« ForrigeFortsett »
We have scarcely entered on the threshold of the poem before this essentially self-scrutinizing analysis meets us. At first, indeed, his soul, as if in the joy of its escape from the darkness of the pit, exults in its recovered freedom, in its old joy, in itself a purifying joy, in light and the fresh breeze of dawn. If we would understand the opening of the “ Purgatorio we must go back to the Stygian waters of the nether world, wherein were plunged by a righteous Nemesis the souls of those who had in the bitterness of their discontent lost the capacity for entering into that joy :
“ Beneath the pool are those that sigh and groav,
And make the water bubble, as to thee,
Now are we sadder in this black foul slime!"-Inf. vii. 115–121. Of that sullen discontent Dante had not been guilty even under the heavy burdens of exile and poverty, and therefore he had not lost the capacity for hope which was denied to those who dwelt in the “ dolorous city.” And so when he has left the region where “ silent is the sun and can once more look
upon the stars,” his spirit exults in its liberation :
“For fairer waters now before the wind
My spirit's little boat her sails doth spread,
And groweth worthy Heaven's high courts to tread.”—Purg. i. 1-6. Nowhere in the whole poem, one might almost say in all poetry, is the brightness of that dawn, at once of the earthly and the heavenly morning, more beautifully painted :
“The Orient sapphire's hue of sweetest tone,
Which gathered in the aspect calm and bright?
Made all the East to smile with her sweet grace.”—Purg. i. 13-20. Or once again, in that marvellous picture of which it is hard to say whether it excels most in beauty or in truth :
“Just then the dawn its victory did gain
O'er morning's mist that vanished, so that I
Saw the light trembling on the open main "-Purg. i. 115-117. But not the less, in the midst of this natural joy is there the thought present to the poet's mind that he is entering on a solemn work, that it is he himself, his own soul, that needs the cleansing which he is about to describe.. Bearing that thought in mind, we shall be able to follow his progress through the seven circles of the Mount of Purification with a clearer insight, to note what were the sins that weighed most heavily on his conscience, what
were the healing remedies which he had found most effective against them. I start with the words in which Virgil, as the poet's guide, sets forth to Cato, who, as the representative of the natural virtues of which the four stars that cast their light upon his face are symbols, is the guardian of the entrance to Purgatory, the errand on which they have come :
“ His life's last eve he hath not seen indeed,
But through his madness came to it so near
As he knows well who life for it doth spend."-Purg. i. 58-72. As we advance we note a more distinct confession. He is conscious of the over-sensitiveness which makes him keenly alive to men's looks of wonder or their words of scorn, as the souls gazed at him, marvelling that his form, unlike theirs, cast a shadow:
Mine eyes I turned on hearing him speak so,
Why is thy mind thus on itself intent'
Which worthy of compassion rendereth some.”—Purg. v. 7-21. A little further on and we find a like confession of the love of praise, of which that sensitiveness was the natural outcome. He is in the circle where the pride of life is chastened by the bowed-down prostration of an enforced lowliness, which he thus describes :
“ As to give roof or ceiling bearing meet,
As corbel fixed, a form is often seen,
'I can no more,' seemed crying in distress.”—Purg. x. 130-140. One of these tells him his name and his sin,
“My ancient blood and brave deeds nobly done
By my forefathers, me so haughty made
And Dante as he listens, as if conscience pricked him, bowed his face low as if to hide his shame. In another of these he recognizes the painter Oderisi of Agubbio, who in like manner confesses that he had so gloried in his art as to speak contemptuously of his rivals.
'My courteous praise had then been far more faint
Save that to God, with power to sin, I prayed.” And then he moralizes on the transitoriness of human fame in words which touched at once the poet and two, at least, of his dearest friends
“Oh empty glory of all human power !
How little green doth on its height endure,
Purg. xi. 85-104. And again,
" Your high repute, as bloom of grass, doth fly,
Which comes and goes, and that doth mar its grace
Through which from earth it burgeons verdantly." And then the conscience of the seer makes answer
“ And I to him, “Thy words in my heart trace
Lessons that humble, and bring low my pride.”—Purg. xi. 115-119. He does not, however, indulge in indiscriminate self-accusations. He passes into the circle where souls are purified from the sin of envy, by being for a time blinded. They had looked as with an evil eye on the good fortune of others, and this was their righteous chastisement. To that fault Daute does not plead guilty, as he did in the case of pride.
"'I too,' I said, "shall part here from mine eyes ;'
But for brief time, for little the otfence
For even now I feel that weight immense.' -Purg. xiii. 133-138. But the supreme confession of unworthiness comes, as it was meet it should do, when the poet stands, after he has passed through the cleansing fire, face to face with his transfigured and glorified Beatrice. He sees her first, clothed in a green mantle and with a snow-white olive-bordered veil :
" Though nothing more to vision was displayed,
Through secret power that passed from her to me,
That intuitive consciousness of the presence of her who was at once beautiful and terrible in her purity filled him, at first, as it had filled him in his boyhood, with an overpowering awe, which made him look for help to the poet who had thus far been his guide :
“I to the left with wistful look did start,
As when an infant seeks his mother's breast,
The signs of that old flame stand forth confest."- Purg. xxx. 43-48. But Virgil was there no longer. Human guidance, the teaching of the wise, the traditions of a venerable past, these had done their work, and he finds himself alone face to face with her whom he had loved as a woman, with an absorbing and passionate devotion, and who now met him on her chariot of glory as the embodied form of heavenly wisdom, the transfigured and glorified conscience of humanity. He stood awe-stricken, and the bitter tears flowed fast and cleansed his cheeks, and then a voice came from her which thrilled the abysmal depths of personality. “Dante," it said it is the one solitary passage in the whole poem in which the poet names himself
“Dante, weep not because thy Virgil's gone ;
Purg. xxx. 55–57. He turns on hearing himself thus addressed by name, and then
“I saw the lady whom I erst discerned,
Tastes pity, which in sternness doth o'erpass.”—Purg. xxx. 54-81. The immediate result of this was, that the poet felt as if his heart was frost-bound, as are the Apennines when the snow lies heavy on the trees. His tears ceased to flow, as in the misery of that congelation of the soul. But the healing came from the angelic ministers who accompanied Beatrice, and sang their anthem of In te Domine speravi.
“ So stood I tearless, sighless, for a time,
While yet they sang whose praise ascends on high,
The ice that all around my heart was laid,
Purg. xxx. 91-99. But the stern work of the illumined conscience which Beatrice represents has yet to be done, and she speaks to her over-pitiful attendants
“ Ye in the day eternal know no rest,
So that nor night nor sleep from you can steal
And so a grief to guilt proportioned feel.”—Purg. xxx. 103-105. She presses on him the remembrance of his early days, naming the very book which he had consecrated to his reverential love for her :
“ He, when his New Life he did first attain,
Potentially was such that every good
But soon as I had reached the point where lies
He left me, following other fantasies.
Of penitence that pours its tears in blood.”—Purg. xxx. 115–145. This was terrible enough. It was, as it were, Dante's anticipation of the time when the books shall be opened, and the things done in the body shall be made manifest to Christ and to His angels. But this was not all. The voice of the Judge, which is also the voice of the Beloved, for Beatrice unites both characters, must say to the accused, as Nathan did to David, “Thou art the man." The sinner must confess his guilt, as David confessed it,—"Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight." And so Beatrice speaks to the lover of her youth
"iO thou who art beyond the sacred stream,'
Turning her utterance then point-blank to me,
Which even edgewise keen and sharp did seem.” She then began again immediately –