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Chapter 23 Forese. Reproof of immodest Florentine Women.

  • The while among the verdant leaves mine eyes
  • I riveted, as he is wont to do
  • Who wastes his life pursuing little birds,
  • My more than Father said unto me: "Son,
  • Come now; because the time that is ordained us
  • More usefully should be apportioned out."
  • I turned my face and no less soon my steps
  • Unto the Sages, who were speaking so
  • They made the going of no cost to me;
  • And lo! were heard a song and a lament,
  • "Labia mea, Domine," in fashion
  • Such that delight and dolence it brought forth.
  • "O my sweet Father, what is this I hear?"
  • Began I; and he answered: "Shades that go
  • Perhaps the knot unloosing of their debt."
  • In the same way that thoughtful pilgrims do,
  • Who, unknown people on the road o'ertaking,
  • Turn themselves round to them, and do not stop,
  • Even thus, behind us with a swifter motion
  • Coming and passing onward, gazed upon us
  • A crowd of spirits silent and devout.
  • Each in his eyes was dark and cavernous,
  • Pallid in face, and so emaciate
  • That from the bones the skin did shape itself.
  • I do not think that so to merest rind
  • Could Erisichthon have been withered up
  • By famine, when most fear he had of it.
  • Thinking within myself I said: "Behold,
  • This is the folk who lost Jerusalem,
  • When Mary made a prey of her own son."
  • Their sockets were like rings without the gems;
  • Whoever in the face of men reads 'omo'
  • Might well in these have recognised the 'm.'
  • Who would believe the odour of an apple,
  • Begetting longing, could consume them so,
  • And that of water, without knowing how?
  • I still was wondering what so famished them,
  • For the occasion not yet manifest
  • Of their emaciation and sad squalor;
  • And lo! from out the hollow of his head
  • His eyes a shade turned on me, and looked keenly;
  • Then cried aloud: "What grace to me is this?"
  • Never should I have known him by his look;
  • But in his voice was evident to me
  • That which his aspect had suppressed within it.
  • This spark within me wholly re-enkindled
  • My recognition of his altered face,
  • And I recalled the features of Forese.
  • "Ah, do not look at this dry leprosy,"
  • Entreated he, "which doth my skin discolour,
  • Nor at default of flesh that I may have;
  • But tell me truth of thee, and who are those
  • Two souls, that yonder make for thee an escort;
  • Do not delay in speaking unto me."
  • "That face of thine, which dead I once bewept,
  • Gives me for weeping now no lesser grief,"
  • I answered him, "beholding it so changed!
  • But tell me, for God's sake, what thus denudes you?
  • Make me not speak while I am marvelling,
  • For ill speaks he who's full of other longings."
  • And he to me: "From the eternal council
  • Falls power into the water and the tree
  • Behind us left, whereby I grow so thin.
  • All of this people who lamenting sing,
  • For following beyond measure appetite
  • In hunger and thirst are here re-sanctified.
  • Desire to eat and drink enkindles in us
  • The scent that issues from the apple-tree,
  • And from the spray that sprinkles o'er the verdure;
  • And not a single time alone, this ground
  • Encompassing, is refreshed our pain,—
  • I say our pain, and ought to say our solace,—
  • For the same wish doth lead us to the tree
  • Which led the Christ rejoicing to say 'Eli,'
  • When with his veins he liberated us."
  • And I to him: "Forese, from that day
  • When for a better life thou changedst worlds,
  • Up to this time five years have not rolled round.
  • If sooner were the power exhausted in thee
  • Of sinning more, than thee the hour surprised
  • Of that good sorrow which to God reweds us,
  • How hast thou come up hitherward already?
  • I thought to find thee down there underneath,
  • Where time for time doth restitution make."
  • And he to me: "Thus speedily has led me
  • To drink of the sweet wormwood of these torments,
  • My Nella with her overflowing tears;
  • She with her prayers devout and with her sighs
  • Has drawn me from the coast where one where one awaits,
  • And from the other circles set me free.
  • So much more dear and pleasing is to God
  • My little widow, whom so much I loved,
  • As in good works she is the more alone;
  • For the Barbagia of Sardinia
  • By far more modest in its women is
  • Than the Barbagia I have left her in.
  • O brother sweet, what wilt thou have me say?
  • A future time is in my sight already,
  • To which this hour will not be very old,
  • When from the pulpit shall be interdicted
  • To the unblushing womankind of Florence
  • To go about displaying breast and paps.
  • What savages were e'er, what Saracens,
  • Who stood in need, to make them covered go,
  • Of spiritual or other discipline?
  • But if the shameless women were assured
  • Of what swift Heaven prepares for them, already
  • Wide open would they have their mouths to howl;
  • For if my foresight here deceive me not,
  • They shall be sad ere he has bearded cheeks
  • Who now is hushed to sleep with lullaby.
  • O brother, now no longer hide thee from me;
  • See that not only I, but all these people
  • Are gazing there, where thou dost veil the sun."
  • Whence I to him: "If thou bring back to mind
  • What thou with me hast been and I with thee,
  • The present memory will be grievous still.
  • Out of that life he turned me back who goes
  • In front of me, two days agone when round
  • The sister of him yonder showed herself,"
  • And to the sun I pointed. "Through the deep
  • Night of the truly dead has this one led me,
  • With this true flesh, that follows after him.
  • Thence his encouragements have led me up,
  • Ascending and still circling round the mount
  • That you doth straighten, whom the world made crooked.
  • He says that he will bear me company,
  • Till I shall be where Beatrice will be;
  • There it behoves me to remain without him.
  • This is Virgilius, who thus says to me,"
  • And him I pointed at; "the other is
  • That shade for whom just now shook every slope
  • Your realm, that from itself discharges him."