Page images

Of that swist animal, the matin dawn,
And the sweet season. Soon that joy was chascıl,
And by new dread succeeded, when in view
A lion ? came, 'gainst me as it appear'ı,
With his head held aloft and hunger-mad,
That e'en the air was fear-struck. A she-woll?
Was at his heels, who in her leanness seem'd
Full of all wants, and many a land hath made
Disconsolate ere now. She with such fear
O’erwhelm'd me, at the sight of her appall?!,
That of the height all hope I lost. As one,
Who, with his gain elated, sees the time
When all unwares is gonc, he inwardly
Mourns with heart-griping anguish ; such vaj ),
Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace,
Who coming o'er against me, by degrees
Impelld 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
Whose voice seen’d faint through long disuse of speech.
When him in that great desert I espied,

skin of the panther; and there is something in the sixteenth Canto, verse 107, which countenances their interpretation, although that which I have followed still appears to me the more probable.

1 A lion.] Pride or ambition.

2 A she-wolf.] Avarice. It cannot be doubted that the image of these threo beasts coming against him is taken by our author from the prophet Jeremiah, v. 6: “Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities." Rossetti, following Dionisi and other later commentators, interprets Dante's leopard to denote Florence, his lion the king of France, and his wolf the Court of Rome. It is far from improbable that our author might have had a second allegory of this sort in his view ; even as Spenser, in the introductory letter to his poem, tells us that "in the Faery Queen he' meant Glory in his general intention, but in his particular he conceived the most excellent and glorious person of his sovereign the Queen.' “And yet," he adds, “ in some places else I do otherwise shadow her.” Such involution of allegorical meanings may well le supposed to have been frequently present to the mind of Dante throughout the composition of this poem. Whether his acute and eloquent interpreter, Rossetti, may not have been carried much too far in the pursuit of a favourite hypothesis, is another question ; and I must avow my disbelief of the secret jargon imputed to our poet and the other writers of that time in the Comment on the Divina Commedia and in the Spiri'o Antipapale, the latter of which works is familiarized to the English reader in Miss Ward's faithful translation, 3 Where the sun in silence rests.]

The sun to me is dark, When she deserts the night,
And silent as the moon, Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.

Milto:, Sam. 1gon. The same metaphor will recur, Canto v. verse 20.

Into a place I came
Where light was silent all,

“ 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 Julius1 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. 2
But thoui, 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
Have conn'd it o'er. My master thou, and guide!3
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, i 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 anthority, and made himself perpetual dictator.” Virgil indeed was born twenty-five years before that event. 2 Ilium's hughty towers.]

Ceciditque superbum

Virgil, Æn, iii. 3. 3 My master thou, and guide.]

Tu se lo mio maestro, e'l mio autore,
Tu se' solo colui.
Thou art my father, thou my anthor, thou.

Milton, P. L. ii. 864.

Still after food ? more craving than before.
To many an animal in wedlock vile
She fastens, and shall yet to many more,
Until that greyhoundcome, 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 Feltro. In his might
Shall safety to Italia's plains 4 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 liear despairing shrieks, and see
Spirits of old tormented, who invoke

1 Still after food.] So Frezzi :

La voglia sempre ha fame, e mai non s'empie,
Ed al più pasto più riman digiuna.

Il Quadriregio, lib. 2. cap. xi. Venturi observes that the verse in the original is borrowed by Berni.

2 That greyhound.) This passage has been commonly understood as an eulogium on the liberal spirit of his

Veronese patron, Can Grande della Scala. 3 "Twist 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 prophecy, 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. lib. 10. cap. cv. and exli, and some lively criticism by Gasparo Gozzi, entitled Giudizio degli Antichi Poeti, etc., printed at the end of the Zatta edition of Dante, t. 4. part ii. p. 15. The prophecy, it is likely, was a forgery ; for Michael died before 1300, when Can Grande was only nine years old. See IIell, 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 Danté, 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. xxxi. 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 poct during his exile. 4 Italia's plains.] “Umilo Italia,” from Virgil, En. lib. 3. 522.

Humilemque videmus

A second death ;? and those next view, who dwell
Content in fire, 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 3 than I
Must leal 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,
I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse
I may escape)

to lead me where thou said'st,
That I Saint Peter's gate 4 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, le doubted whether it sufficer for the journey proposed to him, but that, being comforted by Virgil, le at last took courage, and followed him as his guide and master.

Now was the day departing, and the air,
Imbrown'l with shadows, from their toils relcascd
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.

? 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.

2 Content in fire.] The spirits in Purgatory, : A spirit worthier.) Beatrice, who conducts the Poet through Paradise.

4 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.

5 Now was the day.) A compendium of Virgil's description, Æn. lib. 4. 522. Compare Apollonius Rhodius, lib. 3. 744, and lib. 4. 1058.

The day gan failin ; and the darke night,
That revith bestis from their businesse,
Berafte me my tooke, etc. Chaucer, The Assemble of Foules.

O Muses ! O high genius! now rouchsafe
Your aid. O inind ! i that all I saw hast kept
Safe in a written record, here tly 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' sire, 2
Yet clothed in corruptible flesh, among
The immortal tribes had entrance, and was there
Sensibly present. Yet if heaven's great Lord,
Almighty foe to ill, such favour show'd
In conteinplation 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.
HIe from this journey, in thy song renown'il,
Learn'd things, that to his victory gave risc
And to the papal robe. In after-times
The chosen vessel 3 also travel'd there, 4
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 ny meaning know'st,
Than I can speak.” As one, who unresolves
What he latli late resolved, and with new thoughts
Changes his purpose, from his first intent
Removed ; c'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,

10 mind.] O thought ! that write all that I met, Of my braine, now shall men see And in the tresorie it set

If any virtue in thee be.

Chaucer, Temple of Fame, b. 2. v. 18. 2 Silvius' sire.] Æncas.

3 The chosen vessel.] Et. Paul. Acts ix. 15. “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me.”

4 There. This refers to “the immortal tribes,” v. 15, St. Paul having Leen caught up to l:caven, 2.Cor. xii. 2.

« PreviousContinue »