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Chapter 12 The Sculptures on the Pavement. Ascent to the Second Circle.

  • Abreast, like oxen going in a yoke,
  • I with that heavy-laden soul went on,
  • As long as the sweet pedagogue permitted;
  • But when he said, "Leave him, and onward pass,
  • For here 'tis good that with the sail and oars,
  • As much as may be, each push on his barque;"
  • Upright, as walking wills it, I redressed
  • My person, notwithstanding that my thoughts
  • Remained within me downcast and abashed.
  • I had moved on, and followed willingly
  • The footsteps of my Master, and we both
  • Already showed how light of foot we were,
  • When unto me he said: "Cast down thine eyes;
  • 'Twere well for thee, to alleviate the way,
  • To look upon the bed beneath thy feet."
  • As, that some memory may exist of them,
  • Above the buried dead their tombs in earth
  • Bear sculptured on them what they were before;
  • Whence often there we weep for them afresh,
  • From pricking of remembrance, which alone
  • To the compassionate doth set its spur;
  • So saw I there, but of a better semblance
  • In point of artifice, with figures covered
  • Whate'er as pathway from the mount projects.
  • I saw that one who was created noble
  • More than all other creatures, down from heaven
  • Flaming with lightnings fall upon one side.
  • I saw Briareus smitten by the dart
  • Celestial, lying on the other side,
  • Heavy upon the earth by mortal frost.
  • I saw Thymbraeus, Pallas saw, and Mars,
  • Still clad in armour round about their father,
  • Gaze at the scattered members of the giants.
  • I saw, at foot of his great labour, Nimrod,
  • As if bewildered, looking at the people
  • Who had been proud with him in Sennaar.
  • O Niobe! with what afflicted eyes
  • Thee I beheld upon the pathway traced,
  • Between thy seven and seven children slain!
  • O Saul! how fallen upon thy proper sword
  • Didst thou appear there lifeless in Gilboa,
  • That felt thereafter neither rain nor dew!
  • O mad Arachne! so I thee beheld
  • E'en then half spider, sad upon the shreds
  • Of fabric wrought in evil hour for thee!
  • O Rehoboam! no more seems to threaten
  • Thine image there; but full of consternation
  • A chariot bears it off, when none pursues!
  • Displayed moreo'er the adamantine pavement
  • How unto his own mother made Alcmaeon
  • Costly appear the luckless ornament;
  • Displayed how his own sons did throw themselves
  • Upon Sennacherib within the temple,
  • And how, he being dead, they left him there;
  • Displayed the ruin and the cruel carnage
  • That Tomyris wrought, when she to Cyrus said,
  • "Blood didst thou thirst for, and with blood I glut thee!"
  • Displayed how routed fled the Assyrians
  • After that Holofernes had been slain,
  • And likewise the remainder of that slaughter.
  • I saw there Troy in ashes and in caverns;
  • O Ilion! thee, how abject and debased,
  • Displayed the image that is there discerned!
  • Whoe'er of pencil master was or stile,
  • That could portray the shades and traits which there
  • Would cause each subtile genius to admire?
  • Dead seemed the dead, the living seemed alive;
  • Better than I saw not who saw the truth,
  • All that I trod upon while bowed I went.
  • Now wax ye proud, and on with looks uplifted,
  • Ye sons of Eve, and bow not down your faces
  • So that ye may behold your evil ways!
  • More of the mount by us was now encompassed,
  • And far more spent the circuit of the sun,
  • Than had the mind preoccupied imagined,
  • When he, who ever watchful in advance
  • Was going on, began: "Lift up thy head,
  • 'Tis no more time to go thus meditating.
  • Lo there an Angel who is making haste
  • To come towards us; lo, returning is
  • From service of the day the sixth handmaiden.
  • With reverence thine acts and looks adorn,
  • So that he may delight to speed us upward;
  • Think that this day will never dawn again."
  • I was familiar with his admonition
  • Ever to lose no time; so on this theme
  • He could not unto me speak covertly.
  • Towards us came the being beautiful
  • Vested in white, and in his countenance
  • Such as appears the tremulous morning star.
  • His arms he opened, and opened then his wings;
  • "Come," said he, "near at hand here are the steps,
  • And easy from henceforth is the ascent."
  • At this announcement few are they who come!
  • O human creatures, born to soar aloft,
  • Why fall ye thus before a little wind?
  • He led us on to where the rock was cleft;
  • There smote upon my forehead with his wings,
  • Then a safe passage promised unto me.
  • As on the right hand, to ascend the mount
  • Where seated is the church that lordeth it
  • O'er the well-guided, above Rubaconte,
  • The bold abruptness of the ascent is broken
  • By stairways that were made there in the age
  • When still were safe the ledger and the stave,
  • E'en thus attempered is the bank which falls
  • Sheer downward from the second circle there;
  • But on this, side and that the high rock graze.
  • As we were turning thitherward our persons,
  • "Beati pauperes spiritu," voices
  • Sang in such wise that speech could tell it not.
  • Ah me! how different are these entrances
  • From the Infernal! for with anthems here
  • One enters, and below with wild laments.
  • We now were hunting up the sacred stairs,
  • And it appeared to me by far more easy
  • Than on the plain it had appeared before.
  • Whence I: "My Master, say, what heavy thing
  • Has been uplifted from me, so that hardly
  • Aught of fatigue is felt by me in walking?"
  • He answered: "When the P's which have remained
  • Still on thy face almost obliterate
  • Shall wholly, as the first is, be erased,
  • Thy feet will be so vanquished by good will,
  • That not alone they shall not feel fatigue,
  • But urging up will be to them delight."
  • Then did I even as they do who are going
  • With something on the head to them unknown,
  • Unless the signs of others make them doubt,
  • Wherefore the hand to ascertain is helpful,
  • And seeks and finds, and doth fulfill the office
  • Which cannot be accomplished by the sight;
  • And with the fingers of the right hand spread
  • I found but six the letters, that had carved
  • Upon my temples he who bore the keys;
  • Upon beholding which my Leader smiled.