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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.

Arno, the River

The River Arno

By Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321)

(From Purgatory, Canto XIV)
Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

AND I: “Through midst of Tuscany there wanders

A streamlet that is born in Falterona,

And not a hundred miles of course suffice it;

From thereupon do I this body bring.

To tell you who I am were speech in vain,

Because my name as yet makes no great noise.”

“If well thy meaning I can penetrate

With intellect of mine,” then answered me

He who first spake, “thou speakest of the Arno.”

And said the other to him: “Why concealed

This one the appellation of that river,

Even as a man doth of things horrible?”

And thus the shade that questioned was of this

Himself acquitted: “I know not; but truly

’T is fit the name of such a valley perish;

For from its fountain-head (where is so pregnant

The Alpine mountain whence is cleft Peloro

That in few places it that mark surpasses)

To where it yields itself in restoration

Of what the heaven doth of the sea dry up,

Whence have the rivers that which goes with them,

Virtue is like an enemy avoided

By all, as is a serpent, through misfortune

Of place, or through bad habit that impels them;

On which account have so transformed their nature

The dwellers in that miserable valley,

It seems that Circe had them in her pasture.

Mid ugly swine, of acorns worthier

Than other food for human use created,

It first directeth its impoverished way.

Curs findeth it thereafter, coming downward,

More snarling than their puissance demands,

And turns from them disdainfully its muzzle.

It goes on falling, and the more it grows,

The more it finds the dogs becoming wolves,

This maledict and misadventurous ditch.

Descended then through many a hollow gulf,

It findeth foxes so replete with fraud,

They fear no cunning that may master them.

Nor will I cease because another hears me;

And well ’t will be for him, if still he mind him

Of what a truthful spirit to me unravels.

Thy grandson I behold, who doth become

A hunter of those wolves upon the bank

Of the wild stream, and terrifies them all.

He sells their flesh, it being yet alive;

Thereafter slaughters them like ancient beeves;

Many of life, himself of praise, deprives.

Blood-stained he issues from the dismal forest;

He leaves it such, a thousand years from now

In its primeval state ’t is not re-wooded.”