Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.


Divina Commedia

  • The six sonnets which follow were written during the progress of Mr. Longfellow’s work in translating the Divina Commedia, and were published as poetical flyleaves to the three parts. The first was written just after he had put the first two cantos of the Inferno into the hands of the printer. This, with the second, prefaced the Inferno. The third and fourth introduced the Purgatorio, and the fifth and sixth the Paradiso.

  • I
    OFT have I seen at some cathedral door

    A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,

    Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet

    Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor

    Kneel to repeat his paternoster o’er;

    Far off the noises of the world retreat;

    The loud vociferations of the street

    Become an undistinguishable roar.

    So, as I enter here from day to day,

    And leave my burden at this minster gate,

    Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,

    The tumult of the time disconsolate

    To inarticulate murmurs dies away,

    While the eternal ages watch and wait.

    How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!

    This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves

    Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves

    Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers,

    And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers!

    But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves

    Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,

    And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers!

    Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain,

    What exultations trampling on despair,

    What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,

    What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,

    Uprose this poem of the earth and air,

    This mediæval miracle of song!

    I enter, and I see thee in the gloom

    Of the long aisles, O poet saturnine!

    And strive to make my steps keep pace with thine.

    The air is filled with some unknown perfume;

    The congregation of the dead make room

    For thee to pass; the votive tapers shine;

    Like rooks that haunt Ravenna’s groves of pine

    The hovering echoes fly from tomb to tomb.

    From the confessionals I hear arise

    Rehearsals of forgotten tragedies,

    And lamentations from the crypts below;

    And then a voice celestial that begins

    With the pathetic words, “Although your sins

    As scarlet be,” and ends with “as the snow.”

    With snow-white veil and garments as of flame,

    She stands before thee, who so long ago

    Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe

    From which thy song and all its splendors came;

    And while with stern rebuke she speaks thy name,

    The ice about thy heart melts as the snow

    On mountain heights, and in swift overflow

    Comes gushing from thy lips in sobs of shame.

    Thou makest full confession; and a gleam,

    As of the dawn on some dark forest cast,

    Seems on thy lifted forehead to increase;

    Lethe and Eunoë—the remembered dream

    And the forgotten sorrow—bring at last

    That perfect pardon which is perfect peace.

    I lift mine eyes, and all the windows blaze

    With forms of Saints and holy men who died,

    Here martyred and hereafter glorified;

    And the great Rose upon its leaves displays

    Christ’s Triumph, and the angelic roundelays,

    With splendor upon splendor multiplied;

    And Beatrice again at Dante’s side

    No more rebukes, but smiles her words of praise.

    And then the organ sounds, and unseen choirs

    Sing the old Latin hymns of peace and love

    And benedictions of the Holy Ghost;

    And the melodious bells among the spires

    O’er all the house-tops and through heaven above

    Proclaim the elevation of the Host!

    O star of morning and of liberty!

    O bringer of the light, whose splendor shines

    Above the darkness of the Apennines,

    Forerunner of the day that is to be!

    The voices of the city and the sea,

    The voices of the mountains and the pines,

    Repeat thy song, till the familiar lines

    Are footpaths for the thought of Italy!

    Thy flame is blown abroad from all the heights,

    Through all the nations, and a sound is heard,

    As of a mighty wind, and men devout,

    Strangers of Rome, and the new proselytes,

    In their own language hear thy wondrous word,

    And many are amazed and many doubt.