Alas, proud Christians, faint with misery,
So warped of vision in the inward sense
You trust in your backslidings! Don’t you see
That we are worms, whose insignificance
Lives but to form the angelic butterfly
That flits to judgement naked of defence?
Why do you let pretension soar so high,
Being as it were but larvae — grubs that lack
The finished form that shall be by and by?
[O superbi Cristian, miseri lassi!
Che, della vista della mente infermi,
Fidanza avete ne’ ritrosi passi;
Non v’ accorgete voi, che noi siam vermi
Nati a formar l’ angelica farfalla,
Che vola alla giustizia senza schermi?
Di che l’ animo vostro in alto galla,
Poi siete quasi entomata in difetto,
Sì come verme, in cui formazion falla?]
The Divine Comedy [Divina Commedia], Book 2 “Purgatorio,” Canto 10, l. 121ff (10.121-129) (1314) [tr. Sayers (1955)]
Criticizing prideful Christians.
(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:
O, miserable Pride! of Blindness born!
Vile retrograde Ambition! theme of Scorn!
Can Reptiles in the dust, of dust be proud? --
Boast of their meanness, falsify their end;
From their immortal hopes at once descend.
And let a dowerless Vice their prospects cloud? --
As Reptiles, who their painted plumes display,
(Tho; crawling once in dust,) and wing their way
On Summer-buxom gales, and claim the Sky:
Thus were ye born, and thus you claim your flight
To the pure Precincts of celestial Light,
If on no fpurious Pride your hopes rely.
[tr. Boyd (1802), st. 23-24]
Christians and proud! O poor and wretched ones!
That feeble in the mind’s eye, lean your trust
Upon unstaid perverseness! Know ye not
That we are worms, yet made at last to form
The winged insect, imp’d with angel plumes
That to heaven’s justice unobstructed soars?
Why buoy ye up aloft your unfleg’d souls?
Abortive then and shapeless ye remain,
Like the untimely embryon of a worm!
[tr. Cary (1814)]
O haughty Christians! miserable, alas!
From mental sight to weakness that's allied,
Confiding in perverseness and in pride,
Perceive ye not we are but merely worms,
Born embryo of angelic butterfly,
Which, unrestrained, to justice flies on high,
Where is the object of your souring flight?
Insect, in whom defecta lone prevails,
And worm, in which the true formatiln fails.v [tr. Bannerman (1850)]
O ye proud Christians! wretched, weary ones!
Who, in the vision of the mind infirm
Confidence have in your backsliding steps,
Do ye not comprehend that we are worms,
Born to bring forth the angelic butterfly
That flieth unto judgment without screen?
Why floats aloft your spirit high in air?
Like are ye unto insects undeveloped,
Even as the worm in whom formation fails!
[tr. Longfellow (1867)]
O proud Christians, wretched and weary, who, weak in the sight of the mind, have confidence in your backward paces, do ye not perceive that we are worms, born to form the angelic butterfly which flies without screen to the judgement? In respect of what does your mind float on high, since ye are as it were defective insects, like a worm in which formative power is in default?
[tr. Butler (1885)]
Proud Christians, wretched, weary, and undone!
Who of your mental sight are so bereaved
That ye have faith in backward paths alone;
That we are worms have ye not yet perceived,
Born but to form the Angelic butterfly
That soareth up to judgment unreprieved?
Of what your spirit doth it vaunt so high?
Since ye are unformed insects at the best,
Worms as it were unfinished utterly.
[tr. Minchin (1885)]
O proud Christians, wretched weary ones, who, diseased in vision of the mind, have confidence in backward steps, are ye not aware that we are worms born to form the angelic butterfly which flies unto judgment without defence? Why doth your mind float up aloft, since ye are as it were defective insects, even as a worm in which formation fails?
[tr. Norton (1892)]
O ye proud Christians, wretched and weary, who, sick in mental vision, put trust in backward steps,
perceive ye not that we are worms, born to form the angelic butterfly that flieth to judgment without defence?
Why doth your mind soar on high, since ye are as 'twere imperfect insects, even as the grub in which full form is wanting?
[tr. Okey (1901)]
O vainglorious Christians, weary wretches who are sick in the mind's vision and put your trust in backward steps, do you not perceive that we are worms born to form the angelic butterfly that soars to judgement without defence? Why does your mind float so high, since you are as it were imperfect insects, like the worm that is undeveloped?
