My knees I stoop’d, and would have spoke; but
Ere my beginning, by his ear perceiv’d
I did him reverence; and “What cause,” said he,
“Hath bow’d thee thus!”—“Compunction,” I rejoin’d.
“And inward awe of your high dignity.”
“Up,” he exclaim’d, “brother!
upon thy feet
Arise: err not: thy fellow servant I,
(Thine and all others’) of one Sovran Power.
If thou hast ever mark’d those holy sounds
Of gospel truth, ‘nor shall be given ill marriage,’
Thou mayst discern the reasons of my speech.
Go thy ways now; and linger here no more.
Thy tarrying is a let unto the tears,
With which I hasten that whereof thou spak’st.
I have on earth a kinswoman; her name
Alagia, worthy in herself, so ill
Example of our house corrupt her not:
And she is all remaineth of me there.”
Ill strives the will, ’gainst will more wise
His pleasure therefore to mine own preferr’d,
I drew the sponge yet thirsty from the wave.
Onward I mov’d: he also onward mov’d,
Who led me, coasting still, wherever place
Along the rock was vacant, as a man
Walks near the battlements on narrow wall.
For those on th’ other part, who drop by drop
Wring out their all-infecting malady,
Too closely press the verge. Accurst be thou!
Inveterate wolf! whose gorge ingluts more prey,
Than every beast beside, yet is not fill’d!
So bottomless thy maw!—Ye spheres of heaven!
To whom there are, as seems, who attribute
All change in mortal state, when is the day
Of his appearing, for whom fate reserves
To chase her hence?—With wary steps and slow
We pass’d; and I attentive to the shades,
Whom piteously I heard lament and wail;
And, ’midst the wailing, one before us heard
Cry out “O blessed Virgin!” as a dame
In the sharp pangs of childbed; and “How poor
Thou wast,” it added, “witness that low roof
Where thou didst lay thy sacred burden down.
O good Fabricius! thou didst virtue choose
With poverty, before great wealth with vice.”
The words so pleas’d me, that desire to know
The spirit, from whose lip they seem’d to come,
Did draw me onward. Yet it spake the gift
Of Nicholas, which on the maidens he
Bounteous bestow’d, to save their youthful prime
Unblemish’d. “Spirit! who dost speak of deeds
So worthy, tell me who thou was,” I said,
“And why thou dost with single voice renew
Memorial of such praise. That boon vouchsaf’d
Haply shall meet reward; if I return
To finish the Short pilgrimage of life,
Still speeding to its close on restless wing.”