Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 19


CHAPTER 19: The Eagle Speaks


In front of me appeared with open wings
            that great bird made of congregated souls,
            each a wee ruby with a star inside.                     3

What I tell now no tongue has ever told
            and none has written down. No one before
            ever conceived of such a splendid thing.            6

I saw and heard the beak begin to speak,
            say I and mine while meaning we and ours.
            “For being just and merciful,” it said,                 9

“I once possessed a glory none surpassed.
            Though rulers praise my memory on earth
            none have continued my great story there.”      12

I cried, “ O everlasting fruit of bliss,
            you represent a Justice higher still,
            yet you reflect it pure and know my mind.        15

Please feed the hunger that has famished me.
            How keen I am to hear you end the doubt
            upsetting my digestion many years.”                 18

Like an unhooded falcon flapping wings
            and preening them in readiness for flight
            so did that unity of noble souls,                         21

then it spoke out: “Turning his compasses
            to draw the ring that holds all space and time,
            the Universal Architect made no part                24

of the diversity within its bounds
            greater than His creating Mind and Word.
            As proof, the foremost intellect He made,         27

thinking itself His equal, would not wait
            to be ripened by His gift of light. Pride –
            overweening pride led Satan to rebel,               30

expel himself from height of Paradise.
            All natures less than God are far too small
            to measure the Eternal Infinite.                          33
  
Each thought is one ray of the Divine Mind
            but none can comprehend all other rays
            except by basking in their plenitude.                 36

Believe that ignorance and sin obscure
            most things you cannot understand. You think,
            Indians live who never heard Christ’s name,     39
           
yet guided by straight reason, do no wrong,
            like some born before God was crucified.
            What justice can condemn such souls to Hell?  42

That thought came when you could not see beyond
            the hills around your town, so could not know
            anything about those in Asia                             45

more than a thousand miles away, or guess
            how God will deal with them. His Gospel tells
            everything a good soul needs to know              48

for living sinlessly. Thinking further
can show His wonders for your admiration.
Apparent contradictions in His schemes           51

come by speculation further knowledge
            will solve, either before or after death.
            They cannot blight an honest Christian life.”   54

That glowing heraldry that spread respect
            for Roman government over the globe
            soared round above my head, as mother stork  57

will fly in circles over a young chick
            gazing lovingly up from the warm nest
            where it has just been fed. The eagle sang        60

a hymn whose words I did not know, then said,
            “Just as my song is meaningless to you,
            God’s justice is beyond men’s reasoning.          63

None rise up here who have not faith in Christ
            before or since they nailed Him to that tree,
            but now we hear too many cry, Christ! Christ!  66

who on Judgment Day will be deeper damned 
than Africans who never heard His name.
What will Asians think when they hear read out 69
  
the deeds of Christian kings? How Prague was made
            a wilderness by Emperor Albert?
            How the French King, debasing currency,           72

brought poverty to both banks of the Seine?
            There shall be seen arrogance maddening
            English and Scots who battle constantly              75

across the border nature built for them.
            They will hear about Naples’ crippled king,
            his single virtue and his thousand sins;                78

know too why crimes of the Sicilian king
            must be described in shorthand, to save space,
and how they have dishonoured good King        81      

William, their noble relative. Kings of
            Norway and Portugal seem just as bad
            as he of Serbia whose forged coins spread          84

distrust of Venice’s minted silver
            O Happy Hungary if Martell’s son
saves you from such misrule! Happy Navarre     87

if mountains protect you from the French
and their king’s foul stench! And you can see how
miserable Cyprus is, like all states

of islands that have Frenchmen as their mates!”             94
           

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