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The Poet Statius. Praise of Virgil.

The natural thirst, that ne'er is satisfied

Excepting with the water for whose grace

The woman of Samaria besought,

Put me in travail, and haste goaded me

Along the encumbered path behind my Leader

And I was pitying that righteous vengeance;

And lo! in the same manner as Luke writeth

That Christ appeared to two upon the way

From the sepulchral cave already risen,

A shade appeared to us, and came behind us,

Down gazing on the prostrate multitude,

Nor were we ware of it, until it spake,

Saying, "My brothers, may God give you peace!"

We turned us suddenly, and Virgilius rendered

To him the countersign thereto conforming.

Thereon began he: "In the blessed council,

Thee may the court veracious place in peace,

That me doth banish in eternal exile!"

"How," said he, and the while we went with speed,

"If ye are shades whom God deigns not on high,

Who up his stairs so far has guided you?"

And said my Teacher: "If thou note the marks

Which this one bears, and which the Angel traces

Well shalt thou see he with the good must reign.

But because she who spinneth day and night

For him had not yet drawn the distaff off,

Which Clotho lays for each one and compacts,

His soul, which is thy sister and my own,

In coming upwards could not come alone,

By reason that it sees not in our fashion.

Whence I was drawn from out the ample throat

Of Hell to be his guide, and I shall guide him

As far on as my school has power to lead.

But tell us, if thou knowest, why such a shudder

Erewhile the mountain gave, and why together

All seemed to cry, as far as its moist feet?"

In asking he so hit the very eye

Of my desire, that merely with the hope

My thirst became the less unsatisfied.

"Naught is there," he began, "that without order

May the religion of the mountain feel,

Nor aught that may be foreign to its custom.

Free is it here from every permutation;

What from itself heaven in itself receiveth

Can be of this the cause, and naught beside;

Because that neither rain, nor hail, nor snow,

Nor dew, nor hoar-frost any higher falls

Than the short, little stairway of three steps.

Dense clouds do not appear, nor rarefied,

Nor coruscation, nor the daughter of Thaumas,

That often upon earth her region shifts;

No arid vapour any farther rises

Than to the top of the three steps I spake of,

Whereon the Vicar of Peter has his feet.

Lower down perchance it trembles less or more,

But, for the wind that in the earth is hidden

I know not how, up here it never trembled.

It trembles here, whenever any soul

Feels itself pure, so that it soars, or moves

To mount aloft, and such a cry attends it.

Of purity the will alone gives proof,

Which, being wholly free to change its convent,

Takes by surprise the soul, and helps it fly.

First it wills well; but the desire permits not,

Which divine justice with the self-same will

There was to sin, upon the torment sets.

And I, who have been lying in this pain

Five hundred years and more, but just now felt

A free volition for a better seat.

Therefore thou heardst the earthquake, and the pious

Spirits along the mountain rendering praise

Unto the Lord, that soon he speed them upwards."

So said he to him; and since we enjoy

As much in drinking as the thirst is great,

I could not say how much it did me good.

And the wise Leader: "Now I see the net

That snares you here, and how ye are set free,

Why the earth quakes, and wherefore ye rejoice.

Now who thou wast be pleased that I may know;

And why so many centuries thou hast here

Been lying, let me gather from thy words."

"In days when the good Titus, with the aid

Of the supremest King, avenged the wounds

Whence issued forth the blood by Judas sold,

Under the name that most endures and honours,

Was I on earth," that spirit made reply,

"Greatly renowned, but not with faith as yet.

My vocal spirit was so sweet, that Rome

Me, a Thoulousian, drew unto herself,

Where I deserved to deck my brows with myrtle.

Statius the people name me still on earth;

I sang of Thebes, and then of great Achilles;

But on the way fell with my second burden.

The seeds unto my ardour were the sparks

Of that celestial flame which heated me,

Whereby more than a thousand have been fired;

Of the Aeneid speak I, which to me

A mother was, and was my nurse in song;

Without this weighed I not a drachma's weight.

And to have lived upon the earth what time

Virgilius lived, I would accept one sun

More than I must ere issuing from my ban."

These words towards me made Virgilius turn

With looks that in their silence said, "Be silent!"

But yet the power that wills cannot do all things;

For tears and laughter are such pursuivants

Unto the passion from which each springs forth,

In the most truthful least the will they follow.

I only smiled, as one who gives the wink;

Whereat the shade was silent, and it gazed

Into mine eyes, where most expression dwells;

And, "As thou well mayst consummate a labour

So great," it said, "why did thy face just now

Display to me the lightning of a smile?"

Now am I caught on this side and on that;

One keeps me silent, one to speak conjures me,

Wherefore I sigh, and I am understood.

"Speak," said my Master, "and be not afraid

Of speaking, but speak out, and say to him

What he demands with such solicitude."

Whence I: "Thou peradventure marvellest,

O antique spirit, at the smile I gave;

But I will have more wonder seize upon thee.

This one, who guides on high these eyes of mine,

Is that Virgilius, from whom thou didst learn

To sing aloud of men and of the Gods.

If other cause thou to my smile imputedst,

Abandon it as false, and trust it was

Those words which thou hast spoken concerning him."

Already he was stooping to embrace

My Teacher's feet; but he said to him: "Brother,

Do not; for shade thou art, and shade beholdest."

And he uprising: "Now canst thou the sum

Of love which warms me to thee comprehend,

When this our vanity I disremember,

Treating a shadow as substantial thing."