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Dante's Divine Comedy


Cantos X to XII

English Edition, translated by Allen Mandelbaum

from the ELF Presents Website

See their website for other translations.  These translations are not

necessarily the best in English but they are in the public domain.


Canto   X

Canto  XI

Canto XII


Canto X


The Needle's Eye
The First Circle: The Proud

The Proud.

The Sculptures on the Wall.


1   When I had crossed the threshold of the gate
2   that since the soul's aberrant love would make
3   the crooked way seem straight is seldom used,
4   I heard the gate resound and, hearing, knew
5   that it had shut; and if I'd turned toward it,
6   how could my fault have found a fit excuse?
7   Our upward pathway ran between cracked rocks;
8   they seemed to sway in one, then the other part,
9   just like a wave that flees, then doubles back.
10   Here we shall need some ingenuity,
11   my guide warned me, as both of us draw near
12   this side or that side where the rock wall veers.
13   This made our steps so slow and hesitant
14   that the declining moon had reached its bed
15   to sink back into rest, before we had
16   made our way through that needle's eye; but when
17   we were released from it, in open space
18   above, a place at which the slope retreats,
19   I was exhausted; with the two of us
20   uncertain of our way, we halted on
21   a plateau lonelier than desert paths.
22   The distance from its edge, which rims the void,
23   in to the base of the steep slope, which climbs
24   and climbs, would measure three times one man's body;
25   and for as far as my sight took its flight,
26   now to the left, now to the right-hand side,
27   that terrace seemed to me equally wide.
28   There we had yet to let our feet advance
29   when I discovered that the bordering bank
30   less sheer than banks of other terraces
31   was of white marble and adorned with carvings
32   so accurate not only Polycletus
33   but even Nature, there, would feel defeated.
34   The angel who reached earth with the decree
35   of that peace which, for many years, had been
36   invoked with tears, the peace that opened Heaven
37   after long interdict, appeared before us,
38   his gracious action carved with such precision
39   he did not seem to be a silent image.
40   One would have sworn that he was saying, Ave;
41   for in that scene there was the effigy
42   of one who turned the key that had unlocked
43   the highest love; and in her stance there were
44   impressed these words, Ecce ancilla Dei,
45   precisely like a figure stamped in wax.
46   Your mind must not attend to just one part,
47   the gentle master said he had me on
48   the side of him where people have their heart.
49   At this, I turned my face and saw beyond
50   the form of Mary on the side where stood
51   the one who guided me another story
52   engraved upon the rock; therefore I moved
53   past Virgil and drew close to it, so that
54   the scene before my eyes was more distinct.
55   There, carved in that same marble, were the cart
56   and oxen as they drew the sacred ark,
57   which makes men now fear tasks not in their charge.
58   People were shown in front; and all that group,
59   divided into seven choirs, made
60   two of my senses speak one sense said, No,
61   the other said, Yes, they do sing; just so,
62   about the incense smoke shown there, my nose
63   and eyes contended, too, with yes and no.
64   And there the humble psalmist went before
65   the sacred vessel, dancing, lifting up
