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Dante's Inquiry on Prayers for the Dead. Sordello. Italy.
Whene'er is broken up the game of Zara,
He who has lost remains behind despondent,
The throws repeating, and in sadness learns;
The people with the other all depart;
One goes in front, and one behind doth pluck him,
And at his side one brings himself to mind;
He pauses not, and this and that one hears;
They crowd no more to whom his hand he stretches,
And from the throng he thus defends himself.
Even such was I in that dense multitude,
Turning to them this way and that my face,
And, promising, I freed myself therefrom.
There was the Aretine, who from the arms
Untamed of Ghin di Tacco had his death,
And he who fleeing from pursuit was drowned.
There was imploring with his hands outstretched
Frederick Novello, and that one of Pisa
Who made the good Marzucco seem so strong.
I saw Count Orso; and the soul divided
By hatred and by envy from its body,
As it declared, and not for crime committed,
Pierre de la Brosse I say; and here provide
While still on earth the Lady of Brabant,
So that for this she be of no worse flock!
As soon as I was free from all those shades
Who only prayed that some one else may pray,
So as to hasten their becoming holy,
Began I: "It appears that thou deniest,
O light of mine, expressly in some text,
That orison can bend decree of Heaven;
And ne'ertheless these people pray for this.
Might then their expectation bootless be?
Or is to me thy saying not quite clear?"
And he to me: "My writing is explicit,
And not fallacious is the hope of these,
If with sane intellect 'tis well regarded;
For top of judgment doth not vail itself,
Because the fire of love fulfils at once
What he must satisfy who here installs him.
And there, where I affirmed that proposition,
Defect was not amended by a prayer,
Because the prayer from God was separate.
Verily, in so deep a questioning
Do not decide, unless she tell it thee,
Who light 'twixt truth and intellect shall be.
I know not if thou understand; I speak
Of Beatrice; her shalt thou see above,
Smiling and happy, on this mountain's top."
And I: "Good Leader, let us make more haste,
For I no longer tire me as before;
And see, e'en now the hill a shadow casts."
"We will go forward with this day" he answered,
"As far as now is possible for us;
But otherwise the fact is than thou thinkest.
Ere thou art up there, thou shalt see return
Him, who now hides himself behind the hill,
So that thou dost not interrupt his rays.
But yonder there behold! a soul that stationed
All, all alone is looking hitherward;
It will point out to us the quickest way."
We came up unto it; O Lombard soul,
How lofty and disdainful thou didst bear thee,
And grand and slow in moving of thine eyes!
Nothing whatever did it say to us,
But let us go our way, eying us only
After the manner of a couchant lion;
Still near to it Virgilius drew, entreating
That it would point us out the best ascent;
And it replied not unto his demand,
But of our native land and of our life
It questioned us; and the sweet Guide began:
"Mantua,"—and the shade, all in itself recluse,
Rose tow'rds him from the place where first it was,
Saying: "O Mantuan, I am Sordello
Of thine own land!" and one embraced the other.
Ah! servile Italy, grief's hostelry!
A ship without a pilot in great tempest!
No Lady thou of Provinces, but brothel!
That noble soul was so impatient, only
At the sweet sound of his own native land,
To make its citizen glad welcome there;
And now within thee are not without war
Thy living ones, and one doth gnaw the other
Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in!
Search, wretched one, all round about the shores
Thy seaboard, and then look within thy bosom,
If any part of thee enjoyeth peace!
What boots it, that for thee Justinian
The bridle mend, if empty be the saddle?
Withouten this the shame would be the less.
Ah! people, thou that oughtest to be devout,
And to let Caesar sit upon the saddle,
If well thou hearest what God teacheth thee,
Behold how fell this wild beast has become,
Being no longer by the spur corrected,
Since thou hast laid thy hand upon the bridle.
O German Albert! who abandonest
Her that has grown recalcitrant and savage,
And oughtest to bestride her saddle-bow,
May a just judgment from the stars down fall
Upon thy blood, and be it new and open,
That thy successor may have fear thereof;
Because thy father and thyself have suffered,
By greed of those transalpine lands distrained,
The garden of the empire to be waste.
Come and behold Montecchi and Cappelletti,
Monaldi and Fillippeschi, careless man!
Those sad already, and these doubt-depressed!
Come, cruel one! come and behold the oppression
Of thy nobility, and cure their wounds,
And thou shalt see how safe is Santafiore!
Come and behold thy Rome, that is lamenting,
Widowed, alone, and day and night exclaims,
"My Caesar, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Come and behold how loving are the people;
And if for us no pity moveth thee,
Come and be made ashamed of thy renown!
And if it lawful be, O Jove Supreme!
Who upon earth for us wast crucified,
Are thy just eyes averted otherwhere?
Or preparation is 't, that, in the abyss
Of thine own counsel, for some good thou makest
From our perception utterly cut off?
For all the towns of Italy are full
Of tyrants, and becometh a Marcellus
Each peasant churl who plays the partisan!
My Florence! well mayst thou contented be
With this digression, which concerns thee not,
Thanks to thy people who such forethought take!
Many at heart have justice, but shoot slowly,
That unadvised they come not to the bow,
But on their very lips thy people have it!
Many refuse to bear the common burden;
But thy solicitous people answereth
Without being asked, and crieth: "I submit."
Now be thou joyful, for thou hast good reason;
Thou affluent, thou in peace, thou full of wisdom!
If I speak true, the event conceals it not.
Athens and Lacedaemon, they who made
The ancient laws, and were so civilized,
Made towards living well a little sign
Compared with thee, who makest such fine-spun
Provisions, that to middle of November
Reaches not what thou in October spinnest.
How oft, within the time of thy remembrance,
Laws, money, offices, and usages
Hast thou remodelled, and renewed thy members?
And if thou mind thee well, and see the light,
Thou shalt behold thyself like a sick woman,
Who cannot find repose upon her down,
But by her tossing wardeth off her pain.