DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 7
Chapter 7: The Climb Halts
Those Mantuans, Sordello and my guide
embraced each other happily until
the first drew back enquiring, “Who are you?” 3
“A soul from Hell,” the greater poet said.
“ Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome,
buried my bones before faith in Christ’s cross 6
let saved souls make a staircase of this hill,
so I, Virgil, will not reach paradise.”
Like one who thinks, “This is . . . it cannot be! 9
It must . . . but surely not?” Sordello stood
wondering, as if his eyes perceived
a marvel far too great to be believed, 12
then he bowed as low as anybody could.
“You are the glory of the Latin race!”
he cried, “Through you our language is as strong, 15
will live as long as Gospel scriptures do.
Tell me the miracle that brings you here,
and if you think me fit to know, from which 18
cloister of Hell.” Said Virgil, “I have come
through all the rings of Hell, but dwell with souls
who do not suffer pain. Ours is the state 21
of babies who die before christening
cleans off their sinful stain. We do not weep
but sigh for what we, living, could not know 24
so cannot now enjoy eternally—
true faith, hope, charity. But even so
Heaven has ordered me to lead this man 27
up to your mountains height. Since sunset casts
its shadow on us we will climb by night,
having not reached real Purgatory yet. 30
Sordella, can you tell us the right way?”
“Yes, I will be your guide a while,” said he,
but not up hill at once. Now you must halt 33
and be escorted to a resting place
where you will find folk you’ll be glad to see.”
“Why? Who bans our divinely ordered climb?” 36
my master cried, “Do you?” Sordello stooped,
drew a line with his finger on the ground,
and said, “If light failed you could not cross this. 39
None forbid night climbing here, but darkness
abolishes all wish to climb, though letting
any drift backward down the way they came.” 42
My master brooded, then said, “Lead us please
to where you say a rest will do us good.”
He lead us in the gloaming a short way 45
toward a corrie hollowing the slope.
He said, “There we will wait for a new day
deep in the mountains lap.” A winding path 48
that rose and fell brought us to that deep dell.
We stood upon the edge there, gazing down.
There was still light enough to see below 51
a glowing lawn as green as emerald
with blossoms golden, crimson, pearly white,
silver and azure and pure indigo. 54
All colours of the rainbow were surpassed
by blooms feasting our eyes. Sweet scents from them
blent in one sweetness, lovely but unknown 57
to living men before I breathed that air,
and there sat souls unseen by lower folk
singing the Holy Hymn to Heavens Queen. 60
“Before the sun now sitting leaves the sky,”
Sordello said, “We will not go down there.
Why? Those bellow are clearly seen from here. 63
He who sits highest of that kingly crew,
to glum to move his lips in sacred song
was Rudolph, Emperor, who failed to heal 66
wounds that have mangled Italy so long.
Trying to comfort him is Ottocar,
King of Bohemia, in his nappies 69
better than bearded Wenceslaus, his son
who lazily now occupies his throne.
That snub-nosed chap beating his breast in grief 72
regrets how he disgraced the Crown of France.
That vicious thief, his son, has gone to Hell
but see his daughter’s husband, formerly 75
the Prince of Anjou, also torn by grief.
You see two monarchs sing in harmony—
stout Tory King of Aragon beside 78
the manly-nosed Whig King of Sicily.
There sons have none of their nobility.
How seldom vigor in a parent tree 81
enters its branches! Only God knows why.
See England’s Henry sit apart, alone,
a simple king whose Edward Prince of Wales 84
is now a hammer of the French and Scots.
Lowest and looking up, unluckiest
prince of this age was Montferrat’s William 87
tricked by foes, who died in an iron cage.”