66   his robe he was both less and more than king.
67   Facing that scene, and shown as at the window
68   of a great palace, Michal watched as would
69   a woman full of scorn and suffering.
70   To look more closely at another carving,
71   which I saw gleaming white beyond Michal,
72   my feet moved past the point where I had stood.
73   And there the noble action of a Roman
74   prince was presented he whose worth had urged
75   on Gregory to his great victory
76   I mean the Emperor Trajan; and a poor
77   widow was near his bridle, and she stood
78   even as one in tears and sadness would.
79   Around him, horsemen seemed to press and crowd;
80   above their heads, on golden banners, eagles
81   were represented, moving in the wind.
82   Among that crowd, the miserable woman
83   seemed to be saying: Lord, avenge me for
84   the slaying of my son my heart is broken.
85   And he was answering: Wait now until
86   I have returned. And she, as one in whom
87   grief presses urgently: And, lord, if you
88   do not return? And he: The one who'll be
89   in my place will perform it for you. She:
90   What good can others' goodness do for you
91   if you neglect your own? He: Be consoled;
92   my duty shall be done before I go:
93   so justice asks, so mercy makes me stay.
94   This was the speech made visible by One
95   within whose sight no thing is new but we,
96   who lack its likeness here, find novelty.
97   While I took much delight in witnessing
98   these effigies of true humility
99   dear, too, to see because He was their Maker
100   the poet murmured: See the multitude
101   advancing, though with slow steps, on this side:
102   they will direct us to the higher stairs.
103   My eyes, which had been satisfied in seeking
104   new sights a thing for which they long did not
105   delay in turning toward him. But I would
106   not have you, reader, be deflected from
107   your good resolve by hearing from me now
108   how God would have us pay the debt we owe.
109   Don't dwell upon the form of punishment:
110   consider what comes after that; at worst
111   it cannot last beyond the final Judgment.
112   Master, I said, what I see moving toward us
113   does not appear to me like people, but
114   I can't tell what is there my sight's bewildered.
115   And he to me: Whatever makes them suffer
116   their heavy torment bends them to the ground;
117   at first I was unsure of what they were.
118   But look intently there, and let your eyes
119   unravel what's beneath those stones: you can
120   already see what penalty strikes each.
121   O Christians, arrogant, exhausted, wretched,
122   whose intellects are sick and cannot see,
123   who place your confidence in backward steps,
124   do you not know that we are worms and born
125   to form the angelic butterfly that soars,
126   without defenses, to confront His judgment?
127   Why does your mind presume to flight when you
128   are still like the imperfect grub, the worm
129   before it has attained its final form?
130   Just as one sees at times as corbel for
131   support of ceiling or of roof a figure
132   with knees drawn up into its chest (and this
133   oppressiveness, unreal, gives rise to real :
134   distress in him who watches it): such was
135   the state of those I saw when I looked hard.
136   They were indeed bent down some less, some more
137   according to the weights their backs now bore;
138   and even he whose aspect showed most patience,
139   in tears, appeared to say: I can no more.


