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 Canto XXXI
      Beatrice continues her reprehension of Dante, who confesses his error,
 and falls to the ground; coming to himself again, he is by Matilda drawn
 through the waters of Lethe, and presented first to the four virgins who
 figure the cardinal virtues; these in their turn lead him to the Gryphon, a
 symbol of our Saviour; and the three virgins, representing the evangelical
 virtues, intercede for him with Beatrice, that she would display to him her
 second beauty.
 "O Thou!" her words she thus without delay
 Resuming, turn'd their point on me, to whom
 They, with but lateral edge,[1] seem'd harsh before:
 "Say thou, who stand'st beyond the holy stream,
 If this be true. A charge, so grievous, needs
 Thine own avowal." On my faculty
 Such strange amazement hung, the voice expired
 Imperfect, ere its organs gave it birth.
 [1: "With but lateral edge." The words of Beatrice, when not
 addressed directly to himself, but spoken of him to the Angel, Dante had
 thought sufficiently harsh.]
 A little space refraining, then she spake:
 "What dost thou muse on? Answer me. The wave
 On thy remembrances of evil yet
 Hath done no injury." A mingled sense
 Of fear and of confusion, from my lips
 Did such a "Yea" produce, as needed help
 Of vision to interpret. As when breaks,
 In act to be discharged, a cross - bow bent
 Beyond its pitch, both nerve and bow o'erstretch'd;
 The flagging weapon feebly hits the mark:
 Thus, tears and sighs forth gushing, did I burst,
 Beneath the heavy load: and thus my voice
 Was slacken'd on its way. She straight began:
 "When my desire invited thee to love
 The good, which sets a bound to our aspirings;
 What bar of thwarting foss or linked chain
 Did meet thee, that thou so shouldst quit the hope
 Of further progress? or what bait of ease,
 Or promise of allurement, led thee on
 Elsewhere, that thou elsewhere shouldst rather wait?"
 A bitter sigh I drew, then scarce found voice
 To answer; hardly to these sounds my lips
 Gave utterance, wailing: "Thy fair looks withdrawn,
 Things present, with deceitful pleasures, turn'd
 My steps aside." She answering spake: "Hadst thou
 Been silent, or denied what thou avow'st,
 Thou hadst not hid thy sin the more; such eye
 Observes it. But whene'er the sinner's cheek
 Breaks forth into the precious - streaming tears
 Of self - accusing, in our court the wheel
 Of justice doth run counter to the edge.[2]
 Howe'er, that thou mayst profit by thy shame
 For errors past, and that henceforth more strength
 May arm thee, when thou hear'st the Syren - voice;
 Lay thou aside the motive to this grief,
 And lend attentive ear, while I unfold
 How opposite a way my buried flesh
 Should have impell'd thee. Never didst thou spy,
 In art or nature, aught so passing sweet,
 As were the limbs that in their beauteous frame
 Enclosed me, and are scatter'd now in dust.
 If sweetest thing thus fail'd thee with my death,
 What, afterward, of moral, should thy wish
 Have tempted? When thou first hadst felt the dart
 Of perishable things, in my departing
 For better realms, thy wing thou shouldst have pruned
 To follow me; and never stoop'd again,
 To 'bide a second blow, for a slight girl,[3]
 Or other gaud as transient and as vain.
 The new and inexperienced bird[4] awaits,
 Twice it may be, or thrice, the fowler's aim;
 But in the sight of one whose plumes are full,
 In vain the net is spread, the arrow wing'd."
 [2: "The weapons of divine justice are blunted by the confession and
 sorrow of the offender."]
 [3: "For a slight girl." Daniello and Venturi say that this alludes
 to Gentucca of Lucca, mentioned in the twenty - fourth Canto.]
 [4: "Bird." "Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any
 bird." - Prov. i. 17.]
 I stood, as children silent and ashamed
 Stand, listening, with their eyes upon the earth,
 Acknowledging their fault, and self - condemn'd.
