Thursday, September 19, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY, Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Newcomers

By now the sun had left the northern sky
            where at high noon it lights Jerusalem,
            leaving the Ganges in the deepest night.                                             3

Seen from our shore the sky above the sea
            took on a rosy glow, into which slid
            that golden-orange sphere. We stood gazing                                       6

like lingerers who tarry on a road
            before their journey starts. Then I beheld
            beneath the sun, across the ocean floor                                              9

a sight I hope to see again – brightness
            speeding so swiftly to us that no flight
            of bird could equal it. When I gazed back                                           12

from questioning my master with a look
            it had grown brighter. On each side I saw
            a whiteness I could not make out, above                                            15

something becoming clearer as it neared.
            My master did not say a word until
            the whitenesses appeared as wings, and then                                     18

seeing who moved that ship he cried, “Bend knees,
            clasp hands, bow down before a cherubim 
            of God, for you will soon meet more of these.                                   21

See how without a sail or oar the ship
            is driven by his Heaven-pointing wings –
            eternally pure plumes that never moult.”                                           24

The brightness of this dazzling bird of God
            made me half close my eyes. He stood astern
            of a ship so light the prow cleft no wave.                                          27

More than a hundred souls within it sat
            singing King David’s psalm, When Israel
escaped from Egypt’s land, chanting Amen                                        30

as their vessel reached the strand. The angel
            signed The Cross over these tuneful souls
who sprang ashore. His ferry sped away                                           33

fast as it came. Passengers on the beach
stood looking round like strangers anywhere.
The sun had chased stars from the sky when one                              36

approached and said, “Sirs, there is a mountain        
we must climb. We do not know where to start,
can you show the way?” My guide said, “We too                             39

are pilgrims just as ignorant as you,
            com by a road so rough that any climb  
to us will be child play.” A whisper grew                                          42       
           
among these spirits that I lived and breathed.
They stared as if I were good news. One face
looked so kind I ran to embrace him, but                                            45

my hands passed through his shade and hit my chest.
            He smiled, withdrew.  I cried, “Stay Casella –                      
I love you – tunes you gave my poems                                              48

make them popular! Why die before me?
And months ago! Why so long getting here?”
The sweet voice I knew said, “And I love you,                                 51       

though gladly Heavenward bound. Remember          
exactly thirteen centuries ago
Christ died for us. Our Pope proclaims this year                               54                                           
a Jubilee, when all pilgrims to Rome
will have sins forgiven. Hope of Heaven
draws hoards of ancient dying sinners there.                                      57

The port for all not damned to Hell is where
Tiber joins the sea. Queues for the ferry
are very long these days, hence some delay                                       60

not troublesome to me. Heaven’s decree
            is best, but say why you stand breathing here!”
            I said, “I must go this way to return                                                  63

when dead, like you, but the road is hard. Please,
            if death has not parted you from song, sing
            a poem I once wrote to cheer my heart.”                                            66

He sang, Love that converses with my mind
            so sweetly that it sounds within me still.
            My master and the others listened too,                                              69                   

as if it wholly occupied their will
            till, like a thunderclap, Cato appeared
            shouting, “You lazy louts, why linger here?                                      72

 Run to the mountain! Strip off the misdeeds
            that hide your soul from God!” Like pigeon flock                            
            idly pecking seed on ground explodes up,                                          75

takes flight, wildly scattering at a shock
            of threatening sound, the new arrivals
            confusedly fled that terrible old man,                                                 78
           
spreading over the plain, at the same time
            racing blindly up hill, wholly unsure
            what he or she was bound to find ahead.                                            81

I and my leader were not far behind.
                       



            

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