Purgatorio -- Canto V

The Late Repentant, Buonconte

















24 The Miserere, Psalm 50 (51), is a hymn appealing for mercy and forgiveness.








37 Falling stars and heat lightning were thought to result from fiery vapors.

















64 The speaker is Jacopo del Cassero from the town of Fano between Romagna and the kingdom of Naples. He angered Azzo VIII of Este who had him ambushed near Oriaco; he fled and was killed among the Paduans, supposedly descendants of the Trojan traitor Antenor.







79 La Mira and Oriaco are small towns near Padua.





88 Buonconte, son of Guido da Montefeltro and captain of the Ghibellines of Arezzo, was slain in the battle of Campaldino in 1289. See Inferno XXVII for his father’s fate.



94 The Casentino is a valley in Tuscany formed by the river Arno, with the monastery of Camaldoli to the upper east end and Mount Pratomagno to the southwest (l. 226)






















133 Pia de’ Tolomei of Siena was murdered by her husband, a Guelph lord of the castle of Pietra in the Maremma.

          I had by now parted from these shadows
          And was following in the footsteps of my guide
          When one behind me pointing his finger
          Cried, "See, the light does not appear to shine
5         Upon the left side of the lower climber,
          And he seems to act as if he were alive!"
          At the sound of these words I turned my eyes,
          And I saw those shades stare at me in wonder,
          Only at me and at the broken light.
10       "Why is your mind in such entanglement
          You slacken off your walk?" my master asked,
          "Why do you care what they may whisper here?
          "Come after me and let the people chatter.
          Stand steadfast as a tower whose great height
15       Never shakes when struck by gusts of wind:
          "For people always who let thought spring up
          On thought fall ever farther from their goal,
          Since one thought saps the strength out of another."
          What else could I respond except "I come"?
20       I said it, my face coloring a little,
          As sometimes makes a man deserve forgiveness.
          And meantime all across the mountainside
          Came people slightly ahead of us, singing
          The Miserere, verse answering to verse.
25       When they had noticed that the rays of light
          Did not pass through my body, they soon changed
          Their chant into a hoarse and drawn-out "Oh!"
          And two of them, in roles of messengers,
          Raced up toward us to tender this request:
30       "We’d like to know about your present state."
          And my master replied, "You can return
          And report back to those who sent you here
          That this man’s body is in fact his flesh.
          "If they halted at the sight of his shadow,
35       As I suppose, that answer is enough:
          Let them honor him that they may benefit."
          I never saw meteors cut so swiftly
          Through the limpid sky at early nighttime
          Or lightning flash through August clouds at sunset
40       As swiftly as these shades turned back uphill
          And once there with the others veered around
          Toward us like cavalry charging with free rein.
          "These people pressing on us now are numerous,
          And they approach with prayer," the poet said,
45       "Be on your way, and listen as you walk!"
          "O soul, who move ahead to be made blessed
          In the same limbs you had when you were born,"
          They came crying, "a short while stay your steps!
          "Look if you ever have seen one of us
50       That you may carry news of him back there.
          Ah, why press on? Ah, why not stop right here?
          "All of us shades met with a violent death
          And remained sinners up to our last hour.
          The light of heaven then had so forewarned us
55       "That we, by true repenting and forgiving,
          Came out of our life, our peace made with the God
          Who fills our hearts with longing to see him."
          And I said, "Even though I search your faces,
          I recognize none of you, but if I now
60       In any way can please you, bliss-born souls,
          "Tell me and I will do it, by that peace
          Which I, in the steps of so good a guide,
          Am here made to pursue from world to world."
          And one began, "Each one of us has trust
65       In your benefices without your oaths,
          As long as no self-weakness thwarts your will.
          "So I, who speak alone before the rest,
          Pray you, if ever you look on that country
          Which lies between Romagna and Charles’ land,
70       "That you be gracious to me with your prayers
          In Fano, where devotions be made for me
          So that I here can purge my serious sins.
          "I came from there, but then the deep-gashed wounds
          From which flowed out the blood that gave me life
75       Were dealt me at the lap of the Antenors,
          "In the place where I thought I was most safe:
          Azzo of Este had it done, in anger
          Against me far beyond what justice called for.
          "If I had fled instead toward La Mira
80       When I was ambushed at Oriaco,
          I should still be there where men breathe the air.
          "I ran into the marsh, and reeds and mud
          So tangled me up I fell, and there I watched
          A pool from my veins spill into the soil."
85       Then said another, "Ah, so may that longing
          That draws you up the mountain be fulfilled,
          From kind compassion lend aid to my longing.
          "I am Buonconte once of Montefeltro.
          Giovanna and the others care not for me,
90       So I trudge with these souls, my brow bowed low."
          And I then asked him, "What force or what chance
          Led you so far astray from Campaldino
          That your gravesite, till now, remains unknown?"
          "Oh!" he replied, "below the Casentino,
95       A stream, called the Archiano, crosses
          From above the hermitage in the Apennines.
          "There, where its name then changes to the Arno,
          I came with my throat cut wide open, fleeing
          On foot and dripping blood upon the valley.
100      "There I lost my sight and then my speech:
          I ended with the name of Mary, and there
          I fell, and my flesh lay there all alone.
          "I’ll tell the truth — retell it to the living.
          God’s angel took me up and hell’s cried out,
105     ‘O you from heaven, why must you steal from me?
          " ‘His immortal part you haul off with you
          For one tiny tear which tears him from me,
          But I’ve made other plans for what remains!’
         "You know how in the atmosphere damp vapor
110      Condenses and turns once more into water
          As soon as it floats up to where cold strikes it:
          "Bad will that only plots bad deeds he added
          To intellect, and stirred the mist and wind
          By the power which his fiendish nature gave him.
115      "Then, when day was spent, he filled the valley
          From Pratomagno to the mountain range
          With clouds, and he so charged the sky aloft
          "That the overburdened air changed into water:
          The rains fell, and into the gullies flushed
120      Whatever the ground refused to sop back up,
          "And gathering together in huge torrents,
          They rushed head-onward toward the royal river
          So rapidly that nothing blocked their course.
          "The raging Archiano found my body
125      Frozen near its mouth and swept it on
          Into the Arno and unclenched the cross
          "Which on my breast I’d formed when pain felled me.
          Along its bed and on its bank it rolled me
          And then swaddled and wound me in its spoils."
130      "Pray, when you are come back into the world
          And are well rested from your lengthy journey,"
          A third spirit followed up the second,
          "Remember me, I who am La Pia.
          Siena made — Maremma unmade me —
135      As he knows well who plighted me his troth
          "And sealed the contract with his jeweled ring."
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