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ARGUMENT. The Poet, having lost his way in a gloomy forest, and being hindered by certain wild beasts from ascending a mountain, is met by Virgil, no promises to show him the punishments of Hell, and afterwards of Purgatory; and that he shall then be conducted by Beatrice into Paradise. He follows the Roman poet.
In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray,
Gone from the path direct : and e'en'to tell,
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet to discourse of what there good befell,
All else will I relate discovered there.
How first I entered it I scarce can say,
Such sleepy dulness in that instant weighed
My senses down, when the true path I left;
But when a mountain's foot I reached, where closed
The valley that had pierced my heart with dread,
I looked aloft, and saw his shoulders broad
Already vested with that planet's beam,
1. In the Poet's thirty-fifth year. He was 11. Spiritual drowsiness induced by sin. born in 1265, and the vision is supposed to take 12. “I am the way, the truth, and the life." place in 1300. In the Convito (iv. 23) the John xiv. 6. life of man is compared to an arch, the highest 13. The mount of salvation. point of which is reached at the age of thirty 15. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, five. The date of the poem is more definitely from whence cometh my help.” Psalm given in Hell, xxi. 109 ff.
cxxi. 1. 2. Symbol of sin into which Dante had fallen 16. The sun, which according to the Ptolemaic after the death of Beatrice.
system is a planet. Used here in the Scriptural 6. “Even when I remember I am afraid." and symbolical sense. Job xxi. 6.
Who leads all wanderers safe through every way.
Then was a little respite to the fear,
That in my heart's recesses deep had lain,
All of that night, so pitifully past:
And as a man, with difficult short breath,
Forespent with toiling, 'scaped from sea to shore,
Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands
At gaze; e'en so my spirit, that yet failed
Struggling with terror, turned to view the straits,
That none hath past and lived. My weary frame
After short pause recomforted, again
I journeyed on over that lonely steep,
The hinder foot still firmer. Scarce the ascent
Began, when, lo! a panther, nimble, light,
And covered with a speckled skin, appeared in
Nor, when it saw me, vanished, rather strove
To check my onward going; that ofttimes,
With purpose to retrace my steps, I turned.
The hour was morning's prime, and on his way
Aloft the sun ascended with those stars,
That with him rose when Love divine first moved
Those its fair works : so that with joyous hope
All things conspired to fill me, the gay skin
Of that swift animal, the matin dawn
And the sweet season. Soon that joy was chased,
And by new dread succeeded, when in view
A lion came, 'gainst me, as it appeared,
With his head held aloft and hunger-mad,
That e'en the air was fear-struck. A she-wolf
Was at his heels, who in her leanness seemed
Full of all wants, and many a land hath made
Disconsolate ere now. She with such fear
O'erwhelmed me, at the sight of her appalled,
That of the height all hope I lost. As one,
Who, with his gain elated, sees the time
When all unwares is gone, he inwardly
Mourns with heart-griping anguish ; such was I,
Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace,
29. It is to be remembered, that in ascending 36. According to ancient tradition, referred a hill the weight of the body rests on the hinder to here by Dante, the world was created in foot.
spring when the sun was in the constellation of 30. The three animals in the following lines Aries. were evidently suggested by Jeremiah v. 6,- 41. Sweet season is the conventional term “Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay for spring in the Middle Ages, and occurs them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil scores of times in the Troubadours and Minnethem, a leopard shall watch over their cities." singers.
The panther signifies here worldly pleasure; 43. The lion signifies pride or ambition; poor according to those who see a political allegory litically, - the royal House of France. in the poem, Florence, divided by the Guelphs 45. Avarice; politically, - the Roman Court. and Ghibellines.
Who coming o'er against me, by degrees
Impelled me where the sun in silence rests.
While to the lower space with backward step
I fell, my ken discerned the form of one,
Whose voice seemed faint through long disuse of speech.
When him in that great desert I espied,
“Have mercy on me," cried I out aloud,
“ Spirit! or living man! whate'er thou be!"
He answered : “Now not man, man once I was,
And born of Lombard parents, Mantuans both.
By country, when the power of Julius yet
Was scarcely firm. At Rome my life was past
Beneath the mild Augustus, in the time
Of fabled deities and false. A bard
Was I, and made Anchises’ upright son
The subject of my song, who came from Troy,
When the flames preyed on Ilium's haughty towers.
But thou, say wherefore to such perils past
Return'st thou? wherefore not this pleasant mount
Ascendest, cause and source of all delight?"
“ And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring,
From which sucb copious floods of eloquence,
Have issued ?" I with front abashed replied.
“Glory and light of all the tuneful train!
May it avail me, that I long with zeal
Have sought thy volume, and with love immense
Have conned it o'er. My master thou, and guide!
Thou he from whom alone I have derived
That style, which for its beauty into fame
Exalts me. See the beast, from whom I fled.
O save me from her, thou illustrious sage!