Canto XI

The First Circle: The Proud


The Humble Prayer. Omberto di Santafiore. Oderisi d' Agobbio. Provenzan Salvani.


1   Our Father, You who dwell within the heavens
2   but are not circumscribed by them out of
3   Your greater love for Your first works above,
4   praised be Your name and Your omnipotence,
5   by every creature, just as it is seemly
6   to offer thanks to Your sweet effluence.
7   Your kingdom's peace come unto us, for if
8   it does not come, then though we summon all
9   our force, we cannot reach it of our selves.
10   Just as Your angels, as they sing Hosanna,
11   offer their wills to You as sacrifice,
12   so may men offer up their wills to You.
13   Give unto us this day the daily manna
14   without which he who labors most to move
15   ahead through this harsh wilderness falls back.
16   Even as we forgive all who have done
17   us injury, may You, benevolent,
18   forgive, and do not judge us by our worth.
19   Try not our strength, so easily subdued,
20   against the ancient foe, but set it free
21   from him who goads it to perversity.
22   This last request we now address to You,
23   dear Lord, not for ourselves who have no need
24   but for the ones whom we have left behind.
25   Beseeching, thus, good penitence for us
26   and for themselves, those shades moved on beneath
27   their weights, like those we sometimes bear in dreams
28   each in his own degree of suffering
29   but all, exhausted, circling the first terrace,
30   purging themselves of this world's scoriae.
31   If there they pray on our behalf, what can
32   be said and done here on this earth for them
33   by those whose wills are rooted in true worth?
34   Indeed we should help them to wash away
35   the stains they carried from this world, so that,
36   made pure and light, they reach the starry wheels.
37   Ah, so may justice and compassion soon
38   unburden you, so that your wings may move
39   as you desire them to, and uplift you,
40   show us on which hand lies the shortest path
41   to reach the stairs; if there is more than one
42   passage, then show us that which is less steep;
43   for he who comes with me, because he wears
44   the weight of Adam's flesh as dress, despite
45   his ready will, is slow in his ascent.
46   These words, which had been spoken by my guide,
47   were answered by still other words we heard;
48   for though it was not clear who had replied,
49   an answer came: Come with us to the right
50   along the wall of rock, and you will find
51   a pass where even one alive can climb.
52   And were I not impeded by the stone
53   that, since it has subdued my haughty neck,
54   compels my eyes to look below, then I
55   should look at this man who is still alive
56   and nameless, to see if I recognize
57   him and to move his pity for my burden.
58   I was Italian, son of a great Tuscan:
59   my father was Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco; I
60   do not know if you have heard his name.
61   The ancient blood and splendid deeds of my
62   forefathers made me so presumptuous
63   that, without thinking on our common mother,
64   I scorned all men past measure, and that scorn
65   brought me my death the Sienese know how,
66   as does each child in Campagnatico.
67   I am Omberto; and my arrogance
68   has not harmed me alone, for it has drawn
69   all of my kin into calamity.
70   Until God has been satisfied, I bear
71   this burden here among the dead because
72   I did not bear this load among the living.
73   My face was lowered as I listened; and
74   one of those souls not he who'd spoken twisted
75   himself beneath the weight that burdened them;
76   he saw and knew me and called out to me,
77   fixing his eyes on me laboriously
78   as I, completely hunched, walked on with them.
79   Oh, I cried out, are you not Oderisi,
80   glory of Gubbio, glory of that art
81   they call illumination now in Paris?
82   Brother, he said, the pages painted by
83   the brush of Franco Bolognese smile
84   more brightly: all the glory now is his;
85   mine, but a part. In truth I would have been
86   less gracious when I lived so great was that
87   desire for eminence which drove my heart.
88   For such pride, here one pays the penalty;
89   and I'd not be here yet, had it not been
90   that, while I still could sin, I turned to Him.
91   O empty glory of the powers of humans!
92   How briefly green endures upon the peak
93   unless an age of dullness follows it.
94   In painting Cimabue thought he held
95   the field, and now it's Giotto they acclaim
96   the former only keeps a shadowed fame.
97   So did one Guido, from the other, wrest
98   the glory of our tongue and he perhaps
99   is born who will chase both out of the nest.
100   Worldly renown is nothing other than
101   a breath of wind that blows now here, now there,
102   and changes name when it has changed its course.
103   Before a thousand years have passed a span
104   that, for eternity, is less space than
105   an eyeblink for the slowest sphere in heaven
106   would you find greater glory if you left
107   your flesh when it was old than if your death
108   had come before your infant words were spent?
109   All Tuscany acclaimed his name the man
110   who moves so slowly on the path before me,
111   and now they scarcely whisper of him even
112   in Siena, where he lorded it when they
113   destroyed the raging mob of Florence then
114   as arrogant as now it's prostitute.
115   Your glory wears the color of the grass
116   that comes and goes; the sun that makes it wither
117   first drew it from the ground, still green and tender.
118   And I to him: Your truthful speech has filled
119   my soul with sound humility, abating
120   my overswollen pride; but who is he
121   of whom you spoke now? Provenzan Salvani,
122   he answered, here because presumptuously
123   he thought his grip could master all Siena.
124   So he has gone, and so he goes, with no
125   rest since his death; this is the penalty
126   exacted from those who there overreached.
127   And I: But if a spirit who awaits
128   the edge of life before repenting must
129   unless good prayers help him stay below
130   and not ascend here for as long a time
131   as he had spent alive, do tell me how
132   Salvani's entry here has been allowed.
133   When he was living in his greatest glory
134   said he, then of his own free will he set
135   aside all shame and took his place upon
136   the Campo of Siena; there, to free
137   his friend from suffering in Charles's prison,
138   humbling himself, he trembled in each vein.
139   I say no more; I know I speak obscurely;
140   but soon enough you'll find your neighbor's acts
141   are such that what I say can be explained.
142   This deed delivered him from those confines.



