Canto IX

 

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,

5  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;

 

10When 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,

15  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

20  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.

 

25I 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,

30  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,

35  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,

 

40Than 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,

45  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;

50  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,

 

55There 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,

60  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,

65  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.

 

70Reader, 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

75  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,

80  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.

 

85"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

90  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

95  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.

 

100The 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,

105  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,

110  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.

 

115Ashes, 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,

120  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

125  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."

 

130Then 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,

135  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,

140  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;

 

145For now we hear, and now hear not, the words.