Divine Comedy - Purgatory

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Then, as nearer and nearer toward us came the Bird Divine, the brighter he appeared; so that near by my eye endured him not, but I bent it down: and he came on to the shore with a small vessel, very swift and light so that the water swallowed naught of it. At the stern stood the Celestial Pilot, such that if but described he would make blessed; and more than a hundred spirits sat within. "In exitu Israel de Egypto"[1] they all were singing together with one voice, with whatso of that psalm is after written. Then he made the sign of holy cross upon them; whereon they all threw themselves upon the strand; and he went away swift as he had come.

1 "When Israel went out of Egypt." Psalm cxiv.

The crowd which remained there seemed strange to the place, gazing round about like him who of new things makes essay. On all sides the Sun, who had with his bright arrows chased from midheaven the Capricorn,[1] was shooting forth the day, when the new people raised their brow toward us, saying to us, "If ye know, show us the way to go unto the mountain." And Virgil answered, "Ye believe, perchance, that we are acquainted with this place, but we are pilgrims even as ye are. Just now we came, a little before you, by another way, which was so rough and difficult that the ascent henceforth will seem play to us.

[1] When Aries, in which the Sun was rising, is on the horizon, Capricorn is at the zenith.

The souls who had become aware concerning me by my breathing, that I was still alive, marvelling became deadly pale. And as to a messenger who bears an olive branch the folk press to hear news, and no one shows himself shy of crowding, so, at the sight of me, those fortunate souls stopped still, all of them, as if forgetting to go to make themselves fair.

I saw one of them drawing forward to embrace me with so great affection that it moved me to do the like. O shades empty save in aspect! Three times behind it I clasped my hands and as oft returned with them unto my breast. With marvel, I believe, I painted me; wherefore the shade smiled and drew back, and I, following it, pressed forward, Gently it said, that I should pause; then I knew who it was, and I prayed it that to speak with me it would stop a little. It replied to me, "So as I loved thee in the mortal body, so loosed from it I love thee; therefore I stop; but wherefore goest thou?"

"Casella mine, in order to return another time to this place where I am, do I make this journey," said I, "but from thee how has so much time been taken?"[1]

[1] "How has thy coming hither been delayed so long since thy death?"

And he to me, "No wrong has been done me if he[1] who takes both when and whom it pleases him ofttimes hath denied to me this passage; for of a just will[2] his own is made. Truly for three months he has taken with all peace whoso has wished to enter. Wherefore I who was now turned to the seashore where the water of Tiber grows salt was benignantly received by him.[3] To that outlet has he now turned his wing, because always those assemble there who towards Acheron do not descend."

[1] The Celestial Pilot.

[2] That is, of the Divine Will; but there is no explanation of the motive of the delay.

[3] The Tiber is the local symbol of the Church of Rome, from whose bosom those who die at peace with her pass to Purgatory. The Jubilee, proclaimed by Boniface VIII., had begun at Christmas, 1299, so that for three months now the Celestial Pilot had received graciously all who had taken advantage of it to gain remission of their sins.

And I, "If a new law take not from thee memory or practice of the song of love which was wont to quiet in me all my longings, may it please thee therewith somewhat to comfort my soul, which coming hither with its body is so wearied."

"Love which in my mind discourseth with me,"[1] began he then so sweetly that the sweetness still within me sounds.[2] My Master, and I, and that folk who were with him, appeared so content as if naught else could touch the mind of any.

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