Canto XII

The First Circle: The Proud The Sculptures on the Pavement. Ascent to the Second Circle.
1   As oxen, yoked, proceed abreast, so I
2   moved with that burdened soul as long as my
3   kind pedagogue allowed me to; but when
4   he said: Leave him behind, and go ahead;
5   for here it's fitting that with wings and oars
6   each urge his boat along with all his force,
7   I drew my body up again, erect
8   the stance most suitable to man and yet
9   the thoughts I thought were still submissive, bent.
10   Now I was on my way, and willingly
11   I followed in my teacher's steps, and we
12   together showed what speed we could command.
13   He said to me: Look downward, for the way
14   will offer you some solace if you pay
15   attention to the pavement at your feet.
16   As, on the lids of pavement tombs, there are
17   stone effigies of what the buried were
18   before, so that the dead may be remembered;
19   and there, when memory inciting only
20   the pious has renewed their mourning, men
21   are often led to shed their tears again;
22   so did I see, but carved more skillfully,
23   with greater sense of likeness, effigies
24   on all the path protruding from the mountain.
25   I saw, to one side of the path, one who
26   had been created nobler than all other
27   beings, falling lightning-like from Heaven.
28   I saw, upon the other side, Briareus
29   transfixed by the celestial shaft: he lay,
30   ponderous, on the ground, in fatal cold.
31   I saw Thymbraeus, I saw Mars and Pallas,
32   still armed, as they surrounded Jove, their father,
33   gazing upon the Giants' scattered limbs.
34   I saw bewildered Nimrod at the foot
35   of his great labor; watching him were those
36   of Shinar who had shared his arrogance.
37   O Niobe, what tears afflicted me
38   when, on that path, I saw your effigy
39   among your slaughtered children, seven and seven!
40   O Saul, you were portrayed there as one who
41   had died on his own sword, upon Gilboa,
42   which never after knew the rain, the dew!
43   O mad Arachne, I saw you already
44   half spider, wretched on the ragged remnants
45   of work that you had wrought to your own hurt!
46   O Rehoboam, you whose effigy
47   seems not to menace there, and yet you flee
48   by chariot, terrified, though none pursues!
49   It also showed that pavement of hard stone
50   how much Alcmaeon made his mother pay:
51   the cost of the ill-omened ornament.
52   It showed the children of Sennacherib
53   as they assailed their father in the temple,
54   then left him, dead, behind them as they fled.
55   It showed the slaughter and the devastation
56   wrought by Tomyris when she taunted Cyrus:
57   You thirsted after blood; with blood I fill you.
58   It showed the rout of the Assyrians,
59   sent reeling after Holofernes' death,
60   and also showed his body what was left.
61   I saw Troy turned to caverns and to ashes;
62   O Ilium, your effigy in stone
63   it showed you there so squalid, so cast down!
64   What master of the brush or of the stylus
65   had there portrayed such masses, such outlines
66   as would astonish all discerning minds?
67   The dead seemed dead and the alive, alive:
68   I saw, head bent, treading those effigies,
69   as well as those who'd seen those scenes directly.
70   Now, sons of Eve, persist in arrogance,
71   in haughty stance, do not let your eyes bend,
72   lest you be forced to see your evil path!
73   We now had circled round more of the mountain
74   and much more of the sun's course had been crossed
75   than I, my mind absorbed, had gauged, when he
76   who always looked ahead insistently,
77   as he advanced, began: Lift up your eyes;
78   it's time to set these images aside.
79   See there an angel hurrying to meet us,
80   and also see the sixth of the handmaidens
81   returning from her service to the day.
82   Adorn your face and acts with reverence,
83   that he be pleased to send us higher. Remember
84   today will never know another dawn.
85   I was so used to his insistent warnings
86   against the loss of time; concerning that,
87   his words to me could hardly be obscure.
88   That handsome creature came toward us; his clothes
89   were white, and in his aspect he seemed like
90   the trembling star that rises in the morning.
91   He opened wide his arms, then spread his wings;
92   he said: Approach: the steps are close at hand;
93   from this point on one can climb easily.
94   This invitation's answered by so few:
95   o humankind, born for the upward flight,
96   why are you driven back by wind so slight?
97   He led us to a cleft within the rock,
98   and then he struck my forehead with his wing;
99   that done, he promised me safe journeying.
100   As on the right, when one ascends the hill
101   where over Rubaconte's bridge there stands
102   the church that dominates the well-ruled city,
103   the daring slope of the ascent is broken
104   by steps that were constructed in an age
105   when record books and measures could be trusted,
106   so was the slope that plummets there so steeply
107   down from the other ring made easier;
108   but on this side and that, high rock encroaches.
109   While we began to move in that direction,
110   Beati pauperes spiritu was sung
111   so sweetly it can not be told in words.
112   How different were these entryways from those
113   of Hell! For here it is with song one enters;
114   down there, it is with savage lamentations.
115   Now we ascended by the sacred stairs,
116   but I seemed to be much more light than I
117   had been, before, along the level terrace.
118   At this I asked: Master, tell me, what heavy
119   weight has been lifted from me, so that I,
120   in going, notice almost no fatigue?
121   He answered: When the P's that still remain
122   upon your brow now almost all are faint
123   have been completely, like this P. erased,
124   your feet will be so mastered by good will
125   that they not only will not feel travail
126   but will delight when they are urged uphill.
127   Then I behaved like those who make their way
128   with something on their head of which they're not
129   aware, till others' signs make them suspicious,
130   at which, the hand helps them to ascertain;
131   it seeks and finds and touches and provides
132   the services that sight cannot supply;
133   so, with my right hand's outspread fingers, I
134   found just six of the letters once inscribed
135   by him who holds the keys, upon my forehead;
136   and as he watched me do this, my guide smiled.