Saturday, April 26, 2014

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 16


Chapter 16: The Wrathful

The gloom of night and Hell hid Heaven’s light
            more wholly than the thickest curtain could
            and stung my eyes. Again I shut them tight.                                      3

My trusty guide offered his shoulder now,
            told me to take good hold and not let go,
            so in a blind man’s state I went ahead                                                6

led through foul air while he kept telling me
            to have great care we did not separate.
            Then voices came, singing sweet harmony                                         9

in prayers for peace and mercy, each prayer
            beginning with these words, O lamb of God.
            “Master,” I asked “are these souls penitent?”                                      12

“Quite right,” said he. “By vocal unity
            they untie knots of wrath still binding them,
            preventing progress on their upward path.”                                       15

A new voice spoke: “Who are you walking through
            our smoke, talking as though months and years still
            measured time for you?” My master told me,                                      18

“Answer, and ask how to get out of here.”
            I said, “O soul cleansing yourself of sin
            till fit to face He who created you,                                                     21

if you keep company with us I’ll tell
            what brings us here. It is astonishing.”
            He said, “I will – as far as Heaven allows.                                         24

Hearing will join us, though we cannot see.
            So now, astonish me.” “I am not dead,”
Said I, “though I have travelled here through Hell.                         27

God’s grace demands I see His heavenly court,
            a strange idea to modern ears, but true.
            Who were you when alive? And if you know                                     30

where the next stair is, please escort us there.”
            “I was a Lombard. Marco was my name
            I knew the world and loved the good at which                                   33

people no longer aim or greatly love.
            To climb up higher go straight on,” said he,
            adding, “Please pray for me when you’re above.”                             36

“I promise that,” I said, “but dreadful doubt
            of human virtue, doubled by your words,
            is swelling me. If I don’t speak it out                                                 39

I will explode. Your view of things confirms
            what Guido of Romagna said below –
            the world is overwhelmed by wickedness.                                         42

Folk break God’s laws. Help me to see the cause
            that I can make it known. Astrologers
            blame stars for our sins.” He cried out “Brother,                               45

alas! Be not as blind as those!” Sighing
            he said, “We would have no choice if ruled by
            blind necessity. Each would be a part                                               48

of process without consciousness! Justice!
Joy in doing well! Misery for sin!
Our sense of choice is fact, like sense of light,                             51
           
sound, heat, weight, pleasure, pain. Denying one
rejects all common sense reality.
Appetites are from Heaven and therefore good,                           54
           
but wrongly understood result in greed.
Our senses let us work out what is right
and so oppose mistaken appetite.                                                      57

Strengthened by exercise this virtuous fight
            conquers all things, making a free new mind
            unlimited by things since nearer God.                                                60

If the world goes astray, then search within!
            Find in yourself the root and source of sin.
            As you want guidance let me be your guide.                                      63

Listen. When a tiny soul comes from the hand
            of He who loved it while creating it,
            the soul knows nothing. The joyful maker                                         66

lets it move eagerly to take delight
            in many small things, some of which are bad.
            Thus it needs parents who will curb it well,                                      69

direct it to the best things it should love.
            Thus we need laws and kings enforcing them,
            priesthoods who point to New Jerusalem,                                         72 

the happy state God wills us to create.
            That is why he makes laws. Who do they curb?
            None. None. Our shepherds do not lead their flocks                         75

by peaceful waters and through pastures green
where they may safely graze. They fleece their sheep
and sell the wool for gain. When people see                                 78

their leaders worship wealth they too adore,
            greed multiplies itself. All fight for more.
            Bad government makes earth a wicked place –                                   81

nature is not corrupt. There was a time
            when Rome strove hard to make the whole world good.
            Two grand authorities like double suns                                              84

showed men the laws of earth and laws of God.
            These quell each other now. When King and Pope
            equally try to wield the sword and crook,                                          87

neither corrects or fears the other one.
            Observe the modern state of Italy!
            Courage and courtesy were here before                                              90

King Frederick attacked the papacy,
which fought back just like he. Now you may go
by Arno, Tiber, Adige and Po                                                              93

nor fear to meet with honest company.
            Just three old men do well in ancient ways
            and won’t be there for long: good Gherardo,                                      96

Conrad di Palazzo, also Guido
            da Castel, all famous for honesty.
            Tell people that the Church of Rome’s attempt                                99

to seize both Heavenly and Earthly power
            corrupts itself, corrupting others too.”
            “I see you’re right,” I said, “and also see                                           102

why Hebrew law forbad that Levi’s sons
            (the Jewish priests) inherit property.
            But who is this Gherardo that you say                                              105

still shows old virtues to this rotten age?”
            “You puzzle me,” said he. “Your speech is Tuscan.
            Surely all Tuscans know good Gherardo?                                          108 

I won’t say more of him except to give
            his daughter Gaia’s name. God bless you both.
            Here now, alas, we have to part since I                                              111

see light through smoke ahead, and so goodbye.”                                          

           


            

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