Purgatorio -- Canto II

Souls' Arrival, Casella



1 Since Jerusalem and Purgatory are at opposite points of the globe, it is sunset there and sunrise here, in Aries there and in Libra or the Scales here. Ganges (l. 5) is the eastern limit of the world; it is midnight there. In spring the sun is in Aries or the Ram and the night is in Libra; at the autumnal equinox, the Scales fall as night grows longer than day, and the sun is in Libra (l. 6). As Dante rightly realized, the hours and seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere.























46 Dante here quotes Psalm 113 (114) in Latin (In exitu Isräel de Aegypto).






57 The constellation of Capricorn or the Goat is driven out of the night-sky by the rising sun.






















91 Casella, a musician and singer, set some of Dante’s poems to music (l. 112). Nothing else is known of him.





101 The Tiber here alludes to the Roman Church whose pope, Boniface VIII, had declared 1300 a Jubilee year with special indulgences.






112 Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona is the first line of the third song Dante wrote for his Convivio.

          The sun by now sank down to the horizon
          And the highest point of the meridian
          Circle arched above Jerusalem,
          And night, circling on the opposite side,
5         Rose out of the Ganges with the Scales
          Which topple from her hand when she grows longer,
          So, where I was, Aurora’s rose-white cheeks
          For all her beauty were turning golden-orange,
          As if they changed with ever increasing age.
10       We were there yet, alongside the sea’s margin,
          Like people who reflect about their route,
          Moving in mind and standing still in body.
          And look! just as Mars in the early dawn
          Burns with a deep red glow through heavy mists
15       Low in the west above the ocean’s surface,
          So appeared to me (may I see it again!)
          A light coming across the sea so fast
          Nothing in flight could match its rapid motion.
          When for a moment I’d withdrawn my eyes
20       From the light to ask my guide a question,
          Again I saw it grow in size and brightness.
          Then there appeared to me on each of its sides
          A whitish blur, and then from underneath it
          Little by little another blur shone outward.
25       My master meanwhile did not speak a word
          Until the first white colors showed as wings:
          Then he clearly recognized the helmsman.
          He cried to me, "Kneel down — fall on your knees!
          Look, the angel of God! Fold your hands —
30       From now on you shall see such ministers.
          "See how he scorns the instruments of man:
          He needs no oars nor any other sail
          Than his own wings between such distant shores.
          "See how he points them straight up toward heaven,
35       Wafting the air with his immortal plumage
          Which, unlike mortal feathers, never molts."
          Nearer and nearer came the bird of heaven:
          The closer to us the brighter he appeared
          Until my eyes could not endure his nearness,
40       And I lowered them. He then came ashore
          In a swift sailing ship so trim and light
          That it did not draw water while afloat.
          At the stern stood the celestial steersman
          With blessedness written all over him,
45       And in his boat sat more than a hundred souls.
          "From exile Israel came out of Egypt"
          They all intoned together with one voice
          Right through the psalm as it had been composed.
          Then over them he made a sign of the cross:
50       With that they all cast themselves on the shore,
          And he sped off as swiftly as he came.
          The crowd left there appeared to be bewildered
          By the location, gazing round about
          Like men come out to see some strange event.
55       Shooting rays of daylight to all sides,
          The sun already with his well-aimed arrows
          Had chased off Capricorn from the mid-heaven,
          When the new people raised their faces upward
          Toward us in petition: "If you should know,
60       Show us the way that leads on up the mountain."
          And Virgil answered, "You believe perhaps
          That we two are familiar with this place,
          But we are pilgrims here the same as you are.
          "We came just now, a short while before you did,
65       By another road which was so steep and rugged
          That bounding up will now appear like play."
          The souls who had perceived from my breathing
          That I indeed was still a living person
          Turned as pale as death in their amazement.
70       And just as people, to hear the news, will mob
          A messenger who bears an olive branch,
          And no one shies away from trampling others,
          So did that whole group of good-fortuned souls
          Fasten their eyes upon my face, as though
75       Forgetting to go on to their own beauty.
          I observed one of them now drawing forward
          With such deep-felt love to embrace me that
          He moved me to reach out to him in turn.
          O shadows empty but in outward look!
80       Three times I clasped my hands behind him and
          Three times I drew them back to my own breast!
          Wonder, I believe, painted my cheeks pale,
          Because at this the shade smiled and stepped back,
          And I, following him, lunged on ahead.
85       Gently he said that I should hold my place.
          Then I recognized who he was, and begged
          That he should stay a while and talk to me.
          He answered me, "Exactly as I loved you
          In my live body, free from it I love you:
90       So I shall stay — but you, why pass this way?"
          "My own Casella, to come here where I am
          On my next turn around, I make this journey,"
          I said; "but how did you lose so much time?"
          And he told me, "I am not wronged if he,
95       Who as he pleases chooses who shall go
          And when, should often have refused me passage,
          "Because a just Will shaped and guides his own.
          To tell the truth, for three months he has taken,
          In perfect peace, those wanting to come aboard.
100      "So I, the instant I turned to the strand
          Where the Tiber’s waters become salty,
          Was kindly welcomed on board by that boatman.
          "Toward the Tiber’s mouth he’s set his wings
          Since there the spirits always congregate
105     Who do not sink below to Acheron."
          And I: "If some new law does not forbid you
          To remember or perform the songs of love
          Which once made calm all of my wilful longings,
          "Please, with those strains give a little comfort
110     To my soul which, burdened by my body,
          Has grown so weary coming all this way."
          "Love conversing with me in my mind,"
          He then began to sing, so sweetly that
          The sweetness still resounds within my soul.
115      My master and I and all the people who
          Were with the singer seemed fully contented,
          Just as if nothing else could touch the mind.
          We were now all enraptured and attentive
          To his notes when, look! the upright old man
120      Cried out, "What is this, you sluggish spirits?
          "What negligence and what delay is this?
          Race to the mountain and strip off the slough
          Which won’t let God be manifest in you!"
          Just as pigeons, when gleaning wheat or tares,
125     All flocked together to peck upon their food,
          Quiet, without their usual show of pride,
          If something comes to give them a quick scare,
          Suddenly will fly off from their feeding
          Because a greater care now seizes them,
130      So did I see that newly gathered troop
          Leave the song and flee straight for the hillside
          Like men who run not knowing where they’ll end.
          Nor did we make less haste in setting out.
arrowleft_anie.gif (690 bytes)return to Purgatorio I


go to Purgatorio III arrowright_anie.gif (691 bytes)