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- Divine Comedy - 20/27 -


The thighs and legs into such members chang'd, As never eye hath seen. Of former shape All trace was vanish'd. Two yet neither seem'd That image miscreate, and so pass'd on With tardy steps. As underneath the scourge Of the fierce dog-star, that lays bare the fields, Shifting from brake to brake, the lizard seems A flash of lightning, if he thwart the road, So toward th' entrails of the other two Approaching seem'd, an adder all on fire, As the dark pepper-grain, livid and swart. In that part, whence our life is nourish'd first, One he transpierc'd; then down before him fell Stretch'd out. The pierced spirit look'd on him But spake not; yea stood motionless and yawn'd, As if by sleep or fev'rous fit assail'd. He ey'd the serpent, and the serpent him. One from the wound, the other from the mouth Breath'd a thick smoke, whose vap'ry columns join'd.

Lucan in mute attention now may hear, Nor thy disastrous fate, Sabellus! tell, Nor shine, Nasidius! Ovid now be mute. What if in warbling fiction he record Cadmus and Arethusa, to a snake Him chang'd, and her into a fountain clear, I envy not; for never face to face Two natures thus transmuted did he sing, Wherein both shapes were ready to assume The other's substance. They in mutual guise So answer'd, that the serpent split his train Divided to a fork, and the pierc'd spirit Drew close his steps together, legs and thighs Compacted, that no sign of juncture soon Was visible: the tail disparted took The figure which the spirit lost, its skin Soft'ning, his indurated to a rind. The shoulders next I mark'd, that ent'ring join'd The monster's arm-pits, whose two shorter feet So lengthen'd, as the other's dwindling shrunk. The feet behind then twisting up became That part that man conceals, which in the wretch Was cleft in twain. While both the shadowy smoke With a new colour veils, and generates Th' excrescent pile on one, peeling it off From th' other body, lo! upon his feet One upright rose, and prone the other fell. Not yet their glaring and malignant lamps Were shifted, though each feature chang'd beneath. Of him who stood erect, the mounting face Retreated towards the temples, and what there Superfluous matter came, shot out in ears From the smooth cheeks, the rest, not backward dragg'd, Of its excess did shape the nose; and swell'd Into due size protuberant the lips. He, on the earth who lay, meanwhile extends His sharpen'd visage, and draws down the ears Into the head, as doth the slug his horns. His tongue continuous before and apt For utt'rance, severs; and the other's fork Closing unites. That done the smoke was laid. The soul, transform'd into the brute, glides off, Hissing along the vale, and after him The other talking sputters; but soon turn'd His new-grown shoulders on him, and in few Thus to another spake: "Along this path Crawling, as I have done, speed Buoso now!"

So saw I fluctuate in successive change Th' unsteady ballast of the seventh hold: And here if aught my tongue have swerv'd, events So strange may be its warrant. O'er mine eyes Confusion hung, and on my thoughts amaze.

Yet 'scap'd they not so covertly, but well I mark'd Sciancato: he alone it was Of the three first that came, who chang'd not: thou, The other's fate, Gaville, still dost rue.

CANTO XXVI

FLORENCE exult! for thou so mightily Hast thriven, that o'er land and sea thy wings Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell! Among the plund'rers such the three I found Thy citizens, whence shame to me thy son, And no proud honour to thyself redounds.

But if our minds, when dreaming near the dawn, Are of the truth presageful, thou ere long Shalt feel what Prato, (not to say the rest) Would fain might come upon thee; and that chance Were in good time, if it befell thee now. Would so it were, since it must needs befall! For as time wears me, I shall grieve the more.

We from the depth departed; and my guide Remounting scal'd the flinty steps, which late We downward trac'd, and drew me up the steep. Pursuing thus our solitary way Among the crags and splinters of the rock, Sped not our feet without the help of hands.

Then sorrow seiz'd me, which e'en now revives, As my thought turns again to what I saw, And, more than I am wont, I rein and curb The powers of nature in me, lest they run Where Virtue guides not; that if aught of good My gentle star, or something better gave me, I envy not myself the precious boon.

As in that season, when the sun least veils His face that lightens all, what time the fly Gives way to the shrill gnat, the peasant then Upon some cliff reclin'd, beneath him sees Fire-flies innumerous spangling o'er the vale, Vineyard or tilth, where his day-labour lies: With flames so numberless throughout its space Shone the eighth chasm, apparent, when the depth Was to my view expos'd. As he, whose wrongs The bears aveng'd, at its departure saw Elijah's chariot, when the steeds erect Rais'd their steep flight for heav'n; his eyes meanwhile, Straining pursu'd them, till the flame alone Upsoaring like a misty speck he kenn'd; E'en thus along the gulf moves every flame, A sinner so enfolded close in each, That none exhibits token of the theft.

Upon the bridge I forward bent to look, And grasp'd a flinty mass, or else had fall'n, Though push'd not from the height. The guide, who mark'd How I did gaze attentive, thus began:

"Within these ardours are the spirits, each Swath'd in confining fire."--"Master, thy word," I answer'd, "hath assur'd me; yet I deem'd Already of the truth, already wish'd To ask thee, who is in yon fire, that comes So parted at the summit, as it seem'd Ascending from that funeral pile, where lay The Theban brothers?" He replied: "Within Ulysses there and Diomede endure Their penal tortures, thus to vengeance now Together hasting, as erewhile to wrath. These in the flame with ceaseless groans deplore The ambush of the horse, that open'd wide A portal for that goodly seed to pass, Which sow'd imperial Rome; nor less the guile Lament they, whence of her Achilles 'reft Deidamia yet in death complains. And there is rued the stratagem, that Troy Of her Palladium spoil'd."--"If they have power Of utt'rance from within these sparks," said I, "O master! think my prayer a thousand fold In repetition urg'd, that thou vouchsafe To pause, till here the horned flame arrive. See, how toward it with desire I bend."

He thus: "Thy prayer is worthy of much praise, And I accept it therefore: but do thou Thy tongue refrain: to question them be mine, For I divine thy wish: and they perchance, For they were Greeks, might shun discourse with thee."

When there the flame had come, where time and place Seem'd fitting to my guide, he thus began: "O ye, who dwell two spirits in one fire! If living I of you did merit aught, Whate'er the measure were of that desert, When in the world my lofty strain I pour'd, Move ye not on, till one of you unfold In what clime death o'ertook him self-destroy'd."

Of the old flame forthwith the greater horn Began to roll, murmuring, as a fire That labours with the wind, then to and fro Wagging the top, as a tongue uttering sounds, Threw out its voice, and spake: "When I escap'd From Circe, who beyond a circling year Had held me near Caieta, by her charms, Ere thus Aeneas yet had nam'd the shore, Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence Of my old father, nor return of love, That should have crown'd Penelope with joy, Could overcome in me the zeal I had T' explore the world, and search the ways of life, Man's evil and his virtue. Forth I sail'd Into the deep illimitable main, With but one bark, and the small faithful band That yet cleav'd to me. As Iberia far, Far as Morocco either shore I saw, And the Sardinian and each isle beside Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age Were I and my companions, when we came To the strait pass, where Hercules ordain'd The bound'ries not to be o'erstepp'd by man.


Divine Comedy - 20/27

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