I do not think there walks on earth this day
Man so remorseless, that he hath not yearn’d
With pity at the sight that next I saw.
Mine eyes a load of sorrow teemed, when now
I stood so near them, that their semblances
Came clearly to my view. Of sackcloth vile
Their cov’ring seem’d; and on his shoulder one
Did stay another, leaning, and all lean’d
Against the cliff. E’en thus the blind and poor,
Near the confessionals, to crave an alms,
Stand, each his head upon his fellow’s sunk,
So most to stir compassion, not by sound
Of words alone, but that, which moves not less,
The sight of mis’ry. And as never beam
Of noonday visiteth the eyeless man,
E’en so was heav’n a niggard unto these
Of his fair light; for, through the orbs of all,
A thread of wire, impiercing, knits them up,
As for the taming of a haggard hawk.
It were a wrong, methought, to pass and look
On others, yet myself the while unseen.
To my sage counsel therefore did I turn.
He knew the meaning of the mute appeal,
Nor waited for my questioning, but said:
“Speak; and be brief, be subtle in thy words.”
On that part of the cornice, whence no rim
Engarlands its steep fall, did Virgil come;
On the’ other side me were the spirits, their cheeks
Bathing devout with penitential tears,
That through the dread impalement forc’d a way.
I turn’d me to them, and “O shades!” said I,
“Assur’d that to your eyes unveil’d
The lofty light, sole object of your wish,
So may heaven’s grace clear whatsoe’er of foam
Floats turbid on the conscience, that thenceforth
The stream of mind roll limpid from its source,
As ye declare (for so shall ye impart
A boon I dearly prize) if any soul
Of Latium dwell among ye; and perchance
That soul may profit, if I learn so much.”
“My brother, we are each one citizens
Of one true city. Any thou wouldst say,
Who lived a stranger in Italia’s land.”
So heard I answering, as appeal’d, a voice
That onward came some space from whence I stood.
A spirit I noted, in whose look was mark’d
Expectance. Ask ye how? The chin was rais’d
As in one reft of sight. “Spirit,” said I,
“Who for thy rise are tutoring (if thou be
That which didst answer to me,) or by place
Or name, disclose thyself, that I may know thee.”
“I was,” it answer’d, “of
I cleanse away with these the evil life,
Soliciting with tears that He, who is,
Vouchsafe him to us. Though Sapia nam’d
In sapience I excell’d not, gladder far
Of others’ hurt, than of the good befell me.
That thou mayst own I now deceive thee not,
Hear, if my folly were not as I speak it.
When now my years slop’d waning down the arch,
It so bechanc’d, my fellow citizens
Near Colle met their enemies in the field,