Sunday, July 13, 2014


CHAPTER 30: Beatrice

Just as at night the seven stars we call
The Plough and Charlie’s Wain and The Great Bear
guide all good steersmen on the salt sea plain,              3

so three great Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, Love,
            with Courage, Wisdom, Justice, Temperance
            (four virtues Pagans recognize) create                           6                     

to eyes not blinded by the fog of sin,
            the candelabrum holding seven flames
            which light our way on earth to God above.                  9                                 

After it halted, all the twenty four
            pure white robed, leaf crowned prophets in between
            candles and griffin, turned toward the car                    12                              

with smiling faces, blissfully serene.
            Then one inspired by Heaven, sang three times,
            O come, my bride, to me from Lebanon.                   15                  

The others joined their melody to his
            like blesséd souls on Resurrection Day,
            raised by the clang of the last trump to sing                  18                  

hosannas with rejuvenated tongue.
            At the great sound I saw above the car
            a hundred angel messengers appear                              21                              

who sang, Blesséd is she who comes, and then,
            O give her lilies with full hands. They flung
            up and around flowers of every kind.                          24                  

I once saw in the dawning of a day
            a rosy eastern sky, clear blue above,
            while low white mist so gently veiled the sun,             27                              

my eyes could linger on its perfect sphere.
            Thus in the cloud of blooms from angel hands
            that whirled and fell inside the car and out,               30                              

a lady came, with olive garland crowned
            and white veil, misting a green dress through which
            her loveliness shone like a living flame.                    33                              

I had not felt the awe now filling me
            for many years. I had first felt it when
            a child of nine, I met another child                             36                 

I loved unselfishly, and so knew then
            what press of adult care made me forget –
            that love can be and ought to be divine.                       39                              

The goddess now reminded me of this.
            I turned to Virgil in my sore distress
            as a child turns to mother in a fright                             42                              

meaning to say, “I tremble with despair –
            how can I make my treachery come right?”
            He was not there. Virgil, my dearest friend,                 45                  

the good guide who had led me safe through Hell,
            and washed my cheeks with dew to make me fit
            to climb so close to my salvation                                 48                                          

had vanished. Gone. I wept, then heard a voice.
            “Don’t weep now, Dante. You must shed more tears
            for worse than loss of Virgil’s company.”                   51

Hearing my name I turned and saw her stand                            
within the car, speaking across the stream
            as admirals commanding fleets address                        54

a sailor, from a flagship’s highest deck.                 
The veil descending from her head, held there
            by olive-wreath-sprays from Minerva’s tree              57

did not allow a clear view of her face,                                           
and yet the regal way she spoke conveyed
            her harshness was restrained by tenderness.              60

“Look well at me. I am your Beatrice.                                 
How dare you come so high? Did you not know
            this paradise was made for happiness?”                      63

Ashamed, I stared down into the pure stream;                            
saw my glum face reflected; turned away.
            Stern pity has for me a bitter taste.                               66

She spoke no further as the angels sang                          
the psalm that starts, My hope is in the Lord,
            ending with, You give freedom to my feet.                  69

 They seemed to say, “Lady, why blame him so?”
            Such Heavenly compassion warmed and thawed
ice that had bound my heart. This flowed away         72

like candlewax in flame, or frozen snow
packed hard by northern blasts between the firs
upon the Apennines (Italy’s spine)                             75

melts in warm breezes out of Africa.
            I who had never so profoundly grieved,
            poured from my eyes and mouth, water and sighs.      78

They proved my agony was honesty.
            Still upright in her car my lady said,
            “You spirits living in eternal day                                 81

know well why he’s to blame, and only asked
            to let him hear me make his falseness plain.
            Repentance needs his grief to equal guilt,                     84

sorrow to balance his dead weight of sin.
            The starry wheels that turn the universe
            let folk bring gifts from God to splendid ends,             87
but only through their will. He had great gifts.
            With care they would have yielded splendid fruit,
            yet in good soil foul weeds may also sprout.              90

Our childhood love preserved his innocence.
            His adolescence brought new friends, but sight
            of my young eyes at times still kept him right.             93

When twenty-five I died and was reborn
            in purity, while his acquaintances
            misled his will, because he now pursued                   96

visions of good that could not be made real.
            In dreams and memories I called him back.
            He did not heed, sank low till Heaven                     99
for his salvation. Only showing him
the wholly lost in Hell could save his soul;
and so I went to Limbo, found t                            102

who led him here where I will be his guide,
            for I must guide him to a greater height
            that poetry may show to folk on earth                     105

the architecture of eternity.
            But the decrees of Heaven will be undone
            were he not first washed clean in Lethe’s stream.

