Dante’s Purgatorio – Canto 33

Beatrice walks further into the forest and asks Dante to come close to her so that they can speak as they walk. Speaking about the chariot and the great tree, she makes a prophecy and tells Dante that soon enough he will understand what she said. In the mean time, Dante should write everything she has said in his heart so that he can instruct others in the right way when he returns to earth. At high noon, they arrive at the stream of the Eunoë. Beatrice asks Matelda to take Dante and Statius through it. Reborn from its waters, Dante tells us that his second canticle has come to its proper end, and that he is ready to rise up to the stars.

            Deus venerunt gentes, sang the seven noble ladies tearfully, alternating the verses of the Psalm by three and then four. As Beatrice listened, she sighed in sorrow – perhaps only Mary at the cross showed more grief on her face. But when the holy virgins had finished their prayer, she rose and, as brilliant as a flame, said to them: “Modicum et non videbitis me; et iterum, my beloved sisters, modicum et vos videbitis me.” Then, she had the seven walk on ahead and, with a slight nod, had the lady, Statius, and me move behind her.

            We hadn’t walked too far into the forest when she turned around and looked directly into my eyes and said: “Walk more quickly so that if I desire to speak with you, you’ll be near enough to hear me.” I was delighted to oblige her, and when I came nearer to her she said, “My dear brother, now that you are here with me, why are you hesitant to ask me questions?”

            For a moment, I was like one who holds another in such awe that they can scarcely find the words to speak. But I managed to mutter a few words: “My dear lady, not only do you know all my needs, but you also know how to satisfy them.”

            “It is my wish,” she then replied, “that you free yourself from any fear or shame, and stop speaking as though you are in a dream. Understand that the chariot, which was ruined by the dragon, was and is not. Those who bear the blame for this should know that God’s vengeance will not be stopped. The eagle whose feathers were left in the chariot that soon became a monster and then a prey, will not be without an heir forever. The reason I tell you this is because I can see how the stars clearly tell of a time already near – whose coming nothing can stop – when a five hundred, a ten, and a five will be born as God’s agent to kill that giant and the wretched whore with whom he sins.

            “It may be that my dark prophecy – not unlike those of Themis or the Sphinx – has only confused you. But soon enough, events will occur that will make this difficult riddle clear without destroying sheep or fields of grain. Keep my words in mind and repeat them to those you teach, those who live the kind of life that is only a race to death.

            “When you write down what you’ve seen here, make sure you describe the tree you saw, damaged twice. God created that tree for His own holy purpose, and whoever robs or damages it commits a blasphemy against Him. Adam tasted the fruit of this tree and for more than five thousand years he yearned in pain for the One to come who would pay the penalty for that bite.

            “And your mind sleeps if you don’t yet grasp the special reason why the tree is so tall and why it grows wider at the top. If your errant thinking had not been hardened, as if by the waters of the Elsa – and your delight in those thoughts like Pyramus, whose blood stained the mulberry red – then from the tree’s unusual height and shape you might have understood the moral sense of why God banned Adam from coming near it.

            “But I fear that your mind has become like stone – petrified and dark and unable to see the clear light of my words. So, it is my wish that, if you can’t carry back with you what I’ve told you in writing, then at least you’ll have it within you – like a pilgrim’s staff wreathed with palm as a memento of the journey.”

            And I replied: “As wax stamped by a seal always keeps the imprint, just so your seal is imprinted in my brain. But why is it that your words soar so high above me? It seems that the more I try to follow them, the more they elude me.”

            “Why?” she answered. “So that you can more clearly understand the school of thought you’ve followed, and match how well it follows mine. And also, so that you can see clearly that your ways are as far from God’s ways as earth is from the highest sphere in the heavens.”

            “But I don’t remember ever having become estranged from you,” I replied. “For my part, my conscience is clear about that.”

            She smiled as she said: “You really don’t remember that? Surely, you must remember drinking the waters of the Lethe just a while ago. If smoke leads us to believe there is fire, the fact that you are forgetful proves that your desires were directed elsewhere. But from now on,” here she looked at me earnestly, “I promise that everything I say will be plain and clear so that your poor mind can grasp it.”

            It was now high noon, and the blazing sun moved brighter and slower along its meridian track, which shifts here and there depending on where one looks at it. Then, as one who leads others might halt if he sees something unexpected, the seven ladies stopped as they came to a shady place, shadowed beneath the green leaves and dark boughs as a mountain casts its shadow on a cool stream. In front of them, I saw flowing from a single source what might have been the Tigris and Euphrates. Flowing onward, like two friends, they slowly separated.

            “O light, O glory of the human race,” I said, “what water is this that flows from a single source and then divides itself in two?”

            And she replied, “Ask Matelda here to explain this to you.”

            Speaking as though she had to clear herself of some blame, that lovely lady replied: “I’ve made this and much more clear to him already. I can’t believe that Lethe would have washed away the memory of that.”

            “Perhaps some greater care is weighing on him,” said Beatrice, “something that obscures his memory and prevents him from seeing clearly. But look, now. Here in front of us is the stream of Eunoë. Lead him to it and, as you are accustomed, restore his darkened powers within its flow.”

            Then, that lovely lady graciously followed Beatrice’s command. Taking me by the hand, she moved forward, saying to Statius, “And you come with him.”

            At this point, if I had more time and more words, I would begin to sing about the sweetness of that water, which could never have satisfied my thirst. For now, I have completed what I planned for this second part of my poem, and my art requires that I bring it to an end here. But from out of that sacred stream I came like one reborn, a tree blooming with new leaves, pure, eager, and ready to rise up to the stars.