Canto XX


Ill strives the will against a better will;

  Therefore, to pleasure him, against my pleasure

  I drew the sponge not saturate from the water.


Onward I moved, and onward moved my Leader,

5  Through vacant places, skirting still the rock,

  As on a wall close to the battlements;


For they that through their eyes pour drop by drop

  The malady which all the world pervades,

  On the other side too near the verge approach.


10Accursed mayst thou be, thou old she-wolf,

  That more than all the other beasts hast prey,

  Because of hunger infinitely hollow!


O heaven, in whose gyrations some appear

  To think conditions here below are changed,

15  When will he come through whom she shall depart?


Onward we went with footsteps slow and scarce,

  And I attentive to the shades I heard

  Piteously weeping and bemoaning them;


And I by peradventure heard "Sweet Mary!"

20  Uttered in front of us amid the weeping

  Even as a woman does who is in child-birth;


And in continuance: "How poor thou wast

  Is manifested by that hostelry

  Where thou didst lay thy sacred burden down."


25Thereafterward I heard: "O good Fabricius,

  Virtue with poverty didst thou prefer

  To the possession of great wealth with vice."


So pleasurable were these words to me

  That I drew farther onward to have knowledge

30  Touching that spirit whence they seemed to come.


He furthermore was speaking of the largess

  Which Nicholas unto the maidens gave,

  In order to conduct their youth to honour.


"O soul that dost so excellently speak,

35  Tell me who wast thou," said I, "and why only

  Thou dost renew these praises well deserved?


Not without recompense shall be thy word,

  If I return to finish the short journey

  Of that life which is flying to its end."


40And he: "I'll tell thee, not for any comfort

  I may expect from earth, but that so much

  Grace shines in thee or ever thou art dead.


I was the root of that malignant plant

  Which overshadows all the Christian world,

45  So that good fruit is seldom gathered from it;


But if Douay and Ghent, and Lille and Bruges

  Had Power, soon vengeance would be taken on it;

  And this I pray of Him who judges all.


Hugh Capet was I called upon the earth;

50  From me were born the Louises and Philips,

  By whom in later days has France been governed.


I was the son of a Parisian butcher,

  What time the ancient kings had perished all,

  Excepting one, contrite in cloth of gray.


55I found me grasping in my hands the rein

  Of the realm's government, and so great power

  Of new acquest, and so with friends abounding,


That to the widowed diadem promoted

  The head of mine own offspring was, from whom

60  The consecrated bones of these began.


So long as the great dowry of Provence

  Out of my blood took not the sense of shame,

  'Twas little worth, but still it did no harm.


Then it began with falsehood and with force

65  Its rapine; and thereafter, for amends,

  Took Ponthieu, Normandy, and Gascony.


Charles came to Italy, and for amends

  A victim made of Conradin, and then

  Thrust Thomas back to heaven, for amends.


70A time I see, not very distant now,

  Which draweth forth another Charles from France,

  The better to make known both him and his.


Unarmed he goes, and only with the lance

  That Judas jousted with; and that he thrusts

75  So that he makes the paunch of Florence burst.


He thence not land, but sin and infamy,

  Shall gain, so much more grievous to himself

  As the more light such damage he accounts.


The other, now gone forth, ta'en in his ship,

80  See I his daughter sell, and chaffer for her

  As corsairs do with other female slaves.


What more, O Avarice, canst thou do to us,

  Since thou my blood so to thyself hast drawn,

  It careth not for its own proper flesh?


85That less may seem the future ill and past,

  I see the flower-de-luce Alagna enter,

  And Christ in his own Vicar captive made.


I see him yet another time derided;

  I see renewed the vinegar and gall,

90  And between living thieves I see him slain.


I see the modern Pilate so relentless,

  This does not sate him, but without decretal

  He to the temple bears his sordid sails!


When, O my Lord! shall I be joyful made

95  By looking on the vengeance which, concealed,

  Makes sweet thine anger in thy secrecy?


What I was saying of that only bride

  Of the Holy Ghost, and which occasioned thee

  To turn towards me for some commentary,


100So long has been ordained to all our prayers

  As the day lasts; but when the night comes on,

  Contrary sound we take instead thereof.


At that time we repeat Pygmalion,

  Of whom a traitor, thief, and parricide

105  Made his insatiable desire of gold;


And the misery of avaricious Midas,

  That followed his inordinate demand,

  At which forevermore one needs but laugh.


The foolish Achan each one then records,

110  And how he stole the spoils; so that the wrath

  Of Joshua still appears to sting him here.


Then we accuse Sapphira with her husband,

  We laud the hoof-beats Heliodorus had,

  And the whole mount in infamy encircles


115Polymnestor who murdered Polydorus.

  Here finally is cried: 'O Crassus, tell us,

  For thou dost know, what is the taste of gold?'


Sometimes we speak, one loud, another low,

  According to desire of speech, that spurs us

120  To greater now and now to lesser pace.


But in the good that here by day is talked of,

  Erewhile alone I was not; yet near by

  No other person lifted up his voice."


From him already we departed were,

125  And made endeavour to o'ercome the road

  As much as was permitted to our power,


When I perceived, like something that is falling,

  The mountain tremble, whence a chill seized on me,

  As seizes him who to his death is going.


130Certes so violently shook not Delos,

  Before Latona made her nest therein

  To give birth to the two eyes of the heaven.


Then upon all sides there began a cry,

  Such that the Master drew himself towards me,

135  Saying, "Fear not, while I am guiding thee."


"Gloria in excelsis Deo," all

  Were saying, from what near I comprehended,

  Where it was possible to hear the cry.


We paused immovable and in suspense,

140  Even as the shepherds who first heard that song,

  Until the trembling ceased, and it was finished.


Then we resumed again our holy path,

  Watching the shades that lay upon the ground,

  Already turned to their accustomed plaint.


145No ignorance ever with so great a strife

  Had rendered me importunate to know,

  If erreth not in this my memory,


As meditating then I seemed to have;

  Nor out of haste to question did I dare,

150  Nor of myself I there could aught perceive;


So I went onward timorous and thoughtful.