Let thy heels spurn the earth, and thy rais’d ken
Fix on the lure, which heav’n’s eternal King
Whirls in the rolling spheres.” As on his feet
The falcon first looks down, then to the sky
Turns, and forth stretches eager for the food,
That woos him thither; so the call I heard,
So onward, far as the dividing rock
Gave way, I journey’d, till the plain was reach’d.
On the fifth circle when I stood at large,
A race appear’d before me, on the ground
All downward lying prone and weeping sore.
“My soul hath cleaved to the dust,” I heard
With sighs so deep, they well nigh choak’d the words.
“O ye elect of God, whose penal woes
Both hope and justice mitigate, direct
Tow’rds the steep rising our uncertain way.”
“If ye approach secure from this our doom,
Prostration—and would urge your course with speed,
See that ye still to rightward keep the brink.”
So them the bard besought; and such the words,
Beyond us some short space, in answer came.
I noted what remain’d yet hidden from them:
Thence to my liege’s eyes mine eyes I bent,
And he, forthwith interpreting their suit,
Beckon’d his glad assent. Free then to act,
As pleas’d me, I drew near, and took my stand
O`er that shade, whose words I late had mark’d.
And, “Spirit!” I said, “in whom repentant tears
Mature that blessed hour, when thou with God
Shalt find acceptance, for a while suspend
For me that mightier care. Say who thou wast,
Why thus ye grovel on your bellies prone,
And if in aught ye wish my service there,
Whence living I am come.” He answering spake
“The cause why Heav’n our back toward his cope
Reverses, shalt thou know: but me know first
The successor of Peter, and the name
And title of my lineage from that stream,
That’ twixt Chiaveri and Siestri draws
His limpid waters through the lowly glen.
A month and little more by proof I learnt,
With what a weight that robe of sov’reignty
Upon his shoulder rests, who from the mire
Would guard it: that each other fardel seems
But feathers in the balance. Late, alas!
Was my conversion: but when I became
Rome’s pastor, I discern’d at once the dream
And cozenage of life, saw that the heart
Rested not there, and yet no prouder height
Lur’d on the climber: wherefore, of that life
No more enamour’d, in my bosom love
Of purer being kindled. For till then
I was a soul in misery, alienate
From God, and covetous of all earthly things;
Now, as thou seest, here punish’d for my doting.
Such cleansing from the taint of avarice
Do spirits converted need. This mount inflicts
No direr penalty. E’en as our eyes
Fasten’d below, nor e’er to loftier clime
Were lifted, thus hath justice level’d us
Here on the earth. As avarice quench’d our love
Of good, without which is no working, thus
Here justice holds us prison’d, hand and foot
Chain’d down and bound, while heaven’s just Lord shall please.
So long to tarry motionless outstretch’d.”