DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 31
CHAPTER 31: The Cleansing.
“You on the far side of this sacred stream – ”
(she thrust this sharp point of her speech at me)
“have heard my accusation. Is it true?” 3
Such weakness and confusion mastered me
I struggled for a word but none would come.
She let me stand there dumb a while, then said, 6
“Reply. Say what you think. Bad memories
have not yet been destroyed by Lethe’s drink.”
Fear piercing my confusion forced a “Yes” 9
so faint only her eyes could know I spoke.
I stood like a poor archer whose bow broke
letting the arrow go, so it fell short. 12
Under such fierce assault more tears and sobs
were now my sole resort. Again she spoke.
“When love of me led you to love good things 15
beyond which nothing better can be found,
what road blocks, spike-topped fences or deep moats
stopped you from going onward as you should? 18
What tempted you to leave the path of good?”
My lips had trouble shaping a reply
but after a deep sigh I stammered this. 21
“When I lost hope of seeing you again
domestic life and local politics
seemed adequate distractions from my pain. 24
Also some erotic dissipation.”
Said she, “If you had tried to justify
facts you have just declared and this court knows, 27
and done that shamelessly with a dry face,
my condemnation would conclude your case.
Not so. To bear the shame of your offense 30
and help resist all future syren calls,
stop weeping: and hear what you should have learned
from my dead body. Yes, nature and art 33
had never shown such beauty as was mine
which crumbled into dust. Since death stole that,
why dally with more bodies that must die? 36
I went to Heaven. You should have prepared
to join us here where death does not exist,
and let no other women hold you back 39
where all death-strokes must fall.” With downcast head
I stood, my guilt confessed, reproved. She said,
“Since hearing gives you grief, look up for more. 42
Come, elevate your beard.” No wind tore up
tough oak tree by it’s roots slower than I
lifted my rough chin at her mocking words. 45
Angels had stopped casting their cloud of blooms.
Beatrice stood gazing with enraptured face
upon the creature harnessed to her car – 48
the griffin with two natures in one soul.
Beyond the Lethé stream, beneath her veil
she was more beautiful than when on earth 51
her face had been the loveliest of all.
The nettle of remorse so stung me that
hatred of all I ever liked but she, 54
with such self-loathing, cut into my heart
I lost idea of self and time and place.
When heart at last restored some outward sense 57
the lady first encountered in the wood
was saying, “Hold on! Don’t let go my hand.”
I lay throat deep in Lethe”s cleansing stream, 60
but floating and upheld by one so light,
she walked upon the stream, her arm so strong
the hand was firmly pulling me along. 63
Near the far bank in words I can’t recall
she sang about forgiveness, held my head,
plunged it beneath the stream, and so I drank, 66
then free of guilt at last could step ashore.
The four nymphs by the nearest chariot wheel
raised arms and linked their hands above my head. 69
“In Heaven we appear as stars,” they said,
“and before Beatrice arrived on earth
were chosen as her serving maidens here. 72
Now we will lead you round to see her eyes,
but fully to enjoy the light in them
hear the three dancers by the other wheel 75
who see more deeply into them than we.”
Led there, I stood before the griffin’s breast,
staring at Beatrice in the car behind. 78
Her serving maids then sang in unison,
“Now you will see the eyes of emerald
which pierced you with love’s dart. Don’t fear to gaze.” 81
Since the veil did not hide her eyes I stared
and saw within their depth the two-fold beast
like sun’s reflection in a looking glass. 84
Reader, this wonderful and lovely sight –
this figure changing in my lover’s eyes,
now with a Heavenly aspect, now the earth’s 87
was nourishing, like a delicious meal
that never would reduce true appetite.
Then the three virtues from the other wheel, 90
Faith, Hope and Love, danced around me and sang,
“O Beatrice, unveil your lovely face.
To gratify this faithful traveller 93
who’s journeyed more than any man alive.
down through the world and up to this great height
to look on the full glory of your Grace!” 96
Though drunk with language’s magnificence
what poet, pale from studying his art
won’t find himself unable to impart
the greatest thing now present to his sense? 100