Sunday, August 17, 2014
CHAPTER 33: The Final Cleansing
“O God, see heathens in your holy places!”
The seven Virtues chanted through their tears,
first three, then four, joining this psalm of loss. 3
They paused when Beatrice, with such a sigh
as Mary must have sighed at foot of cross
stood up and glowing like a flame, proclaimed, 6
“Dear sisters, we must leave here for a while
but will return.” A gesture made them walk
ahead of her, while we three came behind 9
until she turned her calm clear eyes on me
saying, “Come nearer, brother. We must talk.
Ask what you wish.” I was so far beneath 12
her holy state, my tongue tripped on my teeth
in stammering reply: “My lalala,
my lalalady knows what I should know 15
mumuch, much more than me.” “Then start,” said she,
by talking sensibly, and not like one
stumbling under a load of sin. Lethe 18
has washed you clean. You saw the vile dragon
break my carriage, a giant drag it off.
Know those to blame will not escape God’s wrath. 21
Know that the eagle feathering my car,
making it monstrous, then slave to a hag,
will not forever have heirs acting so. 24
The birthday of a hero, sent by God
to kill the giant and his prostitute
is registered on the star calendar. 27
Exactly when and where I do not know.
Five hundred, ten and five are numbers where
some find a clue. Not me. Such prophecies 30
like Sphinx’s riddle, hide what should be plain,
yet when on earth again tell it to those
racing toward death, for it will come true. 33
Write of the tree: what you saw, what I say.
It is the tallest tree, widest at top
because God made it only for himself. 36
Adam learned robbing it is blasphemous,
dwelling with Eve in Hell five thousand years
till Jesus let him out. The latest theft 39
which you have seen is recent history.
But now I fear your mind is like a stone
so darkened that my words are dazzling you. 42
Remember them, though you don’t understand.”
Said I, “As sealing wax receives its stamp
I am impressed by you and all you say, 45
but why do words I long for fly so high
over my head? The more I try (alas!)
the less I know.” “Which teaches you,” 48
said she, “that your science is as far under me
as earth is below a Heavenly star.”
I cried, “But I have never left your side!” 51
She smiled and said, “You have drunk Lethe, so
forget how many years you walked astray.
Now I will use plain speech you understand.” 54
The splendid sun stood at the height of noon
(which varies with a viewer’s latitude)
when the seven maidens who’d gone ahead 57
paused on the strand of what at first I thought
a waterfall shaded by mountain trees.
Nearer I saw an overflowing spring 60
whose waters were dividing in two streams
going opposite ways like the Tigris
and Euphrates, reluctantly, like friends. 63
“O light and glory of the human race,
what are these waters?” I asked Beatrice,
who said, “Matilda knows.” My other guide 66
quickly replied like one discarding blame,
“I’ve told him both these rivers’ name and use.”
“His memory is numbed,” said Beatrice, 69
“by novelties, but here flows Eunoe.
As you know how, refresh his weakened mind.”
Gentle souls gladly serve another’s will. 72
Matilda murmured, “Come.” She took my hand,
saying to Statius, “and you come too.”
Reader, if I had time to write much more, 75
I’d speak about the sweetness of the stream
I tasted then. I thirst to drink it still,
but first must fill more pages with the tale 78
of my big poem’s third, last, grandest part.
Art orders with a voice I can’t deny.
I left the stream of Eunoe remade,
a pure soul fit to climb the starry sky. 82
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 32
CHAPTER 32: Of The Church
Her lovely smile was all I wished to see
since ten years I had thirsted for the sight.
I fixed my eyes on her and in delight 3
forgot all else but she. Again the net
of her enchantment was surrounding me
until I heard the Virtues call, “Too fixed!” 6
when this recalled me from my dazzled state.
I found the sacred pageant had swung round.
Candles and prophets now marched to the sun, 9
passing the car just as the Griffin turned
into the new course with an easy force
that stirred no feather of it’s wings. I walked 12
with she who’d ferried me and Statius.
Beside the car we crossed the woodland glades
lost to mankind because the serpent’s tongue 15
had misled Eve. Three arrow flights beyond
our turning point the car stopped at a tree
far loftier than any I had seen. 18
Leafless and blossomless, the branches spread
wider while rising to astounding height.
Murmuring, “Adam’s tree,” our company 21
encircled it as Beatrice left the car.
The rest sang, “O Griffin who never ate
from this forbidden tree, thus saving seed 24
of righteousness from those who find it sweet
until it’s poison makes their bellies squirm.”
The Griffin drew the car to the tree trunk, 27
laid the pole on a branch, and as in Spring
the plants renew themselves, so did the tree.
It’s colour flushed through rose to violet. 30
It put forth buds, unfolded leaves and bloom
as a glad hymn was sung, but not by me
who fell asleep. Artists perhaps may paint 33
how I looked then. I can’t, so pass to when
light entered eyes and someone said, “Arise,”
the word Christ used to wake dead Lazerous. 36
My good guide through the stream was at my side.
I asked, “Where’s Beatrice?” and she replied,
“Sitting beside the car on the tree root, 39
shaded by leaves. Around her like a cloister
the Virtues stand, candle in hand, each one
guarding a flame. The Griffin with prophets, 42
apostles, saints are back in Paradise.”
She may have said much more but Beatrice
was all I noticed now, on the bare ground, 45
her seven hand-maids near. She spoke to me.
