Monday, December 23, 2013
Chapter 10: To the First Terrace
And so the angel warder let us through
that gate locked fast to those of evil will.
We climbed a narrow track in the cleft hill, 3
nor did I dare look round when at my back
the gate shut with a clang that shook the ground.
Our steep path zig-zagged sharply left and right. 6
Said Virgil, “This will test your climbing skill,
so concentrate,” I did. It was near noon
when I emerged from that tight needle’s eye. 9
Footsore and tired I stood beside my guide,
like him, unsure of where to go again:
sheer drop behind, on each side empty plain, 12
ahead a sheer cliff three men’s height away.
We had not moved a step before I knew
the cliff we faced was marble, pure and white, 15
marvelously carved with shapes livelier
and lovelier than a human sculptor
or nature too could ever have devised. 18
On going near we recognized just One
could make them so. We saw the angel there
announce the coming of the Prince of Peace 21
for whom man-kind has wept through centuries.
He seemed to say “Hail Mary, full of grace!”
and the humility of her reply, 24
“Here am I, God’s servant,” glowed in her face
so I believed I heard her with my ears.
“Look over here,” my guide said pointing to 27
images of a more crowded scene:
oxen pulling a cart holding the ark
brought by King David to Jerusalem. 30
Seven jubilant choirs surrounded it.
My eyes declared, “they sing!” my ears, “they don’t!”,
and where, in marble, clouds of incense rose 33
eyes disagreed with nose. Before the ark,
the psalmist monarch with his robe tucked up
danced like a happy clown. His wife looked down 36
from a high window, smiling scornfully
at his humiliating lack of pride.
Beside this was another crowded scene: 39
Emperor Trajan riding forth to war
with knights and retinue. Eagles above
flapped gold wings. A poor widow clinging 42
to his bridle cried, “Sir, my murdered son
should be avenged!” “He’ll be, when I return.”
“But if you don’t?” “My heir will do what’s right.” 45
“If you don’t do what’s needed now,” cried she,
“then why should he?” “True!” Trajan said, halting,
“none should delay just acts.” Justice was done. 48
Our best Pope since Saint Peter, Gregory,
esteemed this just humility as proof
of Trajan’s noble Christianity, 51
so he is now redeemed in Paradise.
These splendid visions of true humbleness
pleased me by showing truth and beauty one, 54
till I heard Virgil murmur, “Here come some
who may show a stair to the greater heights.”
Dear reader, I was eager for new sights 57
that teach how God gets back what is His due–
news that should aid and not discourage you.
I looked to see some kind of cavalcade, 60
then staring said, “I see no folk at all!
Here’s a slow avalanche of heavy stones
advancing on the ground. Sir, please explain.” 63
Said he, “Stoop down and look. Under those weights
see once proud sinners crawling on their knees.”
I cried out, “O you poor ones who believed 66
that wealth and power could magnify your worth!
Now crushed to earth, at last you will discard
your pride, a grubby caterpillar shell 69
splitting to loose angelic butterfly
soaring to God upon His judgement day.”
Brackets supporting ceilings on high walls 72
are sometimes carved like men, knees squeezed to chest.
Those here were just like that, sorely oppressed,
and the most patient ghosts were weeping most. 75
Their state was nearly more than they could bear.
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 9
Chapter 9: The Gateway
Upon the little valley’s verdant floor
I, Virgil, Sordello, Nino the judge
and Conrad Malespino spoke no more 3
and I, imperfect man, slept deep until
that early hour when swallows, sensing dawn,
mournfully cheep and sleepers, not disturbed 6
mournfully cheep and sleepers, not disturbed 6
by dreams of bodily and mental stress
sometimes see visions of pure blessedness.
A golden-feathered eagle seemed to be 9
hovering over my head with wings outspread.
I thought, “That bird seized Ganymede to be
butler in Heaven, so very fair was he. 12
He won’t want me!” Then like a thunderbolt
it swooped and, snatching, soared with me up, up,
up to the height of Empyrean fire 15
where the imagined heat fused us in one
before at last (of course) wakening me.
The mother of Achilles carried him 18
asleep from Crete to a Greek island where
his opening eyes knew nothing he could see.
Two hours after day dawned, I awoke like that 21
cold, weak, and staring at the oceans shore
far, far below. My comforter and guide
seated at my side said, “Don’t be afraid. 24
Your state is excellent. Before day broke,
as you were sleeping upon the flowers
that clothe the lower dell, a lady came. 27
She said, ‘I am Lucy, here for this man
to take him, sleeping, further on his way.’
Sordello stayed with other noble souls 30
as, when this clear day dawned, she took you up,
I following until she laid you here
and pointed to that gate before she left.” 33
Made confident once more I rose to face
the rampart of the mountainside, my guide
leading me up to a much higher place 36
than we had been before. Reader, please know
I must rise to a higher theme, sustained
by greater art. We reached what at first seemed 39
a cleft in that rock wall, but was a gate
above three differently coloured steps.
On the thresh-hold a silent warder sat, 42
his face so bright I could not bear the sight,
and in his hand he held a naked sword
I also tried to look upon in vain, 45
for it reflected light so dazzlingly.
“Where are you from? What do you seek?” he said.
