Canto XII


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,

5  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.


10I 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,

15  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,

20  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.


25I 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,

30  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,

35  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!


40O 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

45  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

50  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;


55Displayed 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,

60  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,

65  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.


70Now 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,

75  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

80  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."


85I 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

90  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!

95  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.


100As 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

105  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,

110  "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.


115We 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

120  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,

125  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,


130Wherefore 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

135  Upon my temples he who bore the keys;


Upon beholding which my Leader smiled.