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


From the Italian. The Celestial Pilot

  • Purgatorio II. 13–51.
  • Mr. Longfellow’s biographer, in speaking of the poet’s methods with his college class when engaged upon the study of Dante, says: “The Professor read the book into English to his class, with a running commentary and illustration. For his purpose he had bound an interleaved copy of the author; the blank pages of which he gradually filled with notes and with translations of noteworthy passages. In this way were written those passages from the Divina Commedia which were first printed in the Voices of the Night.”

  • AND now, behold! as at the approach of morning,

    Through the gross vapors, Mars grows fiery red

    Down in the west upon the ocean floor,

    Appeared to me,—may I again behold it!

    A light along the sea, so swiftly coming,

    Its motion by no flight of wing is equalled.

    And when therefrom I had withdrawn a little

    Mine eyes, that I might question my conductor,

    Again I saw it brighter grown and larger.

    Thereafter, on all sides of it, appeared

    I knew not what of white, and underneath,

    Little by little, there came forth another.

    My master yet had uttered not a word,

    While the first whiteness into wings unfolded;

    But, when he clearly recognized the pilot,

    He cried aloud: “Quick, quick, and bow the knee!

    Behold the Angel of God! fold up thy hands!

    Henceforward shalt thou see such officers!

    See, how he scorns all human arguments,

    So that no oar he wants, nor other sail

    Than his own wings, between so distant shores!

    See, how he holds them, pointed straight to heaven,

    Fanning the air with the eternal pinions,

    That do not moult themselves like mortal hair!”

    And then, as nearer and more near us came

    The Bird of Heaven, more glorious he appeared,

    So that the eye could not sustain his presence,

    But down I cast it; and he came to shore

    With a small vessel, gliding swift and light,

    So that the water swallowed naught thereof.

    Upon the stern stood the Celestial Pilot!

    Beatitude seemed written in his face!

    And more than a hundred spirits sat within.

    “In exitu Israel de Ægypto!”

    Thus sang they all together in one voice,

    With whatso in that Psalm is after written.

    Then made he sign of holy rood upon them,

    Whereat all cast themselves upon the shore,

    And he departed swiftly as he came.