“If no Heavenly escort brings you here, 48
beware! This upward climb may do you harm.”
“A celestial maid,” my master said,
“recently pointed out to me this gate.” 51
“She did so for your good. Come then, and climb,”
the courteous warder said, so we stepped
onto the white marble, which was so smooth 54
it mirrored me exactly as I am.
The second was dark purple, rough and cracked
throughout it’s length and breadth. The top-most step 57
resembled porphyry, as red as blood
spurting from a vein. On this God’s angel
rested his feet, seated on a thresh-hold 60
which seemed to be of hardest adamant.
By these three steps my leader drew me up,
saying, “Now ask him to withdraw the bolt.” 63
I threw myself down at his holy feet,
and after beating on my breast three times
begged him to mercifully let me through. 66
With his sword point he wrote upon my brow
seven Ps, then said, “When you are inside
these will be washed away.” Out of his robe, 69
of ashen colour he removed two keys,
one gold, one silver. Turning in the lock
the white first, then the yellow, he explained, 72
“When both keys do not turn the gate stays shut.
One is more precious but the other needs
more skill, more wisdom, to make it unlock. 75
Peter said as he gave them, ‘If you err,
do it on the side of mercy to those
prostrate before your feet.’ So enter now, 78
but remember, never dare to look back.
Those who do are expelled.” When Caesar stole
the Tarpeian temple’s gold, there went up 81
a deafening roar, less loud than that of
the door’s massive hinges grinding around.
Entering, I heard the Te Deum start. 84
Sweet voices blending well with organ chords
rose and fell in our God’s mightiest hymn,
words lost in mirthful tune or ringing clear, 87
sounds I love most of those I hear on earth.
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 8
Chapter 8: The Vestibule
When church bells toll the knell of parting day
the traveller, whether on land or sea
remembers home and loved ones far away. 3
While pondering Sordello’s final word
I saw a kingly soul below arise,
showing by gestures that he would be heard. 6
Joining his palms he lifted them in prayer,
and gazing to the east, began to sing
sweetly the evening hymn to heavenly light. 9
The rest melodiously joined the hymn
while also gazing on the bright clear stars
which were, I noticed, starting to appear. 12
Reader, sharpen your mind’s eye to the truth
I tried to show you through my poem’s veil
which should be thinnest, most transparent here. 15
The noble company fell silent, all
looking up humbly and expectantly,
to where I saw descending through the air 18
a pair of angels holding shining swords
shortened because their points were broken off.
Their wings and robes were green as fresh spring leaves. 21
One stopped above our heads, the other stood
upon the mountainside just opposite.
Though I could clearly see their flaxen hair, 24
the brightness of their eyes quite dazzled me.
Sordello said, “Mary Mother of God
sends them to guard the valley at this time 27
from the serpent, our spiteful enemy.”
Unsure from where he’d come, I pressed myself
against the trusty shoulder of my guide 30
“We will descend and greet some noble shades,”
Sordello said, “ for speech with you will please
that company.” By three steps I went down 33
to where I saw (though air was darkening)
a man whose face I knew, as he knew mine—
noble judge Nino. That he was not damned 36
delighted me. “When did you land upon
this island’s shore?” he asked. “At dawn today,”
I said, “although I did not cross the sea. 39
I am not dead, but came on foot through Hell.”
He started back, then said to someone near,
“Arise Conrad! See what God’s grace has willed!” 42
then said to me, “By that great gratitude
you owe to Him whose deepest purposes
cannot be known, when back in Italy, 45
beg my child Joan to pray God for my soul.
Heaven will hear the prayers of innocence.
My wife, who wed again, loves me no more, 48
showing how soon the flame of women’s love
dies lacking sight and touch to kindle it.
She cannot long enjoy her present mate. 51
Her husband flaunts a viper on his shield.
Carved on her tomb it will not look as fair
as would the chanticleer she’d had from me.” 54
The indignation showing in his face
came from the heart, but I was staring up
to that high centre where stars move most slow. 57
My leader asked, “What are you seeing there?”
“Three starry torches new to me,” said I,
“with which the southern sky is all aglow.” 60
Said he, “The four great stars you saw at dawn
have sunk from view and are replaced by these.”
And it was then Sordello cried aloud, 63
“See! There’s the enemy!” pointing to where
the valley’s side dipped low, for there a snake
was sliding in, maybe that subtle one 66
who had first given bitter food to Eve.
Through grass and flowers it undulated on,
an evil streak, twisting at times its neck 69
to lick its back with flickering forked tongue.
So swiftly did Heaven’s hawks swoop down at him
I only heard their green wings cleave the air 72
before that serpent fled and they returned.
He who the judge had called to look at me
had not since looked away. Approaching now 75
he said, “May your will to ascend this hill
not fail before you reach the greatest height.
If you have word of Valdimagra or 78
places near by, then tell it to me please
for there I once was great, known by the name
my father had, Conrad Malaspina. 81
My excessive love for my family
here must be purified.” “I was never
in your land,” I replied, “but in Europe 84
where are you not renowned? Guilty tongues fail
to slander your name, for it still resounds
for generosity of purse and sword– 87
a family famous for going straight.”
He said, “After some years your fate will be
to find by experience that your view 90
of my family still remains true.”