DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY, Chapter 4
Chapter 4: The Ascent
Pleasure or pain can fill us up so full
they dominate all ways we think and act,
a fact disproving Plato’s rule that souls 3
are triple – vegetable, animal
and logical. Words can so occupy
our soul, we do not notice passing time. 6
Manfred’s speech so pleased me I did not see
the sun rise to its fiftieth degree.
Mid-morning passed before our company 9
aroused me, crying, “Here’s the place you need!”
I saw in the cliff face a gap as wide
as in a vineyard hedge that peasants block 12
with a forkful of thorn, yet wide enough
to admit a man into a deep crack
sloping steeply up. My guide, stepping in, 15
started climbing on all fours, rock beneath,
beside and above his back. I followed,
bidding the slowly moving flock goodbye. 18
You may rush down Noli, up San Leo,
mount Bismantova’s summit on your feet.
Wings of desire raised me on hands and knees, 21
scrambling after Virgil and not stop
until we reached the precipice’s top
and stood upon the edge of a broad ledge 24
of that bare mountainside. “Master,” said I,
“where now?” “Upward,” said he, “and do not halt
before you meet a wiser guide than me.” 27
He turned to lead me up a steeper slope
than we had tackled in the creviced rock.
Exhausted I cried, “Pause kind father, please! 30
You’re leaving me behind – I need to rest!”
“My son,” said he, pointing not far ahead,
“drag yourself first up there.” I forced my feet 33
to follow him up to a level ground,
a terrace curving round the mighty hill,
and sat facing the way we came (often 36
the finest view) due east. First I gazed down,
feasting eyes on the sea below, then raised
them to the skies, amazed to see the sun 39
shining upon my left. “How can this be?”
I said. “This island mountain,” he replied
“Is central to the southern hemisphere, 42
just as the land where Christ was crucified
is central to the north. Half way between
lies the equator. When the setting sun 45
crossed that, it left the north in night and brought
light here, to the western point, which is not
on your right, but upon your other hand. 48
Do you understand?” I did, then I said
“Have we much more to climb? The height ahead
is out of sight.” He said, “The hardest part 51
of leaving sin is always at the start.
The climb is easier as you go up.
Near the top you will feel climbing is like 54
floating downstream in a boat.” A voice said,
“You’ll often sit down again before then.”
We turned and saw a big rock in whose shade 57
sprawled people looking totally fatigued.
The speaker hugged his knees, head sunk between.
I told my guide, “That is Belacqua, sir – 60
a Florentine well-known for being slow.”
Belacqua raised an eye above his thigh
and grunted, “Up you go, busybody, 63
now you know why the sun shines on your left.”
Smiling a bit at that I said to him,
“Friend, you will be alright – you need not grieve, 66
but why sit here? What are you waiting for?
Have you not shaken off your laziness?”
“Brother,” he groaned, “I cannot go up yet, 69
I died too soon to properly confess
on my deathbed my life of slothful sin.
The Bird of God who guards a higher gate 72
will not admit me to the cleansing pain
until I’ve waited all the years before
I gave my soul to God. I must squat here 75
sixty years more, if a pure soul’s prayers
do not lessen them. How I envy you!”
Virgil had climbed ahead and called to me, 78
“Time to go on!” I left Belacqua there.