As the Flemings build bulwarks to hold back the sea
Between the cities of Ghent and Bruges,
Fearing the tide that hurls itself towards them;
Or as the Paduans along the Brenta,
Build mounds to guard their castles and villages,
When the warmth is felt on Chiarentana's summit;
In a similar manner had these been made,
Although not matched in height nor thickness,
By the master who built them, whoever he might be.
We were now so far from the forest removed,
I could not have discovered where it was
If I had turned around and looked,
When we came upon a company of souls
Who approached the ridge, and each one eyed us
As at evening we are accustomed to look
At another we see beneath a new moon,
And they peered at us with as sharp a look
As an aged tailor at a needle's eye.
While scrutinized thus by all the tribe,
I was recognised by one who seized my garment
And cried, "What wonder have we here!"
And I, when he stretched forth his hand to me,
So fastened my eyes on his roasted looks,
That his scorched countenance did not prevent
My recognition of who he was;
And lowering my face closer to his own,
I replied, "Ser Brunetto! Are you down here?"
And he: "O my son, do not be displeased
If Brunetto Latini walks back with you
A short while and lets his fellows proceed."
I replied: "With all my soul I wish it;
And if you'd care to sit with me,
I will, if permitted, for I journey with him."
"O son," he said, "whoever of this herd
Stops for an instant, lies a hundred years
And cannot fan himself when pelted by fire.
Therefore you go on and I'll keep to your heels,
And afterward I will rejoin my troop,
Which goes lamenting their eternal doom."
I did not dare to step down from the path
And walk on the same level with him,
But bowed my head as one walking reverently.
And he began: "What fortune or fate
Has led you down here before the last day?
And who is this that shows you the way?"
"Up there above in the life serene,"
I answered, "I'd lost my way in a valley,
Before I had completed my journey.
But yesterday morning I repented myself;
And while returning, this one I met
Who leads me homeward along this road."
"If you," he answered, "only follow your star,
You cannot forego a glorious haven,
If well I judge by my previous life.
And had I not died so prematurely,
Seeing the Heavens so generous unto you,
I would have given you comfort in your work.
But that ungrateful and malignant people,
Who came down from Fesole in olden times,
With traces still of their rough mountain rearing,
Will show you enmity for your good deeds;
And no wonder; for among the sourest apples
It ill-suits the sweet fig to bear her fruit.
Old rumour in the world proclaims them blind;
A people avaricious, envious, and proud;
Take heed that you cleanse yourself of their ways.
Your destiny holds reserves of honor for you,
Thus you are craved by both of the parties:
But fresh herbs are always far from the goat.
The beasts of Fesole may produce a litter,
But let them never touch the plant,
If any still sprouts upon their dunghill,
In which revives the holy seed
Of those true Romans who remained there still
When it became the nest of great malice."
"If all my wishes were fulfilled,"
I straightly replied, "you would not be
Yet banished from the confines of human nature;
For my mind recalls, and it touches my heart,
Your dear and gentle paternal image
When in the world you lately taught me
The way a man finds eternal life;
And as long as I live, it befits me well
That my tongue should speak how grateful I am.
What you say of my fate I shall write and shall keep,
With another text to be explained by a lady
Who discerns all things, if I can reach her.
This much will I make clear to you;
So that my conscience will not condemn me,
I am ready for whatever Fortune may bring.
Such foretaste is not new or strange to my ears;
Let Fortune turn her wheel as she may please
And the clown his reversals; all things have their course."
With that, my Master turned around,
Then looked at me and said as follows:
"He listens to good purpose who pays close attention."
Nevertheless, I proceeded on my way
Speaking with Ser Brunetto, and asked who are
His companions known best and those most eminent .
He replied: "It is well to know of some;
Of others, it were best I remain silent,
Time forbids us a report so long.
In brief I can say, that these were scholars,
Men of great learning and of wide renown,
All stained in the world by the very same sin.
Priscian goes there with that wretched crowd,
And Francis of Accorso; and you might see,
If the desire for so vile a pustule possessed you,
Him transferred by the Servant of the Servants
From Arno's seat to Bacchiglione,
Where he had left his sin-aroused nerves.
More I would say, but walking and discoursing
Must come to an end, for ahead I see
New mist arising upon the sand.
I may not mingle with the people who approach ;
I commend my treasure unto your care,
In which I still live, and I ask no more."
Then he turned around, and seemed one of those
Who race at Verona across the plain
For the Green Mantle; and of them he appeared
Not he who loses but the winner of the prize.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.