DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 29
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