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Purgatorio: Canto XXIII

The while among the verdant leaves mine eyes
  I riveted, as he is wont to do
  Who wastes his life pursuing little birds,
My more than Father said unto me: "Son,
  Come now; because the time that is ordained us
  More usefully should be apportioned out."
I turned my face and no less soon my steps
  Unto the Sages, who were speaking so
  They made the going of no cost to me;
And lo! were heard a song and a lament,
  "Labia mea, Domine," in fashion
  Such that delight and dolence it brought forth.
"O my sweet Father, what is this I hear?"
  Began I; and he answered: "Shades that go
  Perhaps the knot unloosing of their debt."
In the same way that thoughtful pilgrims do,
  Who, unknown people on the road o'ertaking,
  Turn themselves round to them, and do not stop,
Even thus, behind us with a swifter motion
  Coming and passing onward, gazed upon us
  A crowd of spirits silent and devout.
Each in his eyes was dark and cavernous,
  Pallid in face, and so emaciate
  That from the bones the skin did shape itself.
I do not think that so to merest rind
  Could Erisichthon have been withered up
  By famine, when most fear he had of it.
Thinking within myself I said: "Behold,
  This is the folk who lost Jerusalem,
  When Mary made a prey of her own son."
Their sockets were like rings without the gems;
  Whoever in the face of men reads 'omo'
  Might well in these have recognised the 'm.'
Who would believe the odour of an apple,
  Begetting longing, could consume them so,
  And that of water, without knowing how?
I still was wondering what so famished them,
  For the occasion not yet manifest
  Of their emaciation and sad squalor;
And lo! from out the hollow of his head
  His eyes a shade turned on me, and looked keenly;
  Then cried aloud: "What grace to me is this?"
Never should I have known him by his look;
  But in his voice was evident to me
  That which his aspect had suppressed within it.
This spark within me wholly re-enkindled
  My recognition of his altered face,
  And I recalled the features of Forese.
"Ah, do not look at this dry leprosy,"
  Entreated he, "which doth my skin discolour,
  Nor at default of flesh that I may have;
But tell me truth of thee, and who are those
  Two souls, that yonder make for thee an escort;
  Do not delay in speaking unto me."
"That face of thine, which dead I once bewept,
  Gives me for weeping now no lesser grief,"
  I answered him, "beholding it so changed!
But tell me, for God's sake, what thus denudes you?
  Make me not speak while I am marvelling,
  For ill speaks he who's full of other longings."
And he to me: "From the eternal council
  Falls power into the water and the tree
  Behind us left, whereby I grow so thin.
All of this people who lamenting sing,
  For following beyond measure appetite
  In hunger and thirst are here re-sanctified.
Desire to eat and drink enkindles in us
  The scent that issues from the apple-tree,
  And from the spray that sprinkles o'er the verdure;
And not a single time alone, this ground
  Encompassing, is refreshed our pain, – 
  I say our pain, and ought to say our solace, – 
For the same wish doth lead us to the tree
  Which led the Christ rejoicing to say 'Eli,'
  When with his veins he liberated us."
And I to him: "Forese, from that day
  When for a better life thou changedst worlds,
  Up to this time five years have not rolled round.
If sooner were the power exhausted in thee
  Of sinning more, than thee the hour surprised
  Of that good sorrow which to God reweds us,
How hast thou come up hitherward already?
  I thought to find thee down there underneath,
  Where time for time doth restitution make."
And he to me: "Thus speedily has led me
  To drink of the sweet wormwood of these torments,
  My Nella with her overflowing tears;
She with her prayers devout and with her sighs
  Has drawn me from the coast where one where one awaits,
  And from the other circles set me free.
So much more dear and pleasing is to God
  My little widow, whom so much I loved,
  As in good works she is the more alone;
For the Barbagia of Sardinia
  By far more modest in its women is
  Than the Barbagia I have left her in.
O brother sweet, what wilt thou have me say?
  A future time is in my sight already,
  To which this hour will not be very old,
When from the pulpit shall be interdicted
  To the unblushing womankind of Florence
  To go about displaying breast and paps.
What savages were e'er, what Saracens,
  Who stood in need, to make them covered go,
  Of spiritual or other discipline?
But if the shameless women were assured
  Of what swift Heaven prepares for them, already
  Wide open would they have their mouths to howl;
For if my foresight here deceive me not,
  They shall be sad ere he has bearded cheeks
  Who now is hushed to sleep with lullaby.
O brother, now no longer hide thee from me;
  See that not only I, but all these people
  Are gazing there, where thou dost veil the sun."
Whence I to him: "If thou bring back to mind
  What thou with me hast been and I with thee,
  The present memory will be grievous still.
Out of that life he turned me back who goes
  In front of me, two days agone when round
  The sister of him yonder showed herself,"
And to the sun I pointed.  "Through the deep
  Night of the truly dead has this one led me,
  With this true flesh, that follows after him.
Thence his encouragements have led me up,
  Ascending and still circling round the mount
  That you doth straighten, whom the world made crooked.
He says that he will bear me company,
  Till I shall be where Beatrice will be;
  There it behoves me to remain without him.
This is Virgilius, who thus says to me,"
  And him I pointed at; "the other is
  That shade for whom just now shook every slope
Your realm, that from itself discharges him."

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