The strongest tears must pay his entrance fees.                   109


CHAPTER 29: Revelation

She sang like one in love, “blesséd are they
whose sins are purified.” Like woodland nymph
seeking or shunning shade among the trees                    3

she walked upstream, and on the other side
I also walked, fitting my steps to hers.
Less than a hundred paces further on                              6

the banks curved equally in such a way
we both faced east again. She called to me,
“Look, brother – listen!” for upon us dawned                9

far greater brightness through each branch and leaf,
and with it such sweet melody rang out
I blamed Eve for her eating of that fruit                        12

which stopped me knowing such delights before.
So on I went, experiencing joys
that grew as brightness grew, while melody                15

became a hymnal and triumphant choir.
O holy virgins who inspire all art,
If poverty and pain and sleepless toil                          18

have been my part in seeking for your aid,
I beg from all of you again, but most
Urania, muse of celestial things,                                   21

to fix in verse thoughts difficult to think.
On the far brink ahead I seemed to see
the golden trunks of seven stately trees,                       24

but as I neared their place, saw them to be
majestic candlesticks, linked at the base.
As voices sang Hosannas each one flamed                  27

bright as midsummer moons. Awestruck, I gazed
at Virgil who looked back, just as amazed.
Staring again on these high things, I saw                      30

their stems approach slow as a new-made bride
down a cathedral isle. The lady said,
“Why love big lights more than their followers?”        33

I saw behind men clad in purer white
than seen on earth. I paused and saw the stream
reflect my left side mirror-like. Above                         36

I saw each flame staining the air behind
one of the colours sunshine paints through rain,
which left a rainbow flag or canopy                            39

ten paces wide, whose end I could not see.
Twenty-four elders walked in pairs beneath.
With wreathes of lilies on their heads they sang,        42

“Hail, loveliest of Adam’s daughters who
in paradise is now divinely blessed.”                                             
They passed, and flowers filled the further bank       45

till brightness grew as four great beasts arrived,
            crowned with green leaves and having six wings each,              
wings spotted with gold eyes like peacocks’ tails,        48

but these were watchful eyes. Ezekiel
            in the Old Testament tells how these came
from freezing cold through cloud, storm, flame, with more  51

of how they look than I have time, reader,
            to tell in rhyme. He says they have four wings.
Saint John’s Apocalypse agrees with me.                    54

Between the beasts a chariot, two-wheeled,
            moved on behind a griffin with two wings
raised high beyond my sight. They neatly clasped      57

the central green band of the canopy,
            nor cut the three bright colours on each side.
            The griffin’s eagle-half was all of gold,                     60

the lion-half pure white with mingled red.
            Rome never gladdened hero-emperors
            with such a car, more dazzling than the sun             63

when Phaeton plunged its horses down the sky.
            Three nymphs danced in a ring by the right wheel.
            One glowed so vivid red that in a fire                         66

she’d be invisible. The second seemed
            all emerald, the third like fallen snow.
            Red and white led the dance alternately,                     69

 but red sang, and according to her voice
            she and the other two moved fast or slow.
            At the left wheel four nymphs in purple dress           72

also rejoiced in dancing, and were led
            by she who had three eyes within her head.       
            Behind these groups appeared two ancient men        75      

in gravity and dignity alike
            but differently clad. One wore the garb
            of he whose kindly art can heal the sick –                  78

Hippocrates. One seemed the opposite,
            holding a sword so sharp, bright, threatening
            I trembled, although between he and me                     81

flowed the deep stream. Four elders followed these
            with humble looks, and last of all came one
            whose face was keen, though walking in his sleep.     84

The garments of these seven final men
            were white, like the first twelve. Their brows were crowned,
            not with lilies, but roses and flowers                          87

so red their heads all seemed to be aflame.
            The car came opposite me and stopped
            with a thunderclap that halted the rest.          

The rainbow flag above them ceased to move.                    100