Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 9 Dante's Dream of the Eagle. The Gate of Purgatory and the Angel. Seven P's. The Keys.

  • The concubine of old Tithonus now
  • Gleamed white upon the eastern balcony,
  • Forth from the arms of her sweet paramour;
  • With gems her forehead all relucent was,
  • Set in the shape of that cold animal
  • Which with its tail doth smite amain the nations,
  • And of the steps, with which she mounts, the Night
  • Had taken two in that place where we were,
  • And now the third was bending down its wings;
  • When I, who something had of Adam in me,
  • Vanquished by sleep, upon the grass reclined,
  • There were all five of us already sat.
  • Just at the hour when her sad lay begins
  • The little swallow, near unto the morning,
  • Perchance in memory of her former woes,
  • And when the mind of man, a wanderer
  • More from the flesh, and less by thought imprisoned,
  • Almost prophetic in its visions is,
  • In dreams it seemed to me I saw suspended
  • An eagle in the sky, with plumes of gold,
  • With wings wide open, and intent to stoop,
  • And this, it seemed to me, was where had been
  • By Ganymede his kith and kin abandoned,
  • When to the high consistory he was rapt.
  • I thought within myself, perchance he strikes
  • From habit only here, and from elsewhere
  • Disdains to bear up any in his feet.
  • Then wheeling somewhat more, it seemed to me,
  • Terrible as the lightning he descended,
  • And snatched me upward even to the fire.
  • Therein it seemed that he and I were burning,
  • And the imagined fire did scorch me so,
  • That of necessity my sleep was broken.
  • Not otherwise Achilles started up,
  • Around him turning his awakened eyes,
  • And knowing not the place in which he was,
  • What time from Chiron stealthily his mother
  • Carried him sleeping in her arms to Scyros,
  • Wherefrom the Greeks withdrew him afterwards,
  • Than I upstarted, when from off my face
  • Sleep fled away; and pallid I became,
  • As doth the man who freezes with affright.
  • Only my Comforter was at my side,
  • And now the sun was more than two hours high,
  • And turned towards the sea-shore was my face.
  • "Be not intimidated," said my Lord,
  • "Be reassured, for all is well with us;
  • Do not restrain, but put forth all thy strength.
  • Thou hast at length arrived at Purgatory;
  • See there the cliff that closes it around;
  • See there the entrance, where it seems disjoined.
  • Whilom at dawn, which doth precede the day,
  • When inwardly thy spirit was asleep
  • Upon the flowers that deck the land below,
  • There came a Lady and said: 'I am Lucia;
  • Let me take this one up, who is asleep;
  • So will I make his journey easier for him.'
  • Sordello and the other noble shapes
  • Remained; she took thee, and, as day grew bright,
  • Upward she came, and I upon her footsteps.
  • She laid thee here; and first her beauteous eyes
  • That open entrance pointed out to me;
  • Then she and sleep together went away."
  • In guise of one whose doubts are reassured,
  • And who to confidence his fear doth change,
  • After the truth has been discovered to him,
  • So did I change; and when without disquiet
  • My Leader saw me, up along the cliff
  • He moved, and I behind him, tow'rd the height.
  • Reader, thou seest well how I exalt
  • My theme, and therefore if with greater art
  • I fortify it, marvel not thereat.
  • Nearer approached we, and were in such place,
  • That there, where first appeared to me a rift
  • Like to a crevice that disparts a wall,
  • I saw a portal, and three stairs beneath,
  • Diverse in colour, to go up to it,
  • And a gate-keeper, who yet spake no word.
  • And as I opened more and more mine eyes,
  • I saw him seated on the highest stair,
  • Such in the face that I endured it not.
  • And in his hand he had a naked sword,
  • Which so reflected back the sunbeams tow'rds us,
  • That oft in vain I lifted up mine eyes.
  • "Tell it from where you are, what is't you wish?"
  • Began he to exclaim; "where is the escort?
  • Take heed your coming hither harm you not!"
  • "A Lady of Heaven, with these things conversant,"
  • My Master answered him, "but even now
  • Said to us, 'Thither go; there is the portal.'"
  • "And may she speed your footsteps in all good,"
  • Again began the courteous janitor;
  • "Come forward then unto these stairs of ours."
  • Thither did we approach; and the first stair
  • Was marble white, so polished and so smooth,
  • I mirrored myself therein as I appear.
  • The second, tinct of deeper hue than perse,
  • Was of a calcined and uneven stone,
  • Cracked all asunder lengthwise and across.
  • The third, that uppermost rests massively,
  • Porphyry seemed to me, as flaming red
  • As blood that from a vein is spirting forth.
  • Both of his feet was holding upon this
  • The Angel of God, upon the threshold seated,
  • Which seemed to me a stone of diamond.
  • Along the three stairs upward with good will
  • Did my Conductor draw me, saying: "Ask
  • Humbly that he the fastening may undo."
  • Devoutly at the holy feet I cast me,
  • For mercy's sake besought that he would open,
  • But first upon my breast three times I smote.
  • Seven P's upon my forehead he described
  • With the sword's point, and, "Take heed that thou wash
  • These wounds, when thou shalt be within," he said.
  • Ashes, or earth that dry is excavated,
  • Of the same colour were with his attire,
  • And from beneath it he drew forth two keys.
  • One was of gold, and the other was of silver;
  • First with the white, and after with the yellow,
  • Plied he the door, so that I was content.
  • "Whenever faileth either of these keys
  • So that it turn not rightly in the lock,"
  • He said to us, "this entrance doth not open.
  • More precious one is, but the other needs
  • More art and intellect ere it unlock,
  • For it is that which doth the knot unloose.
  • From Peter I have them; and he bade me err
  • Rather in opening than in keeping shut,
  • If people but fall down before my feet."
  • Then pushed the portals of the sacred door,
  • Exclaiming: "Enter; but I give you warning
  • That forth returns whoever looks behind."
  • And when upon their hinges were turned round
  • The swivels of that consecrated gate,
  • Which are of metal, massive and sonorous,
  • Roared not so loud, nor so discordant seemed
  • Tarpeia, when was ta'en from it the good
  • Metellus, wherefore meagre it remained.
  • At the first thunder-peal I turned attentive,
  • And "Te Deum laudamus" seemed to hear
  • In voices mingled with sweet melody.
  • Exactly such an image rendered me
  • That which I heard, as we are wont to catch,
  • When people singing with the organ stand;
  • For now we hear, and now hear not, the words.