DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 25
Chapter 25: To The Lustful
The time had come to climb without delay
for it was after noon. The narrow way
made us go single file. Within my brain 3
a question formed. Just like a little stork
wishing to fly, raises a wing, but since
it fears to leave the nest, drops it again, 6
I was like that, hardly dared clear my throat
when without backward glance my master spoke:
“You are on fire to ask me something. Shoot!” 9
Assured once more I said, “Shades do not eat,
so what makes some of them so very thin?”
Said he, “Our figures in a looking glass 12
are bodiless, yet show us as we are,
thinner or fatter though they do not eat.
I know a better explanation’s due. 15
Statius, may I pass that job to you?”
Came the reply, “You know as much as I,
but your request is one that I accept.” 18
Statius told me, “Listen son, and learn.
The human male’s creative fluids go
through vein and heart, infuse and shape each part 21
until in loving acts they overflow
the female vessel, thus fertilizing
her passive fluids into a new life 24
with whole new soul, but not yet rational.
Think it a plant containing seeds. These sprout
into organs that it needs, moving like 27
some sea creature, sponge or jellyfish,
stirring in the womb. By natural growth
these turn into a complex animal. 30
How animal becomes a child with mind
is mystery. A wiser man than we,
Arabian Everroes, could find 33
no organ of self consciousness so said
they naturally grew in simple souls.
Untrue! Believe what Aquinas deduced. 36
As soon as nature forms the foetal brain
The First Creator welcomes it as His.
Rejoicing, he breathes into it His own 39
freedom that can reflect upon itself.
Think of how sunlight changes grapes to wine.
God’s gift of free thought is far more divine. 42
When, after life, the soul is loosed from flesh
it keeps those faculties it gained in life
(memory, intelligence, active will) 45
but much more enhanced, so keener than before.
These rush it to the one or other shore
where wait the ferries that will take them to 48
fit states in Hell or here, for what they’ve made
of their immortal souls which radiate
on air their shapes and size while still alive, 51
as sunbeams build across a rain-wet sky
a bow of colours to entrance the eye.
That shape moves as the soul moves for each sense 54
has organs letting it walk, speak, smile, weep
as you have seen and heard. Our passion
changes our shape as you saw in glutton’s ring, 57
prompting you to ask for explanation.”
We set foot on the last road round that height,
turned right and I was terrified to see 60
huge flames that blasted from the inner cliff
to almost reach the ring-road’s outer edge.
A strong up-draft of wind from down below 63
drove back that fiery hedge a little way
leaving space along the precipice’s edge
where we walked in single file, me the last, 66
between cremation and a deadly fall.
My master said (but did not need to say)
“Be careful here and do not swerve at all.” 69
Then from the endless bonfire at my side
that mighty hymn, “O Lord have mercy” came,
sung by a band of spirits in the flame. 72
Fear for my skin and curiosity
made me stare to and fro between my feet
and that choir of shades. Having sung the hymn 75
they cried aloud the words that Mary said
on hearing she was carrying a child:
“But I have never known a man!” They then 78
softly began singing the hymn again.
After each hymn they chanted a new phrase
denouncing lust or praising chastity, 81
and with these penances they pass their days.