Matilda Gathering Flowers

            from the Purgatorio of Dante, Canto 28, lines 1-51

And earnest to explore within—around— 
The divine wood, whose thick green living woof 
Tempered the young day to the sight—I wound 

Up the green slope, beneath the forest’s roof, 
With slow, soft steps leaving the mountain’s steep, 
And sought those inmost labyrinths, motion-proof 

Against the air, that in that stillness deep 
And solemn, struck upon my forehead bare, 
The slow, soft stroke of a continuous ... 

In which the ... leaves tremblingly were 
All bent towards that part where earliest 
The sacred hill obscures the morning air. 

Yet were they not so shaken from the rest, 
But that the birds, perched on the utmost spray, 
Incessantly renewing their blithe quest, 

With perfect joy received the early day, 
Singing within the glancing leaves, whose sound 
Kept a low burden to their roundelay, 

Such as from bough to bough gathers around 
The pine forest on bleak Chiassi’s shore, 
When Aeolus Sirocco has unbound. 

My slow steps had already borne me o’er 
Such space within the antique wood, that I 
Perceived not where I entered any more,— 

When, lo! a stream whose little waves went by, 
Bending towards the left through grass that grew 
Upon its bank, impeded suddenly 

My going on. Water of purest hue 
On earth, would appear turbid and impure 
Compared with this, whose unconcealing dew, 

Dark, dark, yet clear, moved under the obscure 
Eternal shades, whose interwoven looms 
The rays of moon or sunlight ne’er endure. 

I moved not with my feet, but mid the glooms 
Pierced with my charmed eye, contemplating 
The mighty multitude of fresh May blooms 

Which starred that night, when, even as a thing 
That suddenly, for blank astonishment, 
Charms every sense, and makes all thought take wing,— 

A solitary woman! and she went 
Singing and gathering flower after flower, 
With which her way was painted and besprent. 

Bright lady, who, if looks had ever power 
To bear true witness of the heart within, 
Dost bask under the beams of love, come lower 

Towards this bank. I prithee let me win 
This much of thee, to come, that I may hear 
Thy song: like Proserpine, in Enna’s glen, 

Thou seemest to my fancy, singing here 
And gathering flowers, as that fair maiden when 
She lost the Spring, and Ceres her more dear.

More Poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley