Sunday, November 03, 2013
Chapter 5: More Not-Yet-Purified
I left these ghosts to follow him uphill,
then heard behind new voices shouting, “See –
sunlight can’t pierce him, so he is not dead!” 3
Turning my head I saw an eager crowd
staring upon my shadow, also me.
“Don’t let words turn you. Face the uphill track,” 6
my leader cried. “Good heads should imitate
those tower-tops unshook by windy blast.
Ignore what people say. Distracted minds 9
go easily astray because each thought
cancels the last.” “Coming!” I called (for what
else could I say?) and hurried after him, 12
blushing with shame. Round the hill above us
came penitents chanting King David’s psalm
The Miserere, lamenting his foul crime. 15
At sight of me their chant stopped in an “Oo!”
and two ran down to us and panted, “Please,
who and what are you?” Promptly my guide said, 18
“Tell your folk this man (as his shadow proves)
is living flesh and blood – will do then good
if they greet and honor him as they should.” 21
Cloud never soared up swifter through the sky
than these rejoined their crowd and at their news
it wheeled round like a troop of horse and then 24
came charging down. The poet said, “Know these
will beg you to take news of them to earth,
but don’t stop climbing – listen as you go.” 27
“O lucky soul, ascending to delight
on legs your mother made!” they cried, “Please pause
and look at us. Do you recognize some 30
whose names you can take back to relatives
who don’t know how we died? For violence
killed us all before we confessed our sins 33
in an obscure place. We had been damned, but
Heavenly Grace finally saved each soul.
Here we must thole long pilgrimage before 36
fit to see God’s face – that is our piercing,
agonizing need.” Sadly I replied,
“I see none among you whose names I know. 39
If telling them to me will speed your climb
I will hear them if you don’t delay mine.
I must obey a guide who bans delay 42
while leading me from world to world up to
the highest peace where all good efforts cease.”
3rd November 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY, Chapter 4
Chapter 4: The Ascent
Pleasure or pain can fill us up so full
they dominate all ways we think and act,
a fact disproving Plato’s rule that souls 3
are triple – vegetable, animal
and logical. Words can so occupy
our soul, we do not notice passing time. 6
Manfred’s speech so pleased me I did not see
the sun rise to its fiftieth degree.
Mid-morning passed before our company 9
aroused me, crying, “Here’s the place you need!”
I saw in the cliff face a gap as wide
as in a vineyard hedge that peasants block 12
with a forkful of thorn, yet wide enough
to admit a man into a deep crack
sloping steeply up. My guide, stepping in, 15
started climbing on all fours, rock beneath,
beside and above his back. I followed,
bidding the slowly moving flock goodbye. 18
You may rush down Noli, up San Leo,
mount Bismantova’s summit on your feet.
Wings of desire raised me on hands and knees, 21
scrambling after Virgil and not stop
until we reached the precipice’s top
and stood upon the edge of a broad ledge 24
of that bare mountainside. “Master,” said I,
“where now?” “Upward,” said he, “and do not halt
before you meet a wiser guide than me.” 27
He turned to lead me up a steeper slope
than we had tackled in the creviced rock.
Exhausted I cried, “Pause kind father, please! 30
You’re leaving me behind – I need to rest!”
“My son,” said he, pointing not far ahead,
“drag yourself first up there.” I forced my feet 33
to follow him up to a level ground,
a terrace curving round the mighty hill,
and sat facing the way we came (often 36
the finest view) due east. First I gazed down,
feasting eyes on the sea below, then raised
them to the skies, amazed to see the sun 39
shining upon my left. “How can this be?”
I said. “This island mountain,” he replied
“Is central to the southern hemisphere, 42
just as the land where Christ was crucified
is central to the north. Half way between
lies the equator. When the setting sun 45
crossed that, it left the north in night and brought
light here, to the western point, which is not
on your right, but upon your other hand. 48
Do you understand?” I did, then I said
“Have we much more to climb? The height ahead
is out of sight.” He said, “The hardest part 51
of leaving sin is always at the start.
The climb is easier as you go up.
Near the top you will feel climbing is like 54
floating downstream in a boat.” A voice said,
“You’ll often sit down again before then.”
We turned and saw a big rock in whose shade 57
sprawled people looking totally fatigued.
The speaker hugged his knees, head sunk between.
I told my guide, “That is Belacqua, sir – 60
a Florentine well-known for being slow.”
Belacqua raised an eye above his thigh
and grunted, “Up you go, busybody, 63
now you know why the sun shines on your left.”
Smiling a bit at that I said to him,
“Friend, you will be alright – you need not grieve, 66
but why sit here? What are you waiting for?
Have you not shaken off your laziness?”
“Brother,” he groaned, “I cannot go up yet, 69
I died too soon to properly confess
on my deathbed my life of slothful sin.
The Bird of God who guards a higher gate 72
will not admit me to the cleansing pain
until I’ve waited all the years before
I gave my soul to God. I must squat here 75
sixty years more, if a pure soul’s prayers
do not lessen them. How I envy you!”
Virgil had climbed ahead and called to me, 78
“Time to go on!” I left Belacqua there.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY, Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Before Purgatory
Our pace became more dignified upon
the foot-hills of that mount where climbing joins
goodness and reason. Since letting me halt 3
to hear a song, Virgil had been silent.
His noble mind, believing no fault small,
endured the sting of being in the wrong. 6
The rising sun shone rosy on our backs.
I gladly viewed the upward slope ahead
then felt it incomplete, for only one 9
shadow lay on the ground before my feet.
Afraid that suddenly I climbed alone
I gasped with dread. My comforter enquired, 12
Why, even now, do you distrust my aid?
In Naples, underneath a monument
my shadow is entombed among my dust. 15
That I am shadowless is not more strange
than all the starry spheres of Heaven are.
Admiring wonder is the right reply 18
to everything beyond your wisdom’s range.
Thought alone cannot know the infinite,
eternal Three-in-One creating all. 21
If science brought the mind of man to God
Mary need never have bore Jesus Christ,
or we in Limbo dwell unsatisfied 24
in outer Hell, far from the highest good
where Homer, Plato, Aristotle dwell,
and many more.” He fell silent again, 27
staring with troubled face on ground we trod
until we reached Mount Purgatory’s base.
The wildest mountainside in Italy 30
would look an easy staircase seen beside
this cliff too sheer, this granite precipice
too high and smooth for any mountaineer. 33
My master sighed and murmured, “Lacking wings,
we need to find a slope that legs can use.
It must exist. Do we turn left or right?” 36
He pondered where the ground met the rock wall.
I, looking round, saw a sling-shot away
a group of souls approaching from our left, 39
walking so slowly that at first I thought
they did not move at all. I shouted out,
“See Master! These may know where we should go.” 42
He looked, then spoke with confidence renewed.
“Indeed they may my son. Let us enquire
and never cease to hope.” A thousand steps 45
brought us to where most of the souls, like sheep,
walked timidly, heads bowed, behind a few
dignified leaders walking slowly too. 48
“Hail, holy ones!” cried Virgil. “You have died
as Christians, so in the end are sure of
Heaven’s grace. We must ascend at once. Please, 51
where is the right place?” The leaders halted,
stared, then drew back. The flock behind stopped, scared,
not knowing why, and huddled to the rock. 54
My shadow on their track caused this dismay.
Virgil declared, “You need not question us
for I’ll explain. My friend is still alive, 57
his body therefore splits the light of day.
Heaven tells us not to waste time but climb.
can you show where?” “Turn round and go with us,” 60
these good souls said. We did, walking as slow.
One said, “Please look and say if you know me.”
I looked attentively. He was fair haired, 63
handsome, debonair, an eyebrow broken
by a scar. I admitted I did not,
whereupon smiling, “Look at this,” he said, 66
opening his vest to show in his chest
a much worse wound, adding “I am Manfred,
ruler of Sicily, Tory warlord 69
who defied the Pope and died by the sword.
As my blood flowed I gave my soul with tears
to Him who saves all sinners who repent, 72
even of crimes as horrible as mine.
The victors built a cairn over my bones.
He that comes to me I will not cast out, 75
Saint John wrote. Forgetting that, Pope Clement
had the cairn broken, bones scattered about,
on unholy ground, battered by wind and rain. 78
Though excommunicate, we in this troop
will reach Heaven at last. Though under a
papal ban, each year we were damned as bad 81
heretics adds thirty years to our wait
before we can start the Purgatorial
climb up to Heaven’s gate. But living souls 84
can shorten that time by their prayers, so
when back on earth, tell my daughter Constance,
Aragon’s queen, mother of kings, 87
to pray for me, as I am not in Hell.”