 And she resumed: "If, but to hear, thus pains thee,
 Raise thou thy beard, and lo! what sight shall do."
 With less reluctance yields a sturdy holm,
 Rent from its fibres by a blast, that blows
 From off the pole, or from Iarbas' land,[5]
 Than I at her behest my visage raised:
 And thus the face denoting by the beard,
 I mark'd the secret sting her words convey'd.
 [5: "From Iarbas' land." The south.]
 No sooner lifted I mine aspect up,
 Than I perceived those primal creatures cease
 Their flowery sprinkling; and mine eyes beheld
 (Yet unassured and wavering in their view)
 Beatrice; she, who toward the mystic shape,
 That joins two natures in one form, had turn'd:
 And, even under shadow of her veil,
 And parted by the verdant rill that flow'd
 Between, in loveliness she seem'd as much
 Her former self surpassing, as on earth
 All others she surpass'd. Remorseful goads
 Shot sudden through me. Each thing else, the more
 Its love had late beguiled me, now the more
 Was loathsome. On my heart so keenly smote
 The bitter consciousness, that on the ground
 O'erpower'd I fell: and what my state was then,
 She knows, who was the cause. When now my strength
 Flow'd back, returning outward from the heart,
 The lady,[6] whom alone I first had seen,
 I found above me. "Loose me not," she cried:
 "Loose not thy hold:" and lo! had dragg'd me high
 As to my neck into the stream; while she,
 Still as she drew me after, swept along,
 Swift as a shuttle, bounding o'er the wave.
 [6: "The lady." Matilda.]
 The blessed shore approaching, then was heard
 So sweetly, "Tu asperges me," that I
 May not remember, much less tell the sound.
 The beauteous dame, her arms expanding, clasp'd
 My temples, and immerged me where 'twas fit
 The wave should drench me: and, thence raising up,
 Within the fourfold dance of lovely nymphs
 Presented me so laved; and with their arm
 They each did cover me. "Here are we nymphs,
 And in the heaven are stars. Or ever earth
 Was visited of Beatrice, we,
 Appointed for her handmaids, tended on her.
 We to her eyes will lead thee: but the light
 Of gladness, that is in them, well to scan,
 Those yonder three, of deeper ken than ours,
 Thy sight shall quicken." Thus began their song:
 And then they led me to the Gryphon's breast,
 Where, turn'd toward us, Beatrice stood.
 "Spare not thy vision. We have station'd thee
 Before the emeralds, whence love, erewhile,
 Hath drawn his weapons on thee." As they spake,
 A thousand fervent wishes riveted
 Mine eyes upon her beaming eyes, that stood,
 Still fix'd toward the Gryphon, motionless.
 As the sun strikes a mirror, even thus
 Within those orbs the twofold being shone;
 Forever varying, in one figure now
 Reflected, now in other. Reader! muse
 How wondrous in my sight it seem'd, to mark
 A thing, albeit steadfast in itself,
 Yet in its imaged semblance mutable.
 Full of amaze, and joyous, while my soul
 Fed on the viand, whereof still desire
 Grows with satiety; the other three,
 With gesture that declared a loftier line,
 Advanced: to their own carol, on they came
 Dancing, in festive ring angelical.
 "Turn, Beatrice!" was their song: "Oh! turn
 Thy saintly sight on this thy faithful one,
 Who, to behold thee, many a wearisome pace
 Hath measured. Gracious at our prayer, vouchsafe
 Unveiled to him thy cheeks; that he may mark
 Thy second beauty, now conceal'd." O splendour!
 O sacred light eternal! who is he,
 So pale with musing in Pierian shades,
 Or with that fount so lavishly imbued,
 Whose spirit should not fail him in the essay
 To represent thee such as thou didst seem,
 When under cope of the still - chiming Heaven
 Thou gavest to open air thy charms reveal'd?