Purgatorio -- Canto XXXI

Dantes Repentance















































68 Beatrice’s use of the word "beard" sarcastically reminds the poet that he is no longer a child (see l. 74).












89 Dante faints for a third time in the poem. In Inferno III and V, he was overwhelmed by pathos for others' sins; now he succumbs to his own guilt.

92 Matilda (still unnamed) is the woman Dante first saw alone. Here she walks upon the waters while plunging the pilgrim into Lethe and towing him to the other bank.


98 Asperges me ("Wash away my sin") is sung at Mass while the priest sprinkles holy water on the congregation.



104 The four dancing ladies are again the cardinal virtues, while the other three (l. 110) are the theological virtues. The reference to "stars" alludes to the stars Dante saw when he emerged from hell (Canto I, l. 23), and later that evening (Canto VIII, l. 91).








121 The eyes of Beatrice reflect the double nature of the griffin. This is the first of Dante’s visions of the God-Man which lead to the climax of the whole poem and journey.



128 Dante here echoes Ecclesiasticus 24:21: "They that eat me shall yet be hungry, and they that drink me shall yet be thirsty."

          "O you on that side of the sacred stream,"
          She began, turning on me her speech’s point —
          Even its edge had seemed too sharp for me —
          And then went right ahead without a respite,
5         "Tell, tell if this is true! To such a charge
          You are obliged to add your own confession."
          My power of speech was thrown into such confusion
          That my voice stirred and yet was cut off short
          Before my throat and mouth could set it free.
10       She barely paused, then said, "What are you thinking?
          Answer me! The water of the river
          Has not yet dimmed your mournful memories."
          Confusion, mixed together with dismay,
          Forced from my mouth a Yes, so muted that
15       Eyes would have had to read it on my lips.
          Just as a crossbow, shot with too much tension,
          Snaps both its bow and bowstring, and the arrow
          Strikes at the target with a feeble force,
          So I broke then beneath that heavy burden,
20       Pouring out a stream of tears and sighs,
          And my voice slackened along its passageway.
          At this she said, "In your desire for me
          Which always led you on to love the Good
          Beyond which there is nothing one can long for,
25       "What pitfalls did you find placed in your path,
          What chains, that you had so to strip yourself
          Of any hope of journeying ahead?
          "And what allurements or advancements were
          So obvious upon the brow of others
30       That you felt bound to dally at their doorsills?"
          After having heaved a bitter sigh,
          I hardly had a voice to give an answer,
          And my lips shaped the words with difficulty.
          Weeping I said, "Things of the present moment,
35       With their false pleasures, turned my steps aside,
          As soon as your face was hidden from my sight."
          And she: "Had you kept silent or denied
          What you confess, your guilt would not be less
          Noted down: It is known by such a Judge!
40       "But when the accusation of the sin
          Bursts from one’s own cheeks, within the court
          The grindstone turns against the cutting edge.
          "Still, that you may now bear the rightful shame
          For your error, and that, another time,
45       Hearing the Sirens’ song, you may be stronger,
          "Dismiss what you have sown in tears, and listen:
          So shall you hear how in a different way
          My buried flesh should have conducted you.
          "Never in art or nature were you shown
50       Beauty quite like the lovely limbs in which
          I was enclosed and which now lie strewn in dust.
          "And if the highest beauty failed you so
          Through my death, what merely mortal thing
          Should then have drawn you to desire it?
55       "At the first arrow shot from such deceits,
          Surely you should have flown up higher still,
          Following me, no longer in the flesh.
          "You ought not to have let some youthful girl
          Or other novelty of brief delight
60       Weigh your wings down to face a further shot.
          "The fledgling will wait for two or three shots,
          But any net is spread or arrow fired
          Idly before the eyes of the full-grown bird."
          As children, when ashamed, stand dumbfounded
65       With eyes cast on the ground and listening,
          Admitting to their fault and fully sorry,
          So stood I. And she said, "Since you are grieved
          Simply on hearing this, lift up your beard
          And you will feel more grief from what you see."
70       With less resistance is the sturdy oak
          Uprooted by the blasts out of our homeland
          Or by the winds that blow from Libya
          Than I, at her command, raised up my chin;
          And when, by saying "beard," she meant my face,
75       I truly learned the venom in her speaking.
          And while my face was lifted up full-length,
          My eyes made out those first-created beings
          Resting from their sowing of the flowers.
          Light of my eyes, still partly clouded over,
80       Saw Beatrice then turned toward the animal
          That is a single person with two natures.
          Beneath her veil, and from beyond the stream,
          She seemed more to outshine her former self
          Than she outshone all others while she lived.
85       The nettle of remorse so stung me there
          That what, among all other things, had most
          Turned me to its love now became most hateful.
          Such guilty recognition gnawed my heart
          That I fell, overcome. What I became then
90       She who was the cause of it best knows.
          Then, when my heart restored my outer sense,
          I saw above me the woman I had found
          Alone; she cried, "Hold tight to me! Hold tight!"
          She plunged me in the stream up to my neck
95       And, pulling me behind her, passed along,
          Lighter than a shuttle, on the water.
          When I had nearly reached the sacred shore,
          I heard "Asperges me" so sweetly sung
          That I cannot recall, much less describe it.
100     The lovely woman opened her arms wide;
          She clasped me by the head and dipped me under,
          So deep that I was forced to swallow water.
          She drew me out then and she led me bathed
          Into the dance of the four shining beauties,
105     And each one linked her arm above my head.
          "Here we are nymphs — in heaven we are stars:
          Before Beatrice was born into the world,
          We were ordained to serve as her handmaidens.
          "We’ll lead you to her eyes, but for the joyous
110      Light that is within, the three beyond,
          Who look more deeply, will sharpen your own eyes."
          So singing, they began; and then, together,
          They led me with them to the griffin’s breast
          Where Beatrice stood in front and faced toward us.
115     "See that you do not spare your gaze," they said,
          "For we have placed you here before the emeralds
          From which Love once propelled his shafts at you."
          A thousand yearnings seething more than flames
          Held my eyes fastened to the radiant eyes
120     That remained ever rooted on the griffin.
          Exactly like the sunlight in a mirror,
          The twofold animal gleamed in her eyes,
          Now beaming with one nature, now the other.
          Reader, reflect if I was struck with wonder
125     When I observed the object in itself
          Stand still while its reflecting image moved.
          While my soul, full of gladness and amazement,
          Was tasting that food which, while satisfying
          Of itself, still causes one to crave it,
130     The other three, revealing by their bearing
          That they were of a higher rank, came forward
          Dancing to their angelic roundelay.
          "Turn, Beatrice, turn your holy eyes to him"
          (This was their song) "who now is faithful to you
135     And who has come so many steps to see you!
          "For grace do us the grace here to unveil
          Your lips to him that he may there discern
          The second beauty which you hide from him."
          O splendor of the endless living light,
140     Who ever grew so pale beneath the shade
          Of Parnassus, or drank its well so deeply,
          That he’d not seem to have his mind obstructed,
          Trying to render you as you appeared
          Where harmony in heaven was your shadow
145     When in the open air you raised your veil?
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