[tr. Sinclair (1939)]
O ye proud Christians, weary and sad of brow,
Who, tainted in the vision of the mind,
In backward steps your confidence avow,
Preceive ye not that we are worms, designed
To form the angelic butterfly, that goes
To judgment, leaving all defence behind?
Why doth your mind take such exalted pose,
Since ye, disabled, are as insects, mean
As worm which never transformation knows?
[tr. Binyon (1943)]
O you proud Christians, wretched souls and small,
who by the dim lights of your twisted minds
believe you prosper even as you fall --
can you not see that we awer works, each one
born to become the Angelic butterfly
that flies defenseless to the Judgment Throne?
what have your souls to boast of and be proud?
You are no more than insects, incomplete
as any grub until it burst the shroud.
[tr. Ciardi (1961)]
O proud Christians, wretched and weary, who, sick in mental vision, put trust in backward steps: are you not aware that we are worms, born to form the angelic butterfly that flies until judgment without defenses? Why does your mind soar up aloft, since you are as it wer imperfect insects, even as the worm in which full form is wanting?
[tr. Singleton (1973)]
O haughty Christians, wretched, sluggish souls,
all you whose inner vision is diseased,
putting your trust in things that pull you back,
do you not understand that we are worms,
each born to form the angelic butterfly,
that flies defenseless to the Final Judge?
Why do your souls’ pretensions rise so high,
since you are but defective insects still,
worms as yet imperfectly evolved?
[tr. Musa (1981)]
O proud Christians, wretched and exhausted,
Who, sick in mind, and not seeing aright,
Go confidently in the wrong direction;
Do you not perceive that we are grubs,
Born to turn into the angelic butterfly
Which flies towards justice without defence?
Why does your mind float aloft
Since you are no more than defective insects,
Like the grub which has not reached its full development?
[tr. Sisson (1981)]
O Christians, arrogant, exhausted, wretched,
Whose intellects are sick and cannot see,
Who place your confidence in backward steps,
Do you not know that we are worms and born
To form the angelic butterfly that soars,
Without defenses, to confront His judgment?
Why does your mind presume to flight when you
Are still like the imperfect grub, the worm
Before it has attained its final form?
[tr. Mandelbaum (1982)]
O proud Christians, weary wretches, who, weak in mental vision, put your faith in backward steps,
do you not perceive that we are worms born to form the angelic butterfly that flies to justice without a shield?
Why is it that your spirit floats on high, since you are like defective insects, like worms in whom formation is lacking?
[tr. Durling (2003)]
O proud Christians, weary and wretched, who, infirm in the mind’s vision, put your trust in downward steps: do you not see that we are caterpillars, born to form the angelic butterfly, that flies to judgement without defence? Why does your mind soar to the heights, since you are defective insects, even as the caterpillar is, in which the form is lacking?
[tr. Kline (2002)]
Proud Christians, wretched and — alas! — so tired,
who, feeble in your powers of mental sight,
place so much faith in your own backward tread,
do you not recognize that you are worms
born to become angelic butterflies
that fly to justice with no veil between?
Why is it that your thoughts float up so high?
You, with your faults, are little more than grubs,
chrysalides (no more!) that lack full form.
[tr. Kirkpatrick (2007)]
O vainglorious Christians, miserable wretches!
Sick in the visions engendered in your minds,
you put your trust in backward steps.
Do you not see that we are born as worms,
though able to transform into angelic butterflies
that unimpeded soar to justice?
What makes your mind rear up so high?
You are, as it were, defective creatures,
like the unformed worm, shaped from the mud.
[tr. Hollander/Hollander (2007)]
O haughty Christians, miserable and weary,
Driven by sickness rioting in your mind,
Placing eternal trust in what walks backward,
Unable to see that human beings are worms,
Born to create angelic butterflies
That fly to God's judgment, needing no other protection.
Why do you let your mind soar into Heaven,
Since what you truly are is imperfect insects,
Just as the worm must wait to come into being?
[tr. Raffel (2010)]
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Living things tend to change unrecognizably as they grow. Who would deduce the dragonfly from the larva, the iris from the bud, the lawyer from the infant? Flora or fauna, we are all shape-shifters and magic reinventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves.
Cultivating Delight; A Natural History of My Garden, ch. 6 (2001)
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