Saturday, April 26, 2014

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 17


Chapter 17: On and Up

Those who have been in mountain mists too thick
            for eyes to pierce, then seen them thinning down
            to let the sun show as a small, pale disc,                                            3

know how the setting sun appeared to me
            as the thick fog dispersed. Shorn of bright rays
            it hung above the sea, while far below                                                6

dim shadows hid the shores. As we walked on
            imaginary visions mastered me,
            visions of ancient anger and past wrong,                                            9

so strong that I believe no trumpet blast,
            no shout of loud applause, no thunderclap
            could have recalled my eyes to where I was.                                      12

Procne appeared, changed to a nightingale
            for punishing unfaithful Tereus
            by feeding him their son, baked in a pie.                                            15

Then I beheld another fantasy
of Haman, fierce and scornful, hanging high
thus rightly punished by an angry king                                         18

for outrage against Jewish Mordecai.
Lastly I saw a daughter’s wild despair
            at sight of mother who had hanged herself                                         21

because the man her daughter was to wed,
Prince Turnus, had been slaughtered in a fight,
            As sleep is broken when a sudden light                                              24

strikes through a dream, a brightness wakened me    
whiter, more dazzling than the sun at noon.
On looking round to see just where I stood                                   27

a gentle voice said, “Here is your ascent.”
This drove away all other thought, but though
longing to look upon the speaker’s face                                        30

its brightness baffled me. My leader said,                 
“This angel showing us the upward way
 without us asking, hides in his own light.                                     33

Accept his courtesy. Climb upstairs now     
We cannot move at all when it is night.”
My foot was on the uphill path’s first step                                      36

when a wing brushed my face, a soft voice said,                               
“Blest are peacemakers, free of sinful wrath.”
             As we went up the setting’s sun’s last rays                                     39

were slanting steep. On each side stars appeared.     
“O strength!” I inward groaned, “Why disappear?”                                     
             for as we reached the highest step my weight                                   42

felt heavier than stone. We both sank down
            like boats left high and dry upon a beach.
            I listened and heard nothing, asked at last,                                         45

“Dear Master, say what sin is purging here?”
            Our legs can’t move.  Don’t let that stop your tongue.”
He answered thus: “Sloth prevents energy                                        48

achieving what it should, so here you’ll see
            how healthy active love must be restored.
Listen and pluck good fruit from our delay.                                  51

Since love is God’s creative force, all things
(time, space, star, sun, earth, insect, human child)
keep going by God’s love. Love has two kinds                             54

the natural, and of the mind. Mistakes
            are never natural. Only minds can err,
            loving wrong things, or good ones with too much,                             57

or with too little force.  Thus love brings both
            good deeds and deeds requiring punishment.
When we attend to God, the Source of All                                         60

our desires are kept in proper measure.
            We are not then seduced by sinful pleasure,
until we look away and therefore stray.                                             63

As none can harm the source of what they are
            (trying to wound the sun would be as mad)
            the only law of God that we can break                                               66

is that which says, Love neighbour as yourself,
            by rules for Jews that Moses carved in stone
            and God when born as Man gave to us all.                                         69

And so the only evil folk can love
            is harming other folk in three main ways
            which you’ve already seen purging below:                                         72 

first, trying to excel by doing down
            those by our side– perversions born of pride.
            Second, by fear of losing wealth or fame                                            75

when those nearby do well– envy’s the name.
Lastly, when insult, real or by mistake
inflames blind anger hungry for revenge.                                       78

You know these states of lamentable love.
            Think now of those you’ll see lamenting here
            who loved true good with insufficient zeal,                                        81

 and higher still you’ll find three kinds of grief
            endured for not loving real good stuff well.
            I leave you to work these out for yourself.                                        84

My son, believe me, I have said enough.”
           




           
           
           
           





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