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.”