“Now for a while become a woodlander
and citizen of Rome as Rome should be 48
when Christ is Roman too. Here and elsewhere
remember all you see. When back on Earth
write of it truthfully, for the world’s good.” 51
I saw Jove’s eagle swoop down through the tree,
beak tearing leaves, the blossoms and smooth bark.
It struck the car, rocking it side to side, 54
to and fro like ship swept by angry tide,
then there leapt in a filthy starving fox.
Rebuked by Beatrice the vile thing fled. 57
The eagle now nested within the car,
feathering each part with golden plumes till
from on high I heard a lamenting cry, 60
“My wee car, how you are now weighed down!”
Then I saw ground between wheels opening
letting a dragon out that drove it’s tail 63
through the car floor. Like wasp removing sting
it left the floor split and wandered away
leaving broken car covered up with plumes 66
thick as knot-grasses spoiling fertile soil.
Those who donated these no doubt meant well,
but the transforming chariot grew heads, 69
three on the shaft and at each corner one.
The three were horned like oxen, other four
had one horn in their brow. Such a monster 72
had not appeared on Earth before, and then
like fortress on a mountain top I saw
a naked whore seated astride the beast 75
and boldly staring all around although
a giant shamelessly stood caressing
and kissing her until he saw that she 78
was trying to catch my eye, whereupon
he beat her violently from head to toe
then dragged away both she and her foul steed
till both were hidden by the leafy wood. 82
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 31
CHAPTER 31: The Cleansing.
“You on the far side of this sacred stream – ”
(she thrust this sharp point of her speech at me)
“have heard my accusation. Is it true?” 3
Such weakness and confusion mastered me
I struggled for a word but none would come.
She let me stand there dumb a while, then said, 6
“Reply. Say what you think. Bad memories
have not yet been destroyed by Lethe’s drink.”
Fear piercing my confusion forced a “Yes” 9
so faint only her eyes could know I spoke.
I stood like a poor archer whose bow broke
letting the arrow go, so it fell short. 12
Under such fierce assault more tears and sobs
were now my sole resort. Again she spoke.
“When love of me led you to love good things 15
beyond which nothing better can be found,
what road blocks, spike-topped fences or deep moats
stopped you from going onward as you should? 18
What tempted you to leave the path of good?”
My lips had trouble shaping a reply
but after a deep sigh I stammered this. 21
“When I lost hope of seeing you again
domestic life and local politics
seemed adequate distractions from my pain. 24
Also some erotic dissipation.”
Said she, “If you had tried to justify
facts you have just declared and this court knows, 27
and done that shamelessly with a dry face,
my condemnation would conclude your case.
Not so. To bear the shame of your offense 30
and help resist all future syren calls,
stop weeping: and hear what you should have learned
from my dead body. Yes, nature and art 33
had never shown such beauty as was mine
which crumbled into dust. Since death stole that,
why dally with more bodies that must die? 36
I went to Heaven. You should have prepared
to join us here where death does not exist,
and let no other women hold you back 39
where all death-strokes must fall.” With downcast head
I stood, my guilt confessed, reproved. She said,
“Since hearing gives you grief, look up for more. 42
Come, elevate your beard.” No wind tore up
tough oak tree by it’s roots slower than I
lifted my rough chin at her mocking words. 45
Angels had stopped casting their cloud of blooms.
Beatrice stood gazing with enraptured face
upon the creature harnessed to her car – 48
the griffin with two natures in one soul.
Beyond the Lethé stream, beneath her veil
she was more beautiful than when on earth 51
her face had been the loveliest of all.
The nettle of remorse so stung me that
hatred of all I ever liked but she, 54
with such self-loathing, cut into my heart
I lost idea of self and time and place.
When heart at last restored some outward sense 57
the lady first encountered in the wood
was saying, “Hold on! Don’t let go my hand.”
I lay throat deep in Lethe”s cleansing stream, 60
but floating and upheld by one so light,
she walked upon the stream, her arm so strong
the hand was firmly pulling me along. 63
Near the far bank in words I can’t recall
she sang about forgiveness, held my head,
plunged it beneath the stream, and so I drank, 66
then free of guilt at last could step ashore.
The four nymphs by the nearest chariot wheel
raised arms and linked their hands above my head. 69
“In Heaven we appear as stars,” they said,
“and before Beatrice arrived on earth
were chosen as her serving maidens here. 72
Now we will lead you round to see her eyes,
but fully to enjoy the light in them
hear the three dancers by the other wheel 75
who see more deeply into them than we.”
Led there, I stood before the griffin’s breast,
staring at Beatrice in the car behind. 78
Her serving maids then sang in unison,
“Now you will see the eyes of emerald
which pierced you with love’s dart. Don’t fear to gaze.” 81
Since the veil did not hide her eyes I stared
and saw within their depth the two-fold beast
like sun’s reflection in a looking glass. 84
Reader, this wonderful and lovely sight –
this figure changing in my lover’s eyes,
now with a Heavenly aspect, now the earth’s 87
was nourishing, like a delicious meal
that never would reduce true appetite.
Then the three virtues from the other wheel, 90
Faith, Hope and Love, danced around me and sang,
“O Beatrice, unveil your lovely face.
To gratify this faithful traveller 93
who’s journeyed more than any man alive.
down through the world and up to this great height
to look on the full glory of your Grace!” 96
Though drunk with language’s magnificence
what poet, pale from studying his art
won’t find himself unable to impart
the greatest thing now present to his sense? 100