CANTO THE SIXTH.

 

ARGUMENT.

 

Continuing still their Journey through the Region of the Negligent, they meet with the Spirit of SORDELLO, a MANTUAN, who condoles with VIRGIL, on the Corruption of Manners in their native Country.

 

When conquer’d in the long-revolving game,

The mournful Loser fits absorb’d in shame,

And sadly ponders on each doubtful cast :

The Victor, ’midst the crowd, triumphant goes,

Congratulating friends his passage close,

And high he seems, in Fortune’s summit plac’d.

 

II.

 

To each in turn, a list’ning ear he lends,

And each in turn, a ready hand extends,

To share his spoils, and with the gift retires :

So I, besieg’d by this unbody’d crowd,

To each in turn, some future service vow’d,

And won my passage thro’ the shadowy choirs.

 

III.

 

There the sad Ghost of BENINCASA stood,

Whom GHINO’s deadly hand baptiz’d in blood ;

And HE, whom erst his madding courser bore,

And plung’d in ARNO, while he chac’d his foes :

Here, with lopp’d arms, NOVELLA wail’d his woes,

With FARINATA, fam’d on PISA’s shore.

 

IV.

 

Thro’ him, his Father’s fame will still survive,

Lesson’d by Christian patience, to forgive

The bloody hand that laid his offspring low :

Pale ORSO, with ANOTHER, stood behind,

Whose vital thread calumnious art untwin’d ;

A flighted Queen procur’d his overthrow.

 

V.

 

But, penitent at last, she told her crime,

Else Heav’n had doom’d her to a lower clime,

In the black bands of perfidy enroll’d :

All these I pass’d ; and all, with suppliant air,

Besought, with tears, an interceding pray’r,

To speed their passage to EMMANUEL’s fold.

 

VI.

 

Perplex’d with doubts, I thus the Bard address’d :

“ A diff’rent tenet erst your Muse profess’d ;

That pray’rs were render’d vain, by Heav’n’s decree :

Yet those incessant pray to change their doom ;

Can they prevail ? Or, does the closing tomb

For ever interdict their fervent plea ?”

 

VII.

 

“ Have I misunderstood your ancient strain ?”

The MANTUAN quick reply’d : “ My text is plain ;

Yet on a solid base their hopes rely :

Eternal Justice still demands its due,

Tho’ melting Mercy o’er the suppliant crew

Spreads her soft plumage, and unlocks the sky.

 

VIII.

 

“ LOVE’s intercession wipes the guilt away ;

He brought as beam of everlasting day,

Long ere the promis’d dawn, to guild their gloom :

Those pray’rs I mention’d in my Epic strain,

To the bright throne of Mercy rose in vain,

When Justice had announc’d the Sinner’s doom.

 

IX.

 

“ But tangle not yourself in doubts profound,

In time, they shall be clear’d, on heav’nly ground ;

When Heav’n’s fair Delegate shall pour the day

Of wisdom on your soul. Yon’ lofty cone

She visits oft, and cheers the nether zone

With smiles, reflecting heav’n’s unclouded ray.”

 

X.

 

“ O gentle MANTUAN ! haste we hence,” I cry’d ;

“ A moments rest my members has supply’d

With vigour new, and southward falls the Shade,

Slow verging from the steady point of noon.”

“ Haste !” cry’d the Poet, “ we’ll o’ertake the Sun ;

But long exertion still must first be made.

 

XI.

 

“ Before your winding journey sees an end,

Yon’ lamp, that now declines, must re-ascend ;

And in the vaward of the Welkin glow :

As now he seems to quit his lofty post,

And leaves your Shade in deeper umbrage lost,

Where the tall Mountain bends its solemn brow.”

 

XII.

 

“ But who is he,” I ask’d, “ whose stedfast look

Observes our progress, from that craggy nook ?

Perhaps he’ll deign to point th’ ascending path.”

In stern solemnity the Spirit stood,

An inborn dignity of soul he shew’d,

Yet unextinguish’d by the hand of Death.

 

XIII.

 

Askance ; and, as a couchant lion eyes

His thoughtless victim, when he means to surprise ;

The Shade perus’d us : when, approaching near,

The gentle Bard enquir’d the ready way :

The Ghost demurr’d, but bade us first display,

What cause had led us from the nether Sphere.

 

XIV.

 

But when the name of MANTUA first he heard,

The melancholy Shade his visage clear’d ;

And, to the Bard, descending from his post,

With a faint gleam of nascent joy, he came,

And cry’d, “ Our native country is the fame ;

I was SORDELLO once, on MINCIO’s coast.”

 

XV.

