Sunday, August 17, 2014

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 33


CHAPTER 33: The Final Cleansing


“O God, see heathens in your holy places!”
            The seven Virtues chanted through their tears,
            first three, then four, joining this psalm of loss.           3

They paused when Beatrice, with such a sigh
            as Mary must have sighed at foot of cross
            stood up and glowing like a flame, proclaimed,           6

“Dear sisters, we must leave here for a while
            but will return.” A gesture made them walk
            ahead of her, while we three came behind                   9

until she turned her calm clear eyes on me
            saying, “Come nearer, brother. We must talk.
            Ask what you wish.” I was so far beneath                  12

her holy state, my tongue tripped on my teeth
            in stammering reply: “My lalala,
            my lalalady knows what I should know                     15

mumuch, much more than me.” “Then start,” said she,
by talking sensibly, and not like one
            stumbling under a load of sin. Lethe                           18

has washed you clean. You saw the vile dragon
            break my carriage, a giant drag it off.
            Know those to blame will not escape God’s wrath.    21

Know that the eagle feathering my car,
            making it monstrous, then slave to a hag,                                     
will not forever have heirs acting so.                         24

The birthday of a hero, sent by God
            to kill the giant and his prostitute
is registered on the star calendar.                               27

Exactly when and where I do not know.
            Five hundred, ten and five are numbers where
            some find a clue. Not me. Such prophecies               30                  

like Sphinx’s riddle, hide what should be plain,
            yet when on earth again tell it to those
            racing toward death, for it will come true.                 33
  
Write of the tree: what you saw, what I say.
            It is the tallest tree, widest at top
            because God made it only for himself.                       36

Adam learned robbing it is blasphemous,
dwelling with Eve in Hell five thousand years
till Jesus let him out. The latest theft                           39

which you have seen is recent history.
            But now I fear your mind is like a stone
            so darkened that my words are dazzling you.             42

Remember them, though you don’t understand.”
            Said I, “As sealing wax receives its stamp
            I am impressed by you and all you say,                      45

but why do words I long for fly so high
            over my head? The more I try (alas!)
            the less I know.” “Which teaches you,”                      48

said she, “that your science is as far under me
            as earth is below a Heavenly star.”
            I cried, “But I have never left your side!”                  51

She smiled and said, “You have drunk Lethe, so
            forget how many years you walked astray.
            Now I will use plain speech you understand.”           54

The splendid sun stood at the height of noon
            (which varies with a viewer’s latitude)
            when the seven maidens who’d gone ahead              57

paused on the strand of what at first I thought
            a waterfall shaded by mountain trees.
            Nearer I saw an overflowing spring                          60

whose waters were dividing in two streams
            going opposite ways like the Tigris
and Euphrates, reluctantly, like friends.                     63

“O light and glory of the human race,
            what are these waters?” I asked Beatrice,
            who said, “Matilda knows.” My other guide            66

quickly replied like one discarding blame,
            “I’ve told him both these rivers’ name and use.”
            “His memory is numbed,” said Beatrice,                  69

 “by novelties, but here flows Eunoe.
            As you know how, refresh his weakened mind.”
            Gentle souls gladly serve another’s will.                   72

Matilda murmured, “Come.” She took my hand,
            saying to Statius, “and you come too.”
            Reader, if I had time to write much more,                75
           
I’d speak about the sweetness of the stream
            I tasted then. I thirst to drink it still,
            but first must fill more pages with the tale                78
           
of my big poem’s third, last, grandest part.
            Art orders with a voice I can’t deny.
            I left the stream of Eunoe remade,                                                
           
a pure soul fit to climb the starry sky.                                  82

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