sad pity, and that perilous road,
Which my unerring memory shall retrace.
O Muses ! O high genius! now vouchsafe
Your aid. O mind3! that all I saw hast kept
Safe in a written record, here thy worth
And eminent endowments come to proof.
I thus began : “Bard! thou who art my guide,
Consider well, if virtue be in me
Sufficient, ere to this high enterprise
Thou trust me. Thou hast told that Silvius' sire4,
Yet clothed in corruptible flesh, among
The immortal tribes had entrance, and was there
Sensibly present. Yet if heaven's great Lord,
I Saint Peter's gate.] The gate of Purgatory, which the poet feigns to be guarded by an angel placed on that station by St. Peter.
Now was the day.] A compendium of Virgil's description, Æn. lib. iv. 522. Compare Apollonius Rhodius, lib. iii. 744. and lib. iv. 1058.
The day gan failin; and the darke night,
That revith bestis from their businesse,
Berafte me my booke, &c.
Chaucer. The Assemble of Foules. 30 mind.]
O thought! that write all that I met,
And in the tresorie it set
Of my braine, now shall men see
If any virtue in thee be.
Chaucer. Temple of Fame, b. ii. v. 18. 4 Silvius' sire.] Æneas.
Almighty foe to ill, such favour show'd
In contemplation of the high effect,
Both what and who from him should issue forth,
It seems in reason's judgment well deserved ;
Sith he of Rome and of Rome's empire wide,
In heaven's empyreal height was chosen sire :
Both which, if truth be spoken, were ordain'd
And stablish'd for the holy place, where sits
Who to great Peter's sacred chair succeeds.
He from this journey, in thy song renown'd,
Learn'd things, that to his victory gave rise
And to the papal robe. In after-times
The chosen vessel? also travel'd there?,
To bring us back assurance in that faith
Which is the entrance to salvation's way.
But I, why should I there presume? or who
Permits it? not Æneas I, nor Paul.
Myself I deem not worthy, and none else
Will deem me. I, if on this voyage then
I venture, fear it will in folly end.
Thou, who art wise, better my meaning know'st,
Than I can speak.” As one, who unresolves
What he hath late resolved, and with new thoughts
Changes his purpose, from his first intent
Removed ; e'en such was I on that dun coast,
Wasting in thought my enterprise, at first
So eagerly embraced. If right thy words
I scan,” replied that shade magnanimous,
Thy soul is by vile fear assail'd”, which oft
So overcasts a man, that he recoils
From noblest resolution, like a beast
At some false semblance in the twilight gloom.
That from this terror thou mayst free thyself,
I will instruct thee why I came, and what
I heard in that same instant, when for thee
Grief touch'd me first. I was among the tribe,
Who rest suspended 4, when a dame, so blest
The chosen vessel.] St. Paul. Acts, ix. 15. “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me.”
2 There.] This refers to “the immortal tribes,” v. 15. St. Paul having been caught up to heaven. Cor. xi. 2. 3 Thy soul is by vile fear assail'd.)
L'anima tua è da viltate offesa. So in Berni, Orl. Inn. lib. iii. c. i. st. 53.
Se l'alma avete offesa da viltate. * Who rest suspended.] The spirits in Limbo, neither admitted to a state of glory nor doomed to punishment.