 

Then, ah ! how close these loving souls embrac’d ;

Hear it, proud LATIUM ! by thy Sons disgrac’d ;

Unguided barque ! the sport of ev’ry gale !

Sink of pollution from each neighb’ring clime !

O’er which thine ancient Sceptre wav’d sublime !

Mark what I saw, and blush to hear the tale !

 

XVI.

 

In those soul-harrowing climes, the very name

Of ITALY awoke a sudden flame

Of concord, and of love ; while all around

Will Faction scours your plains from sea to sea ;

And Civil Rage, that scorns Religion’s plea,

Rings round your shores, by lasting feuds renown’d !

 

XVII.

 

Search from thy midland hills to either main,

For them that foster Peace : you search in vain ! ---

---Ah ! what avails that pure and equal law

JUSTINIAN gave, if now the lineal Throne

No more its old imperial Lord will own,

To sanction right, and hold your foes in awe ?

 

XVIII.

 

HIS noble code is thy eternal shame :---

Some small indulgence yet thy Sins might claim,

Hadst thou to CAESAR giv’n the reins to hold ;

And own’d the laws of Heav’n, or understood.---

Oh ! royal GERMAN ! see how wild and rude,

Your proud Steed scours the champain uncontrol’d !

 

XIX.

 

He has not felt the spur for may a Moon ;

A little discipline would tame him soon,

When once his wanton back sustains the load :

Oh ! may the curse, the NEGLIGENT deserve,

Follow all those, who thus supinely swerve

From duty’s honest call, and shame their blood !

 

XX.

 

What have you suffer’d, and your father’s Ghost,

For having left your old and sacred post,

The Paradise of Empire, thus forlorn ;

O’er bleak GERMANIA’s Hills to spread your sway,

And leave your sweet HESPERIAN Vales a prey

To fierce domestic rage, and hostile scorn ?---

 

XXI.

 

O, careless King ! behold what ruthless rage,

MONTECCHI’s line, CAPELET engage ;

And PHILIPPESCHI, with MONALDI’s race ;

These driven to exile, those in deadly fear :

Behold, what dire extremes thy friends must bear !

See ! what vile deeds thy SANTAFIER disgrace !

 

XXII.

 

Hark, to the wailings of deserted Rome !

How, day and night, she mourns her hapless doom !

“ Return, my CAESAR !” is her constant cry :

“ Come, and behold our loyalty and love !

Or, if compassion fail thy heart to move,

Let love of Fame at least its place supply !

 

XXIII.

 

“ O, THOU ! that gav’st thy blood for human crimes ;

If we can venture, in those hapless times,

To ask thee, why thine eyes are turn’d away ?---

Why, in th’ abyss of thine eternal mind,

Do these prime benefits, for us design’d,

Such strange appearance shew to man’s survey ?

 

XXIV.

 

“ Why sees they realm, in each enchanting vale,

Some tyrant Lord, with bloody hand, assail

The Shrine of Peace ; and, with his ruffian band,

Of ROMAN virtue make his impious boast,

Whene’er his legions desolate the coast,

And send his name in curses round the land ?---

 

XXV.

 

Hail, happy native land ! behold how bright

My FLORENCE shines, amid this MORAL Night !

Sages and Heroes, hail ! VALDARNO’s pride !

Tongue-deep in Virtue, still you chant her name ;

Upon your LIPS resides her hallow’d flame :

That flame, which others in their bosoms hide !

 

XXVI.

 

When other dastard Souls refuse the weight

Of public Functions, and the cares of State ;

YOUR Sons with emulative ardour haste,

The glory and the danger both to share :

Hence your fair fields escape the scourge of war,

And hence your wealth, which Time can never waste.

 

XXVII.

 

Hence, ’mongst the wise, in wisdom you excel,

( My truth, or fiction, soon th’ effect will tell ;)

ATHENS, and LACEDEMON, long renown’d

For firm, well-sanction’d laws, and arts of rule,

Might draw new light from thy egregious school,

For sapient maxims fam’d, and laws profound !

 

XXVIII.

 

Thy statutes, wisely fram’d, when CYNTHIA’s light,

With her coy crescent decks the brow of Night,

Oft, like a fairy fabric, melt away,

Before she wanes. Your Offices and Coin

You stamp, and new-create, and then resign

To blank Oblivion, ere the Moon’s decay !

 

XXIX.

 

If yet your wild delirium should retire,

Then keenly would you feel the fever’s fire,

That burns your blood, and bids you shift your side

For momentary ease ; but still in vain

Your posture alters : still your plagues remain,

By ev’ry change with vigour new supply’d.

 

 

END OF THE SIXTH CANTO.