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Dante: The decree of peace the centuries wept for


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Dante: The fate of those who deal in bloodshed and in pillaging

Italian writers on war and militarism

James Russell Lowell: Dante and universal peace


Dante Alighieri
From Purgatory
Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Still near to it Virgilius drew, entreating
That it would point us out the best ascent;
And it replied not unto his demand,

But of our native land and of our life
It questioned us; and the sweet Guide began:
“Mantua,” – and the shade, all in itself recluse,

Rose tow’rds him from the place where first it was,
Saying: “O Mantuan, I am Sordello
Of thine own land!” and one embraced the other.

Ah! servile Italy, grief’s hostelry!
A ship without a pilot in great tempest!
No Lady thou of Provinces, but brothel!

That noble soul was so impatient, only
At the sweet sound of his own native land,
To make its citizen glad welcome there;

And now within thee are not without war
Thy living ones, and one doth gnaw the other
Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in!

Search, wretched one, all round about the shores
Thy seaboard, and then look within thy bosom,
If any part of thee enjoyeth peace!


Ah! people, thou that oughtest to be devout,
And to let Caesar sit upon the saddle,
If well thou hearest what God teacheth thee,

Behold how fell this wild beast has become,
Being no longer by the spur corrected,
Since thou hast laid thy hand upon the bridle.


From the translation by John Ciardi

Ah, slavish Italy, the home of grief,
ship without pilot caught in a raging storm,
no queen of provinces – whorehouse of shame!

How quick that noble soul was to respond
to the mere sound of his sweet city’s name,
by welcoming his fellow citizen –

while, now, no one within your bounds knows rest
from war, and those enclosed by the same wall
and moat, even they are at each other’s throats!

O wretched Italy, search all your coasts,
probe to your very center: can you find
within you any part that is at peace?


Translation by John Ciardi

The Angel who came down to man
with the decree of peace the centuries wept for,
which opened heaven, ending the long ban….

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