For every vein and pulse throughout my frame
She hath made tremble.” He, soon as he saw
That I was weeping, answered, “ Thou must needs
56. Hence Milton appears to have taken his xxii. 70.] 3. Homer being unknown then, Vir. | idea in the Samson Agonistes :
gil was the only poet who had described a “The sun to me is dark,
descent to Hell. And silent as the moon,” etc.
65. This is explained by the commentators
to mean —“Although it was rather late with erred | The same metaphor will recur, Canto V.,
respect to my birth, before Julius Cæsar asd 19 y. 20.
sumed the supreme authority, and made him“ Into a place I came
self perpetual dictator." Where light was silent all.”
Virgil indeed was born twenty-five years 64. Virgil was really born in Andes, to-day before that event. Pietola, a village near Mantua.
81. “Thou art my father, thou my author, Dante seems to have chosen him as his guide
thou.” for three reasons:
Milton, P. L. ii. 864. 1. He was his master in poetry. 2. The 84. Dante has seen three beasts, but henceMiddle Ages regarded Virgil as a prophet forth he speaks of only one, - the wolf. of the coming of Christ. (See note to Purg.
Another way pursue, if thou wouldst 'scape
From out that savage wilderness. This beast,
At whom thou criest, her way will suffer none
To pass, and no less hindrance makes than death :
So bad and so accursed in her kind,
That never sated is her ravenous will,
Still after food more craving than before.
To many an animal in wedlock vile
She fastens, and shall yet to many more,
Until that greyhound come, who shall destroy
Her with sharp pain. He will not life support
By earth nor its base metals, but by love,
Wisdom, and virtue, and his land shall be
The land 'twixt either Feltro. In his might
Shall safety to Italia's plains arise,
For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure,
Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell.
He, with incessant chase, through every town
Shall worry, until he to hell at length
Restore her, thence by envy first let loose.
I for thy profit pondering now devise,
That thou mayst follow me; and I, thy guide,
Will lead thee hence through an eternal space,
Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see
Spirits of old tormented, who invoke
A second death; and those next view, who dwell
Content in fire, for that they hope to come,
Whene'er the time may be, among the blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
To ascend, a spirit worthier than I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left : for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law
Adjudges me; and therefore hath decreed
That, to his city, none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
89. He must first see the hideousness of sin 1 03. “Umile Italia,” from Virgil, Æn. üi. and its inevitable consequences, and then climb 522. the mount of purgation before he can approach
“Humilemque videmus the throne of God.
Italiam." 98. The greyhound has been variously inter- 104. Characters in the Æneid, who died preted as signifying Henry of Luxembourg, fighting for their country. With the death of Uguccione della Faggiola, - and Can Grande Turnus Virgil ends his poem. della Scala, Lord of Verona. The last is 113. “And in these days shall men seek probably meant.
death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to 102. Verona, the country of Can della Scala, die, and death shall flee from them.” Rev. ix. 6. is situated between Feltre, a city in the Marca 115. The spirits in Purgatory. Trevigiana, and Monte Feltro, a city in the ter 118. Beatrice, who conducts the Poet through ritory of Urbino.
Paradise. She represents Divine Wisdom, while
Virgil represents Earthly Wisdom.
His citadel and throne. O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!” I to him in few :
“ Bard! by that God, whom thou didst not adore,
I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse
I may escape) to lead me, where thou said'st,
That I Saint Peter's gate may view, and those
Who, as thou tell'st, are in such dismal plight.”
Onward he moved, I close his steps pursued.
ARGUMENT. After the invocation, which poets are used to prefix to their works, he shows that, on
a consideration of his own strength, he doubted whether it sufficed for the journey proposed to him, but that, being comforted by Virgil, he at last took courage, and followed him as his guide and master.
Now was the day departing, and the air,
Imbrowned with shadows, from their toils released
All animals on earth; and I alone
Prepared myself the conflict to sustain,
Both of sad pity, and that perilous road,
Which my unerring memory shall retrace.
O Muses! O high genius! now vouchsafe
Your aid! O mind! that all I saw hast kept
Safe in a written record, here thy worth
And eminent endowments come to proof.
I thus began : “Bard! thou who art my guide,
Consider well, if virtue be in me
Sufficient, ere to this high enterprise
Thou trust me. Thou hast told that Silvius' sire,
Yet clothed in corruptible flesh, among
The immortal tribes had entrance, and was there
Sensibly present. Yet if heaven's great Lord,
Almighty foe to ill, such favor showed,
In contemplation of the high effect,
Both what and who from him should issue forth,
130. The gate of Purgatory, which the Poet feigas to be guarded by an angel placed on that station by St. Peter.
1. A compendium of Virgil's description, Æn.
iv. 522. Compare Apollonius Rhodius, iii. 744,
and iv. 1058.
“ The day gan failin; and the darke night,
That revith bestis from their businesse,
Berafte me my booke," etc.
Chaucer, The Assemble of Foules.
8. “O) thought that write all that I met,
And in the tresorie it set
Of my braine, now shall men see
If any virtue in thee be.”
Chaucer, Temple of Fame, ii. 18. 14. Æneas.
19. The “high effect " is the founding of Rome.
20. The Roman Empire and Cæsar.