Divina Commedia

Original Text: 
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Bibliographical and Critical Notes, Riverside Edition (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), III, 140-43. PS 2250 E90 Robarts Library.
Written March 29, 1864.
1.2    A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,
1.3    Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet
1.4    Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor
1.6    Far off the noises of the world retreat;
1.7    The loud vociferations of the street
1.8    Become an undistinguishable roar.
1.9So, as I enter here from day to day,
1.10    And leave my burden at this minster gate,
1.11    Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
1.12The tumult of the time disconsolate
1.13    To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
1.14    While the eternal ages watch and wait.
2.1How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!
2.2    This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves
2.3    Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves
2.5And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers!
2.6    But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves
2.7    Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,
2.8    And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers!
2.9Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain,
2.10    What exultations trampling on despair,
2.11    What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,
2.12What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,
2.13    Uprose this poem of the earth and air,
2.14    This mediæval miracle of song!
Written December 22, 1865.
3.1I enter, and I see thee in the gloom
3.3    And strive to make my steps keep pace with thine.
3.4    The air is filled with some unknown perfume;
3.5The congregation of the dead make room
3.6    For thee to pass; the votive tapers shine;
3.8    The hovering echoes fly from tomb to tomb.
3.9From the confessionals I hear arise
3.10    Rehearsals of forgotten tragedies,
3.11    And lamentations from the crypts below;
3.12And then a voice celestial that begins
3.14    As scarlet be," and ends with "as the snow."
Written May 5, 1867.
4.1With snow-white veil and garments as of flame,
4.2    She stands before thee, who so long ago
4.3    Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe
4.4    From which thy song and all its splendors came;
4.5And while with stern rebuke she speaks thy name,
4.6    The ice about thy heart melts as the snow
4.7    On mountain heights, and in swift overflow
4.8    Comes gushing from thy lips in sobs of shame.
4.9Thou makest full confession; and a gleam,
4.10    As of the dawn on some dark forest cast,
4.11    Seems on thy lifted forehead to increase;
4.13    And the forgotten sorrow -- bring at last
4.14    That perfect pardon which is perfect peace.
Written January 16, 1866.
5.1I lift mine eyes, and all the windows blaze
5.2    With forms of Saints and holy men who died,
5.3    Here martyred and hereafter glorified;
5.4    And the great Rose upon its leaves displays
5.5Christ's Triumph, and the angelic roundelays,
5.6    With splendor upon splendor multiplied;
5.8    No more rebukes, but smiles her words of praise.
5.9And then the organ sounds, and unseen choirs
5.10    Sing the old Latin hymns of peace and love
5.11    And benedictions of the Holy Ghost;
5.12And the melodious bells among the spires
5.13    O'er all the house-tops and through heaven above
Written March 7, 1866.
6.1O star of morning and of liberty!
6.2    O bringer of the light, whose splendor shines
6.4    Forerunner of the day that is to be!
6.5The voices of the city and the sea,
6.6    The voices of the mountains and the pines,
6.7    Repeat thy song, till the familiar lines
6.8    Are footpaths for the thought of Italy!
6.9Thy fame is blown abroad from all the heights,
6.10    Through all the nations, and a sound is heard,
6.11    As of a mighty wind, and men devout,
6.12Strangers of Rome, and the new proselytes,
6.13    In their own language hear thy wondrous word,
6.14    And many are amazed and many doubt.


1.1] "The six sonnets ... were written during the progress of Mr. Longfellow's work in translating the Divina Commedia, and were published as poetical fly-leaves 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." (Editor, p. 140.)All are associated with Longfellow's grief at the death of his second wife Fanny in 1861. Back to Line
1.5] paternoster: New Testament prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples, "Our Father, who art in heaven ...", the Lord's Prayer. Back to Line
2.4] Parvis: portico or small enclosed space placed in front of a church. Back to Line
3.2] O poet saturnine: born under or influenced by the planet Saturn -- gloomy, chilling. Back to Line
3.7] Ravenna: region northeast of Florence, Dante's home and burial-place. Back to Line
3.13] Isaiah 1.18; Dante's Purgatorio, XXXI.98. Back to Line
4.12] In Dante's underworld, the river Lethe grants forgetfulness, and the river Eunoë remembrance of the good. Back to Line
5.7] Beatrice: Dante's beloved, for whom he journeys through hell and purgatory into heaven and finally reaches when Dante sees the eternal "rose" (in which the saints, like petals, encircle the Virgin Mary and the Trinity). Back to Line
5.14] the Host: the sacrament of bread and wine, the body andblood of Christ. Back to Line
6.3] Apennines: mountains extending along the Italian peninsula. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Atlantic Monthly (Dec. 1864 and Nov. 1866); Divina Commedia, translated by H. W. Longfellow (1867); and first as a sequence in Flower-de-Luce (1867)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.